R a i l D i v i s i o n
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Amtrak California Photo
An unoffical history of the California Department of Transportation's Rail Division

by Ken Rattenne
Photography by the author except where noted


Since 1982 the California Department Of Transportation (CalTrans) has been active in the funding, planning and execution of a number of railroad passenger operations in the Golden State. CalTrans' Rail Division, in a partnership with Amtrak, has expanded California's rail transportation network dramatically, adding several new trains to the San Diegan and San Joaquin corridors and initiating the very popular Capitols between San Jose and Sacramento.

Until 1992 CalTrans also operated CalTrain, the former Southern Pacific commuter service on the San Francisco Peninsula crewed by Amtrak personnel. During this period they increased the number of trains to 60 a day, refurbished stations and purchased new equipment. 

CalTrain is now operated as a separate entity governed by the Joint Powers Board representing the three participating counties: Santa Clara. San Mateo and San Francisco. Equipment, however, retains the CDTX reporting marks designation.

Due to the Great Recession, in 2010 the Joint Powers Board was receiving only a fraction of the funding required tokeep service as described above, due mostly to reduces tax revenues. The JPB announced drastic service reductions to take place starting in October of 2010 and January of 2011. Weekend service would be eliminated as would service to Gilroy. 

 The CalTrain Years 
CalTrain banner

In 1982 the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) took over operation of Southern Pacific's San Francisco-to-San Jose commuter service, leasing the passenger cars, locomotives and stations along the line from SP. Under the moniker of CalTrain, the agency was successful in building ridership and adding trains to improve overall service. In 1985 CalTrans re-equipped the service with brand new stainless steel bilevel cars and head-end power equipped locomotives.

On June 27, 1992, CalTrain service. equipment and physical plant were turned over to the Bay Area's Joint Powers Board (JPB), an independent governing agency formed to administer all aspects of CalTrain Peninsula commuter operations.

Today, the JPB operates autonomously, responsible for all CalTrain operations, maintenance and funding activities. AsidenewCalTrainLogo.gif (5778 bytes)from loaning an occasional F40PH-2 to the state to cover an Amtrak road failure, there is no day-to-day contact with CalTrans.

Recently there were discussions between CalTrans, the JPB and Amtrak to build a joint maintenance facility in San Jose which would have serviced the peninsula commute fleet, Amtrak's Capitols and San Joaquins, and the California Zephyr. Unfortunately, disagreements between the JPB, Caltrans and the City of San Jose led to the scuttling of those plans.

CalTrans And Amtrak California

Once out of the commuter rail business, Caltrans began focusing on building a state-wide intercity rail service to meet the needs of a growing rail passenger market and to begin an aggressive campaign to convince more Californians to leave the convenience of their cars for the convenience and comfort of an Amtrak coach. To this end CalTrans and Amtrak entered into a partnership which they call Amtrak West.

Today CalTrans and Amtrak West is responsible for California's three busiest rail corridors: The Capitols, San Joaquins and San Diegans. Plus, through CalTrans funding, Amtrak operates an extensive state-wide network of Amtrak Thruway bus connections which act as a feeder system to the trains. This bus-rail pairing brings intercity transportation to many of California's smaller towns that have no direct Amtrak rail connection.

The Department must also employ political savvy as well as logistical expertise, cooperating with local government agencies to provide grants for station improvements in addition to money for capital improvements to track and signaling systems on routes running Amtrak trains.

The CalTrans Rail Division has been using bond money voted for rail use in 1990, and has used these funds for adding to train frequency on all three corridors plus extending service on California's scenic Coast Line between San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles. This bond money was also used by CalTrans to design and purchase a new fleet of intercity railcars and locomotives now plying California's rails. Dubbed "California Cars", these new bilevel passenger cars equip all state-funded corridor trains.


CalTrans purchased its first railroad passenger equipment in 1985 and 1986 when it funded the 20 EMD F40PH-2 locomotives and 60 bilevel commuter coaches used in Bay Area CalTrain service. Title to this equipment was transferred to the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (JPB) in 1992 and no longer appears on any CalTrans roster.

In 1993 CalTrans ordered two General Electric B32-8WH units as part of a larger Amtrak order for the same model. These two units originally wore Amtrak colors and featured a small CalTrans decal on the cab. They carried Amtrak numbers 501-502 until 1994 when the units were repainted into the current CalTrans paint scheme and renumbered to 2051-2052.

