Rocklin, CA (RLN)
The modern depot draws on historic prototypes and features a clock tower. In addition to a waiting area, it includes chamber of commerce offices and a community meeting room.
Rocklin Road and Railroad Avenue
Rocklin, CA 95677
Annual Station Ridership (2016): 16,403
- Facility Ownership: City of Rocklin
- Parking Lot Ownership: City of Rocklin
- Platform Ownership: Union Pacific Railroad
- Track Ownership: Union Pacific Railroad
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
Rocklin sits on the western edge of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which mark the boundary between California and Nevada. The Central Pacific Railroad (CP) weaved its way through these majestic snow-capped peaks in the 1860s as it rushed to meet the Union Pacific Railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory. On May 10, 1869 the last section of track was laid and the two lines were joined to complete North America’s first transcontinental railroad. Rocklin, like many of its neighbors, prides itself on this tangible link to a celebrated period in American railroading when the east and west coasts were joined together by steel rails.
Due to changes in the local economy and the nature of railroading, passenger service to Rocklin ended in 1933, and the former depot was torn down a few years later. The city would not regain passenger service until early 1998 when the routes of two Capitol Corridor trains were extended past Roseville to Auburn. In the 1990s, the state of California decided to make significant investments in intercity passenger rail, and the Capitol Corridor was one of the services that resulted from that initiative. With a service area that spans eight northern counties, the Capitol Corridor was inaugurated in 1991 and envisioned as an alternative for drivers using Interstate 80. In addition to intercity passenger rail service, Rocklin is also a stop on Amtrak Thruway Motorcoach routes.
At first, the Rocklin station consisted of a platform with a bench, but increased ridership, primarily due to residents commuting to jobs in Sacramento, led to calls for a permanent passenger facility. In response, the city and the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency funded the design and construction of the current $1.25 million structure, which opened in July 2006. Sited in the approximate location of the old depot, city leaders hoped that the new building would act as a catalyst for the transformation of the historic downtown into a vibrant, pedestrian-oriented mixed-use village with pleasant gathering places that foster civic life.
Architects from Studio SMS of nearby Roseville drew on historic 19th and early 20th century depot prototypes to create a “classic” station that shares in the design traditions of its predecessors. The main building is rectangular and capped with a simple gabled roof of seamed metal with dormers on both sides. A deep eave wraps around the building; supported by brackets, it shelters passengers from inclement weather while they wait outside for the arrival of the train. On the north end of the structure, a clock tower dominates the intersection of Rocklin Road and Railroad Avenue, and it is topped with a shallow hipped roof and a cupola. Just as a century ago, passengers still need to be aware of the exact time when figuring out train schedules.
Finishes include random ashlar stone veneer in varying shades of grey and beige and stucco with complementary brown tones. The stone is applied to the base of the main building and over most of the clock tower, while the upper areas of the exterior walls are covered in the stucco. On the tower, the stucco is used to create the appearance of geometric “cut-outs” in the stonework that echo early 20th century design motifs associated with the Arts and Crafts movement, which was particularly strong in Northern California.
Inside, the building accommodates many functions. The waiting room for rail and bus passengers feels open and airy due to the high gabled ceiling and the copious natural light that streams through the large windows. Much of the station is devoted to the offices of the Rocklin Area Chamber of Commerce while another room is reserved for community meetings. To the south of the building, landscaped beds with trees, shrubs, and flowers recall the gardens and parks that many railroads once maintained around their depots.
In the centuries before the arrival of European Americans, the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in Placer County were inhabited by the Nisenan American Indians who were one of the three linguistic groups of the Maidu culture. Groups often moved between the Sacramento Valley west of present day Rocklin and the mountains further east. Far from coastal areas that had been colonized by the Spanish in the late 18th century, the Nisenan had only sporadic contact with European-Americans such as hunters and ranchers until the gold rush era that began in 1849.
For California, the first half of the 19th century was one of momentous change. In 1821, Mexico finally won independence from Spain. California remained under Mexican control until it was ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. In January 1848, gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill a dozen miles to the east of present day Rocklin, an event that promptly set off an intense period of migration that brought hundreds of thousands of Americans and foreigners to the Sierra Nevada in search of fortune. This is often considered the largest voluntary movement of people in written history, and the influx of settlers helped California gain statehood in 1850. Secret Ravine was mined, and after the initial gold fever subsided, many prospectors decided to stay in the region.
