Excerpted from MHS Newsletter 2023 Q2
Trains through Moraga (Sam Sperry)
44 Years of Train Service
Beginning in 1913 and ending in 1957, our sparsely settled and not-yet incorporated community of Moraga was served by an all-electric train system which provided both passenger and freight service. For the first 15 years, the trains serving Moraga and vicinity were known as the Oakland, Antioch & Eastern Railway (the OA&E), which operated between Oakland and Sacramento. Then, in 1928, the Western Pacific Railroad (the WP) acquired both the OA&E and another all-electric system named the Northern Electric Railway (the NE), which operated between Sacramento and Chico. The WP merged the two into a single 185-mile-long all-electric railroad operation from Chico to Oakland which it named the Sacramento Northern Railway (the SN).
The Two Train Stops in Moraga
At the outset, there was only one train stop in Moraga. Known as the Moraga Station, it was comprised of both a passenger depot and substantial freight facilities located across from the Moraga Barn on today’s Viader Drive (formerly Railroad Avenue). Passengers included commuters traveling to urban locations for work and high school students going to Mt. Diablo High School in Concord (no Lamorinda public high schools in those years). The freight facilities, accessed from a spur track, included packing sheds and warehouses for the storage of redwood lumber from Canyon and locally grown food and grain products, together with holding pens for livestock. Here the goods and animals awaited transport to Bay Area markets and to port facilities for shipment to destinations both within and outside the U.S. Especially prominent among local agricultural products were the Bartlett pears and walnuts grown in orchards planted by James Irvine’s Moraga Company, established in 1913 – so much so with the pears that, for a period of time, Moraga was known as the Bartlett pear capital of the west coast!
Not until the opening of St. Mary’s College (SMC) in 1928 was the second stop established in Moraga. It was a more modest facility, consisting of a passenger depot only. It was called the St. Mary’s Station, was located on the campus and focused on passenger service, primarily for students and faculty, since there was initially little or no housing available for SMC students or faculty, either on or off the campus.
While the structures which comprised each of the two stations are gone, the location of each is now marked by a commemorative plaque placed in recent months as Eagle Scout projects. The Moraga Station plaque was installed in September2021, by Mason Fara and is located across the street from the Moraga Barn, behind present-day OSH. The St. Mary’s Station plaque was installed in September2022, by Daniel Berkes and is located¬¬ behind the backstop of the softball field. Both Mason and Daniel are boy scouts in Scouts BSA Troop 212.
The Route from Oakland Into and Through Moraga
After departing the Oakland station at 40th Street and Shafter Avenue, eastbound SN trains traveled up Shafter to connect with Broadway, and then followed Broadway up to and around Lake Temescal to travel south alongside present-day Highway 13 to Shepherd Canyon. There they turned east and traveled steeply uphill in the canyon to the western portal of the 3,000-foot-long train tunnel called the Shepherd Pass Tunnel. Upon passing through the tunnel, they exited at the eastern portal and descended to Pinehurst Road and alongside Pinehurst Road past Canyon to Canyon Road. There, they curved left to travel northeast alongside Canyon Road, and upon crossing the southern boundary of present-day Moraga, they curved left again onto the southerly extension of present-day Augusta Drive in the Moraga Country Club. Then curving right to follow the alignment of Railroad Avenue (now Viader Drive), they traveled northeast alongside Railroad, stopping at the Moraga Station. Following the stop there, the trains continued northeast through the present-day Moraga Shopping Center and Commons Park and onto the west side of today’s St. Mary’s Road before curving right and across the road onto the St. Mary’s Campus, stopping at the St. Mary’s Station. From there, the trains traveled back to St. Mary’s Road, crossing it at the intersection with Bollinger Canyon Road. From that crossing point, the SN tracks traveled on right-of-way that is today’s Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail all the way into downtown Lafayette.
The Tale of Two Ends – Emergence of the Sacramento Northern Railway
As noted above, the Sacramento Northern Railway (the SN) was established in 1928 following the acquisition and merger by the WP of the separately established NE and OA&E, sometimes referred to as the North End (the NE) and the South End (the OA&E).
The North End – Service from Chico down to Sacramento was developed as the NE, first incorporated in 1905. The northern terminus of the NE in Chico consisted of a station and shops located on Mulberry Street. The first NE trip from Chico down to Oroville was in 1906, and then on down to Sacramento in 1907. The NE was reorganized in 1918 following a foreclosure sale and renamed the Sacramento Northern Railroad (name is similar, but with “Railroad” rather than “Railway”).
The South End – The commencement of OA&E service through Moraga in 1913 was made possible by completion that year of the Shephard Pass Tunnel through the Oakland Hills, beneath Skyline Boulevard. The tunnel portal on the Alameda County side was called Havens and was located in Shephard Canyon; and on the Contra Costa County side, the portal was called Eastport, situated above Pinehurst. Some of the maintenance structures that were located at Eastport are still there, but the property is now owned by the East Bay Regional Park District and, while accessible from Pinehurst Road, is closed to the public.
Train Service Through Moraga Fades into History
SN passenger service ended in 1941, as car and bus travel became the modes of choice with completion of the Bay Bridge (1937), the opening of an improved Caldecott Tunnel (1939), and the establishment of paved public roads. Freight service, on the other hand, continued for another 16 years. Demand for rail freight service during those years was led by shipment of pears, walnuts and other local agricultural products and then military equipment, weapons and ammunition during WWII and the Korean War. Eventually a combination of expanded truck hauling, competition from other railroads and declines in local cattle ranching, farming and production of pears, walnuts and other agricultural commodities, together with the decline in military shipments, led to termination of the SN freight service in 1957; and with that, train service through Moraga faded into history.