CalTrans F59PHI 2009 passes a BNSF freight as it speeds through  Riverbank Yard with a northbound San Joaquin on December 12, 2008. Six months later the San Joaquin has just left the Modesto depot and will run along the aptly named Santa Fe Road for another mile.  The San Joaquins use BNSF tracks between Port Chicago and Bakersfield, maintaining a respectable 79 mph.  along much of the route. BNSF does a better than average job keeping the trains' schedules.
In 1995 CalTrans ordered and took delivery of 9 EMD F59PHI passenger locomotives that were quickly pressed into Amtrak service within the state. These unusual-looking diesels are most often found on the San Joaquin and Capitol corridors, but can also be found on the very popular San Diegan service.

In addition to locomotives, 1995 also found CalTrans taking delivery of their long-awaited bilevel "California Cars", constructed by Morrison/Knudsen and used exclusively on state-funded 403b trains.

With the growing popularity of both the San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor trains CalTrans went back to EMD in 2001 and ordered another six F59PH units, numbered 2010-2015.

CalTrans Locomotive Roster Summary

The below roster is effective as of November 1996. The CalTrain F40PH-2s, though no longer part of the CalTrans equipment roster, are nonetheless presented here since they were originally purchased by the agency. They are currently owned by the JPB.

The F59PHI and B32-8WH units are currently under control by Amtrak and are used on a variety of California Amtrak trains. The largest number of these units are assigned to San Joaquin and Capitol service, though they are occasionally pressed into other Amtrak service on an emergency basis. Amtrak maintains these units at their Los Angles Redondo Junction facility.

CalTrans Locomotive Roster Summary
Compiled by Ken Rattenne
Road No.
lettered for CalTrain service
lettered for CalTrain service
lettered for CalTrain service
MP36PH-3C 3600 2004 lettered for CalTrain service
SW1500 1500 1974 ex-Southern Pacific
2 GP9E 1750 1959 ex-SP 3833 & 3842
lettered for Amtrak California
ex-Atk 501-502, lettered for Amtrak California
Reporting marks for all units is CDTX
  1. CalTrans transferred title to 900-919 to the JPB (Joint Powers Board) in 1992). JPB has since taken delivery of three additional units.
  2. CalTrain F40PH-2s are not equipped with dynamic braking, employing a "blended braking" option instead.
  3. CalTrans 2051-2052 were originally delivered lettered and painted for Amtrak, wearing numbers 501-502. The only distinguishing marking was a CalTrans logo on the cab of each unit. The units were painted into the Amtrak California silver & blue scheme in the summer of 1995.
See a Detailed Roster (unit-by-unit)

Photo Gallery
Photos by Ken Rattenne
CalTrain 903
On October 27, 1998, B32-8WH 2052 (ex-Amtrak 502) blasts through Modesto with a set of California Cars after departing Riverbank only moments before with the San Joaquin. . (Ken Rattenne Photo) CalTrain 1985-built F40PH-2 905 takes its turn on the turntable in San Jose not long after its delivery. (Ken Rattenne Photo) Amtrak F59PH 460 speeds a Surfliner south through Del Mar on September 19, 2008. Theformer  San Diegan train name was changed to Surfliner when Amtrak California rebranded the service and added California Cars. The F59s belong to Amtrak.

CalTrain (nee SP) 3i87 displays its one of a kind paint scheme along with two of three bilevels which also wore the experimental scheme. Seldom did the four travel in a matched set but it did occasionally happen. Seen here on display in San Francisco on May 15, 1982.
Southern Pacific GP9E 3187 and three SP Gallery cars were repainted into an experimental CalTrain paint scheme in 1983. SP, which held the operating contract for CalTrain, wasn't particularly interested in keeping the matched set together and more often than not passenger cars and locomotive were scattered amongst four different trains. However, once in a great while the gods would smile and the 3187 would pull duty with the three matched Gallery cars.

CalTrans returned 3187 to SP in 1985 after taking delivery of new F40PH-2s.  SP immediately re-assigned the 3187 to the general freight pool and the unit finished out its days working locals and yards.

A Capitol Corridor train with CDTX 2011 in the lead, trundles across the Carquinez Straits just before arriving at Martinez on April 28, 2002. 

Want to learn more about California intercity passenger rail service, CalTrain or Bay Area railroad history? Check out these quality links. 

CalTrain Baby Bullet Train, Santa Clara

Rattenne Family Of Pages

Created: February 23, 1996. Last Updated: August 2010.
This document is Copyright ©1997-2010  by Ken Rattenne and KPR Media Services