Railfan Sites in California

A self-guiding railfan tour

Railfan, railfan--where do you see trains in California?

Map work: If you're going to be looking for railfan locations, you'll need an industrial strength map resource. I definitely recommend you get a DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer, study it before your trip, and copy pertinent pages for your field work. You can find information here about Railfan Maps that are available.

Cities And Sites


(1) This is a hotlink to David Epling's excellent central California pages. Visit his home page here.

(2) Frequent contributor Markolf Gudjons has provided this information to us.

(3) A dynamite guide to the Cajon Pass region , this is a fantastically detailed exploration of one of the premier railfan locations in North America. Al Bowen has contributed the text for this series, and Guido Cherici has done the honors as webauthor.

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CALIENTE(April 19, 2001)

Located only a few miles from the famous Tehachapi Loop, this is a splendid spot to take in heavy mountain railroading. Take CA-58 to the Caliente exit, and follow the signs to Caliente. After about 3/4 mile, you'll arrive at the grade crossing at Bealville, a very nice spot in its own right, especially later in the afternoon. Continue on across the tracks, and go downhill for another 3/4 mile. After crossing under the railroad, take Caliente-Bodfish Road, the next on the left. After 1/2 mile a gravel access road leads up the hill to the tracks on the left. At the top is ample parking space, and you are able to view trains for over 4 miles while they turn 180° through the Caliente horseshoe curve.

Back on Caliente-Bodfish Road, turn left and continue uphill for another 1/2 mile. On your left you will see the tracks twisting and turning uphill, and there are good photo spots on both the top and foot of the hill. On the rear of the hill is another useful parking spot. Tunnel 2 is directly behind the hill, and you can park on top and look down both sides -- awesome. Expect anywhere between 2 and 6 trains per hour, including both UP and BNSF.

Frequent contributor Markolf Gudjons has provided this information to us.

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CHINESE CAMP (April 19, 2001)

Chinese Camp (also noted at "Chinese") is a virtual ghost town on the famous Sierra Railroad. This is an easy stopover if you're going to or from Yosemite National Park on CA-120. The small station cannot be missed. Located in the town is a fairly large lumber mill, which ships by rail. Sometimes an engine is parked on a siding near the depot.

Frequent contributor Markolf Gudjons has provided this information to us.

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DAGGETT(June, 1997)

Mostly a sleepy town of some 600-700 souls, Daggett survives as a premier railfan site in the southern California dessert, for it is here that the Union Pacific comes down from Salt Lake City to join the BNSF (ex-ATSF) Barstow-Needles mainline. This is no sleepy railfan location, however, as two trains per hour flow thru here, and represent the hot stuff on both railroads.

From I-40 heading east from Barstow, take the Daggett exit and head north to the National Trails Highway (Old US-66). Take a right (eastbound) here, and travel to the junction at Daggett. Be mindful of the temperature and weather conditions, if you visit in the summer -- this is not for the faint at heart @110°!

[Note: This material was adapted from info provided by TRAINS Magazine in June of 1997. If you don't subscribe to TRAINS, well, you should. It's an excellent publication. Get on its web site here.]

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DAVIS -- SP STATION AREA (October 2007)

In downtown Davis, there is one of the best passenger train shows in the country. From the Cowell Boulevard/Richards Boulevard exit from I-80, and go back under the interstate, cross the UP main line, and take a right on 1st Street. 1st will shortly curve 90° to the north, and will cross 2nd Street as G Street. In this area sits the impressive, restored Southern Pacific station. Today, the station serves Amtrak's California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, and the Capitol Corridor trains. The tower in the area, Davis tower, has also been restored.

The tower and depot sit within the wye that is the Davis connection of the California Northern Railroad. There is plenty of off-railroad property for pictures. Parking is another story, however. Parking facing the tracks is limited, and during lunch and dinner hours, as well as weekends, those spots fill up quickly. Making the situation more problematic is the fact that you are limited to 2-hour parking, and cannot re-park for 4 hours after leaving your previous parking spot.

Much of this information has been based on an "Oakland - Sacramento 'Road Trip' ", which is posted on Trains Magazine's web site at http://www.trains.com . Used with permission. Trains Magazine is highly recommended railfan reading. In October 2007, Andy Fletcher provided additional info about this location.

