In 1965, on the eve a major escalation of Southern Pacific's decades-long campaign to rid itself of its San Francisco Peninsula Commute Service, a proposal surfaced to realign the company's Cahill (now Diridon) Depot trackage, put into service in 1935 as part of the main line relocation away from Fourth Street and the San Pedro Street depot. The plan proposed both to add a second main track through the depot and also to extensively realign the east end of the depot's yard trackage. All that Wx4 knows about the plan comes from the blueprint maps themselves. We have no idea who came up with the idea, nor how they believed that its benefits would justify its likely hefty cost, given that SP's Market Street Headquarters viewed Commute-related capital expense with a jaundiced eye. Likewise, SP was already underway with the construction its massive Palmdale-Colton cutoff. Given this, it is understandable that the project never happened. Ultimately, SP did engage in a modest simplification and realignment of the east end trackage in 1971, when the city enlarged the Park Avenue subway underneath, but the main track arrangement remain unchanged.

Though the plan failed, its blueprint map does provide some graphic clues about the operational challenges begat by the depot's flawed placement. First, we'll look at the San Jose's route structure, then the 1965 map and how the proposal intended to ameliorate the situation. A short postscript brings things up to date.

Cahill Depot, the Bottleneck
Southern Pacific's Cahill Street, San Jose station had been a bottleneck since its opening. Half a century ago, the issue was expediting freight movements (as opposed to today's multitude of passenger trains) that slowly snaked through, or around the station tracks. In an operational sense, the fundamental problem was that Cahill depot was constructed on the wrong side of the tracks.

One of several problems: "The [eastbound] Beets" off of the Milpitas line and the east leg of the wye head down the westbound main towards depot #1, thereby blocking passenger movements in/out of depot #'s 1-4; leaving only depot #5 available. Wx4 collection slide by C. Lamphere of 7834, 7845, 4341, GP9, GP38; 12-1985

Had SP constructed a "Bush Street" station structure on the west side of the tracks, fronting on the Western Pacific West San Jose yard, many operational headaches would have been alleviated, but that land was occupied by the Del Monte Cannery, which survives today in modified form as condominiums. SP probably never considered this, because it would have added enormous additional costs to the already pricey Depression-era project to relocate SP's main line from the middle of downtown San Jose's Fourth Street to a private right-of-way skirting Willow Glen on the city's west side. This relocation was SP's largest track building effort between the 1929 completion of the Modoc Line and the construction of the Palmdale Cutoff, opened in 1967.

The fundamental problem was that Cahill depot's unfortunate location, and 20 MPH or less mainline tracks, played havoc with College Park Interlocking, just north (timetable west) of the depot. Here, movements of all types, coming from several routes, converged to cross one-another's paths, resulting in often-lengthy delays. As shown above, the interlocking controlled three main tracks on the Coast Main Line, Eastbound, Westbound and Freight Lead. The Milpitas Line, running through College Park Yard track #20, also joined with the Coast here, but movements generally operated on the two drill tracks between College Park and Newhall.

  • Freight Lead - Through freight from the Peninsula and Mulford , as well as trains originating at Newhall (Santa Clara Yard) generally used this route, which branched off of the Eastbound Main at College Park, went around the depot next to Track 11 , and continued on to the "Power Switch" near Auzerais Street. The Freight Lead was considered main track (but was , and its timetable east entrance was controlled and protected by San Jose Telegraph's "poor man's CTC" (see below). Between signals at its west and east end, the Freight Lead was dark territory inside yard limits, with according limitations on speed. Trains in/out of Newhall using the Freight Lead were required to cross over the other two main tracks at College Park, a time-consuming process at 15-20 MPH, or less. Depot Track 6 was generally kept clear as an emergency alternative to the freight lead, or as a short passing track. Putting freight trains through depot #'s 2-6 was a big no-no, because of limited clearance around the umbrella sheds. This prohibition was ignored more than once, tearing up sheds and piggyback cars.
  • Westbound Main - This track was the busiest, because it hosted westbound passenger trains off of depot tracks 1-3 and light engine moves between the Lenzen Avenue roundhouse and the depot. Between College Park and the depot, the east leg of a wye track connected with the Westbound. The east leg hosted freight movements to/from the Milpitas line; and wye movements - freight cars often needed turning around, as well as m.u.'ed freight loco consists ( it was easier to wye a diesel consist, rather than cut it apart, to line up a lead unit in the desired direction). In steam days, light engine wye moves were even more frequent because large engines would not fit on Lenzen's 90 foot turntable. Milpitas Line trains were forced to use #1 track through the depot because there was no crossover from the wye to the Freight Lead.
  • Eastbound Main - Passenger trains in and out of depot tracks 3-5 used this track. At night it served as a switching lead for the depot goat.

