SP 2477 June52 Los Gatosblog

The Southern Pacific once operated a network of branches that served smaller communities in California. I moved to a new home in 1984 unaware of the fact it was built on the former Southern Pacific Vasona Branch.  It took me a few years to realize that this was once the path of SP trains and in an earlier time the South Pacific Coast narrow gauge. The rail line once traversed the Santa Cruz Mountains on its way to the coastal city of Santa Cruz, California.   A historic three-foot railroad which became part of the vast Southern Pacific network.  The line originated in the Oakland area and ran southwest to the Pacific Ocean.   Los Gatos was the last town before the line entered the Santa Cruz mountains.  It so happened that the mountains hid the San Andreas earthquake fault.  In 1906, the earth moved and so the railroad line. The quake did significant damage to the right of way.  Slides, caved-in tunnels and other problem blocked service.  The SP decided to convert the line to standard gauge while repairing the damage.    In 1940, fierce storms caused significant damage to the portion of the line that ran through the Santa Cruz mountains.   The railroad petitioned the California PUC to end service west of Los Gatos.  By the way, Los Gatos is Spanish for “The Cats”.

SP 2476 sj table 39 bl

The Vasona Branch started in San Jose near the Race Street overcrossing.  It ran to Campbell and then to Los Gatos.  The distance of 8.3 miles took 35 minutes.   Near Los Gatos, the line passed Vasona Junction.  The junction was with the Los Altos branch that ran from Palo Alto south to the junction.   The SP provided commuter service from Los Gatos to San Francisco via Los Altos line.  The trains were handled by steam up until 1955.  P-6 and P-7 locomotive classes were common on the line.

SP 2781 Vasona Jct

Local freight ran on the Vasona and Los Altos branches.  In the 1950s, consolidation 2781 was a common locomotive handling the freight runs.   The picture above shows 2781 at Vasona Junction.

SP 2781 Vasona Dam LRThe above picture shows the freight heading to Los Gatos.   If you look closely you can see the dam for Vasona Lake.  The mountain in the distance is Mt. Umunhum which was the fourth tallest peak in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  Today, the dam and mountain are the only things you would recognize.  For six years, my office was just to the right of the tender.  The right of way became University Avenue and the office buildings were built on either side of the old line.

LG 1953 engine 2477The line between two main streets in town.  The buildings on the left are the backside of stores on Santa Cruz Avenue.  A lumber yard on the right side was served by the line.  There were two lumber yards in town.   An oil dealer and a couple canneries rounded out the local customers.

SP 2781 LG freight houseLos Gatos had a freight house shown above and depot that was just beyond the freight house.  The tall deodar cedar tree is still there but we would be look at the back side of the post office.   The end of line is shown below.  The locomotive would run around and tow the train to Vasona Junction to turn the locomotive.

SP 2781 end of track Los Gatos

I wish that I had been there years before to see the line in operation.  The branch was cut back to the Junction in 1959.

I can suggest an excellent document to learn more about this line.  The Central Coast Chapter of the NHRS has a PDF you can download that will provide more information on the Vasona Branch.  Vasona Branch Story

Happy Trails,


6 thoughts on “PROTOTYPE INFORMATION: SP Vasona Branch

  1. Pingback: PROTOTYPE INFORMATION: SP Vasona Branch | GrumpyRailroad

  2. Excellent summary there and some great photographs. I wonder if you’ve seen my book, “Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains”. It covers the entire stretch to track from the Santa Cruz Wharf to Vasona, focusing specifically on all the stops. There are chapters on Bunker Hill/Memorial Park, Los Gatos Depot, Los Gatos Freight Yard, Billy Jones Wildcat Railway, Parr’s Spur/Bermingham/Bulwer, Vasona, and Vasona Junction. I also keep a regularly-updated website at I’d love to hear any more details you have on your own knowledge of the route as I constantly update my book and plan a full second edition in a few years.

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