City of San Francisco (train)

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Union Pacific Train No. 101, the City of San Francisco, passes near Cheyenne, Wyoming on December 4, 1948.
Southern Pacific SDP45 leads City of San Francisco west at SN overpass 38°17′24″N 121°57′35″W / 38.29°N 121.9597°W / 38.29; -121.9597, Cannon CA, in April 1971— just before Amtrak

The City of San Francisco was a streamlined passenger train on the Chicago and North Western Railway, the Union Pacific Railroad and the Southern Pacific Railroad between Chicago, Illinois and Oakland, California, with a ferry connection to San Francisco. It was the pride of the Southern Pacific fleet, providing crack service from Chicago to San Francisco in 1936 of 39 hr 45 min each way.

On August 12, 1939 the train derailed while crossing a bridge near Carlin, Nevada, killing 24 and injuring 121. The wreck appeared to have been caused by sabotage, but despite a major manhunt, offers of reward, and years of investigation by SP,[1] the case remains unsolved.[2]

Competing streamlined passenger trains were, starting in 1949, the California Zephyr operated by the Western Pacific, Denver and Rio Grande Western, and Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroads, and starting in 1954, the San Francisco Chief, operated by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. As with the City of Los Angeles, many of the train's cars bore the names of locales around its namesake city, including Mission Dolores, the nickname given to San Francisco's Mission San Francisco de Asís.

The City of San Francisco is remembered for the blizzard in the Sierra Nevada that trapped the train for six days in January 1952 at 39°19′34″N 120°35′35″W / 39.3262°N 120.593°W / 39.3262; -120.593 on Donner Pass in California. Snowdrifts from 160 km/h (100 mph) winds blocked the train, burying it in 12 feet of snow and stranding it from January 13 to January 19. The event made international headlines. In the effort to reach the train, the railroad's snow-clearing equipment and snow-blowing rotary plows became frozen to the tracks. Hundreds of workers and volunteers, including Georg Gärtner, using snowplows, tractors and manpower came to the rescue by clearing nearby Highway 40 to reach the train. The 196 passengers and 20 crewmembers were evacuated within 72 hours, on foot to vehicles that carried them the few highway miles to Nyack Lodge. The train itself was extricated several days later.

In 1955 the Milwaukee Road replaced the Chicago and North Western between Chicago and Omaha; in 1960 the City of San Francisco was combined with the City of Los Angeles east of Ogden. A May 1969 timetable is available online.[3]



The M-10004 trainset at Reno, Nevada on its trial run.
  • 1936: The City of San Francisco makes its first run between Chicago, Illinois and Oakland, California. With one set of equipment, it left each terminal five times a month.
  • 1938: The M-10004 articulated trainset is replaced by a full-size 14-car streamliner, powered by a 5400-hp set of three E2 diesels; frequency remains five trips per month each way.
  • August 12, 1939: A sabotaged track sends the City of San Francisco flying off a bridge in the Nevada desert; two dozen passengers and crew members are killed and many more injured, and five cars are destroyed.
  • July 1941: A second set of equipment enters service, allowing departures ten times per month.
  • September 1947: Daily service.
  • January 13, 1952: The City of San Francisco is caught in a severe blizzard and remains stuck for days. The incident became one inspiration for Railway series book, The Twin Engines.
  • May 1, 1971: UP ends the City of San Francisco train as Amtrak takes over long-distance passenger operations in the United States; Amtrak retains the name until 1972.

Other railroad uses of the name City of San Francisco[edit]

The City of San Francisco name has been applied to a 10/6 sleeping car built by Pullman Standard in the early 1950s. The car is now owned by the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad and operated as part of the line's dinner and first class trains. Union Pacific itself has a dome lounge car used on excursion and executive trains which carries the "City of San Francisco" name.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ DeNevi, Don. "Tragic Train: The City of San Francisco -- The Development and Historic Wreck of a Streamliner." (1979, Superior Publishing). ISBN 0875645259.
  2. ^
  3. ^

External links[edit]