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To see lots of action, and not have to put up with parking hassles at the Station Area, go north from the station via G Street, take a right onto 3rd, another right onto L Street, and finally, a left onto 2nd Street. Note that most maps call this 2nd Street, but Davis refers to it as Second Street. 2nd parallels the tracks for the better part of a mile, and offers excellent viewing in several locations. One area, at 1919 Second Street (in the vicinity of Pole Line Road) is the Toad Hollow Dog Park, which has about 10 parallel parking slots, and these are usually mostly empty.

While you can't see signals here, the viewing is excellent, and parking is certainly not a hassle.

Frograil thanks Andy Fletcher for this nice contribution.

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This is a mini-tour of a 10-mile-long canyon, and offers driving instructions through a rather famous railfan photography area. However, unlike a full-blown Frograil Tour, this is just driving instructions, as I've not personally scoped out the photo spots, and no contributor has come forth to put together a real Tour. As with all fairly "wild" locations, photo spots are in the eye of the beholder, and I'd suggest you drive the canyon a few times to get the feel of it, and then start to develop the extended research needed to yield those "special" photo locations.

The canyon is between Pinole/Hercules and Martinez, off I-80 northeast of Oakland. The material in this mini-tour uses a lot of information presented in the "Oakland - Sacramento Road Trip" contained on the Trains Magazine Web site ( http://www.trains.com ) and is used with permission. Trains Magazine is a most highly recommended railfan resource. Map information contained herein is largely from http://www.mapquest.com , and is probably accurate, but no map producer can keep up with actual changes on the ground, so you might want to invest in a Contra Costa County map.

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The Union Pacific follows the original Southern Pacific along the Bay, but the builders of the ATSF didn't have the luxury of building along the best natural right-of-way. They solved the problem by building overland from the Pinole area thru the Franklin Canyon to Martinez, and then on to Stockton. The result is a great piece of railroad to fan.

From I-80, take the Pinole Valley Road exit, and go north into Pinole and an intersection with San Pablo Avenue. Take a right on SPA, and you'll shortly cross the BNSF, and will hug it almost all the way back to I-80. Take a right at Sycamore Avenue just before I-80, and then a left on Palm Avenue to go under the interstate, thru Hepoco, and on to an intersection with CA-4 at Luzon. Ther railroad has been very tightly bound to this route, but now will cross CA-4 and veer northeast before turning decidely southeast, so we'll get on the John Muir Hightway/CA-4 and travel east towards Christie.

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After a few miles, the railroad will come down to the southeast and cross CA-4. Just before this point, take a right onto Christie Road, which hugs the railroad down into the canyon. By the way, folks who want to make more of a vacation of this mini-tour should consider stopping at the Franklin Canyon Golf Course, which is just to the west of the Christie Road turn.

As you go southeast on Christie Road, you eventually reach a point where, on the map, the road continues squiggling around to the southeast, and the railroad rather definitely takes a nice, straight route to the east. This is the west portal of Tunnel 3, and is a well-known photo location.

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From Christie, you'll once again have to get back on CA-4/John Muir Highway. Continue east to the point where the road becomes a limited access freeway into the Martinez area. Do not get on the freeway, however, but continue on what appears to be a frontage road, but is really Franklin Canyon Road. When you get back to the rails, there is a road leading to the west, and the west portal of Tunnel 3. this is McHarry Ranch Road. This road shows on a rather old map, and may or may not be current. If current, it'll take you to the area of the portal. If not, well, forget it.

You continue southeast on Franklin Canyon Road thru the community of Glen Frazier, which sports an old-fashioned cantilever-style signal tower. This area is probably more photogenic than most of the scenery west of the tunnel, so plan on spending some time. As you reach Muir, and a famous trestle, you'll be able to cross Alhambra Valley Road, and enter the Martinez area. This has been a very cursory tour, and certainly not one to the precision of a Frograil Tour, but it's been fun, and I suspect you've found plenty of photo spots along the way. Let me hear of your favorites: frograil@yahoo.com.

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GOFFS HILL (August 2007)

When thinking of the BNSF in the Mojave Desert, one would immediately think of high-speed trains across desolate landscapes. However, the Needles Sub boasts some tough grades, and one of the toughest is Goffs Hill, which westbounds out of Needles must ascend to leave the Colorado River valley.

