Caltrain Celebrates 160 Years of Rail Service from San Francisco to San Jose

Link to pictures: Caltrain Photo Archive 

Today is the 160th anniversary of the beginning of San Francisco-San Jose passenger rail service, which began on January 16, 1864. 

The creation of this rail corridor, which has been in constant use for the past 160 years, was central to the development of the San Francisco Peninsula and South Bay. Most of the cities that can be found along the corridor built their downtowns around the railroad, allowing communities to form and grow together. Easily accessible transportation led to economic prosperity and development, as trains could move far more people and goods than stagecoaches traveling on dirt roads, which would take between eight hours and three days depending on weather. 

The idea of creating a rail line between the two cities first came about in 1851, while San Jose was still capital of California. After three failed attempts to obtain funding, the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad incorporated in 1860. Construction began in May 1861 at San Francisquito Creek, and regular service from San Francisco to Mayfield (now the California Avenue Station) began in October 1863, with San Jose-bound passengers transferring to a stagecoach for the remainder of their journey. In 1864, the line was completed.  

There has been much talk of history as Caltrain’s historic Electrification Project, the first undertaking in North America in a generation in which diesel trains and their infrastructure components are transitioned to an electrified system, approaches completion later this year. Electrification means faster and more frequent service, including doubling the frequency on weekends. The passenger experience will be greatly improved as well with the new trains featuring Wi-Fi, power outlets at every seat, onboard displays with digital trip information and increased storage capacities.  In the spring, Caltrain will have its third public Electric Train tour and will also combine the tour with a celebration of Caltrain’s 160th anniversary.  


About Caltrain: Owned and operated by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, Caltrain provides rail service from San Francisco to San Jose, with commute service to Gilroy. Serving the region since 1863, Caltrain is the oldest continually operating rail system west of the Mississippi. Looking to the future, Caltrain is set to electrify the corridor by 2024, which will reduce diesel emissions and add more service to more stations while advancing the agency’s equity goals. 

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Media Contact: Dan Lieberman, 650.622.2492