In 1929 SP/T&NO operated 13848 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).
By the 1980s route mileage had dropped to 10,423 miles (16,774 km), mainly due to the pruning of branch lines. In 1988 the Southern Pacific was taken over by D&RGW parent Rio Grande Industries. The combined railroad kept the Southern Pacific name due to its brand recognition in the railroad industry and with customers of both constituent railroads. 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).
By 1996 years of financial problems had dropped SP's mileage to 13,715 miles (22,072 km), and it was taken over by the Union Pacific Railroad.
March 17, 1884: The Southern Pacific is incorporated in Kentucky.
February 17, 1885: The Southern Pacific and Central Pacific are combined under a holding company named the Southern Pacific Company.
April 1, 1885: The Southern Pacific takes over all operation of the Central Pacific. Effectively, the CP no longer exists as a separate company.
1886: The first refrigerator cars on the Southern Pacific enter operation; the loading of refrigerator cars with oranges, first performed at Los Angeles, California on February 14, contributed to an economic boom in the famous citrus industry of Southern California, by making deliveries of perishable fruits and vegetables to the eastern United States possible.
1929: Santa Fe sells its interest in Northwestern Pacific to SP. NWP becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of SP.
1932: The SP gains 87% control of the Cotton Belt Railroad.
June 30, 1934: All Texas and Louisiana SP subsidiaries previously leased to the SP-controlled Texas and New Orleans Railroad—with the exception of the Southern Pacific Terminal Company—are formally merged with the T&NO, thus creating the largest railroad in Texas, with 3,713 mi (5,975 km) of track.
1952: A difficult year for the SP in California opens with the City of San Francisco train marooned for three days in heavy snow on Donner Pass; in July an earthquake hits Tehachapi pass, closing the line over Tehachapi Loop from 21 July to 15 August.
1953: The first Trailer-On-Flat-Car (TOFC, or "piggyback") equipment enters service on the SP.
January 1957: the last standard gauge steam locomotives in regular operation on the SP are retired; the railroad is now dieselized except for fan excursions.
1959: The last revenue steam powered freight is operated on the system by narrow gauge #9.
1959: Southern Pacific moved more ton-miles of freight than any other US railroad (the Pennsylvania Railroad had been number one for decades).
November 1, 1961: The Texas and New Orleans Railroad—which by this time encompassed all of the SP's Texas and Louisiana holdings except for the lines of the Southern Pacific Terminal Company and Cotton Belt—is merged with the Southern Pacific. The SPTC, having been previously leased to the T&NO, is leased to the SP the same day. The SPTC would formally merge with the SP on August 31, 1962.
1965: ICC rejects Southern Pacific's bid for control of the Western Pacific.
1967: SP opens the longest stretch of new railroad in a quarter century as trains roll over the Palmdale Cutoff through Cajon Pass.
May 1, 1971: Amtrak takes over long-distance passenger trains in the United States; the only SP revenue passenger trains thereafter were the commutes between San Francisco and San Jose.
1976: SP is awarded Dow Chemical's first annual Rail Safety Achievement Award in recognition of the railroad's handling of Dow products in 1975.
1980: Now owning a 98.34% control of the Cotton Belt, the Southern Pacific extends the Cotton Belt from St. Louis to Santa Rosa, New Mexico through acquisition of part of the former Rock Island Railroad.
March 17, 1991: The Southern Pacific changes its corporate image, replacing the century-old Roman Lettering with the Rio Grande-inspired Speed Lettering.
1992: Northwestern Pacific is merged into SP, ending NWP's existence as a corporate subsidiary of SP and leaving the Cotton Belt as SP's only remaining major railroad subsidiary. The Northwestern Pacific's south end would eventually be sold off by UP and turned into a "new" Northwestern Pacific.
1996: The Union Pacific Railroad finishes the acquisition that was effectively begun almost a century before with the purchase of the Southern Pacific by UP in 1901, until divestiture was ordered in 1913. Ironically, although Union Pacific was the dominant company, taking complete control of SP, its corporate structure was merged into Southern Pacific, which on paper became the "surviving company"; which then changed its name to Union Pacific. The merged company retains the name "Union Pacific" for all railroad operations.
