Rock Island 651 leading the Imperial.

Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad and Southern Pacific Railroad jointly operated the Imperial Los Angeles-El Paso-Memphis-Chicago from 1931 to 1967, with a pause for World War II. The Imperial was the secondary companion train to the more famous jointly operated Golden State. (Internet photo. Fair use, title 17, section 107)


Imperial drumhead.


The Imperial was a night train of the Rock Island Rail Road and the Southern Pacific. It operated from Chicago to Los Angeles, via Kansas City (Missouri) and Tucumcari (New Mexico).


The Imperial at Niland, CA in 1955.

The Southern Pacific 'Imperial' Train 39 and 40 - A three unit set of EMD F-7, A-B-B diesels heads the Imperial No. 40 at Niland, California, 1955. Don Sims photo. (Clamshack,,



Among the Southern Pacific passenger trains running from Arizona to southern California, it was distinctive for stopping in Mexico and for having an international branch running into Mexico a second time, stopping between Calexico and San Diego. In most of the Arizona section, it passes through an area acquired by the Gadsden Purchase.

The Imperial's main route ran west to Los Angeles. Heading west of Yuma it went into Mexico for two stops, then returned to Calexico; there, the main route continued to Los Angeles.

A southern branch split from the main route at Calexico on the San Diego Short Line. It crossed the Mexico–United States border, then made stops in Baja California at Mexicali, before returning to California, stopping in Calexico and El Centro. It then crossed into Mexico, stopping at Tijuana, and finally crossed to the United States to finish in San Diego.

The route had its origins as a local train between San Diego and Yuma. It was suspended from 1942 to 1946, as a result of World War II. Its service was truncated by 1958, continuing into 1967.


The Imperial picks up a Kindergarten class in 1958.

The 'Imperial' stopping to pick up Kindergarten Class in 1958.



Major stops

Chicago (LaSalle Street Station)
Rock Island
Kansas City (Kansas City Union Station)
Topeka (Great Overland Station)
El Paso
Palm Springs
Los Angeles (Union Station (Los Angeles))

San Diego Short Line branch:

San Diego



Service: type Inter-city rail
Status: Discontinued
Locale: Midwestern United States/Southwestern United States/Baja California
First service: 1931
Last service: 1967
Former operators: Rock Island Rail Road, Southern Pacific Railroad, San Diego Short Line
Route Termini: Chicago, Illinois / Los Angeles, California/San Diego, California
Distance traveled: 2,361 miles (3,800 km)
Service frequency: Daily
Train numbers: Southwest: 39, Northeast: 40
On-board services
Seating arrangements: Coaches
Sleeping arrangements: Open sections, roomettes, drawing rooms and compartments
Catering facilities: Dining car
Baggage facilities: Baggage car