Sacramento trestle bridge fire

From TrainSpottingWorld, for Rail fans everywhere

Video footage from KCRA


At 11:23pm Thursday night (March 15, 2007), fire claimed the last remaining piece of a section of railroad in Sacramento that had burned for almost 6 hours. The trestle on the north side of the American River fully collapsed into a heap of burning timber and red-hot iron.[1]

The flames, visible for miles, raged across nearly 600 feet of a major Sacramento railroad trestle near Cal Expo during the peak of afternoon traffic Thursday.

The fast-moving fire, first reported at 5:41 p.m., quickly consumed about 200 yards of heavy-duty trestle timber and tracks in a secluded section of the parkway, just north of the river and west of the Capital City Freeway.[2]

The creosote-soaked trestle fueled an intense blaze that could be seen from more than 50 miles away. Before nightfall, the wall of smoke extended an estimated 2,000 feet into the air and bent in a giant S-curve, blanketing the capital skyline.[3]

Sacramento fire officials said the blaze was expected to burn throughout the night north of the American River and could continue to smolder for the next few days. Sources also told News10 that investigators believe the fire may have been intentionally set.


Reports indicate that arson is suspected, partially due to the fast development of the fire. Evidence will be hard to gather owing to the vastness of the site, but there is a strong suspicion that the fire was deliberately set.

According to The Sacramento Bee, The inferno that destroyed the trestle seemed to ignite just after 5:30 p.m. in a thin line along a 100-yard section of the tracks north of the river and just west of the Capital City Freeway.[4]

Union Pacific is offering a $2,500 reward for information about the fire's cause.



A major northbound loop detour via Marysville has been implemented, adding 90 minutes to most freight schedules. Roseville rail yard is currently only accessible from the north east.

Passenger traffic is bridged across the gap by buses on rail replacement service, otherwise known as a "bus bridge".

Anticipated restoration

Officials are postulating 1 April, 2007 to restore one stream and 1 May, 2007 for the second stream

Aftermath and rebuilding

The aftermath of a major incident like this is always anticlimactic. The site is cleared, environmentalists are monitoring the build because the flood plain is important for biodiversity, and piles, steel piles, are being driven.

In short the news value has gone out of it, the sky is no longer red, and there is no plume of smoke. All that remains is disruption to passenger traffic and delay to freight traffic.

And yet the rebuilding, the speed of the planned reinstatement of the tracks, the entire project management of putting 1,400 feet of trestle back into commission, remains newsworthy. It's just deadly dull for all except those intimately involved.

Union Pacific Sacramento Bridge Updates

UP's website carries regular updates on the work. The heading for Monday 26 March, 2007:

Because of continued good working conditions, main track one completion is now set for March 30, 2007, and with an April 22, 2007 completion date for main track two.

Tuesday 27 March 2007 update:

Main track one was completed at 1:30 a.m. PDT this morning and the first train operated over the new structure at 1:50 a.m. PDT.

Because of continued good working conditions, main track two completion is scheduled for April 3 [sic], 2007.

Track one back in use after only 12 days, 2 days ahead of schedule; Track 2 original scheduled completion was 1st May, due to beat this by nearly a month (unless that '3' is a typo!).

By anyone's standards, this is phenomenally fast work. Just twelve days to rebuild an 1100feet long bridge, including site clearance. Other companies could learn some lessons here. (They could also learn lessons from the UP media page, whose coverage is exceptional.)


  1. Jason Kobely (2007-03-15). Trestle Finally Collapses; Fire Continues to Burn. News 10. Retrieved on 2007-03-16. “I've never seen a train bridge fire this big.... I've seen pretty big fires in my career. This is in the top three. This was huge”
  2. Tony Bizjak, Kim Minugh and Chelsea Phua (2007-03-15). Trestle blaze near Cal Expo disrupts Valley trains. The Sacramento Bee. Retrieved on 2007-03-16. “Officials with the Capitol Corridor system -- which runs regional trains between the Bay Area and Auburn -- alerted passengers that service between Sacramento and Auburn will be out of operation. They said, however, that beginning this morning buses will transport passengers.”
  3. Aaron C Davis (2007-03-16). Dramatic fire burns railroad trestle near Sacramento. Retrieved on 2007-03-16. “Amtrak will continue using buses along the route on Friday, and may have to suspend rail service on the damaged portion of track indefinitely”
  4. Tony Bizjak, Ryan Lillis and Phillip Reese (2007-03-17). Rail blaze possibly arson. The Sacramento Bee. Retrieved on 2007-03-18. “an accident wouldn't have spread as quickly.”