State Belt Locomtive #7 switching at
Pier 43 near Fisherman's Wharf (c. 1940)
State Belt Railroad of California was a shortline that
served San Francisco's waterfront until the 1980's. It's tracks
extended the length of the Embarcadero from south of Market Street
to Fort Mason and the Presidio. Although locals nicknamed the line
the Toonerville Trolley and the Wooden Axle Line, the State Belt
had an illustrious career.
The first trackage of the State Belt was built by the Board
of State Harbor Commissioners in 1889. At that time,
the lands along waterfront were owned by the State, not San Francisco.
These lands were once under water, so they were not included in
the original survey of the City.
The original tracks were dual-gauged, to allow transfer of narrow
gauge freight cars from the North
Pacific Coast R.R. (Marin County) and the South
Pacific Coast R.R. (Alameda, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz
counties), as well as standard gauge cars. These first tracks did
not yet connect to the outside world - all cars were ferried in
from around the San Francisco Bay. Belt tracks finally connected
with Southern Pacific tracks in 1913 at a small interchange yard
located at Townsend and Berry Streets.
The Roundhouse at Sansome and Embarcadero
The State Belt built a five-stall concrete-reinforced
roundhouse at Sansome and the Embarcadero. (This historic structure
still stands today as an office building). This engine facility
housed a modest number of oil-fired steam switchers (mostly 0-6-0's),
and later, ALCO S-2 diesels. The railroad also owned four freight
cars - idler
flatcars that were used to prevent the heavy engines from rolling
onto the car ferries.
State Belt's ferry slips were located near Fisherman's Wharf. The
railroad transferred cars from the Santa
Fe, the Northwestern
Pacific, and the Western
Pacific. In the twenties, the Santa Fe built its own
car ferry operation in China Basin, and State Belt tracks were extended
over Third Street and the Mission Creek drawbridge to make a connection.
Fort Mason Tunnel East Portal and Trestle
Construction at the 1915 Panama-Pacific World's
Fair and traffic to Fort Mason justified the construction of a tunnel,
1500 feet long, 15 feet wide and 22 feet high underneath the Fort
Mason Military Reservation. Eventually tracks were extended across
what is now the Marina District to Crissy Field to serve the Presidio.
World War II generated a large amount of trans-Pacific traffic,
and the State Belt contributed greatly to the movement of materials
during the War. Army and Navy switchers were added to provide enough
locomotive capacity. The State Belt also delivered trainloads of
fresh troops to debarkation points, and picked up hospital trains
and returning troops. The railroad moved 156 troop trains and 265
hospital trains in 1945 alone.
Operations slowly wound down as shipping moved across the Bay to
Oakland. In 1969, with the State wanting to get out of the port
business, San Francisco voters approved a bond issue to buy the
Port of San Francisco. The State Belt R.R. thus became the San Francisco
Belt Railroad. Later in 1973, the City offered to sell the railroad
to any operator for $1. After more than half a year, a 20-year contract
to operate the railroad was signed with Kyle Railways. Total trackage
had fallen from 67 miles in 1950 to 58 miles in 1973.
The end of the railroad came in 1993. By then, most trackage north
of the Ferry building was gone or inactive. The only activity took
place at Pier 96, a newly built container facility near Hunter's
Point. ALCO S-2 #23 was chosen to serve the facility, complete with
the new number 49 and a new paint job in 49er colors. Engine
#49, along with #25
are now on long term loan to the Museum from the Port of San Francisco.
They join State Belt Steam
Engine #4 as part of the GGRM's San Francisco Railroading Heritage
Text by Thomas Beutel
The following sources have good information about the State Belt
- Arnold, Stanleigh. "The Embarcadero Limited"
in The Western Railroader, vol. 15, no. 2, issue 146 (December
1951). Huntington Beach: The Pacific Coast Chapter, Railway
and Locomotive Historical Society, 1951. ISSN: 0149-4996.
This is an early history of the railroad. It includes a Steam
Engine roster and photos of #1, #3, #10, and #20.
- Brady, Matthew. "A Railway of Our Own"
in San Francisco Independent, February 9, 1993. San Francisco:
San Francisco Independent, 1993.
Article discusses closing of the San Francisco Belt Line R.R.
on Jan. 29, 1993. Also presents brief history and a 1906 photo
looking east from Vallejo Street.
- Dow, McMorris and Joseph A. Strapac. "A
State Belt Pictorial" in The Western Railroader, vol. 51,
no. 533 (February 1988). Huntington Beach: The Pacific Coast
Chapter, Railway and Locomotive Historical Society, 1988. ISSN:
This is the best history of the railroad that we've found. It
has many pictures and it also includes a table of locomotive
statistics and builders numbers.
- Dwyer, J. J. et al. Biennial Report of the Board
of State Harbor Commissioners for the Fiscal Years Commencing
July 1, 1912 and Ending June 30, 1914. San Francisco: California
State Printing Office, 1914. ISBN: unknown.
Contains descriptions of construction and maintenance, financials,
pictures of Fort Mason tunnel, picture of engine house, picture
of locomotive #7, and complete 1914 map of system trackage from
Fourth Street to Laguna Street.
- Nickle, Charles and Barbara Nickle, "The
San Francisco Belt Line RR." in Model Railroader Magazine
vol. 47, no. 6 (April 1980). Milwaukee: Kalmbach Publishing
Company, 1980. ISSN: 0026-7341.
Contains a general history of the railroad, along with pictures
and a suggestion of how to build a model of the railroad.
- (Photographs of the State Belt Railroad). Sacramento:
Photo Collection of the California State Railroad Museum, various
The museum has a collection of photographs of State Belt locomotives
(nos. 1 (original), 1 (new), 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 20, 21, 22, 23,
24, and 25). Some photographs also show various work scenes
and maintenance of way cars.
Railroad Locomotive Roster.