Just before the turn of the century, a railroad was constructed from downtown San Jose into Alum Rock Park. This early little train usually consisted of just three components: a small locomotive, one passenger car and a flat car. The train was so lightweight that on its arrival at the entrance of the park, men would load rocks on the flat car to help hold the passenger car on the tracks when it crossed the bridge over Penitencia Creek. Even with this ballast, sometimes a car would slip off the tracks and dangle over the chasm. Fortunately, none ever dropped all the way to the creek bed and there were no serious injuries – yet.
The Alum Rock Railway line into the park switched from steam engines to electric during the great push for electrification and expansion of the Bay Area railroad system in 1901. The largest gasoline-fueled electric powerhouse on the entire West Coast was constructed at the mouth of Alum Rock Canyon close to the park’s lower entrance. At about the same time, tracks were extended further into the park. The new terminus and depot were deep in the canyon near the gazebo. Now folks could ride the “narrow-gauge electric” all the way to the bathing area and not arrive peppered with soot from the steam engines’ fireboxes.
Flooding, bridge washouts, tunnel cave-ins and a serious accident with fatalities were a few of the challenges the railroad suffered, but it was the proliferation of the automobile which caused its ultimate demise in 1932.