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Street Running in San Francisco on the SF Belt Railway

April 21, 2011

San Francisco Belt Railway ALCo Switcher

Hidden south of downtown San Francisco, at the Corners of 3rd Street and the aptly named Cargo Way runs the “mainline” of the diminutive San Francisco Belt Railroad. The road is 100% ALCo powered, sporting a pair of ALCo S-2’s riding on Blunt trucks. The attractive striped scheme really makes it feel appropriate for an industrial switching operation, and is a nod to the original State Belt Railway that operated along the SF waterfront for more than a century until the early 1980’s. Unique among ALCo owners, both locomotives have been professionally modified to run off of Biodiesel and cooking oil. As with many small railroads operating ALCo’s, parts are scarce and the day we visited #23 was operating despite a damaged tire on the wheel. (Yes, ALCo built their early diesels like steam locomotives in the fact that each driver has a removable flanged tire versus most other diesels which have one solid casting which is then machined down.) Other classic touches like a Wooden cab with hand-painted “Danger” signs round out the old fashioned feel of these locomotives.
Alco Switcher Interior


Their line connects a “dirty dirt” (contaminated soil) export operation with a couple of other customers to the nearby Union Pacific/ Caltrain mainline at Quint Street. A portion of this short mainline runs down the middle of Quint and Rankin streets on their way to the interchange. An unusual feature of the railroad is that it crosses the MUNI T 3rd street light rail line at grade, necessitating a pair of diamonds at the site, buried in the middle of the street! Also of note is the operable drawbridge on Illinois street, about block from the diamonds at 3rd and Cargo Way.


I was there for a film shoot of a local variety TV show called “Eye on the Bay” with some friends involved with them and the Bayshore Roundhouse restoration project
. It was quite fun getting to see behind the scenes of a local TV show, and everybody was incredibly nice, from the Host to the producer to the Cameraman.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Ian permalink
    April 29, 2011 3:27 pm

    Didn’t know this even existed!

  2. June 12, 2011 12:33 am

    Neat series!~

    San Francisco Belt Railroad Engine #23 on the Islais Creek Bridge

  3. Leonard Wayne Dobbert permalink
    October 16, 2011 12:19 am

    I have been a Alco nut since I was a kid. Living in Alameda calif, most of my life, and working for the Alameda Belt Line Railway. These two Alcos bring back memories, and they look sharp. I am real glad they kept the same style paint job. I ran and maintained a Alco S-1 at Walled Lake Michigan for three years, And I loved every minute of it.

  4. April 30, 2013 4:25 pm

    Wow that was odd. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Regardless, just wanted to say great blog!

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