By Ted Benson/photos by the author
For hopeless romantics unable to accept the demise of Southern Pacific’s “Golden Empire” in the early 1980s, Niles Tower was a dream come true. Erected in 1908 by Western Pacific, interlocking tower Number 8 protected the intersection of WP’s First Subdivision between Oakland and Stockton, Calif., with SP’s Niles Subdivision, 17 miles north of San Jose. Entering full operation with the beginning of WP revenue freight service on December 1, 1909, Niles Tower stood watch across Alameda Creek from its namesake community for three-quarters of a century, outlasting its parent organization by three years.
The tower’s strategic location ensured a long life for the facility. Beginning in 1910, Niles Tower played a key role for SP operations in the south San Francisco Bay area. Paired with a tower in nearby Newark, the Niles plant channeled traffic between two Oakland–San Jose main lines, funneling freight over Dumbarton’s bridge route connecting San Francisco, Oakland, and the San Joaquin Valley.
ABOVE: Nick Laba reads back an order to SP’s Roseville-Coast dispatcher directing Extra “E-X-T-R-A 7555 figure Seven triple Five West W-E-S-T” to operate from Niles Tower to West Oakland via Mulford on October 21, 1975.
Though owned and operated by Western Pacific, WP towermen largely ignored the home road. SP paid 80 percent of the costs and at times seemed to run 99 percent of the trains. By 1931, SP employee timetables listed Niles Tower as a 24-hour train order and register station. Fifty years later, it was hard to imagine the facility as anything but SP property…