Revenue Freight Ton-Miles (Millions)
Lake Tahoe Ry and Transp
Revenue Passenger-Miles (Millions)
Lake Tahoe Ry and Transp
In the tables "SP" does not include NWP, P&SR, SD&AE, PE, Holton Inter-Urban, Visalia Electric (except 1970 includes PE, which merged into SP in 1965; it reported 104 million ton-miles in 1960). "T&NO" total for 1925 includes GH&SA, H&TC, SA&AP and the other roads that folded into T&NO a couple years later. "SSW" includes SSW of Texas.
1971 Moody's shows route-mileage operated as of 31 December 1970: 11615 SP, 1565 SSW, 324 NWP, 136 SD&AE, 44 T&T, 34 VE, 30 P&SR and 10 HI-U. SP operated 18337 miles of track.
Locomotive paint and appearance
Restored SP #9 showing the traditional silver paint on the front of the smokebox.
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.
As locomotives are being restored, some pacific type 4-6-2 locomotive boilers show signs of having been painted dark green. The soft cover book "Steam Glory 2" by Kalmbach Publications (2007) has an article "Southern Pacific's Painted Ladies" which shows color photos from the 1940s and 1950s revealing that a number of SP 0-6-0 yard engines, usually assigned to passenger terminals were painted in various combinations with red cab roof and cab doors, pale silver smokeboxes and smokebox fronts, dark green boilers, multi colored SP heralds on black cab, green cylinder covers and other details pointed out in color. Some other SP steam passenger locomotives may have been so painted, or at least had dark green boilers. The article indicates that these paint jobs lasted years and were not special paint for a single event.
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. This scheme, carried on the tender, was a bright red on the top and bottom thirds, with the center third being a bright orange. The parts were separated with narrow white bands. Some of the color continued along the locomotive. The most famous "Daylight" locomotives were the GS-4steam 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 2-8-8-4 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.
Early diesel locomotives were also painted black. Yard switchers had diagonal orange stripes on the ends for visibility, earning this scheme the nickname of Tiger Stripe. Road freight units were black with a red band at the bottom of the car body and a silver and orange "winged" nose. "SOUTHERN PACIFIC" was in a large serif font in Lettering Gray (a very light gray). Railfans call this paint scheme Black Widow. An experimental scheme, all-over black with a variety of orange end and side sill treatments was called the Halloween scheme. Over 200 locomotives were so painted between March 1957 and mid-1958.
Most passenger units were painted originally in the Daylight scheme as described above, though some were painted red on top, silver below for the Golden State (operated with the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad) between Chicago and Los Angeles. Silver cars with a narrow red band at the top were used for the Sunset Limited and other trains into Texas. In 1958 SP standardized on a paint scheme of dark grey ("Lark Dark Gray") with a red "winged" nose; railfans dubbed this scheme Bloody Nose. Lettering was again in Lettering Gray. Anticipating the failed Southern Pacific Santa Fe Railroad merger in the mid 1980s, the "Kodachrome" paint scheme (named for the colors of the Kodak 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. 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 Anschutz felt the Southern Pacific name was the more recognizable. A variation of the Daylight scheme, designed by Chester Mack, was applied to SP's 4 TE-70s, U25Bs repowered with Sulzer diesel engines.
Southern Pacific road switcher diesels often had elaborate lighting clusters front and rear, with a large red Mars Light for emergency signaling, and often two pairs of sealed-beam headlamps, one on top of the cab and the other below the Mars Light on the nose. Starting in the 1970s SP had cab air conditioning on all new locomotives and the unit is visible on the cab roof. Southern Pacific placed large snowplows on the pilots of their road switchers for the heavy snowfall on Donner Pass. Many Southern Pacific road switchers had a Nathan-AirChime model M3 or M5 air horn with chords distinct to Southern Pacific locomotives in the western states.
The Southern Pacific and Cotton Belt were the only buyers 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 through snow sheds and tunnels in the Cascades and Donner Pass. These "Tunnel Motors" were EMD SD45-2's with radiator air intakes at the locomotive car body's walkway level, rather than EMD's typical setup with fans on the locomotive's long hood roof pulling air through radiators at the top/side of the locomotive's body. Inside tunnels and snow sheds hot exhaust 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.
A former Southern Pacific GP38-2 locomotive with an intact L-shaped engineer's windshield.
