History of the Napa Valley Railroad
Samuel Brannan and a group of business associates built the Napa Valley Railroad in 1863. Brannan had founded the town of Calistoga, north of St. Helena, and established the railroad to bring tourists to his hot springs resort. The railroad’s 42 miles of track ran from Vallejo connecting with the San Francisco Bay Area ferryboat service.
The Railroad was built from the head of navigation on the Napa River near Soscol (at today’s Butler Bridge overpass) to Napa. The track from Soscol to Napa was completed on July 11, 1865. The NVRR reached Oakville on September 15, 1867, St. Helena on February 27, 1868, and Calistoga on July 31, 1868. Stops were made at Napa, Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, Bello, St. Helena, Barro, Bale and Walnut Grove. The California Pacific Railroad Company purchased the Napa Valley Railroad Company at foreclosure in June 1869. The Central Pacific purchased the California Pacific in 1876. The track was leased to the Southern Pacific Railroad on April 1, 1885, and was soon connected to their main line in Suisun, California. Southern Pacific acquired Central Pacific Railroad on April 14, 1898.
The Vallejo, Benicia and Napa Valley Railroad Co. was established in 1902. The line reached Benicia in 1904. The San Francisco, Vallejo and Napa Valley RR Co. was established in 1906. They built the electric line to St. Helena. It often ran parallel to the original line. Southern Pacific RR ended passenger service in 1929. The electric railroad service ended in 1938. The electric interurbans had no association with the Napa Valley RR, the Central Pacific RR, or the Southern Pacific RR.
Eventually, Greyhound Bus Lines took over the route. Southern Pacific, as a freight branch line, utilized the track for the following 58 years until 1987, when the railroad petitioned for abandonment. In 1987, the track from Napa to St. Helena was sold to the new Napa Valley Railroad for the operation of the Napa Valley Wine Train. The Napa Valley Wine Train has been in operation since September 6, 1989, and has now carried more than 2 million passengers.