Back in May 1961, the Southern Pacific Railroad began moving the first of hundreds of railcars to the “other side” of the Eleventh Street overpass in Tracy, marking the shut-down of operations in the city’s downtown area — ending nearly a hundred years in the sprawling facility that included a passenger depot, two roundhouses, numerous water tanks and freight docks in the “Bowtie.”

SP Tracy Yard Opens (Elroy Pope Photo, May 1961)

The June-July 1961 edition of the railroad’s employee magazine, The SP Bulletin, featured a two-page article on the move, including photographs of the new yard being filled on Day One (May 16, 1961) and Tracy yardmaster Elroy Pope controlling operations from his perch in the new tower overlooking the rails, which covered (then and now) the territory from the Eleventh Street overpass all the way to Banta Road.

According to the article,

Opened just before [the] beginning of the busy San Joaquin Valley perishable season, the new yard will hold 760 railroad cars on more than 30,000 feet of track northeast of downtown Tracy. It represents a consolidation of several switching locations in the Tracy area, and is expected to speed up handling of both incoming and outgoing traffic. …

Shifting the yard to its new location required closing of one county road [presumably Chrisman Road] and extension of another [Brichetto Road, extended from F Street in Banta?], but San Joaquin County highway officials cooperated in arranging relocation of little-used road facilities.

The 1961 Southern Pacific yard, now part of the Union Pacific Railroad’s operation here, does still see significant traffic at times, and also serves as headquarters for Harbor Rail Services‘ local freight car repair facility (near the corner of Chrisman and Brichetto roads).

SP Tracy Yard Tower (Photo)

The second SP yard tower in Tracy as it looked in 1975.
(Tony Johnson photograph)

The new 1961 yard tower, once clearly visible just beyond the Eleventh Street overpass, lasted into the 1980s before meeting the same fate as its predecessor, which had been located downtown at Sixth and Central streets before being torn down.

Here’s the original article, part one:

SP Tracy Yard Opens (Page 6)

…And here is part two:

SP Tracy Yard Opens (Page 7)

Epilogue: the SP’s Tracy yard saw a gradual downturn in business into the 1990s, and it became a “deadline” – an end-of-the-line storage yard for freight cars nearing the end of life – under Union Pacific ownership in the 2000s, with the original Southern Pacific mainline through the Altamont cut off just outside of town.

To replace it, the UP built a larger intermodal yard for trailers and containers in Lathrop, near the old Sharpe Army Depot, and routed traffic via the Western Pacific’s former mainline that skirted around Tracy.

UP Stored Locomotives at Tracy (Photo)

Stored Union Pacific locomotives in the east end of the Tracy yard, near Banta and Brichetto Roads, on August 27, 2019

In August 2019, the Union Pacific parked a large fleet of locomotives – estimated at more than eighty engines – out of service and in “mothballs,” their future disposition to be determined.

The locomotives, mostly between twenty and thirty years of age, may be returned to service at some point, sold to other railroads, or put under the scrapper’s torch.


Special thanks to Tony Johnson for his generous permission in allowing us to include his photo of the “new” Tracy yard tower in this article.

Railtown Tracy (Home Page Link)