    • Depot tracks 1-11 were designated as yard tracks. Herders, using green flags or lanterns, gave movements authority to enter and exit these tracks. On weekdays, the west end was protected by the Alameda Herder, and the east by the Park Avenue Herder (who also controlled movements onto and off of the Permanente Branch). On weekends, the Alameda Herder was responsible for both ends. Since the Freight Lead was main track - its entrances controlled by College Park and San Jose Telegraph - trains using it did not require a herder highball. Depot #6 was used as an alternative to the Freight Lead only as a last resort, because entry and exit required the services of herders at each end. It could be time consuming hunting them down; impossible if they had gone home early.
    • Poor Man's CTC: A small CTC console (technically not a true CTC setup, we were told), located at San Jose Telegraph next to the Cahill baggage room, extended from the "Power Switch", timetable east of Auzurais Street, to the beginning of the double track at Lick. The Power Switch was the only switch controlled by the machine, while the switch at Lick was a spring switch normally aligned for the eastbound main. The intervening switches located at Luther Junction were, and are in 2012, hand throws. The Western Pacific South San Jose (Willow Glen) Branch crossing at Valbrick was protected by automatic interlocking, not CTC. The westbound signal at Lick functioned as a wait signal. On summer weekday early afternoons in the late 1970's, one could find as many as four local and through freights stacked up on the westbound main, waiting to hopefully make it past the depot before The Fleet. Westbound trains alerted San Jose Telegraph of their coming by radioing their ID and, "Commin' by the IBM [manufacturing plant]." A detector west of IBM also announced a train's presence via a buzzer at the Telegraph.

While the multiplicity of movements, many at slow speed, in the area created a figurative arterial sclerosis, "Fleet" hours, the morning and afternoon commute train rushes, caused something akin to a coronary blockage. Through freight was held out of the depot during those hours, and all freight movements were required to be stopped whenever a commute train passed.

Summarized, the arrangement of facilities - depot, roundhouse and yards - insured that at College Park Interlocking, trains would constantly be crossing over in each other's faces. And, of course, freight traffic was glued to the rails during Fleet hours.

1965 Map, Timetable East to West
Wye to Signal Bridge 464
Signal Bridge 464 to West Depot Tracks
Central Depot Tracks
m East Depot Tracks
San Carlos Street Area -Vasona Branch Jct,
Auzerais Street, "Power Switch" SPINS Maps
East Cahill Photos West Cahill Photos
Cahill Depot Track Realignment
Proposal & Map

At the above left are links to images scanned from the 1965 map. Please take a look at them before proceeding to the following discussion.

As we stated earlier, we are not exactly sure what lines of thinking led to such a grandiose plan. The map's title, Proposed Rearrangement of Trackage to Provide For Two Main Tracks - Opposite Passenger Yard, clearly states the primary purpose, to provide addition main line capacity through the depot. The new main track arrangement would have been reserved primarily for freight movements, although it appears that through passenger trains would still be able to use #1. Otherwise, the map also shows an extensive rearrangement of the depot's east end: lengthening of the Field car storage tracks, 6-11; and elimination the crossovers between the Vasona Branch and the station tracks to provide space for a "future" car washer, which must have caused a few guffaws in the top floors at Market Street. The following map graphic summarizes the intended work.

