Southern Pacific Transportation Company

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The Southern Pacific (reporting mark SP) (or Espee from the railroad initials) was an American Class I railroad network that existed from 1865 to 1996 and operated largely in the Western United States. The system was operated by various companies under the names Southern Pacific Railroad, Southern Pacific Company and Southern Pacific Transportation Company.

Southern Pacific Transportation Company
SP system map (before the 1988 DRGW merger)
HeadquartersSan Francisco, California
FoundersWilliam Tell Coleman
Timothy Guy Phelps
William Rosecrans
Leland Stanford
Reporting markSP
LocaleArizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah
Dates of operation1865–1996
PredecessorCentral Pacific Railroad
SuccessorsSanta Fe Pacific Corporation
Union Pacific Railroad
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge with some 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge branches

The original Southern Pacific began in 1865 as a land holding company. The last incarnation of the Southern Pacific, the Southern Pacific Transportation Company, was founded in 1969 and assumed control of the Southern Pacific system. The Southern Pacific Transportation Company was acquired in 1996 by the Union Pacific Corporation and merged with their Union Pacific Railroad.

The Southern Pacific legacy founded hospitals in San Francisco, Tucson, and Houston. In the 1970s, it also founded a telecommunications network with a state-of-the-art microwave and fiber optic backbone. This telecommunications network became part of Sprint, a company whose name came from the acronym for Southern Pacific Railroad Internal Networking Telephony.[1]



The original Southern Pacific Railroad was founded in San Francisco in 1865, by a group of businessmen led by Timothy Phelps with the aim of building a rail connection between San Francisco and San Diego, California. The company was purchased in September 1868 by a group of businessmen known as the Big Four: Charles Crocker, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Jr. and C. P. Huntington. The Big Four had, in 1861, created the Central Pacific Railroad (CPRR)[2] It later acquired the Central Pacific Railroad in 1885 through leasing.[3][4][5] By 1900, the Southern Pacific system was a major railroad system incorporating many smaller companies, such as the Texas and New Orleans Railroad and Morgan's Louisiana and Texas Railroad. It extended from New Orleans through Texas to El Paso, across New Mexico and through Tucson, to Los Angeles, through most of California, including San Francisco and Sacramento. Central Pacific lines extended east across Nevada to Ogden, Utah, and reached north through Oregon to Portland. Other subsidiaries eventually included the St. Louis Southwestern Railway (Cotton Belt), El Paso and Southwestern Railroad, the Northwestern Pacific Railroad at 328 miles (528 km), the 1,331-mile (2,142 km) Southern Pacific Railroad of Mexico, and a variety of 3 ft (914 mm) narrow-gauge routes.

The SP was known for its mammoth back shops at Sacramento, California, which was one of the few in the country equipped to design and build locomotives on a large scale. Sacramento was among the top ten largest shops in the US, occupying 200 acres of land with dozens of buildings and an average employment of 3,000, peaking at 7,000 during World War II. Other major shop sites were located at Ogden, Utah; Houston, Texas; and Algiers, New Orleans. After the 1906 earthquake destroyed much of San Francisco, including the SP shops there, new shops and yards were built six miles south of the city at Bayshore. The Alhambra Shops in Los Angeles consisted of 10 buildings and employed 1,500 but declined in importance when the Taylor Yard was built in 1930.[6]

The SP was 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 Southern Pacific Railroad was replaced by the Southern Pacific Company and assumed the railroad operations of the Southern Pacific Railroad. In 1929, Southern Pacific/Texas and New Orleans operated 13,848 route-miles not including Cotton Belt, whose purchase of the Golden State Route circa 1980 nearly doubled its size to 3,085 miles (4,965 km), bringing total SP/SSW mileage to around 13,508 miles (21,739 km). The T&NO was fully merged into the SP in 1961.

An EMD FP7 leads a Pacific Rail Society Special through Floriston, California, in February 1971.

In 1969, the Southern Pacific Transportation Company was established and took over the Southern Pacific Company; this Southern Pacific railroad is the last incarnation and was at times called "Southern Pacific Industries", though "Southern Pacific Industries" is not the official name of the company. By the 1980s, route mileage had dropped to 10,423 miles (16,774 km), mainly due to the pruning of branch lines. On October 13, 1988, the Southern Pacific Transportation Company (including its subsidiary, St. Louis Southwestern Railway) was taken over by Rio Grande Industries, the parent company that controlled the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. Rio Grande Industries did not merge the Southern Pacific Transportation Company and the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad together, but transferred direct ownership of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad to the Southern Pacific Transportation Company, allowing the combined Rio Grande Industries railroad system to use the Southern Pacific name due to its brand recognition in the railroad industry and with customers of both the Southern Pacific Transportation Company and the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. A long time Southern Pacific subsidiary, the St. Louis Southwestern Railway was also marketed under the Southern Pacific name. Along with the addition of the SPCSL Corporation route from Chicago to St. Louis, the former mainline of the Chicago, Missouri and Western Railroad that once belonged to the Alton Railroad, the total length of the D&RGW/SP/SSW system was 15,959 miles (25,684 km). Rio Grande Industries was later renamed Southern Pacific Rail Corporation.

