FAIRFIELD — It’s been 100 years since electric trains first hit the tracks at Rio Vista Junction. History repeated itself Sunday.
The Western Railway Museum offered rides on a two-car relic that was once used to transport passengers between Oakland and Sacramento when electric train transportation was all the rage.
“Today we are running an actual Sacramento Northern train on Sacramento Northern tracks,” said Phil Kohlmetz, executive director of the Western Railway Museum.
The museum between Suisun City and Rio Vista recently earned recognition on the National Register of Historic Places. Officials hosted a dedication ceremony Sunday that coincided with the centennial celebration of the Sacramento Northern.
“We thought it’d be nice to tie the two together,” Kohlmetz said.
The ”grand excursion” on the Sacramento Northern No. 1005 and its partner the Oakland, Antioch and Eastern Railway No. 1020 included 100 pieces of equipment, many of which belonged to the original railroad, Kohlmetz said.
The museum, which hosts train rides every day it’s open, brought out the Sacramento Railroad cars just for the special occasion. The “beautiful, two-car green train” ran three times Sunday, Kohlmetz said.
“(We) can’t run them every single day, otherwise we’d run them to death,” he said.
Service on the Oakland, Antioch and Eastern Railway from Bay Point to Oakland started in April 1913 and was extended to Sacramento in September 1913. The transit system was reorganized as the San Francisco-Sacramento Railroad in 1919 and renamed the Sacramento Northern around 1929 after Western Pacific Railroad acquired it along with Northern Electric Railway.
The Bay Area Electric Railroad Association, which formed in 1946 to preserve and interpret transit history, boasts 21 miles of the historic right of way used by the interurban trains in the early 20th century. The land surrounding the old rail line remains mostly rural aside from the wind turbines, working to create the same kind of energy that powers the historic electric railcars.
“It’s nice that there’s such a good proximity (to the turbines),” Kohlmetz said. “One hundred years ago – that’s the reason they liked electric trains, because they did not pollute and were quiet.”
Engineer Michael Bates, who works on Travis Air Force Base, was about to ride a rail car from the Key System, which used to cross the lower deck of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Bates, of Tulsa, Okla., works on cockpit simulators for the KC-10 Extender and said the historic train systems offer a similar appeal.
“Things that move under power appeal to engineers to the way in which a transit system is built and the complicated mechanical equipment – repaired and restored so beautifully – brought back to life,” he said.
“(It’s the) opposite (end) of the tech spectrum – from what you see taking off from Travis to the windmills,” he said. “An interesting contrast.”
The Western Railway Museum earned its honor on the National Register of Historic Places last year after a rigorous application process, Kohlmetz said. The historic district includes the 22-acre location of the museum as well as 21 miles of train track.
“(Inclusion) on the National Register is a real feather in the cap – not just for the organization, but for the community,” Kohlmetz said. “It says that we have something of national significance right here.”
Reach Adrienne Harris at 427-6956 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/aharrisdr.