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A ride on the electric railway in Suisun City | Bartell's Backroads

The Bay Area's streetcar history lives on at the Western Railway Museum

SUISUN CITY, Calif. — The Western Railroad Museum in Suisan City is home to Northern California’s largest collection of historic electric streetcars.

In the early 1900s electric streetcars were the cleanest, quietest and most efficient way to move people in big cities in San Francisco.

According to the museum's executive director Eric Mencis, the Bay Area was littered with them.

“Nobody wanted coal-powered steam trains running down the middle of the streets," Mencis said.

As San Francisco grew so did the streetcar system and one of the major developers was Francis Smith who built a streetcar line out to Oakland and East Bay. 

“The train was there just to sell land,” Mencis said.  “The East Bay would not be the East Bay it is today without the streetcar system.” 

Many people started moving to Oakland following the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, eventually the railway expanded and became the East Bay Key Line linking the two cities. 

By the 1910's electric railways were popping up everywhere and even took passengers as far as Sacramento and Chico.

“These services were fast for their time,” Mencis said. “60 miles an hour with dining car service as well.”

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After World War II, the automobile gained popularity. Before long streetcars were scraped and electric railways started to close. 

Thanks to some forward-thinking electric railroad enthusiasts in the 1940s, a number of historic streetcars were saved and restored. 

From the carpets to the seats, modern-day riders get a glimpse of what streetcar travel was once like. The museum offers an 11-mile round trip ride on a rotating set of streetcars. The tracks take visitors along a portion of old Sacramento Northern line which provides a beautiful view of the wildflowers in the spring.

The Western Railway museum continues to collect and preserve electric streetcars of the distant past and some from recent history.

“We have to preserve what we have today so it is here in the future,” Mencis said.

HIT THE BACKROADS:  Summer is almost here! Plan your ultimate road trip with John Bartell's list of California's top 10 destinations to visit

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