Sacramento River Train History
Launched in July 2005, the Sacramento RiverTrain is one of the nation’s newest dinner trains. Trips aboard our train feature food and entertainment while you roll through the countryside. While the RiverTrain is new, the equipment and railroad have a long history.
The Sacramento RiverTrain operates on the 16-mile “Woodland Branch” between Woodland and West Sacramento , CA . The Woodland Branch was constructed in 1911 by the Northern Electric Co. as the Sacramento and Woodland Railroad to link the fertile farmlands of Yolo County with the developing city of Sacramento . The Northern Electric was integrated into the Sacramento Northern Railway and the line was operated for transit and freight for many years. At its peak, the Woodland Branch offered eight roundtrip passenger trains daily from Woodland to Sacramento . The line was electrified by third rail, except in Woodland where overhead power was used.
In 1940 passenger operations came to an end with the advent of World War II. Powered now by diesel locomotives, the Sacramento Northern Railway continued to move a high volume of freight over the line up until the early 1960’s. Slowly, the various railspurs were torn up along the route and eventually only the industries in Woodland remained. Soon those started to disappear as well, until the Woodland Branch became a mere shadow of its former self. The Sacramento Northern was acquired by the Western Pacific Railroad which in turn was merged with the Union Pacific in 1984.
The Yolo Shortline Railroad Company was created in 1991 and purchased the Woodland Branch from the Union Pacific. The newly formed railroad was managed by its president and primary owner Dave Magaw. The Yolo Shortline was named after Yolo County in which it serves. " Yolo" is an Indian name for the area.
In addition to the Woodland Branch, the Yolo also purchased an 11-mile Clarksburg Branch between West Sacramento and Clarksburg . A portion of this line was originally developed around 1910 by the Oakland Antioch and Eastern Railway, which was an interurban railroad. It was later acquired by the Sacramento Northern Railway and extended to Oxford , CA in the 1920's for freight hauling. In 1985, the portion of this line from Clarksburg to Oxford was abandoned and removed. The remainder stayed in service to an industrial customer in Clarksburg .
The Yolo Shortline is primarily a freight hauler and the primary products transported are agriculturally related. While some freight traffic is intra-state, most of Yolo Shortline's freight traffic originates or terminates out-of-state. The railroad also managed rail traffic for the Port of Sacramento and McClellan Air Force Base.
For several years, the Yolo Shortline operated an excursion train with trips on both the Woodland and Clarksburg Branches. Among other trips, the train had a popular Great Train Robbery with a big shoot ‘em up and picnic lunch by the Sacramento River .
In 2003 the Yolo Shortline merged with the Sierra Railroad Company under the Sierra name. Dave Magaw stayed with the merged company as Vice President. The Sierra Railroad was a railroad similar in size to the Yolo and located 70 miles south in Oakdale , CA . In addition to freight, the Sierra operates the Sierra Railroad Dinner Train. Later that year, the merged railroad was selected to save and reopen the famous Skunk Train on the North Coast . Now with the support of two sister tourist trains - the Skunk and the Sierra - it was decided to improve and expand the Yolo excursion train.
The excursion train is renamed the Sacramento RiverTrain and features three open-air cars and three enclosed air-conditioned coaches. Two of the coaches were from the previous train. The third coach was provided by the Sierra Railroad Dinner Train that sent one of its two high-level 80-seat dining cars. The Skunk Train provided three open-air cars with a curved roof, bench seating and patio bar. All six cars were painted with a sparkling gold exterior, reflecting the area’s rich Gold Rush heritage, and 1,000-feet of distinctive blue waves, a colorful tribute to the mighty Sacramento River that closely follows the train’s route. The new makeover is not just skin deep. Complementing the new look exterior, the Dining car, Passenger coach and Club car will have newly decorated interiors. The train offers a relaxed ‘ Plantation ’ style look, featuring plantation-style ceiling fans, comfortable rattan furniture, wood paneling, carpet, paint, interior and exterior lights, new windows, and an upgraded sound system.
In addition to the physical improvements, the RiverTrain features a variety of new daytime and evening trips with food and entertainment. The popular Great Train Robbery was continued and is now offered almost every Saturday. See Choose a Trip for more information.