Western Railway Museum Shows Off Northern California’s Transit History

All aboard for a fun and educational experience
Western Railway

Photo by: Janet Fazio

Solano County’s Montezuma Hills were once home to Sacramento Northern Railway’s main line, on which electric trains carried travelers from Sacramento to San Francisco’s Trans Bay Terminal via ferry boats across the Suisun Bay. Today, guests of the Western Railroad Museum can travel on a portion of that main line on a restored car that dates back to 1903. Dedicated to preserving the history of electric rail—known more popularly today as light rail—in addition to train rides, the museum features a guided tour of a car barn, which houses a dozen or so restored train cars. Guests to the museum will learn about the Peninsular Railway, an interurban passenger rail which operated between Palo Alto and San Jose, the San Francisco Municipal Railway, and the Key System which carried passengers into San Francisco from Oakland, Berkeley and Piedmont on the lower deck of the Bay Bridge.

The museum offers rides aboard two historic train cars. The Interurban recreates the experience of riding a historic electric rail car one hundred years ago. The hour-long round trip ride takes you through pastures, by an old church and through ranch land. While there isn’t a ton of stuff to look at, the scenery is beautiful. I find something inherently relaxing about riding trains, so the simple yet beautiful scenery makes the journey thoroughly enjoyable. The museum’s Streetcar recreates the historic experience of riding through a small community for approximately 15 minutes. Both train rides are included in the cost of admission and you can ride as many times as you would like.

If time permits, pack a lunch to enjoy in the adjacent Laflin Park picnic area, or pick up a hot dog, chips, soda and other snack items at the museum’s Depot Cafe.   

Be sure to see the Traction Labs Exhibit inside the museum, which includes a full-detailed interactive HO-scale train layout that uses renewable energy to power two different electric railways.  See if you can spot Snoopy driving a tow truck, the Mayor negotiating with a tough customer, a traffic jam, the solar array, Reuben’s sandwich shop and the electrical substation.

If you go: Find the Western Railway Museum at 5848 State Highway 12, between Suisun City and Rio Vista. It’s right by the Montezuma Hills Windfarm, so if you haven’t seen windmills yet, don’t worry, you haven’t missed it. Open 10:30am to 5pm year round on Saturday and Sunday. Open Wednesday through Sunday, Memorial Day through Labor Day. The Museum hosts wine tasting and flower trains in April, a pumpkin patch festival with a hay fort, tractor rides and music in October and holiday celebrations in December. Admission is $7 to $10 and free for children 2 and under. Due to the historic nature of the antique railway equipment, rail cars are not wheelchair accessible. Rail cars are not heated or air conditioned. Please dress appropriately for the weather. The museum welcomes well behaved dogs and they are allowed on the trains. For more information, visit WRM.org or call 707.374.2978.