CALIFORNIANS HAVE HAD A SPECIAL LOVE AFFAIR WITH Yosemite National Park since its discovery in 1849. However, access to the Park was very limited until 1907 when the Yosemite Valley Railroad was completed between Merced, in California's San Joaquin Valley, and El Portal on the western boundary of the Park. While the original intent of the railroad had been to provide passenger service to the Park, the railroad was quick to encourage the growth of freight traffic. Over the years, the railroad developed a significant freight business in logging, lumber, limestone, and barium lead.

A significant change occurred to the railroad in the early twenties by the construction of a large dam on the Merced River at Exchequer east of Merced Falls. That project required the relocation of 17 miles of track and the construction of 5 large bridges and 4 concrete-lined tunnels. One of these bridges was the 1,600' long steel Barrett Bridge over the reservoir itself. The bridge was 236' above low water and was the longest steel railroad bridge in the West at the time.

Passenger business on the railroad peaked in the mid-twenties, dropping thereafter due to the increase in private automobile use, accelerated by the completion of the new All-Year Highway (now State Route 140) in 1926. The loss of the logging/lumber freight business in 1942 and then the limestone/cement business in 1944 eventually resulted in a request to abandon the railroad. The last scheduled run came on August 24, 1945; scrapping operations commenced shortly thereafter.

If the railroad had been able to stay profitable for a few more years, it might have experienced a dramatic increase in passenger business as vacationers and Park visitors rediscovered the romance of rail travel in the early 1950s much like the success of the Durango and Silverton Railroad at that time and, later, the Grand Canyon Railroad. However, the original YVRR right-of-way was located much too close to the unpredictable Merced River and floods, such as those in 1955 and 1997, would have resulted in miles and miles of lost track and roadbed. Whether the railroad would have been able to assist in the current transportation congestion problems in the Valley is therefore unknown.

Web page development, design, and content copyrighted by Jack Burgess 2003. E-mail: Jack Burgess