To reach Goffs, take I-40 west from Needles, CA, then exit at US-95 North towards Las Vegas. Heading north on US-95, the BNSF will shortly join the road on the right. Photography is excellent along this stretch. After 6 miles or so, US-95 will cross the tracks. Just to the south of the crossing, turn left and head west on Goffs Road. Goffs Road will follow within a half mile of the tracks all the way to the summit at Goffs, 14 miles later. These roads are all paved, so pretty much anyone can get here with no problems.

So what will you see at Goffs? About 3-4 trains per hour. The scenery may seem a bit bland for some, but the number of trains will make up for it. Westbounds work up a 1.3% grade into town and eastbounds comein on a near 1% grade. This means the power may come by slow, but by the time the rear of the train shows up, it's flying at track speed! Definitely a can't miss for those traveling through the area.

Food, gas and lodging are available in Needles, but there is absolutely nothing between there and Goffs. Springtime would be the best time to visit followed by fall. Winters can be very cold and summers blistering hot. Whatever the season, be sure to take plenty of water (at least a gallon per person) and don't spend too much time in direct sun.

Frograil thanks Ken Kuehne, our Kansas, Nebraska (and now further west) editor for this railfan location.

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LOS ANGELES -- COMMERCE (April 19, 2001)

This is a decidedly urban location about 10 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, via I-5. Take the Slauson Avenue exit, and go south on Slauson, cross under I-5, and turn left onto Telegraph Road northbound. Go 1 mile and turn left under I-5 onto Washington Boulevard. Turn right directly behind the bridge, following the Metrolink sign. You can park in the Metrolink parking lot, and the tracks are to your right.

Behind the BNSF main line is the ex-ATSF engine facility and carshop; however, the view is often blocked by cars and trains parked on the intervening tracks. The Los Angeles Terminal Division main is fairly busy, with several freight and passenger trains per hour. During the day, local turns can often be found leaving the main here and disappearing into the industrial vastness to switch the many industries. This is perhaps not the neighborhood of choice, but it is reasonably clean and safe during the day. [Webmaster's Note: Remember, it's never a good idea to railfan by yourself -- always be with a buddy.]

Frequent contributor Markolf Gudjons has provided this information to us.

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LUDLOW (June 1, 2008)

A former junction town between the Santa Fe and two long-abandoned mining railroads, Ludlow is a very accessible location on the busy BNSF Transcon. 60+ trains per day roar through a town that offers plenty of civilization for railfans, as well as nice scenery. Ludlow is reached off of I-40, and is about halfway between Needles and Barstow.

To reach the tracks in Ludlow, head south into town after exiting the interstate. At the 4-way stop, make a left turn and then almost immediately make a right turn onto a dirt street which winds back and dumps you out at the tracks by the Ludlow crossovers. Bear to the right and follow the tracks west. After a quarter of a mile, there is an underpass to the left which you can use to access the south side of the tracks.

There is a variety of great shots to be had in the Ludlow area. Ludlow features some sweeping curves which can be captured by climbing the hills to the west of town. To access them, follow the directions above to the underpass, decide which side of the tracks you’ll be shooting from, and follow the appropriate road to reach that location. In particular, afternoon shots from Ludlow Hill are outstanding, showing trains curving in front of the old town. You’ve likely seen shots from this location before.

Ludlow is a desert oasis of sorts, with its strategic location along I-40. There are couple gas stations with small restaurants and some non-chain motels which offer life support for the railfan that the desert certainly doesn’t offer. A note to those heading east on I-40 is that even though gas is expensive here, it is still cheaper than the next gas station east and around the same price as Needles.

If you do decide to visit Ludlow, here are some extremely important notes for those who opt to head to this area. Ludlow is fairly notorious for its sandy spots and soft roads. Cars can reach the areas I described, but are not advisable. The underpass is also used to guide a dry wash under the tracks and can be soft at times. Trucks or 4WD are preferred. If you do get a car in, absolutely do NOT continue west into the desert. If you park your vehicle, make sure it is on FIRM ground. Ken almost got stuck when he parked on an unassuming piece of ground only to find his Jeep had settled a few inches when he was ready to leave. The photography is great around town, and I’d recommend hanging out there. If you venture out into the desert YOU HAD BETTER BE PREPARED AND ABLE TO GET YOURSELF OUT OF TROUBLE! It sounds melodramatic but it must be said. You have been warned. Additionally, in the summer it is blistering hot. Spring and Fall are the nicest times to visit. Whatever the season, always have plenty of water for all who are with you.