Peppered with oak and pine trees, the land in present day Rocklin was attractive to farmers, and much of the old downtown was once part of a 160-acre parcel acquired in 1852 by Irish immigrant James Bolton. To the west, Boston transplant George Whitney began purchasing land in the late 1850s. His four sons had gone to San Francisco during the height of the Gold Rush, and the youngest—Joel Parker Whitney—traveled through the Sierra Nevada foothills in the vicinity of Rocklin. His description of the land prompted the elder Whitney to invest in the area, and the family decided to raise sheep in order to produce wool, which was in high demand.
Just as the Whitneys and others were moving into Placer County, discussions over a transcontinental railroad came to the forefront of national politics. From 1853 to 1855, a survey was undertaken by the U.S. Army to determine suitable paths from the Midwest to the Pacific Coast. Five routes were identified, but the sectarian issues leading up to the Civil War put the transcontinental dream on hold. The outbreak of the conflict in 1861 gave renewed impetus to the project as a way to bind California to the Union, and the secession of the southern states removed roadblocks to selecting a northern route. In anticipation, the Central Pacific (CP) was incorporated in June 1861. Its principal backers were Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker, who were later known as the “Big Four.” Theodore Judah, an engineer who had long promoted the idea of a railroad across the Sierra Nevada, was named chief engineer. Detailed surveys through the mountains were made over that summer.
In Washington, D.C., Judah and Stanford lobbied members of Congress to authorize the transcontinental line and support its construction through land grants and other financial incentives. President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act on July 1, 1862. It chose a middle route to run between Omaha, Nebraska and Sacramento. The CP would build the line eastward while the newly formed Union Pacific Railroad would lay track towards the west; somewhere along the route, the two would meet and join together. The act also mandated that the line be completed within 12 years.
Ground was broken by the CP in January 1863 in downtown Sacramento near the present day Amtrak station. Almost all of the supplies except the wood ties had to be shipped to California from the East Coast—an 18,000 mile journey that could take up to eight months. The railroad’s organization allowed it to progress at a steady, if sometimes slow, pace, such that by May 1864 the tracks stretched more than twenty miles to the small settlement near Secret Ravine. Outcroppings of granite in the area proved rather invaluable and were mined to construct culverts and tunnels up in the mountains. Many Irish immigrants who had worked on the railroad settled in towns along the route, including Rocklin.
The CP was built just prior to the explosion in innovative technologies that marked the Victorian Era. Railroad infrastructure constructed high in the Sierra Nevada is considered a testament to the laborers who created it primarily by hand with picks and shovels, as well as with the help of nitroglycerine. Many of those workers were immigrants from southern China, and they were often given the most dangerous tasks. In May 1868, CP crews crossed the state line into Nevada, and a year later the connection was made with the Union Pacific.
Generally known as Secret Ravine, the village by the tracks received the name “Rocklin” when it was printed that way in an 1864 schedule. The origins of the name have never been definitively established, although the “Rock” part almost certainly refers to the abundance of granite in the area. In 1866, James Bolton subdivided his farm to foster the growth of a downtown along the CP right-of-way. The next year, the CP finished a roundhouse at Rocklin, which immediately attracted new settlers in search of work. Located across from the present depot on the opposite side of the tracks, it contained 25 stalls and a roundtable. A large wood shed stood nearby.
Rocklin was chosen as the site of the roundhouse because the town marks the point where the right-of-way starts to become quite steep as it moves into the Sierra Nevada. To traverse the approximately 90 miles to the summit of the range, extra “helper” locomotives needed to be added to the trains to boost total horsepower. The forests in the surrounding countryside were also an influencing factor in where the roundhouse would be built, as each locomotive required large amounts of wood to power it up the incline. By the end of the century, approximately 300 residents worked for the CP and half of them devoted their time to servicing up to 1,200 locomotives every month. Due to the activity at the roundhouse, stores, eateries, and hotels were built along First Street and Railroad Avenues, and the crossing of Granite Road (now Rocklin Road) and the tracks became the center of town.
The first passenger depot, erected in the late 1860s, stood in the approximate location of the current station, but it was destroyed by fire in 1891. Like the roundhouse, which had burned in 1873, the depot was rebuilt. It was a simple wooden rectangular structure with a gabled roof. Overhanging eaves with curving brackets protected passengers from rain and snow. Trackside, a projecting bay with windows allowed the station master to monitor traffic on the line. Across the tracks stood a freight house that closely resembled the depot; it had a raised wooden platform so that crates and parcels could be loaded onto carts and wheeled directly from the boxcars and into the storeroom.
