For more than 100 years, Tracy, Calif., served as one of the major centers of rail transportation in the western United States. Beginning in the 1860s, transcontinental passenger and freight trains heading to and from the San Francisco Bay Area passed through the sprawling Tracy rail yard.
According to Southern Pacific records, Tracy's freight yard set records for traffic handled through its connections with Oakland, San Jose and San Francisco (via Niles Canyon), Martinez (via the Mococo Line that parallels the Byron Highway), Los Banos (via the Westside Branch) and Stockton, Fresno and Sacramento (via the Lathrop branch), and on to Los Angeles, Portland, Ogden and points east.
Into the 1970s, passenger trains, including the San Joaquin Daylight and the overnight Owl, made daily stops at the busy Tracy depot. Sugar beets, tomatoes, asparagus, dry beans and other produce were loaded on trains in Tracy, and the city once boasted one of the largest petroleum storage facilities on the West Coast, which also served as a fueling station for oil-fired steam locomotives.
In essence, Tracy grew up around the railroad, with train crews and maintenance workers settling in homes that bordered on the rail yard, which in turn led to the establishment of local banks, restaurants, grocers and other supporting businesses.
Railroading continues to be a key element of Tracy's present - witness the busy Altamont Corridor Express trains that pick up and drop off passengers here every morning and afternoon, and the city could once again be an important hub for the future high-speed rail project in California.
The Train Town USA designation and development of the "Bowtie" area as the Downtown Tracy Railroad Historical District, along with the creation of the San Joaquin Valley Railroad Museum, affords the opportunity to attract countless railroad enthusiasts of all ages to the city for a variety of activities throughout the year, and would serve as a vital component in the revitalization of the downtown area.