By 1996, years of financial problems had dropped Southern Pacific's mileage to 13,715 miles (22,072 km). The financial problems caused the Southern Pacific Transportation Company to be taken over by the Union Pacific Corporation; the parent Southern Pacific Rail Corporation (formerly Rio Grande Industries), the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, the St. Louis Southwestern Railway and the SPCSL Corporation was also taken over by the Union Pacific Corporation. The Union Pacific Corporation merged the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, the St. Louis Southwestern Railway and the SPCSL Corporation into their Union Pacific Railroad but did not merge the Southern Pacific Transportation Company into the Union Pacific Railroad. Instead, the Union Pacific Corporation merged the Union Pacific Railroad into the Southern Pacific Transportation Company on February 1, 1998; the Southern Pacific Transportation Company became the surviving railroad and at the same time the Union Pacific Corporation renamed the Southern Pacific Transportation Company to Union Pacific Railroad. Thus, the Southern Pacific Transportation Company became, and is still operating as, the current incarnation of the Union Pacific Railroad.

G. W. & C. B. Colton, Map Showing the Line of the True Southern Pacific Railway, circa 1881



Like most railroads, the SP painted most of its steam locomotives black during the 20th century, but after 1945 SP painted the front of the locomotive's smokebox silver (almost white in appearance), with graphite colored sides, for visibility.

Some passenger steam locomotives bore the Daylight scheme, named after the trains they hauled, most of which had the word Daylight in the train name. 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.[7] These were 4-8-8-2, 2-8-8-2, and 4-6-6-2 (rebuilt from 2-6-6-2) locomotives set up to run in reverse, with the tender attached to the smokebox end of the locomotive.[7] Southern Pacific had a number of snow sheds in mountain terrain, and locomotive crews nearly asphyxiated from smoke in the cab.[7] 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.[7] No other North American railroad ordered cab-forward locomotives.

List of locomotives used


Steam locomotives[8]


Narrow Gauge Locomotives

Diesel locomotives


Passenger train service


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. Trains with names in italicized bold text still operate under Amtrak:

Notable accidents

  • John Sontag, a young Southern Pacific employee, was injured c. 1888 while coupling cars in the railroad yard in Fresno. He accused the company of not providing him with medical care while he was recuperating from his on-the-job injury and then not rehiring him when he had healed. He soon turned to a life of crime (mostly train robberies) and died of gunshot wounds and tetanus in the Fresno jail in 1893 aged 32 years.[11]
Sontag's partner in crime, Chris Evans also hated the Southern Pacific, which Evans accused of forcing farmers to sell their lands at reduced rates to the company.[11]
  • On 28 March 1907, the Southern Pacific Sunset Express, descending the grade out of the San Timoteo Canyon, entered the Colton rail yard traveling about 60 miles per hour (97 km/h), hit an open switch and careened off the track, resulting in 24 fatalities. Accounts said 9 of the train's 14 cars disintegrated as they piled on top of one another, leaving the dead and injured in "a heap of kindling and crumpled metal". Of the dead, 18 were Italian immigrants traveling to jobs in San Francisco from Genoa, Italy.[12]
  • The Coast Line Limited was heading for Los Angeles, on 22 May 1907, when it was derailed just west of Glendale, California. Passenger cars reportedly tumbled down the embankment. At least 2 people 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 a hook placed under the end of the rail. The Star's coverage was extensive and its editorial blasted the criminal elements behind the wreck:

    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.[13]

