This time of year NWP fans soberly observe the demise of the San Rafael branch 33 years ago. August 17, 1985 the NWP ran down to San Rafael from Petaluma to pick up the last freight car to be delivered to a customer on the branch. Customer was a lumber yard. On August 1 of that year, the SP had imposed a $1200 "light density" surcharge on every car delivered on the branch, according to Angelo Figone's stunning and heartbreaking "The Northwestern Pacific Railroad: Lifeline of the Redwood Empire Boom and Bust 1951-2001". The writing was on the wall, and finally the walls came down on freight railroading in San Rafael.
Power for that last move would have probably been a pair of SW1500s. Last week, a very similar looking engine, the NWP's MP15DC 1501, lettered for the Northwestern Pacific instead of the SP but painted in SP scarlet and gray, led a work train down the branch. Pictures below.
The evening began as all NWP evenings do, mostly, at the Ignacio wye where the crew spotted some grainer empties on the south leg of the wye, before coupling back on to its single ballast car and the SP 1971 caboose. They also took on a few SMART MOW personnel.
As night fell, the work train waited at the approach signal on the north leg of the wye as a job briefing was conducted. In this pic a SMART employee heads out of the middle of the wye in a SMART SUV.
A few moments later the dispatcher has put up the signal for the NWP to proceed onto the SMART mainline, shown here looking south down the old San Rafael branch. The north leg of the wye was the NWP main line for more than fifty years--from the end of passenger service out of San Rafael in 1958, a story covered poignantly in Angelo Figone's epic tome on the NWP, referenced above.
No freight service south of the Ignacio wye, and none of the gauntlet tracks that would allow such service neither. There are two platforms the NWP had to pass on this night. The caboose's bay window and the ballast car were the widest parts of the train, the engine being narrower by a several inches. The SMART and NWP folks walked the train down the platform at Hamilton as shown here:
Then a few miles and about ten minutes later the NWP, now in San Rafael, approached the Civic Center station, doing the same drill as at Hamilton:
Leaving Civic Center station behind, the NWP and SMART crew members ride the engine to inspect the portions of track to receive ballast:
This picture about captures the southernmost progress of the train. Some of you might wanting to quibble that the train didn't actually make it into city limits should note the sign at left in this photograph. This is Los Ranchitos road, looking north, with downtown San Rafael a couple miles to my back:
The train dumped ballast, stopped, dumped some more, in the vicinity of the pedestrian crossing on Las Gallinas Avenue and then returned to the Ignacio wye:
At the wye they had made up a little ramp with concrete blocks and a front end loader would quickly replenish the ballast supply in the hopper and off they'd go again.
Here they make the second trip south on the old San Rafael branch, passing the Safeway in Hamilton neighborhood of Novato. They did not return to San Rafael as far as I could tell. I think I spotted them around St. Vincent's, and later on the passing track section that passes the wye.
Another view of the loading situation:
And a departure north to the north switch of passing track section. They got onto the siding, which is the near track, and dumped some ballast around the industrial park area.
Here they are on the Hamilton siding near the old Frosty Acres refrigerated warehouse (never a customer) and the PG&E substation:
After this they headed north and worked the area north of San Marin station, which is the northern of the three Novato stations. The overpass is highway 101:
Happy End of NWP Service in San Rafael Anniversary everybody!