Pacific NW rail in Marin County, CA

Discussion related to railroading activities past and present in the American Pacific Northwest (including Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and southern British Columbia).

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Pacific NW rail in Marin County, CA

Postby Rondeau » Tue Feb 22, 2011 5:09 pm

I've only recently gotten serious about researching the history of Pacific Northwest's lines through Marin county, CA, north of San Francisco. For the past 30 years I've lived in a house about 150 yards or so from a former right of way which is now used as a bike/walking path. Over the years I've occasionally found discarded rail spikes and I always knew a line ran through here but didn't study it further.

Just last month there was an article in the local newspaper about someone who salvaged tons of old-growth redwood that was originally installed in Tunnel #3 on the PNW line that ran from the Tiburon ferry up to San Rafael, connecting on to all points north, east, and west. (The full article is available here.) The tunnel had been built in 1884 and was abandoned years ago. Last year it was "refurbished" as a combination bike/pedestrian/rail tunnel (for eventual use by the SMART commuter train line that is supposed to go to the Larkspur ferry).

The "new" tunnel is a big hit but there's nothing left of the original -- except, it turns out, for all of this wonderful old wood. I ended up commissioning a coffee table made from salvaged wood and it's a thing of beauty. The edges and underside remain rough and stained with soot from coal-burning steam engines, while the top surfaces are stunning old redwood of a grade which has been illegal to harvest for decades. For me, it's a thrill to have a piece of local rail history that ties in directly to the old right of way where I still walk my dog every day.


Here's the "raw" underside:


I found a great link showing the locations of key parts of the line in Marin, with Google satellite views and photos. I've spent hours comparing that to a 1932 map published by Pacific Northwest but I just can't pin down the precise location of the "Detour" junction where the single track Tiburon line connected with the double-track Sausalito/Mill Valley/Larkspur line, continuing on to Tunnel #3 (now called "Cal-Park Tunnel"):


(On this map the yellow dot at "Meadowsweet" is the location of my house; the rebuilt tunnel number 3 from which the redwood was salvaged is also highlighted in yellow.)

Does anyone know the exact location of the Detour junction? I have a pretty fair idea of its location but I can't be 100% certain.

I would dearly love to find some photos showing trains passing along the stretch between Detour and Reed. I know that trains ran along that line at least until the 1950s and possibly longer. Meadowsweet, which was just barely south of my current location, was a huge dairy. The rail stop was critical to their business to transport products both south to San Francisco via ferries, and north to points everywhere in NW California.
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