Bay Area Geekdad Day Trip: The Western Railway Museum

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Electric Rail Car at the Western Railway Museum

We discovered this by accident one weekend, trying to avoid some bad traffic heading towards Sacramento.  For the train enthusiasts amongst us, this is a short jaunt up to the North Bay, out in the middle of the Delta.  The Western Railway Museum is dedicated to the memory of the wonderful trolley infrastructure that existed in the Bay Area before the age of the motor car.  Who knew there was an electric trolley line from San Francisco all the way to Sacramento?  As a civil engineer who deals with transportation issues, I cry over what we lost in the Bay Area.  The WRM has short and long rides on restored cars from all over, and you can even rent cars out for events.  Check it out at!


Dining Car Interior at the Western Railway Museum

Here’s a bit of WRM history from around where I grew up:

Key System roots go back to 1893 when Francis Marion (Borax) Smith began buying railroads, streetcar lines, and real estate in the East Bay. Smith consolidated his transportation properties. In 1902 he incorporated the San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose Railway. Service began on ferryboats and electric trains in 1903. Around the turn of the century, a formula for building a personal fortune consisted of buying a large tract of cheap land near a city and then building a streetcar line into the property. Land values would skyrocket so the property could be subdivided into home sites at a huge profit. The developers usually moved on to new projects leaving the streetcar company stuck with what frequently was an unprofitable line. Smith had big plans for his electric railway. He intended to extend it to San Jose and possibly beyond. He began planning another line from Oakland to Sacramento. However, Smith overextended himself financially. The East Bay did not develop as rapidly as expected. Smith’s land companies could not sell lots fast enough to pay other expenses. In 1913 his empire collapsed and Smith was forced out. His big plans remained only dreams.

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