The following is the verbatim text of the Biennial Report of the Board of State Harbor Commissioners (State of California), for the period July 1, 1912 to June 30, 1914. Only sections relating to the operation and construction of the State Belt Railroad are included.

This report is interesting for two reasons: One is the basic history of the development of the railroad during this period. The other is the tone of the report. The commissioners had taken over operations from a prior board, and therefore were anxious to show how they better met the needs of their customers. They placed special emphasis on pier track alignments, new extensions, a new roundhouse and increasing the number of locomotives. Also consider that this period was less than 10 years after the destruction of San Francisco by the Great Earthquake and fire of 1906, and was also a few years before World War I.

Belt Railroad.

The development and extension of the state belt railroad have been an especial care of the Board. San Francisco undoubtedly now has the most complete harbor belt line railroad switching system in the country.

The railroad is located on The Embarcadero, a marginal thoroughfare 200 feet wide, located just behind the seawall, and the system is intended and is used to connect up, for the switching of freight cars, the various piers, the yards of other railroads, and private warehouses and industries generally.

The spur track permits for use on city streets fall under the jurisdic tion of the municipal authorities, but the construction, maintenance and operation of the belt railroad around the water front are wholly under the jurisdiction of the Board.

Bringing Ship and Rail Together.

As stated in our former report, few harbor improvements are more sought by all ports than the bringing of ship and railroad car close together, side by side, if possible, so as to promote despatch and cheapness in transferring freight. This modern trend finds one of its best illustrations on the San Francisco water front.

Railway Spurs on Piers.

It has been the policy of the Board not only to equip all new piers with spur tracks running the full length of the piers, but also, wherever the water slip spaces beside the old piers were sufficiently wide to permit of it, to widen existing piers and place spur tracks thereon.

Railway Spurs on Old Piers.

In addition to the widening of old piers Nos. 9, 11 and 12, and the running of spur tracks along one side of each throughout its full length, as stated in our former report, this Board has since widened piers Nos. 25 and 27 and built spur tracks on one side of each pier, full length.

Railway Spurs on New Piers.

On the new piers, spur tracks, full length, have been placed on both sides of piers Nos. 26, 28, 30, 32, 39, 41 and 46. On the other piers under contract, tracks on both sides of piers 140 feet wide or over, and on one side of piers under 140 feet in width, will be placed. Where there are tracks on both sides of the pier, the usual practice is to make one a surface track, and the other is depressed so as to bring the floor of the railroad car on a level with the floor of the pier, thus facilitating trucking of certain classes of freight. Our practice is to accommodate the proposed tenants in this regard according to their preferences.

Center Tracks Not Favored.

It was a practice of former Boards to install railway spur tracks down the center of the pier. This was done on piers Nos. 34, 36, 38 and 40. But experience has demonstrated that the center arrangement is a mistake, because it interferes very seriously with teaming and trucking. The arrangement of the tracks along the sides of the piers and outside the pier sheds is now universally demanded by shippers. This arrangement has been followed in all our constructions.

Belt Railroad Connection Across Market Street.

Our last biennial report referred to the fact that we had begun the construction of the necessary link, extending from Folsom to Washington streets, and crossing in front of the Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street, to connect the northern and southern divisions of the belt railroad. This important work has been completed and the operation of the new continuous line proceeds with perfect satisfaction and without the slightest interference with the city street car traffic. South of Market Street the belt line has been extended to Channel Street.

Extension of the Belt Railroad North.

A large extension has been made to the north and west, more than a mile in length, from The Embarcadero, along Jefferson Street through the new tunnel under the United States Fort Mason military reservation to a connection with the railway tracks of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition Company, in Beach Street, between Laguna and Buchanan streets.

Purpose of this Extension.

The main purpose of this extension was to connect up the belt line with the United States Army transport docks, situated at the foot of Laguna Street, in the northwest corner of the Fort Mason reservation, and its completion has directly connected the transport docks by rail with the transcontinental railroad systems. These docks are the permanent government location for all the transports, which convey men and material to the Philippine Islands and the other insular possessions.

Situated so remotely from the termini of the railroads in San Francisco, the transport docks were subject to a long and expensive haul by truck of all their merchandise and other material, and the army representatives in San Francisco urgently requested the Harbor Board to extend the belt line railroad to the transport docks, both for commercial and military reasons. On account of the grades, this could only be done by the construction of a tunnel under the Fort Mason military reservation.

