A new book, published by a local historian, describes the rich and complex history of railroads in and around Livermore.
The book, titled “Depot,” begins with a brief history of the region before moving on to the development of the railroad industry, which has influenced and been influenced by the development of Livermore itself, according to the book’s author, retired physicist Alan Frank.
The title of the book comes from the symbolic importance of the 19th century rail depot which narrowly escaped demolition and was later moved to Livermore’s transit center, where it now offers ticket service and historic memorabilia.
“Depot” can be purchased through the Livermore Heritage Guild.
Since it appeared, Frank has continued his research and compiled more evidence of the interaction of the city and the railroads – an interaction that he plans to highlight in upcoming public talks, including one at the Main Library on July 17.
Frank has had a lifelong interest in trains. It started when, as a child in New York City in the 1940s, he watched the New York Central Railway’s 20th Century Limited pass near his house.
For many years, he was a member of the Niles Canyon railroad, serving as its historian and curator.
Fittingly, his book appears in the year of the 150th anniversary of both the founding of Livermore and the opening of transcontinental rail service.
He started work on the book last autumn as a part-time project, having other things to do in retirement, such as serve on the Livermore Symphony board, play string bass in the Symphony and flute for the Pleasanton band.
Beyond his own hours perusing old maps, deeds and newspaper articles, he found Livermore City staff extremely helpful in “helping me dig out information.”
Although 1869 is given as the year of Livermore’s founding, the city was little more than outlines on a map when the railroad first arrived that same year.
“The town existed only on the paper of (pioneer William) Mendenhall’s plat,” or official map, according to “Depot.”
Sixteen years earlier, in 1853, survey parties had identified Livermore’s Pass, later called Altamont Pass, as “the best dry land route from the Central Valley to (San Francisco) Bay.”
The Transcontinental Railroad itself can be traced to the Pacific Railroad Act, signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1862.
“Depot” traces the history of that huge project, particularly the Western portion where a complex of corporate arrangements brought a line through Alameda (Niles) Canyon into Livermore and on to Sacramento.
It’s a story with ramifications far beyond Alameda County, with lawsuits, disputed land grants and even murder, as described in Frank’s book.
The rough and intensely competitive world of railroads has led many to the view that the industry is uncommonly hard and cynical.
Frank himself clearly thinks so. “The way they (the railroads) treated people raised a tremendous amount of ire,” he said.
“The railroad was disliked. Tremendous crowds celebrated the coming of the Western Pacific, but the trains never did any good for passenger transit.
“Their schedules were totally self-serving for the railroad.”
The depot itself narrowly avoided destruction in 1973 despite a written promise to the Livermore city Council by the owner, Southern Pacific Transportation, a Southern Pacific subsidiary.
The threat to demolish the depot was the main motivation for creation of the Livermore Heritage Guild, which worked to find a way to preserve it.
As Frank relates the story in “Depot,” Valley Times photographer Lee Estes happened to pass by and noticed that demolition had begun despite a promise to the contrary. He alerted his editor -- longtime history buff Barry Schrader – who alerted the city manager and members of the Livermore Heritage Guild.
Guild members “gathered at the depot and physically interceded until a stop order was processed,” according to “Depot.”