Mill Valley & MT. Tamalpais Scenic Railroad Copy

In August 1896, the Mill Valley and Mt. Tamalpais Scenic Railway began operating from the downtown Mill Valley railroad Depot to the top of Mt. Tamalpais. It operated until 1930, nearly 35 years. In 1907, a spur to Muir Woods was added, and later the name was changed to The Mt. Tamalpais and Muir Woods Railway. The railroad gained the name “The Crookedest Railroad in the World” due to the 281 curves in the eight and ½ mile track. It is often referred to as the Mountain Railroad.

Browse videos below to take a trip back in time

Dore Coller original song with videos of the historic train ride
KPIX news story about the acquisition of Engine No. 9 in 2018 
The Crookedest Railroad in the World
u0022The Old Railroad Gradeu0022 by Dore Coller
Dore Coller original song with videos of the historic train ride
Push to Preserve Historic Mill Valley
KPIX news story about the acquisition of Engine No. 9 in 2018 
Steaming Up Tamalpais
 Video of the railway, featuring interviews with four residents that remember their experiences on the train
Celebrate 100 Years for No 9!
 Learn about the historic Engine No. 9, on its way back to Marin County.  
Mill Valley and Mt. Tamalpais Railroad
Take a 1917 ride in a gravity car

Let them tell the story! Check out the recordings available for this site.

Bill Provines was a fireman on Shay locomotives and brakeman/gravity car man on the gravity cars while he was a college student in the 1920s. Listen especially to his experiences on the Mountain Railroad in the Oral History recording starting about minute 41:47. transcript
Jean Barnard visited as a child in Mill Valley with her aunt Ruth White (Boerike) and later became Mill Valley’s mayor. Listen to her memory of the train traveling past Ralston and Ruth White’s hdome, the Garden of Allah starting at minute 43:28.

Image Gallery

  • In the beginning (1896) the railroad to the top of Mt. Tamalpais was called the Mill Valley and Mt. Tamalpais Scenic Railway. The name was changed in 1913 to The Mt. Tamalpais and Muir Woods Railway when the company re-incorporated with new investments and plans. 
  • For reasons of simplicity, and because the residents of the time did, the railroad is often referred to as the Mountain Railroad. 
  • The railroad operated from 1896 until 1930, almost 35 years.
  • Construction of the Railroad:
    • In December 1895, Articles of Incorporation were filed and in February 1896, capital stock for the railroad was subscribed, reaching $45,600 (that would be $1,536,000 today). 
    • By February 11, the first spade of dirt was dug and three miles of trees and brush had been cut. Citizens began to protest the cutting of trees and spoiling the beauty of Corte Madera Avenue.
    • On February 28, nearly 200 men were working and one mile of roadbed was ready for rails.
    • Angry citizens defended their property with shotguns. A citizens’ committee, headed by George Marsh, Michael M. O’Shaughnessy and Maurice Windmiller, obtained an injunction against the work of the railroad.
    • The Railroad quickly won the court fight and immediately, 300 men went to work to prevent another injunction. Big bonfires were lit so that work could proceed all night.
    • Due to poor working conditions and low pay, workers protested

After only six months of construction, the railroad was completed on August 18, 1896 and on the 22nd, the first passenger train made a run to the top of the mountain, a trip for Mill Valley residents. The official grand opening was August 26th.

The railroad began here at the Depot, heading into Blithedale Canyon after crossing Throckmorton Avenue and winding its way through buildings to reach Arroyo del Corte Madera del Presidio Creek, which forms the bottom of Blithedale Canyon. There, the railroad followed the creek through trees and across a series of bridges for approximately 1½ miles, before it began its steep climb to the top of Mt. Tamalpais. You can walk the first 1½ miles of the route using the 2022 Walk Into History Guidebook

Additional Resources

Engine No 9