Main Track Additions The way we see it, the overall idea here was to provide a passing track as an alternative to the Freight Lead and the dreaded crossover movement at College Park. In particular, Milpitas Line trains would have a place to pass in between Milpitas and Lick. Track #1 could hold an approximately mile long train between Auzurais Street and Lenzen Avenue, or Montgomery Street on the wye, while #2 track was only about a quarter mile between switches at either end of the depot platform. Thus, #1 could have functioned as a passing track, #2 as a running track, although the latter would have been a good place to stash switching and local freight moves. Of course, SP had a penchant for 7000 foot plus auto rack trains out of Warm Springs...

Yard Rearrangement The proposal would have eliminated the crossover switches from the Vasona Branch to the depot, a safe bet (that, again, actually happened in 1971) since they had lost much of their utility way back in 1940, when winter storms permanently washed out the line from Los Gatos to Santa Cruz. Commute service on the Los Altos line was gone in 1963, but it had operated as a deadhead move to and from San Jose to Los Gatos. All of the other yard changes, outside of those directly related to the new main tracks, are perplexing, given their extent. Top management must have asked, "Why should we go to all of this expense just to add a few cars capacity in the Field? What's wrong with the present arrangement of using Vasona Branch Del Monte Cannery spurs for storage?"

Whatever the justification for the project, it fell on deaf ears. The Peninsula trains were money losers, and in that regard, and by 1965, SP was spending considerable sums on the Palmdale Cutoff project.

Postscript: Post-1965 Operations Changes
In 1992, after the state turned over the financial responsibility for Caltrain to the Peninsula Joint Powers Board, massive changes took place in San Jose. The Lenzen Avenue roundhouse was vacated by Caltrain in favor of a new, spartan maintenance facility located in the depot field tracks. The Freight Lead became Track 12, the facility's main fueling and servicing track. CTC (c1994 Track Chart) was installed north and south of the station tracks (2-5 remained islands of dark territory). The three main tracks through the former College Park Interlocking became multiple main tracks 1-3. Main Track #1 was extended through old depot Track 1 all the way to the new station at Tamien, and became the designated freight route through the depot. The Vasona Branch crossovers were restored over to Main Track 1, since the Freight Lead became track 12. Some trains began operating through Cahill to the new Tamien station and / or Gilroy.

The new arrangement eliminated some operating headaches; some remained the same; new ones began to surface. The new roundhouse location freed up the west yard throat from light engine movements, which were already greatly reduced after the introduction of push-pull equipment in 1985. Equipment storage space was reduced in the Cahill field (6-11) tracks was reduced in favor of locomotive servicing (most heavy coach maintenance / cleaning was then performed in San Francisco). Storage space was reduced again in the mid-1990's with the construction of a locomotive maintenance shed.

Freight traffic had already begun a slow, but regular decline, becoming a very minor player. After 1980, College Park Yard was torn up; Newhall Yard declined in importance. Through freight used the Mulford Line almost exclusively, rarely using the east leg of the wye and the Milpitas Line. The Lenzen roundhouse was condemned after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake; the remaining facilities were used a few more years. San Francisco Peninsula freight traffic declined to few locals, as SP closed Bayshore, first retrenching to Mission Bay, then South San Francisco. After Union Pacific absorbed SP, freight traffic continued its local downward spiral. Shortly into the new century, UP shifted its remaining local operations to Warm Springs, and tore up the remainder of Newhall.

Passenger traffic was another matter entirely, with progressive additions to the Caltrain schedule and Capitol Corridor trains and the the eventual inauguration of ACE service. The main issue now became passenger train congestion.

The ultimate answer to all of the original conundrums came, in 2007, with the opening of the Centralized Equipment Maintenance & Operations Facility (CEMOF; track diagram) at the old Lenzen roundhouse site. These new servicing facilities are located geographically west of the main tracks, which were moved eastward to loop through the approximate location of the old turntable. This meant that equipment deadheads did not have to occupy and / or cross over the main tracks when moving in and out of the depot. Rather, they moved on their own dedicated lead track. The layout also gave future design flexibility to accommodate expanded service.

SP San Jose
SP Pages
East Cahill Photos
West Cahill Photos
San Jose's Cahill Street Depot,
An Operations Bottleneck
Southern Pacific's
Proposed Remedy of 1965