Thanks and a tip of the hat to Ken Kuehne, who contributed this location to Frograil.

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LUDLOW -- EAST (June 1, 2008)

A location near Ludlow can be found just east of town where the National Trails Highway crosses the BNSF mainline. This is Historic Route 66 and is certainly worth a drive for the railfan. To reach here, exit I-40 at Ludlow and head south into town to the 4-way stop. Turn left and continue out of town about two miles to the crossing.

Since it’s pavement all the way, this is the preferred location for those driving cars, and it’s not a bad spot. From this location you can see about 10 miles of the BNSF mainline, and you can see trains for several minutes as they speed across the desert. Often, multiple trains are visible, and on one memorable trip to this spot, for two and a half straight hours Ken could see at least one train traversing this stretch.

Thanks and a tip of the hat to Ken Kuehne, who contributed this location to Frograil.

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From John Muir Highway/CA-4 in the south part of town, go north on Alhambra Avenue towards the Bay and the Union Pacific (ex-SP) tracks. In the vicinity of the foot of Alhambra is the ex-SP depot. Just 2-3 blocks to the east, at the foot of Ferry Street, is the modern (2001) Amtrak station. You're due south of the tracks all along here, and there are plenty of off-railroad locations for your photos.

Much of this information has been based on an "Oakland - Sacramento 'Road Trip' ", which is posted on Trains Magazine's web site at http://www.trains.com . Used with permission. Trains Magazine is highly recommended railfan reading.

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NAPA -- NAPA VALLEY WINE TRAIN (November 17, 2000)

Webmaster's Note: In April of 2000, Steve Barry, of Railfan & Railroad Magazine, received an e-mail message from Jason Breakiron of the Mid-Atlantic Train Enthusiasts. Jason admired a cover photo on the magazine taken by Steve, and asked Steve for recommendations for picture taking on the NVWT. Steve replied with a nice, comprehensive description of operations and fanning along the line. Steve's e-mail is repeated here with his permission.

"I've chased the NVWT twice, once a southbound afternoon train in May, 1991, and the other a northbound early evening train in July 1999 .... For the best light, you can't beat that 6PM departure heading north from Napa! Shooting the NVWT is not exactly challenging.

"The primary chase road [CA-29 north of downtown Napa] runs directly adjacent to the railroad (about 10 yards away) for most of the distance. If you shoot the train in Napa, it's still possible to negotiate the town and get out into 'open country' in reasonable shape. The primary road crosses the tracks as you approach the north end of the line -- most of the shots on the south end require crossing the tracks to get to the sunny side, if that is your desire.

"The train clomps along at about 10 mph and we often found that after we got a shot, we'd race back to the car, turn around and *still* have to wait for the second half of the train to clear the crossing! Some vineyard entrances provide great photo props. You can probably bang off 20 shots per chase (in one direction!) but do some advance scouting so you don't take an ordinary grade crossing wedge and miss a vineyard entrance 100 yards up the road (now, if it was 500 yards up the road, you could beat the train to it!). With a little bit of scouting, you can probably nail 6-10 real stunners and still have time to fill in the gaps between those shots with about 10 other shots.

"Get creative -- use telephoto lenses, use wide angles, work the vineyards and flowers into your photos. If ya like nicely painted FP4As and a beautiful matching trainset, I'd highly recommend a NVWT chase. To maximize your photography, pick a day when there is both a late morning/early afternoon and evening departure. You can chase the first train south in good light and then chase the second train (the evening train) north in stunning light."

Steve Barry is the Managing Editor of Railfan & Railroad Magazine, which is recommended reading for all railfans.

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This is a railfan location for the whole family. In downtown/pierside Oakland off I-880, this is an area that has been made over in recent years. There are bookstores, restaurants, theaters and the picturesque harbor itself. Running somewhat southeast - northwest, in the center of Embarcadero West, is the UP's Coast Line (Niles Subdivision). Besides the fairly dependable freight traffic, Amtrak, Capital Corridor, and San Joaquin passenger and commuter trains add a ton of business to the rails, especially during the week.