  • In the early hours of 1 June 1907, 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. 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.[citation needed]
  • On 12 August 1939, the westbound City of San Francisco derailed from a bridge in Palisade Canyon, between Battle Mountain and Carlin in the Nevada desert. Among the passengers and crew members 24 people were killed and many more injured, and 5 cars were destroyed. An act of sabotage was determined to be the most likely cause; however, no suspect(s) was(were) ever identified.[citation needed]
  • On New Year's Eve 1944 a rear-end collision west of Ogden in thick fog killed 48 people.[14]
  • On 17 January 1947, the Southern Pacific Nightflier wrecked 12 miles (19 km) outside of Bakersfield; 7 people were killed and over 50 injured. Four coaches and a tourist sleeper were overturned, landing far off the tracks; the other seven cars remained upright. The locomotive stayed on the tracks and its crew was uninjured. A 29-year-old passenger, Robert Crowley from Miami, Florida, had been conversing with a man across the aisle who was killed instantly. Crowley, who was a combat war veteran, said “I never saw such a mess” even on a battlefield.[15]
  • On 8 May 1948, in Monterey, California, a Southern Pacific passenger train, the Del Monte Express struck a car driven by influential marine biologist Ed Ricketts at the now defunct railroad crossing at Drake Avenue. Ricketts subsequently succumbed to his injuries three days later in the hospital.[16]
  • On 17 September 1963, a Southern Pacific freight train crashed into an illegally converted bus at a grade crossing in Chualar, California, killing 32 bracero workers. It would later be a factor in the decision by Congress in 1964 to terminate the bracero program, despite its strong support among farmers. It also helped spur the Chicano civil rights movement.[17][18] As of 2014, it was the deadliest automobile accident in United States history, according to the National Safety Council[17][19]
  • On 28 April 1973, a Southern Pacific freight train carrying munitions exploded in Roseville Yard injuring 52 people, the cause of this was due to a hot box on a railcar setting the floor ablaze, heating a bomb until it detonated.[20]
  • On 12 May 1989, a Southern Pacific train carrying trona derailed in San Bernardino, California. The train failed to slow while descending a nearby slope, and sped up to about 110 miles per hour (180 km/h) before derailing, causing the San Bernardino train disaster. The crash destroyed 7 homes along Duffy Street and killed 2 train workers and 2 residents. Thirteen days later on 25 May 1989, an underground pipeline running along the right-of-way ruptured and caught fire due to damage done to the pipeline during clean-up from the derailment or from the derailment itself, destroying 11 more homes and killing 2 more people.[21]
Site of the 1991 spill. The guardrail on the left was constructed after the spill.
  • On the night of 14 July 1991, a Southern Pacific train derailed into the upper Sacramento River at a sharp bend of track called “the Cantara Loop”, upstream from Dunsmuir, California, in Siskiyou County. Several cars made contact with the water, including a tank car. Early in the morning of 15 July, it became apparent that the tank car had ruptured and spilled its entire contents into the river – approximately 19,000 US gallons (72 m3) of metam sodium, a soil fumigant. Ultimately, over a million fish, and tens of thousands of amphibians and crayfish were killed. Millions of aquatic invertebrates, including insects and mollusks, which form the basis of the river's ecosystem, were destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of willows, alders, and cottonwoods eventually died; many more were severely injured.[22]
The chemical plume left a 41 miles (66 km) wake of destruction from the spill site to the entry point of the river into Shasta Lake.[23] The accident still ranks as the largest hazardous chemical spill in California history.[22] At the time of the incident, metam sodium was not classified as a hazardous material.

Preserved locomotives


There are many Southern Pacific locomotives still in revenue service with railroads such as the Union Pacific Railroad, and many older and special locomotives have been donated to parks and museums, or continue operating on scenic or tourist railroads. Most of the engines now in use with Union Pacific have been "patched", where the SP logo on the front is replaced by a Union Pacific shield, and new numbers are applied over the old numbers with a Union Pacific sticker, however some engines remain in Southern Pacific "bloody nose" paint. Over the past couple years, most of the patched units were repainted into the full Union Pacific scheme and as of January 2019, less than ten units remain in their old paint. Among the more notable equipment is:

SP 1518 at IRM, July 2005

Honorary tribute


On August 19, 2006, UP unveiled a brand new EMD SD70ACe locomotive, Union Pacific 1996, as part of a new heritage program. It was the final unit in UP's Heritage Series of locomotives, and was painted in a color scheme inspired by the "Daylight" and "Black Widow" schemes.

