Southern Pacific Creates Fernside Boulevard

Library of Congress This 1927 map shows the “Fernside Loop” that carried automobile traffic and Southern Pacific electric trains beginning in 1911. Notice that the loop, today’s Fernside Boulevard ran along the San Leandro Bay shoreline. Developers filled land east of Fernside.
Library of Congress

Southern Pacific Creates Fernside Boulevard

Dennis Evanosky

In the June 3 story (“Southern Pacific Railroad Electrifies Alameda”) we learned that Southern Pacific (SP) Railroad President E. M. Harriman planned to make Alameda the centerpiece of his new electric railroad by con verting the Alameda Pier on the West End completely to trains powered by electricity.

His railroad wanted to run these new trains in a circuit around Alameda using the old South Pacific Coast rail yard and station at today’s Encinal Avenue and High Street as the turnaround point on the East End.

In order to accomplish this, SP had to build a loop from its tracks at today’s Tilden Way and Fernside Boulevard to the South Pacific Coast station. SP negotiated with the City of Alameda and the property owners.

Everyone agreed to allow laying of tracks in a loop from Pearl Street to High Street. The city required SP to build a road alongside its tracks for automobile and truck traffic.

Work began on what SP called the “Fernside Loop” in 1909. The railroad named the loop after A. A. Cohen’s estate through which most of the loop ran. SP built double tracks on the west side of the new right of way and a single-lane paved road on the eastern side along the shoreline.

The 1927 map on the right shows how the shore of the San Leandro Bay was further west than it is today. Much of the land on the east side of today’s Fernside Boulevard is land fill placed there in the 1950s.

The completion of this loop allowed SP’s electric trains to run from today’s Tilden Way at Lincoln Avenue,, shown on the map as (A). Trains then ran on modern-day Fernside Boulevard, stopping for passengers just east of Pearl Street (B), at the High Street Bridge (C),

The trains then ran along the shoreline and stopped at Lincoln Park (D) and then turned west into the station at High Street and Encinal Avenue (E).

On Aug. 1, 1911, SP began loop service with trains running on Lincoln and Encinal avenues. When these lines opened for service, SP had painted the trains dark olive green with square windows at each end of the cabs. These windows frequently broke. Drivers and pedestrians complained that they had a hard time seeing trains approach. Engineers grumbled about the windows breaking.

In 1912, SP repainted the trains cherry red and replaced the square windows with round ones. People loved the change. They dubbed the trains “Big Reds” and said the new windows gave the trains “owl eyes.”

Big Reds using the Fernside Loop carried passengers to the Alameda Pier where the commuters caught ferries for various points around San Francisco Bay.

We’ll look at these lines in more detail, learn about two more Red Line trains in Alameda, and find out what happened to these trains in the next installment.

Contact Dennis Evanosky at

Did you know?

The grassy tree-lined median strip that defines Encinal Avenue from High Street to Fernside Boulevard once housed the rail yard and train station for the narrow-gauge South Pacific Coast Railroad.

These trains carried passengers on a bridge across San Leandro Bay and and on to Santa Cruz. The 1906 earthquake destroyed the bridge and put an end to train travel from Alameda to Santa Cruz.

The Southern Pacific Railroad purchased the South Pacific Coast line, converted the tracks to broad gauge and used the yard and station as a turning point for its electric trains. The westbound Big Reds became eastbound trains at this station and vice-versa.