Layout at a Glance

The State Belt Railway of California

“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco”

falsely attributed to Mark Twain

It’s August of 1953, and the San Francisco waterfront is a beehive of activity as the nation’s premier West Coast export port.   While the conflict in Korea has just ended, there remains an enormous effort to keep the UN forces well supplied with American arms and goods.   Much of that leaves North America from the piers of The Embarcadero, the shipping hub of San Francisco Bay.

The Port of San Francisco operates the State Belt Railway in order to provide uniform access to all of the piers and shipping facilities.   The State Belt accepts cars from the SP for delivery as indicated.   However, the Belt also interchanges cars with the Santa Fe, the Western Pacific, and even the Northwestern Pacific, thus helping to keep the Southern Pacific (the Octopus of California politics) from completely dominating traffic to The City.

Never more than a couple of blocks from the waterfront, the State Belt services Piers 1-46, ranging from Fisherman’s Wharf on the north end to China Basin (today, the location of the Giant’s ballpark) on the south.  In between is a dense collection of warehouses, factories, freight houses and other industries which require rail service.  Tracks run in the street, and as the streets of this area tend to be crowded during the day, the railroad operates primarily at night, moving cars as directed by the interchange railroad.

Form B-7’s are used to indicate which cars need to be moved.  They’re not switch lists (but they look like them), and they’re not car cards with waybills (but they function like them).  You’ll get the hang of it quickly, I’m sure.

This instance of the State Belt Railway of California is not yet complete, but has about a third of the design ready to operate.

  • Superintendent:   david zuhn
  • Location: San Francisco waterfront
  • Interchange Railroads:  SP, AT&SF, WP, NWP
  • Size of Railroad:  most of a 22’x24′ space (albeit with generous aisles)
  • Scale:  HO
  • Era:   1953
  • Control System: Digitrax w/ radio throttles
  • Clock Speed:   none
  • Length of Session: 2 hours plus
  • Crew Size: 2 (today, eventually 6ish)
  • Train Control:  Timetable and Train Order, however, the entire railroad is within yard limits
  • Radios:  no (none were in use on the prototype)
  • Accessibility: stairway to the basement
  • Pets:  cats, who remain upstairs
  • Web site: