.For many years after Berkeley’s incorporation in 1878 there was no rail transportation along University Avenue between east and west Berkeley, except for a stage that made only four trips a day. Although Henry Durant had been lobbying for a horsecar line between the two Berkeleys, it wasn’t until May of 1891 that the Claremont, University and Ferries Railroad, a narrow gage horsecar line, began operating between the East Berkeley and West Berkeley Stations. The line ran from Center and Shattuck via Shattuck Avenue, Addison Street, Sacramento Street, University Avenue, and Fourth Street to Delaware Street, with a branch running to Peralta Park. It ceased operations in July 1901 when it was bought by associates of “Borax” Smith for its franchises. In 1903 it was reopened as a double-track standard gage electric line, which operated until 1937 when it was converted to a bus line.
Also in May of 1891, one of the first electric rail systems in Berkeley began operating on the eastern edge of the District, along Grove Street (now MLK Jr. Way). It was originally narrow-gage but, after being acquired by Borax Smith and his associates, was converted in 1904 to standard gage. In November 1948, this was the last local rail line in Berkeley to be converted to a bus line.
An ad from the October 1899
Berkeley Gazette encouraging
buyers to locate near rail lines
on Grove St.
On the southern edge of the District at Dwight Way, a single-track electric streetcar line ran from Sixth Street and University, along Sixth to Dwight, up Dwight to College. It began operating February 25, 1909; it was replaced by a bus line in February 1938. Joe Baxley who lived on Spaulding Avenue in the mid-1920s, recalls that the streetcar was referred to as the “Dinky” and the local youth, instead of paying, would hang on to the bumper guard at the back, then pull it when they wanted to get off. The conductor would have to stop the train to fix it.
To the west, the Key System’s Northbrae Transbay line, which ran along Sacramento Street from the Oakland Key Route Pier to Hopkins Street, began operating in 1911. The 1908 St. Joseph’s Record states: “We are firmly convinced that the coming of the Key Route along Sacramento Street and the conversion of that thoroughfare into an eighty-foot boulevard will be one of the very best things that could happen.“ They were certain that the new railway line would contribute greatly to building up the whole center section of Berkeley. However, it turned out to be one of the weaker Key System lines and when cars were needed to expand the “F“ and “A“ trains in 1941 that line was closed..
When the Key System began building its new electric line in 1903, the Southern Pacific was forced to electrify and expand its East Bay suburban lines to meet the challenge. “The month of November, 1908, brought the gratifying announcement that the Southern Pacific Railroad Company had made plans for ‘girdling the city’ with electric street railway lines to connect with its ferry system.” One of the new lines ran from the Oakland Pier, along California Street, and ended at Colusa and Solano. It began operating on January 4, 1912. As described in a Wikipedia encyclopedia article, initially the trains were painted in standard railroad olive green, but shortly after the line began operating were painted a bright red and became known as the “red trains.“ They were also known for their distinctive round windshields, or “owl-eyes”, which were added for safety reasons at the time the cars were painted red. A photo taken in 1911 at the corner of California and Dwight shows a steam locomotive involved in constructing the new line. It also shows a tall building with large doors opening onto Dwight Way that, according to former resident Hank Abraham, was used by the Southern Pacific for storage. The address of the Southern Pacific lineman’s headquarters listed in the 1915 Polk Hustead City Directory is “Dwight cor California.” Also, a number of railroad artifacts have turned up on the grounds of the wartime duplexes that were built where the lineman‘s headquarters once stood, including over fifty railroad spikes.
The Key System orange trains and the Southern Pacific red trains operated on parallel lines only two blocks apart until 1933, when the Southern Pacific line was removed from service as a part of the Key System-Southern Pacific noncompetition agreement. Both the Southern Pacific’s California Street line and the Key System’s Sacramento Street line were poor revenue producers. They were among the last rail lines built in an area that was not built up until the 1920s, by which time most people had cars. Even after the California Street line ceased operating in 1933, the Sacramento Street line had only about 4000 passengers per day.