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The Southern Pacific Transportation Company (AAR reporting marks SP), earlier Southern Pacific Railroad (1865-1885) and Southern Pacific Company (1885-1969), was an American railroad. The railroad was founded as a land holding company in 1865, forming part of the Central Pacific Railroad empire. Southern Pacific's total route mileage has varied significantly over the years. In 1929, the system showed 13,848 miles (22,286 km) of track (in contrast to 8,991 miles (14,470 km) of track in 1994). By 1900, the Southern Pacific Company had grown into a major railroad system which incorporated many smaller companies, such as the Texas and New Orleans Railroad and Morgan's Louisiana and Texas Railroad, and which extended from New Orleans through Texas to El Paso, across New Mexico and through Tucson, to Los Angeles, throughout most of California including San Francisco and Sacramento; it absorbed the Central Pacific Railroad extending eastward across Nevada to Ogden, Utah and had lines reaching north throughout and across Oregon to Portland. Read Full Bio >>
On August 9, 1988, the Interstate Commerce Commission approved the purchase of the Southern Pacific by Rio Grande Industries, the company that controlled the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. The Rio Grande officially took control of the Southern Pacific on October 13, 1988. After the purchase, the combined railroad kept the Southern Pacific name due to its brand recognition in the railroad industry and with customers of both constituent railroads. The Southern Pacific subsequently was taken over by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1996 following years of financial problems. The railroad is also noteworthy for being the defendant in the landmark 1886 United States Supreme Court case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad which is often interpreted as having established certain corporate rights under the Constitution of the United States.
The high bridge over the Pecos River.
The Southern Pacific depot located in Burlingame, California circa 1900. Completed in 1894 and still in use, it is the first permanent structure to be constructed in the Mission Revival Style.
Belmont, California station, about 1907
SP 8033, a GE Dash 8-39B, leads a westbound train through Eola, Illinois (just east of Aurora), October 6, 1992.
Anarchists were blamed for a deadly railroad accident in 1907. The Coast Line Limited of the Southern Pacific Railroad was heading for Los Angeles, California, on May 22, 1907, when it was derailed just west of Glendale, California. Passenger cars reportedly tumbled down the embankment. At least two were killed and others injured. "The horrible deed was planned with devilish accurateness," the Pasadena Star News reported at the time. It said spikes were removed from the track and hook placed under the end of the rail.
The Star's coverage was extensive and its editorial blasted the criminal elements behind the wreck. "Diabolism Incarnate" is how they headlined the editorial. It read: "The man or men who committed this horrible deed near Glendale may not be anarchists, technically speaking. But if they are sane men, moved by motive, they are such stuff as anarchists are made of. If the typical anarchist conceived that a railroad corporation should be terrorized, he would not scruple to wreck a passenger train and send scores and hundreds to instant death."
A few weeks later, an attempt to derail a Southern Pacific train near Santa Clara, California, was foiled when a pile of railway ties was discovered on the tracks. In the early hours of June 1, 1907, a work train crew found that someone had driven a steel plate into a switch near Burbank, California, intending to derail the Santa Barbara local.
Southern Pacific Railroad #4274, a type 4-8-8-2 "cab-forward" steam locomotive, leads a California-Nevada Railroad Historical Society excursion out of Reno, Nevada in December of 1957.
Like most railroads, the SP painted the majority of its steam locomotive fleet black during the 20th century, but after the 1930s the SP had a policy of painting the front of the locomotive's smokebox light silver (almost white in appearance), with graphite colored sides, for visibility.
Some express passenger steam locomotives bore the Daylight scheme, named after the trains they hauled, most of which had the word Daylight in the train name. This scheme, carried in full on the tender, consisted of a bright, almost vermilion red on the top and bottom thirds, with the center third being a bright orange. The parts were separated with thin white bands. Some of the color continued along the locomotive. The most famous "Daylight" locomotives were the GS-4 steam locomotives. The most famous Daylight-hauled trains were the Coast Daylight and the Sunset Limited.
Well known were the Southern Pacific's unique "cab-forward" steam locomotives. These were essentially 2-8-8-4 locomotives set up to run in reverse, with the tender attached to the smokebox end of the locomotive. Southern Pacific used a number of snow sheds in mountain terrain, and locomotive crews nearly asphyxiated from smoke blowing back to the cab. After a number of engineers began running their engines in reverse (pushing the tender), Southern Pacific asked Baldwin Locomotive Works to produce cab-forward designs. No other North American railroad ordered cab-forward locomotives, which became a distinctive symbol of the Southern Pacific.
During the early days of diesel locomotive use, they were also painted black. Yard switchers had diagonal orange stripes painted on the ends for visibility, earning this scheme the nickname of Tiger Stripe. Road freight units were generally painted in a black scheme with a red band at the bottom of the carbody and a silver and orange "winged" nose. The words "SOUTHERN PACIFIC" were borne in a large serif font in white. This paint scheme is called the Black Widow scheme by railfans. A transitory scheme, of all-over black with orange "winged" nose, was called the Halloween scheme. Few locomotives were painted in this scheme and few photos of it exist.
