Off my trolley – interurban branchlines 3 – the Sacramento Northern

Despite the fact that the Sacramento Northern boasted 183 miles of track around San Francisco it was really just a long, glorified branch line.  Even in 1940, long after most other interurbans had degenerated into poorly-maintained shadows of their pre-WWI prime, the Sacramento Northern was operating trains of freshly painted heavy wooden arch-window cars.

It had some interesting features – some cars carried trolley poles, pantographs and third-rail shoes to operate on various parts of the system.  It also had a train ferry with overhead power.  These was an interesting variety of passenger and freight equipment, steep grades that required helper locomotives, a tunnel and many bridges, all set in spectacular scenery still to be spoilt by suburbia.  Like many other electric lines, the SN operated local services in the larger cities that it served; this was provided by Birney cars in Sacramento, Marysville-Yuba City and Chico.

This photograph sums things up very well.


Photo: copyright 1953-2012 by John L. Mathis under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License

All this seems ideal for the modeller – apart for the dearth of SN models in N gauge.

For a good overview of the whole line, try this site, Sacramento Northern.  Trevor Marshall, on his Achievable Layouts site, has explored options for a number of stations.  Walnut Creek is particularly interesting as a prototype.  It’s just like any other single track passing station, but as it is designed for interurbans, the passing loop is very short – just like a model railroad.

Two other locations are of interest.  Yuba City was a major yard serving the town of that name.  The track diagram below shows modelling potential.  Note the street car line that leaves at bottom left and curves back across the main line.  If you visit Google Earth and the site of the yard, you can still see evidence of track in the tarmac at this crossing.


Byron Henderson has compressed this well for N gauge, albeit in post-electric days.

Perhaps even better, was the junction at Shafter, Oakland CA, where the SN met the Key System.  Look at this track layout!  The local residents in Shafter Avenue continually complained about the SN, as any switching in the little freight yard to the right required use of the track up the middle of the road.  At least it wasn’t steam….


Without compression, this would fit a board about 5 x 3 feet in N-scale.  It would probably fit onto the usual 4 x 2 foot board with a little adjustment.



Best book is this one.  Expensive, but delightful.  All in all, the Sacramento Northern has a lot going for it…..

About snitchthebudgie

Secretary of the East Surrey N Gauge railway club
This entry was posted in Inspiration, Layout design, Traction and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Off my trolley – interurban branchlines 3 – the Sacramento Northern

  1. Brett Rossi says:

    Have any arguments about me adding this on twitter?


  2. justinr11 says:

    You may know about the N-Scale Sacramento Northern Holman Combine on Shapeways, the SN steeple cab there, and the Baldwin steeple cab. We talk about what to use to power them and where to get decals and poles on the Sacramento Northern Yahoo Group. Costs come out to around $100 to get a nice DC model unless you go further in electronics. Much more affordable than HO-Scale.


  3. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:


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