California Department of Transportation

Rail Freight

California is a key link in the national rail freight system.  In 2008, California railroads operated over 6,736 miles of track and carried 6,882,659 carloads of freight with a weight totaling over 164 million tons.


Rail Networks

Class I railroads – the designation for the major rail freight carriers – are represented in California by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) and the Union Pacific Railroad (UP).  These two railroads have extensive rail networks connecting California with the rest of the nation, particularly corridors to the Southwest, Midwest and Northwest.  Including rights obtained by one railroad to operate its trains over another railroad's tracks (trackage rights); these two railroads operate over a total of 5,432 miles in the State.  In addition to these major carriers, local markets in California may be served by smaller rail freight networks – known as “short line railroads,” that serve a particular market or which provide feeder service to the national freight rail network represented by the UP and the BNSF.

California State Rail Plan

By legislation, Caltrans is required to prepare a bi-annual California State Rail Plan, which includes a passenger- and a freight- rail component.  The most recent Plan, signed in January 2009, recognizes the State's strategic interest in preserving and improving its freight rail system.  The next iteration of the plan is currently underway.


Freight Rail Resources

For more information on California’s policies related to freight rail, see:

Federal Partner California’s Class I Railroads Rail Associations Other Rail Freight Resources State Rail Plans