The presence of the railroad encouraged the development of local industries. Rocklin’s granite, prized for its hardness and fine grain, could be shipped via rail car to the growing cities of the California coast. Rocklin granite was used in the construction of the state capitol in Sacramento, as well as the U.S. Mint and the luxurious Palace Hotel in San Francisco. Around 1900, there were more than a dozen quarries in operation that varied in scale but altogether employed hundreds of workers. Many of these laborers were Finnish, Russian, and Italian, and each community left its mark on the town.
Farmers soon discovered that the area encompassing Rocklin and the neighboring towns of Loomis, Penryn, and Newcastle was finely suited to fruit cultivation, especially with the introduction of irrigation. The west sloping hills maintained moderate temperatures that minimized frost and allowed for the growing of plums, peaches, grapes, pears, and berries. Around 1910, Placer County shipped approximately 221 million pounds of fresh fruit via boxcar to cities across the country. On his Spring Valley Ranch, which had grown to encompass more than 27,000 acres, J.P. Whitney experimented with various crops. He was one of the earliest growers of Muscat grapes, which were dried to make raisins; in a time when fresh fruits were hard to obtain, raisins were a prized treat. Whitney also pioneered the cultivation of citrus in northern California, specializing in hardy navel oranges. Due to the climactic conditions in the foothills, they often ripened 6-8 weeks before their counterparts in the southern part of the state, and were among the first to be shipped to the East Coast.
In accordance with his growing wealth, which also included income from mining operations in Colorado and other land deals in California, J.P. Whitney bought up additional land and in 1884 constructed a 20-room country mansion called “The Oaks.” Sited to provide its inhabitants with commanding views of the Spring Valley Ranch, the house was an eclectic Victorian mix of Italianate and Queen Anne styles. It stood until the ranch was broken up in the 1950s.
In the late 1880s, Whitney set apart a portion of his estate to establish the Placer County Citrus Colony. Enamored of English culture, he recruited wealthy Englishmen who were besotted with visions of palatial living among fragrant orange groves. The first years were good, and residents gathered at a clubhouse to socialize and play games and listen to music. Tennis courts and a cricket field brought memories of the home country, and the cricket and soccer teams were considered the best in the state. The good times did not last. A country-wide depression in the 1890s hurt business, and the irrigation ditches became stagnant, promoting the growth of malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Within 15 years, the colony folded and many of its residents returned to England.
The Southern Pacific Railroad, which had leased the CP in 1885, dealt Rocklin a serious blow in 1905 when it decided to build a new roundhouse in Roseville. Once the facility was completed in 1908, hundreds of railroad employees and their families moved. Rocklin visibly shrank as some workers loaded their wood frame houses onto flat cars and shipped them to Roseville. The shuttered roundhouse was demolished in 1912. Within a matter of years, the town’s population was reduced by half to about 1,000 residents. Thankfully, some of the slack in the local economy was picked up by the quarries, which witnessed a renewed burst of activity with the introduction of pneumatic drills and other technological advancements.
A devastating fire in 1914 wiped out many of the businesses on First Street near the depot, but there was no incentive to rebuild the commercial district due to the recent drop in population. Towards the end of the century, Rocklin was pulled into the orbit of Sacramento. Sold and divided, Spring Valley Ranch is now home to thousands of people living in planned communities. Evidence of the estate, such as granite bridges and the Placer County Citrus Colony clubhouse, can still be found with a little sleuthing. Prior to the development of the southern ranch lands, renowned photographer Ansel Adams was hired to photograph the landscape in 1962 as part of a promotional campaign. The shots captured the splendid beauty of Rocklin’s gnarled oaks and granite outcroppings; luckily, many of these natural features were incorporated into parks and trails within the new neighborhoods for all to enjoy.
Amtrak does not provide ticketing or baggage services at this station, which is served by two daily trains. The Capitol Corridor route is primarily financed and operated in partnership with the State of California. It is managed by the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA), which partners with Amtrak, the Union Pacific Railroad, Caltrans and the communities comprising the CCJPA to continue development of a cost-effective, viable and safe intercity passenger rail service.
- Accessible Platform
- Enclosed Waiting Area
- Pay Phones
- Quik Trak Kiosk