SP 6453 EB leading the Pacific Rail Society Special from LA to Reno seen at Floriston, CA in February of 1971. Click to enlarge.

(Drew Jacksich, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)


Southern Pacific logo.


The Southern Pacific (reporting mark SP) 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.

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.


SP system map (before the 1988 DRGW merger). Click to enlarge.

(No machine-readable author provided. Liesel assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons)



Main article: History of the Southern Pacific
The original Southern Pacific, Southern Pacific Railroad, was founded as a land holding company in 1865, later acquiring the Central Pacific Railroad in 1885 through leasing. 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 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).


This is My Railroad

This is My Railroad is an excellent promotional film produced for the Southern Pacific Railroad.

Part Two HERE.


Southern Pacific Transportation Company

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 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. Click to enlarge.

(University of Texas at Arlington, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)



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.


SP 4449 underway, wearing the Daylight scheme, April 1981. Click to enlarge. (Drew Jacksich from San Jose, CA, The Republic of California, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

SP 4294 cab-forward locomotive. Click to enlarge. (BenFranske, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Restored SP No. 9 showing the traditional silver paint on the front of the smokebox. Click to enlarge. (Eric Polk, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Restored No. 1744 while it operated on the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad. Click to enlarge. (Drew Jacksich from San Jose, CA, The Republic of California, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

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. 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. Southern Pacific had a number of snow sheds in mountain terrain, and locomotive crews nearly asphyxiated from smoke in 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.


SP 6235 in "Black Widow" livery crossing the Guadalupe in June 65.

(Drew Jacksich from San Jose, California Republic, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)


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:


Owl (SP)

Pacific Limited

Peninsula Commute 

        Loop Service

Rogue River

Sacramento Daylight

San Francisco Challenger

San Joaquin Daylight


Shasta Daylight

Shasta Express

Shasta Limited

Shasta Limited De Luxe



Sunset Limited

Suntan Special


West Coast

El Costeño

El Yaqui

The Southern Pacific's Coast Daylight lead by an Alco PA locomotive - somewhere north of Los Angeles. Click to enlarge.

(Smith News, San Francisco, Public domain, W. Lenheim Collection)


Locomotives used for passenger service

Steam locomotives

2-8-0 Consolidation

2-8-2 Mikado

4-4-2 Atlantic

4-6-2 Pacificsee SP 2472

4-8-2 Mountainsee SP Mt-5

4-8-4 Golden State/General Servicesee SP 4449


4-8-8-2 Cab Forward Articulated

4-10-2 Southern Pacific - see SP 5021


Diesel locomotives







GE 70-ton switcher






EMD SW1200

EMD SW1500





FM H-12-44

FM H-24-66 "Train Master"







EMD SD39-2

EMD SD38-2






EMD GP40-2

EMD GP38-2



GE B30-7

GE B36-7

GE B39-8

GE B40-8


GE C44-9W








Southern Pacific Railroad 1518, the first EMD SD7 ever built, preserved in operational condition at the Illinois Railway Museum.

(Photo by Sean Lamb (User:Slambo), July 16, 2005. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.)


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:

  • 745 (Mk-5, 2-8-2), owned by the Louisiana Rail Heritage Trust, operated by the Louisiana Steam Train Association, and based in Jefferon (near New Orleans), Louisiana
  • 786 (Mk-5, 2-8-2), owned by the City of Austin, leased to the Austin Steam Train Association. Currently under full mechanical restoration in Austin, Texas.
  • 794 (Mk-5, 2-8-2), the last Mikado built for the Texas and New Orleans Railroad in 1916 out of spare parts in their Houston shops. It currently resides with cosmetic restoration at San Antonio Station, San Antonio, Texas, but plans are to restore it to operating condition.
  • 982 (F-1, 2-10-2), tender located at the Heber Valley Railroad in Heber City, Utah, main locomotive located in Houston, Texas.
  • 1518 (EMD SD7), former EMD demonstrator 990 and first SD7 built, located at the Illinois Railway Museum, Union, Illinois (Shown above)
  • 1744 (M-6, 2-6-0), components slowly being gathered at Brightside, California for a restoration to operating condition on the Niles Canyon Railway.
  • 2248 Puffy (T-1, 4-6-0), operated by the Grapevine Vintage Railroad, but is currently pending for a 1,472-day overhaul required by the FRA in Grapevine, Texas
  • 2353 (T-31, 4-6-0), on display at the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum in Campo, California.
  • 2467 (P-8, 4-6-2), on loan by the Pacific Locomotive Association, Fremont, California to the California State Railroad Museum
  • 472 (P-8, 4-6-2), owned and operated by the Golden Gate Railroad Museum, Redwood City, California
  • 2479 (P-10, 4-6-2), owned and being restored by the California Trolley and Railroad Corporation, San Jose, California
  • 3100 (former SP6800 Bicentennial), U25B owned and operated by the Orange Empire Railway Museum, Perris, CA
  • 3420 (C-19, 2-8-0), owned by El Paso Historic Board, stored at Phelps Dodge copper refinery, El Paso, Texas
  • 3709 (EMD GP9), being restored to operation at Pacific Southwest Railway Museum in Campo, California
  • 3769 (EMD GP9), On display and used as a switch engine for the Utah State Railroad Museum in Ogden, Utah.
  • 4294 (AC-12, 4-8-8-2), located at the California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento, California
  • 4449 (GS-4, 4-8-4), formerly located at the Brooklyn Roundhouse before being relocated to the Oregon Rail Heritage Center in June 2012, Portland, Oregon
  • 4460 (GS-6, 4-8-4), located at the National Museum of Transportation, Kirkwood, Missouri
  • 5119 (GE 70-ton switcher), Operational and awaiting paint restoration to SP colors at Pacific Southwest Railway Museum in Campo, California
  • 7304 (ALCO RS-32), on display awaiting restoration at Pacific Southwest Railway Museum in Campo, California
  • 7457 (EMD SD45) the first GM Electro-Motive Division SD45 diesel-electric road switcher locomotive to be built for that railroad in 1966. It last saw service on Donner Pass. It was donated to the Utah State Railroad Museum in 2002.


