FAIRFIELD — Suisun City has a train station, Fairfield plans to get one and officials from both cities seem happy with the situation.
What a difference a century makes. This is the 100th anniversary of the conclusion to a tug-of-war between the two cities, when railroad moguls decreed Fairfield-Suisun could have only one train station and both cities wanted it.
These days, there’s no train station war at all. Both cities will have their own.
Fairfield plans to start building its Fairfield-Vacaville train stop near Vanden and Peabody roads in 2015. The $81.5 million project includes building a bridge to take busy Peabody Road over the tracks, a station building, a boarding platform between the tracks reached by a tunnel and a solar array.
A Fairfield train stop could open in 2017, with service from the Capitol Corridor line that runs between the Sacramento area and Bay Area. Commuters could take the train to the Bay Area Rapid Transit station in Richmond.
Meanwhile, Suisun City plans to update its Main Street station for the 21st century at a cost of $700,000. It plans to do painting, remodel restrooms, improve lighting and signage and make the area more easily traversed by people with disabilities.
Suisun City has had a train station since 1868. About 490 people get on and off trains there on an average day.
When the Fairfield train stop opens, the area will have two train stations within about 5 miles of each other. But local officials seem unafraid this is more than is needed.
Fairfield Public Works Director George Hicks talked about increasing overall ridership, not simply splitting up those riders already using the Suisun City station.
Suisun City Mayor Pete Sanchez isn’t worried that a new Fairfield station will send his city’s long-established station into eclipse. One reason is the Suisun City station is in the established, historic Old Town area. Fairfield’s is targeted for an area with a few subdivisions and businesses such as storage yards, but no real attractions.
“Of course, Suisun City will be less important, but it won’t be for another 10 years, unless Fairfield can come up with a waterfront and the kind of restaurants we have,” Sanchez said.
Fairfield plans for developers to build 6,000 homes, a Main Street-style business area, parks and industry around its train station in coming decades. But even then, Sanchez sees the Suisun City station continuing to thrive. Suisun City may become a destination for those new Fairfield residents who are only a short train ride away, he said.
“It will be a boom for Suisun City,” Sanchez said.
Solano County Supervisor Jim Spering served as mayor of Suisun City from 1986 to 2006 and played a role in revitalizing the Suisun City station in the early 1990s. He also sits on the Capitol Corridor board of directors.
The Fairfield station will pick riders from Vacaville, parts of Fairfield and Travis Air Force Base who don’t use the Suisun City station, Spering said.
Express trains might go straight from the Fairfield station to the Richmond BART station, Spering said. Trains leaving the Suisun City station stop at the Martinez station along the way.
Yet he sees the Suisun City station continuing to have daily Capitol Corridor runs to the Bay Area, even if those express trains pass it up.
“By the time that Fairfield station opens, we’re going to have additional trains,” Spering said.
So each city will apparently have its own station. A train station dispute like the one that broke out 100 years ago will be avoided.
Suisun City got its station when the California Pacific Railroad built the region’s first rail line. The first train ran from Vallejo to Suisun City in 1868. The few hundred people who lived in the area in these pioneer days had another way to get around besides by foot, horse or boat.
But that station was located several blocks south from its present location, at the end of Solano Street, in the middle of Suisun City, several blocks from neighboring Fairfield.
Suisun City’s train station became part of that town’s identity. Meanwhile, residents in Fairfield wished their town had a station, too.
In 1912, Fairfield stopped wishing and started acting. The town in March of that year sued to compel Southern Pacific – the latest owner of the rail line – to build it a station, too, little more than a half-mile north from the Suisun City station.
On March 19, 1912, the State Railroad Commission conducted a hearing at the Solano County Courthouse in Fairfield. Southern Pacific officials said the company could not afford to have two stations so close together to serve 1,500 residents who lived in the two towns.
Southern Pacific asked Suisun City to show why the existing depot shouldn’t be moved toward Fairfield to serve both towns.
That idea didn’t fly in Suisun City. The Suisun City-based Solano Republican reported that, while Suisun City didn’t want to interfere with Fairfield’s interests, neither did it want to sacrifice its own.
Fairfield won the battle. The depot moved a few blocks to its present location. No longer was it called the Suisun station.
“Suisun-Fairfield! Change cars for Vallejo, Napa and Santa Rosa,” brakemen yelled on March 25, 1914, for the first time.
Suisun City apparently decided to make the best of the decision.
“The change of the passenger depot is one of the events which will help bridge the differences felt in the past and unite the two towns that never should have been separated,” the Solano Republican said.
Still, Suisun City in another sense won the battle. The Suisun-Fairfield station today is within the city boundaries of Suisun City. Fairfield has no station in its boundaries.
That could change within a few years, when both cities finally have a station of their own.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.