The History Behind the Trail Rooted in Island’s Railroads

The city’s creation of the Cross Alameda Trail has roots that stretch back some 13 years. In 2001 a group of interested Alamedan formed a steering committee to guide the concept from idea to fruition. Committee members included: Debra Arbuckle, Liz Bogan, Lucy Gigli, John Knox-White, Helena Lengel, Audrey Lord-Hausman, Melanie Mintz, Jon Spangler, Jean Sweeney and Bart Thurber.

The committee hoped to establish a trail along the former Alameda Belt Line (ABL) Railroad in order to provide an opportunity to experience the city’s industrial history. They planned to accomplish this through interpretive signs and plaques, not unlike those on the shoreline path between Wind River Systems just off Atlantic Avenue and the Oakland Estuary.

Trail users could also see some of the existing landmarks along the way.

In 1918, when Alameda was just developing its harbors, a ride on the ABL would have taken you through Alameda’s center of shipbuilding and commerce that took root during World War I and blossomed as World War II raged on. Soon, those who might use this trail would see remnants of this vital past.

Thurber and Bogan described a trip along the trail.

"Our trip into history begins at the foot of the Fruitvale Bridge, where ABL connected to the mighty Southern Pacific Railroad (SP)," they said. SP wanted to build and own a railroad that served the industries along the Alameda shore of the Oakland Estuary. Instead, the city of Alameda took on the task in 1918. The city sold its tiny railroad in 1926. The Western Pacific and Santa Fe railroads, SP’s rivals, jointly owned ABL.

Riding west from the Fruitvale Bridge, the trail passes some of

ABL’s earliest customers. These include the now-vanished Dow Pump & Diesel Company at Clement
Avenue and Oak Street and the Barnes & Tibbitts Shipyard at Clement and Schiller Street, home to today’s Alameda Marina.

The trail continues west and passes the California Packing Company’s brick warehouse on Buena Vista Avenue. "Del Monte food products passing through here were shipped all over the United States," Thurber and Bogan said.

The Encinal Terminals stood on the other side of the warehouse, next door to today’s Wind River Systems. The tall-masted ships of the Alaska Packers fishing fleet once anchored there.

Nearby stood the Morton Street Pier where ABL switched cars onto a freight ferry that linked Alameda with San Francisco, Oakland and Richmond. From there the cars were sent to destinations across the country on the Western Pacific and Santa Fe lines.

ABL’s busy rail yard stood on the left as the trail continues west from Wind River. It takes the explorer along Atlantic Avenue to Webster Street, the site of another ABL customer, Skippy Peanut Butter, where Walgreen’s stands today.

ABL continued west on tracks that paralleled today’s Ralph Appezzato Memorial Parkway. These tracks led onto the former Alameda Naval Air Station. "During World War II, ABL kept pace with Alameda’s busy war effort, delivering up to 100 cars a day to the U.S. military and to supporting industries like Bethlehem Steel," Thurber and Bogan said.

The July 28 meeting at City Hall West is a step toward bringing a part of this trail, a part of this dream, to fruition.