Company officers




Chairmen of Executive Committee


Chairmen of Board of Directors


Notable employees


See also



  1. ^ see SP 6051
  2. ^ SSW only
  3. ^ leased from Amtrak
  4. ^ operated jointly with the Rock Island Railroad (1926–1938)[9]
  5. ^ operated jointly with the Rock Island Railroad
  6. ^ operates today as part of the Coast Starlight train
  7. ^ operated jointly with the Chicago and North Western Railway and the Union Pacific Railroad; SP portion operates today as part of Amtrak's California Zephyr
  8. ^ operates today as part of the Coast Starlight train
  9. ^ proposed, was to have been operated jointly with the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad
  10. ^ operated jointly with the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad
  11. ^ operated jointly with the Rock Island Railroad 1946–1967)[9]
  12. ^ operated until 1985, now Caltrain
  13. ^ operated jointly with the Chicago and North Western Railway and the Union Pacific Railroad
  14. ^ operated from 1927 till 1949 as an international train under the subsidiary Southern Pacific Railroad of Mexico between Tucson and Guadalajara, featuring through sleepers from Los Angeles to Mexico City
  15. ^ operated from 1927 till 1951 as an international train under the subsidiary Southern Pacific Railroad of Mexico between Tucson and Guadalajara


  1. ^ Block, Melissa; Neff, Brijet (October 15, 2012). "Sprint Born From Railroad, Telephone Businesses". All Things Considered. NPR. Archived from the original on October 24, 2012. Retrieved January 14, 2013. It all began in Kansas in the late 19th century and came to include a long-distance system created by the Southern Pacific Railroad Internal Network Telecommunications, or SPRINT.
  2. ^ R, Miriam (July 31, 2020). "Moments in History: Leland Stanford, 1824-1893 and Jane Stanford, 1828-1905". Palo Alto History Museum. Retrieved July 10, 2024.
  3. ^ Yenne (1996), p. 29.
  4. ^ Yenne (1996), p. 51.
  5. ^ Farmer, Jared (2013). Trees in paradise : a California history. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-07802-2. OCLC 889889389.
  6. ^ * Starr, Timothy (2024). The Back Shop Illustrated, Volume 3: Southeast and Western Regions. Privately printed.
  7. ^ a b c d Yenne (1996), p. 96.
  8. ^ "Southern Pacific Steam Locomotive Index".
  9. ^ a b "Imperial and Apache consists". Rock Island Technical Society. Retrieved December 12, 2013.
  10. ^ a b Schwantes, Carlos A. (1993). Railroad Signatures across the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington Press, Seattle, WA. ISBN 0-295-97210-6. OCLC 27266208.
  11. ^ a b "Sontag and Evans". Retrieved August 6, 2013.
  12. ^ "[no title cited]". San Bernardino Sun. March 29, 1907.
  13. ^ "Diabolism Incarnate". Editorial. Pasadena Star News. May 1907.
  14. ^ Arave, Lynn (December 26, 2014). "Remembering Utah's Worst Train Wreck". Standard-Examiner. Archived from the original on June 17, 2019. Retrieved June 17, 2019.
  15. ^ "7 Dead in "Owl" Wreck". The Bakersfield Californian. January 17, 1947. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
  16. ^ "Doc Ricketts Memorial". Atlas Obscura. n.d. Retrieved February 14, 2019.
  17. ^ a b Flores, Lori A. (Summer 2013). "A Town Full of Dead Mexicans: The Salinas Valley Bracero Tragedy of 1963, the End of the Bracero Program, and the Evolution of California's Chicano Movement". The Western Historical Quarterly. 44 (2): 124–143. doi:10.2307/westhistquar.44.2.0124.
  18. ^ Martin, Philip L. (2003). Promise Unfulfilled: Unions, Immigration, and the Farm Workers. ILR Press. p. 50. ISBN 0801488753.
  19. ^ "Second survivor of 1963 Chualar bus crash emerges". Monterey Herald. March 1, 2014. Archived from the original on October 6, 2014. Retrieved February 5, 2019.
  20. ^ Berthelsen, John (April 29, 1973). "Freight train blasts shock area". Sacramento Bee. Retrieved June 7, 2021.
  21. ^ Malnic, Eric; Warren, Jennifer (May 13, 1989). "3 Die as Runaway Train Tumbles Onto Homes". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
  22. ^ a b "20th anniversary of largest chemical spill in California history". California Department of Toxic Substance Control. 2007.
  23. ^ Final Report on the Recovery of the Upper Sacramento River. Cantara Trustee Council. 2007.
  24. ^ "Locomotives". Austin Steam Train Association. Retrieved September 13, 2021.
  25. ^ "History of Southern Pacific 982 Steam Locomotive". Retrieved April 28, 2021.
  26. ^ "Orange Empire Railway Museum – Bringing Southern California's Railway History to Life".
  27. ^ "W. Burch Lee Funeral Here in Afternoon: Former Clerk of Federal Court Expires After Week of Illness". The Shreveport Times through Retrieved March 22, 2015.
  28. ^ "Harry (Haywire Mac) McClintock". Retrieved April 23, 2023.