Fort Mason Tunnel.

Authority to the Harbor Board to construct such a tunnel and extend the belt line was conferred at the last session of the legislature. (Stats. 1913, page 383). Under this act the tunnel, 1,500 feet in length, 17 feet wide, and 22 feet high, of concrete throughout, with a single track railway, designed for freight service has been built.

It extends from Van Ness Avenue on the east, opposite the end of Jefferson Street, to a point near Beach and Laguna streets on the west, running throughout its length under the Fort Mason military reservation.

Federal authority to cross the reservation with the tunnel was granted by congress to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition Company and its assigns, and the exposition company assigned its rights with the approval of the government to the Board of State Harbor Commissioners.

Other Purposes of this Extension

Through the tunnel the belt line connects up with the railway switch ing system within the Panama-Pacific Exposition grounds and an arrangement has been made with the exposition company whereby exhibits on their way to and from the grounds will be carried on the belt line. Of course, other industries, along the line of this Jefferson Street extension, will also be served, and by this means a large new water front area of desirable flat land has been made much more available for factory and other commercial uses.

After the exposition closes, it is planned to extend the belt line further west to the United States military reservation, known as the Presidio.

Fort Mason Tunnel and Belt Extension Finished.

The tunnel and the belt line extension through the same have been finished and appropriate dedicatory exercises were held on October 31, 1914.

A Continuous Belt Railroad Around Harbor.

By these constructions and extensions, a continuous belt railroad switching system, adequately equipped, is now in full and successful operation around the whole active harbor front of San Francisco, from the United States transport docks on the north and west to Channel Street on the south. It is a tremendous gain to the harbor, and its real advantages only become properly estimated when it is recollected that even such a great seaport as New York has no harbor belt line.

Increase in Number of Locomotives and in Business.

The great enlargement of the belt line system and the consequent increase in business necessitated the purchase of new locomotives since the last report. The Board is now operating seven locomotives, whereas the number in use when we took office in 1911 was three. This, of course, entails the employment of more crews. The road is operated twenty-four hours a day, and, in the crop-moving season, also on Sundays and holidays. The belt line business, by the building of the connection across Market Street and other extensions, has increased over 100 per cent during the past year.

Drawbridge Over Islais Creek.

It was stated in our last report that this Board had set in motion the necessary legal machinery to compel the construction of a draw bridge over Islais Creek at Kentucky Street, by certain railroad companies using the roadway of the latter street. This bridge was subsequently contracted for and the work is now in progress.

The following section of the report is a slight repetition of the prior text, but it goes into more detail of the maintenance and construction of the railroad.

Belt Railroad.

A large amount of work has been done on the belt railroad, both in the way of additional spurs serving piers and industries and sidings and extensions. Mention has already been made of the fact that all new piers are provided with one or two tracks, those completed and Imder contract being as follows: Piers 46, 32, 30, 28, 26, 37, 39 and 41, two tracks each and piers 15 and 17 one track each; of those projected, piers 16, 18, 29, 31, 33 and 35 are to have two tracks, while those to be numbered 24 and 22 are to be supplied with one. Spurs have also been constructed to piers 25 and 27 and it is intended to place one later on pier 13.

A decided improvement in operating conditions was effected by the building of that portion of the line crossing the foot of Market Street and connecting the northern and southern divisions; this link is 3,900 feet long and extends from Folsom Street to Broadway. Some difficulty was experienced in the construction of the section in front of the Ferry Building and extending north to Clay Street; The Embarcadero at this point is a sand fill carried by a timber platform supported by piling cut off at low water level and it was necessary for a distance of 390 feet where the piles were too far apart to carry trains safely, to trench the street, drive the required additional piles and lay a new plank platform to retain the sand. The entire connection was completed and ready for operation on January 27, 1913.