Notable accidents and incidents

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Coast Line Limited was heading for Los Angeles, California, 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • On New Year's Eve 1944 a rear-end collision west of Ogden in thick fog killed 48 people.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. As of 2014, it was the deadliest automobile accident in United States history, according to the National Safety Council.
  • 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.
  • On 12 May 1989, a Southern Pacific train carrying trona (a gray mineral which occurs as an evaporite in salt deposits and consists of a hydrated carbonate and bicarbonate of sodium) 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.
  • 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.

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. The accident still ranks as the largest hazardous chemical spill in California history. At the time of the incident, metam sodium was not classified as a hazardous material.


The Union Pacific Railroad has painted some of their newest locomotives to honor the heritage of the lines they have taken over. The units are numbered according to the year of the takeover. Click to enlarge. (Bruce Fingerhood from Springfield, Oregon, US, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)


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


Timothy Guy Phelps (1865–1868)
Charles Crocker (1868–1885)
Leland Stanford (1885–1890)
Collis P. Huntington (1890–1900)
Charles Melville Hays (1900–1901)
E. H. Harriman (1901–1909)
Robert S. Lovett (1909–1911)
William Sproule (1911–1918)
Julius Kruttschnitt (1918–1920)
William Sproule (1920–1928)
Paul Shoup (1929–1932)
Angus Daniel McDonald (1932–1941)
Armand Mercier (1941–1951)
Donald J. Russell (1952–1964)
Benjamin F. Biaggini (1964–1976)
Denman McNear (1976–1979)
Alan Furth (1979–1982)
Robert Krebs (1982–1988)


D. M. "Mike" Mohan (1988–1993)
Edward L. Moyers (1993–1995)
Jerry R. Davis (1995–1996)
Chairmen of Executive Committee
Leland Stanford (1890–1893)
(vacant 1893–1909)
Robert S. Lovett (1909–1913)
Julius Kruttschnitt (1913–1925)
Henry deForest (1925–1928)
Hale Holden (1928–1932)
Chairmen of Board of Directors
Henry deForest (1929–1932)
Hale Holden (1932–1939)
(position nonexistent 1939–1964)
Donald J. Russell (1964–1972)
Benjamin F. Biaggini (1976–1982)
Denman K. McNear (1982–1988)
Edward L. Moyers (1993–1995) Chairman/C.E.O.


Carl Ingold Jacobson. Click to enlarge. (Los Angeles Times, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Blake R. Van Leer. Click to enlarge. (NC State Public Library, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Charles Wright. Click to enlarge. (Public domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Charles_Wright,_botanist.jpg)

Jack Kerouac. Click to enlarge.  (Kerouac_by_Palumbo.jpg: Tom Palumbo from New York, NY, USAderivative work: Sir Richardson at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Harry K. McClintock. Click to enlarge. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Harry_McClintock.jpg)

Jimmie Rodgers. Click to enlarge.  (Victor Talking Machine Company (taken by Moss Photo, NYC), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Notable employees

Carl Ingold Jacobson, Los Angeles, California, City Council member, 1925–33

W. Burch Lee, employee in New Orleans office, along with his father, John Martin Lee Jr., before serving in the Louisiana House of Representatives (not pictured)

Blake R. Van Leer, President of Georgia Tech, United States Army Officer and Hydraulic process inventor

Charles Wright, Land Surveyor for the railway, before becoming a botanist

Jack Kerouac, Novelist

Harry K. McClintock, San Francisco, Switchman 9/16/1917-4/8/1920, Singer-Songwriter The Big Rock Candy Mountains

Jimmie Rodgers (country singer), Father of Country Music, Singer-Songwriter