Much of this information has been based on an "Oakland - Sacramento 'Road Trip' ", which is posted on Trains Magazine's web site at http://www.trains.com . Used with permission. Trains Magazine is highly recommended railfan reading.

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OAKLEY (October 2007)

Located between Stockton and Concord on CA-4/CA-160, Oakley sees BNSF traffic on the ex-ATSF Stockton - Richmond Subdivision. From CA-4/CA-160 in the west side of town, exit for Main Street and head east into town. Main will make a major, 90° turn to the south, and at that turn Big Break Road comes in. At the corner of Big Break and Main, there is a Jack-in-the-box which offers a view of the tracks, and more importantly, the crossing at Big Break. If you see the warning lights start to blink, you have about 1 minute to get out and get set for your picture.

Frograil thanks Andy Fletcher for this nice contribution.

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PINOLE -- GATELY SIDING (September 3, 2001)

Just northeast of Richmond, water, hills and railroads come together in a rather tightly constricted area. This can work to the railfan's advantage. From I-80, take exit 20, and go north on Appian Way. When you reach the area of Pinole, Appian Way continues as Pinole Avenue, and this, in turn, will end at the tracks (what a great way to end!). The near tracks was the original ATSF, and the northern track the SP. Now they're the BNSF and UP, respectively. There is a siding here, and ample off-railroad photo ops. This is a favorite railfan hang out.

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Approximately 10 miles northeast of Sacramento is the city of Roseville, which is a major rail junction, and the site of a large UP (ex-SP) yard. Here's how to get to the east end of the yard, and as a bonus, you'll be at the wye created by the yard throat, a north/south secondary main line going up to Klamath Falls and Seattle, and the east/west main line heading to it's historic meeting with the Overland Route. There is a lot of traffic thru here. The city has constructed a public viewing platform on the northwest side of the wye. It is covered, but the sun will be your enemy most of the time. The dirt parking lot has been paved, and the area has been spruced up via a redevelopment effort.

From I-80 going east from Sacramento, take the Atlantic Street/Eureka Road exit, Exit 101.5. Go west into Roseville on Atlantic (the street is Eureka Road to the south/east of the interstate. The tracks heading east from the wye will be on your north. In the area of the wye, you'll go thru a tight S-turn to the left. Immediately after the S, turn left at the next light onto Lincoln Street. Take your next 2 rights to go north and under the tracks on Washington Boulevard. Once thru the underpass, immediately turn right onto Church Street, and then another right onto Lincoln, and finally, another right onto Pacific Street. All this sounds more complicated than it really is, but having a good map is a good idea in any area.

At this point, you're northwest of the line coming east out of the yard, and the northwest leg of the wye to the Pacific Northwest line is behind you. Because the east-west line is definitely southwest/northeast in bias here good photographic light will be a challenge. However, this is a fine place to watch trains, so put down your camera and enjoy the show. About a block in front of you is the classic wooden passenger station. By the way, if parking is tight on Pacific, there's a dirt parking lot along the fence right next to the wye.

Here's a bonus for you: Mike Tierney, who was kindenough to provide all of the information for this Frograil entry, tells us about it. At the corner where you made your last turn, Pacific and Lincoln, sits the Pacific Street Cafe. He says: "Food is good, the menu is varied, the prices are cheap, the staff has high morale, and there are window tables with good track views. Great place to eat! Plus you have to pull the cord to blow the whistle when you leave; that's a requirement."

If you continue westward on Pacific and then go north back to Church, you can drive west and pass the shops, service tracks, and other yard facilities. Power can be anywhere, but again, you're northwest of the tracks. Further along, you'll begin to run into the area of Denio's Auction Yard (a big flea market), and street and foot traffic can be very congested on weekends.

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From the intersection of US-50 and I-80BR (Capitol City Freeway) -- both roads are freeways -- go north on the Capitol City Freeway to an exit at H Street. The freeway will dump you on 30th Street, and you should continue north, paralleling the freeway to C Street. Take a right on C, and it will bend from southeast to northeast, and end at Elvas Avenue. Take a left on what will become Lanatt Street. The famous tower controlled SP's lines towards Stockton, Rosedale and Oakland, and all points beyond -- it was busy. Well, it still is -- very busy. The tower itself was torn down in the spring of 2007.

