Napa Valley Wine Train

Napa Valley Wine Train
Napa Valley Wine Train
Reporting mark NVRR
Locale Napa County, California, USA Flag of California.svg
Dates of operation 1989–present
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge)
Headquarters Napa, California

The Napa Valley Wine Train is operated by the Napa Valley Railroad (reporting mark NVRR). The train is a privately operated excursion train that runs between Napa and St. Helena, California. Much of the rail line parallels State Route 29 after leaving the City of Napa and passes the towns of Yountville, Rutherford and Oakville. The route skirts many of the region's notable vineyards and wineries located in the picturesque Napa Valley.


Early years

The railroad's track is part of the what was originally the Napa Valley Railroad founded by early California pioneer Samuel Brannan in 1864. Brannan established it to bring tourists to the resort town of Calistoga, California which he also founded. The railroad's 42 miles (68 km) of track ran from Calistoga to Vallejo, California where it connected with San Francisco Bay Area ferry boat service. California Pacific Railroad Extension Company purchased the Napa Valley Railroad Company at a foreclosure sale on June 9, 1869. Later that same year on December 23, the railroad was renamed the California Pacific Railroad. The track was leased to Southern Pacific Railroad on April 1, 1885 and was soon connected to their main line in Suisun, California. California Pacific Railroad was acquired by Southern Pacific on April 14, 1898. The line was extended to Benicia, California in 1904. The line was electrified and renamed San Francisco, Napa and Calistoga Railway in 1905 and carried passengers until 1929. The track was utilized by Southern Pacific as a freight branch line for the following 58 years until 1987 when the railroad abandoned the line.

Birth of a new railroad

The NVRR operating company was formed in 1987 by local entrepreneurs and headed by Vincent DeDomenico. DeDomenico was a veteran of more than 50 years in the food business and was formally the President of Golden Grain, a company founded by his father and famous for its Rice-A-Roni. DeDomnico purchased the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company in 1964 and sold both it and Golden Grain to the Quaker Oats Company in 1986.

The NVRR acquired the right of way after Southern Pacific notified the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1985 of its intent to abandon the line. The new company's plans to create a tourist-oriented Wine Train were strongly opposed by local community activists and several city governments. Some people disliked the noise and pollution of an active passenger train line in their midst, while others felt that the train would attract even more visitors to the Napa Valley, which they saw as already over-saturated with tourists. The project's opponents persuaded the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to order the company to comply with the rigorous requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). However, in a 4-3 decision handed down on March 19, 1990, the Supreme Court of California [1] held that the PUC had no jurisdiction to require CEQA certification because the train fell under the CEQA exemption for "the institution or increase of passenger or commuter service on rail lines already in use." Napa Valley Wine Train, Inc. v. Public Utilities Commission, 50 Cal. 3d 370 (1990). The gap in actual usage during the prolonged transition from Southern Pacific freight use to the proposed Wine Train service was not enough to take the line out of use. The rail line connects to the Union Pacific Railroad and California Northern Railroad and has hosted special trains from Amtrak as well as private excursion trains.

Current operations

NVRR Diesel locomotive #70&#72
Wine Train

The Napa Valley Wine Train has been in operation since September 16, 1989 and has now carried over 2 million passengers. This train has a capacity of 370 passengers and normally makes two runs on weekdays and three on weekends The train is normally pulled by two of the four late-1950s era Alco FPA-4 engines in the company's inventory. These engines were originally built by Montreal Locomotive Works and first owned by Canadian National Railway and later by Via Rail. The engines have been modified by the railroad to run cleaner on a combination of natural gas and diesel fuel. NVRR currently runs nine cars on its passenger train consist. The cars include lounge, observation and dining cars originally built by the Pullman Company in the early-1900s for the Northern Pacific Railroad. These cars were later sold to Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad in 1960 and used for the Ski Train between Denver, Colorado and Winter Park, Colorado before the NVRR purchased them in 1987. The cars were extensively refurbished and modified by NVRR before the railroad placed them back into service. Modifications included adding air conditioning and 4 inches of concrete to the car floors in order to stabilize the ride due to the train's low speed. The interiors were remodeled using Honduran mahogany and plush fabrics. The railroad added a vista dome car to its fleet in 1997. This car was originally built in 1947 for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad and had logged over a million miles for that railroad prior to being acquired by the NVRR. After the railroad bought this car, the exterior was rebuilt by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus train repair yard in Palmetto, Florida while the interior was restored, updated, and customized by NVRR.

During the 3-hour-long, 37-mile (60 km) round-trip between Napa and St. Helena, passengers can choose to enjoy a gourmet meal prepared on board for an additional charge. They can also sample several of the region's wines available at the wine bar located in one of the lounge cars. The train offers optional stops for tours of Domaine Chandon Winery in Yountville, Grgich Hills Estate in Rutherford, and a motor coach tour of Raymond Winery in St. Helena and ZD Winery in Napa for an additional fee. The train hosts several special events throughout the year including murder mystery dinner theater, family fun trips, vintner's luncheons, appellation dinners and holiday excursions.