The belt railroad is being further extended from the foot of Powell Street, its former northerly terminus, by the construction of the line to the government transport docks at Fort Mason. This line begins at the corner of Powell and Jefferson streets, and runs westerly along Jefferson Street to Van Ness Avenue, turning thence to the corner of Beach and Laguna streets and connecting with the government tracks to the transport docks and warehouses and also with the tracks of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Between Taylor and Jones street, where it runs along the southerly edge of Fisherman's Lagoon, and between Larkin Street and Van Ness Avenue where it crosses the cove east of Black Point, it is on trestle and under the government reservation at Fort Mason, in tunnel. The trestles are open deck, built in accordance with standard railroad practice, having creosoted pile bents and creosoted sway braces and girts; tower bents are spaced every 150 feet. The tunnel is 1,500 feet long, its easterly portal being situated 120 feet west of the westerly line of Van Ness Avenue and its westerly portal 245 feet east of the easterly line of Laguna Street. It is concrete lined throughout with a clear width of 17 feet and a clear height above top of rail of 22 feet. At the westerly end from the portal to Laguna Street, there are concrete retaining walls about 250 feet long, having a height of 27 feet at the portal face and four feet at the easterly line of Laguna Street; these walls were ordered built to save as much ground as possible for the use of the reservation.

The material encountered in the tunnel was a sandstone shale for the easterly 700 feet, clay in the middle 400 feet and sand in the westerly 400 feet. The easterly and middle portions were excavated by the ordinary heading and bench method, a center shaft being sunk to hasten the work, the westerly section in sand being taken out as an open cut and backfilled after the masonry was completed. The shaly rock from the easterly portion was used to make an embankment extending into the bay from Hyde Street to Larkin Street, and heavily riprapped along the northerly side and the westerly end to protect it from wash.

This extension, which is 1.09 miles long, was 47 per cent completed on June 30, 1914, and is expected to be ready for trains by November 1,1914, in ample time to serve the exposition.

A reinforced concrete engine house containing seven stalls was erected on Seawall Lot 8, bounded by Lombard and Sansome streets and The Embarcadero. This building is provided with a drop pit, machine shop, blacksmith shop and store room; the engine honse proper and the machine shop are floored with wooden blocks on a concrete base, the store room with concrete and the blacksmith shop with cinders.

It is expected that this engine house will suffice for the needs of the belt railroad for several years and when additional stalls are required another engine house should be built on the southern division.

This engine house was completed April 30, 1914.

The total length of line between the north side of Second Street wharf, the present southerly terminals, and Beach and Laguna streets, the proposed northerly terminus, is 3.70 miles. A comprehensive plan has been worked out for the track system between these termini which contemplates 1.86 miles of single track, 0.64 mile of double track and 1.20 miles of three track road, the number of tracks being determined by local conditions of railroad yards and tracks serving industries at different points. The single track sections extend from the north side of Second Street wharf to Berry Street, from King to Townsend Street, from Folsom Street to Broadway and from Powell to Laguna Street; the double track sections from Berry to King Streets from Harrison to Folsom Street, from Broadway to Green Street and from Battery to Francisco Street, and the three track sections from Townsend to Harrison Street, from Green to Battery Street and from Francisco to Powell Street.

To render possible the storage of cars during the season of heavy traffic, yards have been projected on Seawall lots 20 and 18 at the south end and on lots 1, 2, A and B at the north end; these yards will assist materially in doing away with congestion of the main line and in assuring rapid delivery of cars to shippers and to the different railroad companies entering the city. Several of the tracks planned for these yards have already been laid.

Car Ferry Slips.

The present car ferries at the foot of Lombard Street are to be torn out to make room for piers and t-vo new ones are being built between the foot of Powell Street and the foot of Tavlor Street. They are of creosoted piles carrying a timber deck planked with Oregon pine, which on the eastern dolphin is covered with a wearing surface of cedar to permit of teaming when this dolphin is used for berthing vessels. The construction follows the plan of the present car ferry slips in general, but with steel aprons and wider dolphins supplied with more tracks, there being two of these on the easterly dolphin, four on the middle one and two on the westerly dolphin. In connection with the contract for the car ferry slips, the adjacent bulkhead is being reconstructed to carry tracks, this work being carried out in timber on the same plan as the slips.

The car ferry slips were 4 per cent completed June 30,1914.


Plans for buildings in the vicinity of the ferry slips are being prepared as follows: Extension to the southerly end of the main Ferry Building to be used for baggage purposes.

Post office building to be located opposite the foot of Mission Street with a connecting shed on the dolphin between slips 8 and 9.

Shed on the dolphin on the south side of slip 10 to be used for express purposes.


Dolphin: The wings of a pier that guide a ship into berth.