Monday, February 06, 2006

February 4, 2006

Dixon gets back to its railroad roots

By Barry Eberling

Andrew Wall and George Forster, on ladder, of Wall 2 Wall Painting of Napa/Vacaville, prepare the train depot under construction in Dixon for a coat of paint. (Photo by Judith Sagami)

DIXON - Lucy Vassar can remember when her ranch shipped sheep by rail near the historic downtown Dixon train station.

Dixon in about 1972 lost its train stop and later saw its late-1800s, two-story depot demolished. But now, a new station is almost completed near where the original one once stood.

"It looks just like it," Vassar said.

Right down to the yellow exterior walls.

"It was always kind of a dirty yellow," Vassar said. "But now it's kind of a clean yellow. As long as it's yellow, I guess it's fine."

Dixon may have to wait nine years before the passenger trains passing on the adjacent tracks stop there. A recent regional rail study targets Dixon for a train stop in 2015.

But the city will have a station waiting for that day, whether it comes in 2015 or sooner. Workers are putting the finishing touches on the new, $1 million train building. They recently painted it, sticking to the Southern Pacific colors scheme of yellow exterior walls.

Dixon is getting back to its railroad roots with an eye to detail. The city is using the same floor plan as the original train station. Southern Pacific had standard plans for stations which it used at multiple locations.

Workers used cedar wood for the tongue-and-groove exterior, said Chuck Plunkett of APIC Co., the construction manager. That's opposed to the modern trend of using synthetic materials that lock in place.

While the new station will look like the original, it won't quite be the same.

The new station won't need the trackside mail hook that Vassar remembers from the old days. There's no need for passing trains to snag canvass mail bags without stopping in the 21st century.

Nor will it have a station agent living upstairs. And the new station will have such modern touches as walls and windows built with materials that help quiet the outside din of passing trains.

The new station won't need a baggage room, because most of its users won't be taking long trips. That space will be used as a conference room for the community.

So Dixon's reborn train station will be a mix of the old and new.

"It will be good," Dixon resident and historian Ardeth Riedel said. "It's not in the same spot, but that's all right."

Dixon also has a modern purpose for the station, one that suits a long-time farming town that is becoming suburban and has large numbers of residents commuting elsewhere to work.

The goal is to have the Amtrak-run trains that pass daily on the nearby tracks stop there. Trains would carry Dixon passengers to such places as Davis, Sacramento and Auburn to the north and Fairfield/Suisun City, Richmond and Oakland to the south. The Richmond station has a BART stop.

"It truly will add to our options for commuting, hopefully getting people off the (Interstate 80) corridor," Mayor Mary Ann Courville said.

But there's that hitch that trains may not stop in Dixon until 2015.

Establishing a train stop takes time. Work to create a Fairfield-Vacaville train stop at Peabody and Vanden roads demonstrates that.

The idea for the Fairfield-Vacaville train stop came up in the mid-1990s. Trains are scheduled to begin stopping at a boarding platform there in 2010, though it will take longer before an actual station building is constructed.

Dixon has taken another route. It is constructing its train station before it builds a boarding platform and pedestrian track crossing. Those latter tasks can take years because construction at the tracks involves negotiations with Union Pacific.

So, train station or no, Dixon still has much work to do before a train can stop there. No matter. City officials remain confident.

"We know it's going to happen," City Manager Warren Salmons said.

An Auburn-Oakland rail study estimates a Dixon station will serve 263 riders daily in 2015. That compares to an estimated 715 at the proposed Fairfield-Vacaville station, 537 at the Suisun City station and 124 at the proposed Benicia station. These are to be all of the train stops in Solano County.

For now, the parking lot outside the Dixon station will serve bus customers and commuters who leave cars there to carpool. The station will have a transportation information center run by the Dixon Chamber of Commerce. Community groups will be able to use the conference room.

Some people mentally cut off the new station from downtown because it is on the other side of the tracks, Salmons said.

But that's a mistake, he said. The station is only about 150 feet from the nearest commercial building. The station parking lot can be used for downtown, he said.

"That building is really a magnet," he said. "I think that will pull the influence of downtown west, across the tracks."

For Dixon, the train station is more than a symbol of what might be. It is also a reminder of how the city was born.

Dixon had its beginnings with the farming town of Silveyville. When the California Pacific Railroad in 1864 laid out its line about two miles away, Silveyville's citizens took their buildings and moved them to the tracks.

Thomas Dickson donated 10 acres for the train depot and the new town was named in his honor. But, due to a misspelling, the name of the town quickly became Dixon.

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646 Ext. 232 or at

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