Most passenger units were painted originally in the Daylight scheme as described above, though some were painted red on top, silver below for use on the Golden State (operated in cooperation with the Rock Island Railroad) between Chicago and Los Angeles. Also, silver cars with a narrow red band at the top were used for the Sunset Limited and other trains into Texas. In 1959 SP standardized on a paint scheme of dark grey with a red "winged" nose; this scheme was dubbed Bloody Nose by railfans. Lettering was again in white. During the failed Southern Pacific Santa Fe Railroad merger in the mid 1980s, the "Kodachrome" paint scheme (named for the colors on the boxes that the film came in) was applied to many Southern Pacific locomotives. When the Southern Pacific Santa Fe merger was denied by the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Kodachrome units were not immediately repainted, some even lasting up to the Southern Pacific's end as an independent company, complete with the big letters "SPSF", which colloquially came to be referred to as "Shouldn't Paint So Fast." The Interstate Commerce Commission's decision left Southern Pacific in a decrepit state, the locomotives were not repainted immediately, although some were repainted into the Bloody Nose scheme as they were overhauled after months to years of deferred maintenance. After the 1988 purchase of Southern Pacific by Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad owner Philip Anschutz, the side lettering on repainted locomotives was changed from SP's serif font to the Rio Grande's "speed lettering" style. The Rio Grande did not retain its identity, as Anshutz felt the Southern Pacific name was the more dominant and recognizable.
Southern Pacific road switcher diesels were well-known by railfans for several distinct features beyond their paint schemes. The units often featured elaborate lighting clusters, both front and rear, which featured a large red Mars Light for emergency signaling, and often two sets of twin sealed-beam headlamps, one on top of the cab between the number boards, and the other below the Mars Light on the locomotive's nose. The Southern Pacific, starting in the 1970s, employed cab air conditioning on all new locomotives, and the air conditioning unit on top of the locomotive cab is quite visible. Southern Pacific also placed very large snowplows on the pilots of their road switchers, primarily for the heavy winter snowfall encountered on the Donner Pass route. Many Southern Pacific road switchers used a Nathan-AirChime model M3 or M5 air horn, which formed chords which were distinct to Southern Pacific locomotives in the western states.
The Southern Pacific, and its subsidiary Cotton Belt, were the only operators of the EMD SD45T-2 "Tunnel Motor" locomotive. This locomotive was necessary because the standard configuration EMD SD45 could not get a sufficient amount of cool air into the diesel locomotive's radiator while working Southern Pacific's extensive snow shed and tunnel system in the Cascades and Donner Pass. These "Tunnel Motors" were essentially EMD SD45s with radiator air intakes located at the locomotive carbody's walkway level, rather than EMD's typical radiator setup with fans on the locomotive's long hood roof pulling air through radiators mounted at the top/side of the locomotive's body. Inside tunnels and snow sheds, the hot exhaust gases from lead units would accumulate near the top of the tunnel or snow shed, and be drawn into the radiators of trailing EMD (non-tunnel motor) locomotives, leading these locomotives to shut down as their diesel prime mover overheated. The Southern Pacific also operated EMD SD40T-2s, as did the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad.
Unlike many other railroads, whose locomotive numberboards bore the locomotive's number, SP used them for the train number until 1967, when they adopted the other railroads' "standard"...except for the SP's San Francisco-San Jose commute trains, which maintained the display of train numbers for the convenience of passengers awaiting their trains. The other major railroad which used locomotive numberboards for train numbers into the late 1960s was SP's transcontinental partner, Union Pacific.
Toward the end of the railroad's corporate life, Southern Pacific locomotives were known for being very dirty. Some railfans jokingly observed that the railroad's heavily used locomotives were only washed when it rained.
Union Pacific recently unveiled UP 1996, the sixth and final of its Heritage Series EMD SD70ACe locomotives. Its paint scheme appears to be based on the Daylight and Black Widow schemes.
Until May 1, 1971 (when Amtrak took over long-distance passenger operations in the United States), the Southern Pacific at various times operated the following named passenger trains:
Southern Pacific Railroad chair car (coach) #2425, assigned to the Challenger, makes a stop in San Luis Obispo, California on July 26, 1937
Locomotives Used for Passenger Service
There are many Southern Pacific locomotives still in revenue service with railroads such as the Union Pacific, and many older and special locomotives have been donated to parks and museums, or continue operating on scenic or tourist railroads. Among the more notable equipment is:
SP 1518 at IRM, July 2005
For a complete list, see: List of preserved Southern Pacific Railroad rolling stock.
The Southern Pacific Company's Bay City ferry plies the waters of San Francisco Bay in the late 19th century
The Central Pacific Railroad (and later the Southern Pacific) maintained and operated a fleet of ferry boats that connected Oakland with San Francisco by water. For this purpose, a massive pier, the Oakland Long Wharf, was built out into San Francsico Bay in the 1870s which served both local and mainline passengers. Early on, the Central Pacific gained control of the existing ferry lines for the purpose of linking the northern rail lines with those from the south and east; during the late 1860s the company purchased nearly every bayside plot in Oakland, creating what author and historian Oscar Lewis described as a "wall around the waterfront" that put the town’s fate squarely in the hands of the corporation. Competitors for ferry passengers or dock space were ruthlessly run out of business, and not even stage coach lines could escape the group's notice, or wrath.
By 1930, the Southern Pacific owned the world's largest ferry fleet (which was subsidized by other railroad activities), carrying 40 million passengers and 60 million vehicles annually aboard 43 vessels. However, the opening of the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge in 1936 initiated the slow decline in demand for ferry service, and by 1951 only 6 ships remained active. SP ferry service was discontinued altogether in 1958. << Less Bio