In June 2009 the St. Helena City Council voted to allow the Wine Train passengers to disembark in St. Helena on a trial basis on the first Friday of the month. [2] Following the death of Vincent DeDomenico in October 2007,[3] [4] DeDomenico family members chose son-in-law Gregory McManus to step into the position of CEO.[5]

In December 2009, United States Senators John McCain and Tom Coburn criticized a $54 million appropriation for replacing two existing railroad trestle bridges used by the wine train over the Napa River with higher ones. The money in the appropriation was for work on the Napa River Flood Project and part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Replacement of these bridges is part of the project's original plan. The $85 million contract for the work was awarded to the Alaska native corporation Suulutaaq Inc. McCain and Coburn included the appropriation on a list of 100 “wasteful or silly" projects in their 2009 “Stimulus Checkup” report. An official spokesman for the City of Napa along with several elected officials accused McCain and Coburn of political grandstanding for including the funding in their report.[6]


Name Builder / Model Date Builder Number Notes
Locomotive #52 GE /65-ton switcher July 1943 17871
Locomotive #62 Alco ALCO RS-11 1959 83416[7] Bought from California Western Railroad-1989
Locomotive #70 Alco MLW/FPA-4 October 1958 82269
Locomotive #71 Alco MLW/FPA-4 February 1959 83153
Locomotive #72 Alco MLW/FPA-4 April 1959 83165
Locomotive #73 Alco MLW/FPA-4 April 1959 83168 Rebuilt to burn natural gas.[8]


Future plans

The NVRR track is currently utilized for limited daily scheduled passenger excursions of the Napa Valley Wine Train and occasional freight service. A July 2003 study[10] examined the feasibility of acquiring right of way between St. Helena and Calistoga, adding commuter train service on the route in order to connect to other mass transit service beyond the Napa Valley and increasing freight service.

Developers of the proposed 3200 unit townhome Napa Pipe project have also proposed a private venture shuttle service that would utilize a portion of the NVRR line from the southern terminus of the line north to Redwood Road and Trancas Street. The proposed shuttle would continue south on Union Pacific Railroad owned right of way to American Canyon with trains leaving every 20 or 30 minutes. The developers have held preliminary discussions with NVRR as well as Union Pacific. [11] [12] NVRR CEO Greg McManus said that his company's involvement could include operation of the shuttle as well as use of the rail. There are also plans in the making of a possible rail connection in 2011 with the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, such as passenger service and freight service.


  1. ^ Supreme Court of California opinion from California Continuing Education of the Bar
  2. ^ Duarte, Jesse (June 12, 2009). "Wine Train to stop in St. Helena". Napa Valley Register (Napa, CA: Lee Enterprises, Inc.). Retrieved June 12, 2009. 
  3. ^ Kilusk, Bill (October 19, 2007). "Wine Train founder DeDomenico dies at 92". Napa Valley Register (Napa, CA: Lee Enterprises, Inc.). Retrieved June 12, 2009. 
  4. ^ Guthrie, Julian (October 22, 2007). "Vincent DeDomenico dies - invented Rice-A-Roni, built wine train". San Francisco Chronicle (Napa, CA). Retrieved October 22, 2007. 
  5. ^ Courtney, Kevin (March 30, 2008). "Staying on Track". Napa Valley Register (Napa, CA: Lee Enterprises, Inc.). Retrieved June 10, 2008. 
  6. ^ Jones, Jillian (December 11, 2009). "McCain hammers Napa flood control contract". Napa Valley Register (Napa, CA: Lee Enterprises, Inc.). Retrieved October 17, 2010. 
  7. ^ "NVRR - NAPA Valley Railroad Company Locomotive Roster - Railroad Picture Archives.NET". 
  8. ^ "NAPA VALLEY WINE TRAIN". Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  9. ^ Edward Lewis Short Line Railway Guide (page 212)
  10. ^ [1] Napa/Solano Passenger/Freight Rail Study funded jointly by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Napa County Transportation Planning Agency and Solano Transportation Authority
  11. ^ Jones, Jillian (September 17, 2008). "Rail system for Napa?". Napa Valley Register (Napa, CA: Lee Enterprises, Inc.). Retrieved September 21, 2008. 
  12. ^ Noonan, James (September 13, 2011). "Investors hope to bring light rail to Napa". Napa Valley Register (Napa, CA: Lee Enterprises, Inc.). Retrieved September 13, 2011. 

External links

Coordinates: 38°18′08″N 122°17′02″W / 38.302196°N 122.283797°W / 38.302196; -122.283797

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