The inspiration for the current trolley movement, the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway, started in 1904 and became the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railroad in 1910. The P&SR was created to compete with the North-western Pacific Railroad's attempts to bypass Petaluma's ferry barge method of transportation, according to trolley enthusiasts.
Petaluma owes its existence to being at the north end of navigability of the river, according to historians. The P&SR utilized the ferry traffic that held sway over Petaluma's economy since the 1800s and would then transport goods via the railway, bolstering Petaluma and refusing to give way to the Northwestern Pacific Railroad's efforts to encroach on the city.
The P&SR trafficked 1 million eggs a month, an average of 250,000 passengers a year, and 10,000 freight cars worth of agricultural material. An initial confrontation with competitors from the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, who tried to block the trolley tracks, ended successfully with 3,000 people cheering as the P&SR rolled into Santa Rosa for the first time in 1904.
Eventually, though, the steam ran out of the railroad as times changed and ferry transportation that once gave way to train soon gave way to truck travel with the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937, said Stevick, with greater implications for the P&SR
The number of passengers had dropped from a high of 760,000 in 1912 to 162,000 in 1931, consequently, the North-Western Pacific stopped all passenger service after its purchase of the P&SR. In 1947, the electric motors and overhead wires were removed and replaced with diesel. By 1932, passenger operations on the P&SR were no more. The engines and most of the cars were sold off and turned into houses and roadside diners. By 1976, the railroad long ago bought by NWPR then became a subsidiary of railroad giant Southern Pacific