Southern Pacific was known for L-shaped engineer's windshields. Introduced by EMD on SD45 demonstrator 4353, this design improves visibility by omitting the pillar which in conventional designs splits the engineer's windshield into two panes. Southern Pacific selected this option on new EMD locomotive orders starting in 1967 through the early 1980s, one of the few railroads to do so (Illinois Central was another buyer of this option), and ordered a similar windshield design from General Electric. After the "wide nose" design became popular, most of Southern Pacific's locomotives kept their L-shaped windshields before being rebuilt or sold to different private railroads after its merger.
Unlike other railroads whose locomotive number boards bore the locomotive number, SP used them for the train number until 1967. (SP's San Francisco-San Jose commute trains continued displaying train numbers for the convenience of passengers.) The other railroad that used locomotive number boards for train numbers into the 1960s was SP's transcontinental partner, Union Pacific.
In 2006, Union Pacific 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. Today there are still locomotives in SP paint, including ten AC4400CWs with original SP numbers as of January 2013.
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 namedpassenger trains. Trains with names in italicized bold text still operate under Amtrak:
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 at the age of thirty-two. His partner in crime, Chris Evans, also had a hatred of the Southern Pacific, which he accused of forcing farmers to sell their lands at reduced rates to the company.
On March 28, 1907, the Southern Pacific Sunset Express, descending the grade out of the San Timoteo Canyon, entered the Colton rail yard traveling about 60 mph, hit an open switch and careened off the track, resulting in twenty-four fatalities. Accounts said all but five of the train's fourteen 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, eighteen were Italian immigrants traveling to jobs in San Francisco from Genoa, Italy.
The Coast Line Limited 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."
In the early hours of June 1, 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 August 12, 1939, the westbound City of San Francisco derailed from a bridge in Palisade Canyon, between Battle Mountain and Carlin in the Nevada desert. Twenty-four passengers and crew members were killed and many more were injured, and five cars were destroyed. An act of sabotage was determined to be the most likely cause; however, no suspect(s) was ever identified.
On January 18, 1947, the Southern Pacific nightflier wrecked 12 miles 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 remained upright. The locomotive stayed on the tracks, and, its crew was uninjured. Robert Crowley, 29, Miami, Fla., a combat war veteran said 'I never saw such a mess," even on a battlefield. He had been conversing with a man across the aisle, Crowley said, and the latter was killed instantly. (Albuquerque Journal January 18, 1947)
On May 12, 1989, a Southern Pacific train carrying fertilizer material derailed in San Bernardino, California, after descending a nearby slope. The train failed to slow down, and as a result, sped up to about 110 mph before derailing, causing the San Bernardino train disaster. The crash destroyed seven homes along Duffy Street and killed two train workers and two residents. Thirteen days later on May 25, 1989, an underground pipeline running along the right-of-way ruptured and caught fire due to damage done to the pipeline during cleanup from the derailment. Eleven more homes were destroyed and two more people were killed.
Site of the 1991 spill. The guardrail on the left was constructed after the spill.
On the night of July 14, 1991, a Southern Pacific train derailed into the upper Sacramento River at a sharp bend of track known as 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 gallons of a soil fumigant - metam sodium. 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-mile 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.
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. Among the more notable equipment is:
Southern Pacific 3100, SP 3100 (former SP6800 Bicentennial) U25B owned and operated by the Orange Empire Railway Museum, Perris, CA
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 Francisco 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. The Southern Pacific had also established ferry service across the Mississippi River between Avondale and Harahan, Louisiana and in New Orleans by 1932. However, the opening of the Huey P. Long Bridge in 1935 and 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. Mississippi River service ceased by 1953 and SP ferry service was discontinued altogether in 1958.
Diebert, Timothy S. & Strapac, Joseph A. (1987). Southern Pacific Company steam locomotive compendium. Huntington Beach, California: Shade Tree Books. ISBN0-930742-12-5. OCLC18401969.
Hofsommer, Donovan; The Southern Pacific, 1901–1985. Texas A&M University Press; (1986) ISBN 9781603441278.
Lewis, Daniel (2007). Iron Horse Imperialism: The Southern Pacific of Mexico, 1880–1951. Tucson, Arizona: University of Arizona Press. ISBN0-8165-2604-4. OCLC238833401.
Lewis, Oscar (1938). The Big Four. New York, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Orsi, Richard J. (2005). Sunset Limited: The Southern Pacific Railroad and the Development of the American West 1850–1930. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. ISBN0-520-20019-5. OCLC55055386.