This is a most important California railfan site, and as you can imagine, there are several photo and other Web sites devoted to Elvas. I'd suggest you search Google for "Elvas Tower railfan", and you'll probably be happy with the results. However, in Octorber, 2007, I was informed that the area is off limits to railfans, and that Union Pacific's special agents are serious about enforcing the company's policy of no trespassing on it's property.

Much of this information has been based on an "Oakland - Sacramento 'Road Trip' ", which is posted on Trains Magazine's web site at http://www.trains.com . Used with permission. Trains Magazine is highly recommended railfan reading.

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SACRAMENTO -- HAGGIN (October 2007)

Haggin is located on the north edge of Sacramento, where UP's ex-SP east-west main line crosses over the north-south Sacramento Subdivision (ex-WP). BNSF has trackage rights on the latter, and uses them heavily. Most of UP's hotter north-south trains go thru Haggin, avoiding the busy Roseville terminal 18 miles to the east. Many Pacific Northwest trains leave Roseville westbound, and then turn north at Haggin. Amtrak #5 and #6 (the California Zephyr) go by here, and you might see some industrial switching at the Blue Diamond nut facility just to the west.

From I-80, take I-80Business (an expressway) into Sacramento, and exit at E Street. Go west on E to 20th Street, and take a right to go north to the tracks. The street basically ends at C Street, but the pavement continues on, climbing up, and crosses the east-west main, and then becomes a dirt road. Park on the left immediately after crossing the tracks. Make sure not to trespass on railroad property. You'll see the Sacramento Subdivision below you.

The area is maybe not an industrial wasteland, but it is definitely not a vacation hotspot. There's not much in the way of life support in the area, and that includes no shade. Be well supplied, however, and you'll enjoy the site, as there's good train watching.

As is the case with the Sacramento -- Elvas Tower location, this area is of serious interest to the Union Pacific's special agents, so be very careful not be on railroad property. Actually, the best way to fan the area is via the Sacramento Northern bicycle trail that allows access without fear of being ticketed, as it's a city park. This bikeway starts between 19th and 20th streets at C Street. It travels along the west side of the Sacramento Subdivision from C Street across the American River Bridge, but is only good for photography in the afternoons and evenings.

Mike Tierney was good enough to take the time to provide this good stuff to us.

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Sacramento -- 1910 J Street

The Old Spaghetti Factory Restaurant at 1910 J Street in Sacramento is located in the old Western Pacific Depot, and has quite a few seats that are located trackside. Usually trains (UP freight with a few BNSF run-throughs) come by about one every 45 min-1 hour, so it is likely one will see a train while eating.

Frograil thanks Andy Fletcher for this nice contribution.

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To get to the STE engine facility from CA-99, take the Fremont Street East Exit (Fremont Street is also CA-26), and turn left on Shaw Road. The engine facility is located at 1282 Shaw Road. Of particular note here is that STE still has a roster of nothing but Alco switchers. Kind of unique in 1999!

We have David Epling to thank for this information. His excellent Central California railfan pages are here.

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The busy Union Pacific (ex-SP) line between Oakland and Sacramento is joined in Suisun City by the California Northern Railroad. To get to the connection, take CA-12 from I-80, and head east into town. At South Pennsylvania Avenue, take a right, go south over the (CNRR) tracks, and then take an immediate left on Cordelia Street. Cordelia will lead you right to the tracks and the wye interchange.

Much of this information has been based on an "Oakland - Sacramento 'Road Trip' ", which is posted on Trains Magazine's web site at http://www.trains.com . Used with permission. Trains Magazine is highly recommended railfan reading.

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TEHACHAPI (April 19, 2001)

This is one of very, very few railfan sites with its own historical marker, traffic signs and road names! Leave CA-58 at the Keene exit, and turn right onto Woodford-Tehachapi Road. Follow the sign for the loop, passing Woodford siding. At the loop, the second gravel road on your left leads to the Loop farm, crossing the tracks at grade. You will find an amazing number of photo spots accessible from the road all around the loop, giving you both east- and westbound photo opportunities at any time of day. You will also likely meet at least several other railfans, too.

Continuing past the gravel road will bring you to the historical marker overlooking the Loop after about 3/4 mile. There are several photo points up and down the Woodford-Tehachapi Road.

Frequent contributor Markolf Gudjons has provided this information to us.

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