History of the Southern Pacific

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The history of the Southern Pacific stretches from 1865 to 1998. For the main page, see Southern Pacific Transportation Company; for the former holding company, see Southern Pacific Rail Corporation.

The Southern Pacific was represented by three railroads. The original company was called Southern Pacific Railroad, the second was called Southern Pacific Company and the third was called Southern Pacific Transportation Company. The third Southern Pacific railroad, the Southern Pacific Transportation Company, is now operating as the current incarnation of the Union Pacific Railroad.


Southern Pacific routes on the Pacific Coast, 1885
A Southern Pacific train at Los Angeles' Arcade Depot, 1891
The Southern Pacific depot located in Burlingame, California, ca 1900; completed in 1894 and still in use, it was the first permanent Southern Pacific structure to be constructed in the Mission Revival Style.
SP tunnel into San Francisco, ca.1900
Southern Pacific Company Pacific System in the West, 1901
Belmont, California station, about 1907

One of the original ancestor-railroads of SP, the Galveston and Red River Railway (GRR), was chartered on 11 March 1848 by Ebenezer Allen,[1][2][3][4] although the company did not become active until 1852 after a series of meetings at Chappell Hill, Texas, and Houston, Texas. The original aim was to construct a railroad from Galveston Bay to a point on the Red River near a trading post known as Coffee's Station.[3] Ground was broken in 1853.[4] The GRR built 2 miles (3.2 km) of track in Houston in 1855.[3] Track laying began in earnest in 1856 and on 1 September 1856 GRR was renamed the Houston and Texas Central Railway (H&TC).[4] SP acquired H&TC in 1883 but it continued to operate as a subsidiary under its own management until 1927,[4] when it was leased to another SP-owned railroad, the Texas and New Orleans Railroad.

The Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway (BBB&C), was chartered in Texas on 11 February 1850 by a group that included General Sidney Sherman.[1][5] BBB&C was the first railroad to commence operation in Texas and the first component of SP to commence operation. Surveying of the route alignment commenced at Harrisburg, Texas, in 1851 and construction between Houston and Alleyton, Texas, commenced later that year. The first 20 miles (32 km) of track opened in August 1853.[5]

Southern Pacific Railroad and Southern Pacific Company[edit]

The original SP 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). CPRR was merged into SP in 1870.[citation needed]

Southern Pacific Railroad and Southern Pacific Company timeline[edit]

The Southern Pacific Railroad Locomotive No. 1673 is a standard gauge 2-6-0, Mogul type M-4 class, steam locomotive built in 1900 by Schenectady Locomotive Works. It had a brief starring role in the 1954 film Oklahoma, for which it was fitted with a diamond stack and other turn-of-the-century equipment and colors. It was also the star of Southern Pacific's 75th anniversary in Tucson, Arizona. The locomotive is on display in the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum, 414 N. Toole Ave.. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on January 9, 1992, ref.: #91001918.
Southern Pacific equipment used to rebuild Galveston after 1915 Hurricane
Exterior view of the Southern Pacific's Central Station in Los Angeles ca.1918
The San Joaquin Daylight, March 1971

Southern Pacific Transportation Company[edit]

The Southern Pacific Transportation Company (initials: SPTC, SPTCo and SPT) was established in 1969 and absorbed the Southern Pacific Company, the Southern Pacific Transportation Company becomes the last incarnation of the Southern Pacific railroad. The "Southern Pacific Company" name became available and a new Southern Pacific Company was formed, this time a holding company for the Southern Pacific Transportation Company which replaced the original Southern Pacific Company.[citation needed]

Southern Pacific Transportation Company timeline[edit]

  • 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.[21][23]
  • 1972: Southern Pacific Communications began selling surplus capacity on its microwave and fiber optic telecom system (laid along their railroad rights of way) to corporations for use as private lines. This service became part of Sprint (the name coming from the acronym for Southern Pacific Railroad Internal Networking Telephony.)
  • 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.[24]
  • 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.
SP 8033, a GE Dash 8-39B, leads a westbound train through Eola, Illinois (just east of Aurora), October 6, 1992.
  • 1984: Northern portion of subsidiary Northwestern Pacific sold to independent shortline Eureka Southern Railroad which begins operation on November 1.
  • 1984: The second Southern Pacific Company merges into Santa Fe Industries, parent of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, to form Santa Fe Southern Pacific Corporation. When the Interstate Commerce Commission refuses permission for the planned merger of the railroad subsidiaries as the Southern Pacific Santa Fe Railroad SPSF shortens its name to Santa Fe Pacific Corporation and puts the Southern Pacific Transportation Company up for sale while retaining the non-rail assets of the second Southern Pacific Company.
  • 1985: New Caltrain locomotives and rolling stock replace SP equipment on the Peninsula Commute, marking the end of Southern Pacific passenger service with SP equipment.
  • August 9, 1988: the Interstate Commerce Commission approves the purchase of the Southern Pacific Transportation Company by Rio Grande Industries, the company that controlled the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad.
  • October 13, 1988: Rio Grande Industries takes control of the Southern Pacific Transportation Company. The Southern Pacific Transportation Company and the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad did not come together, but the Denver and Rio Grande Western became a subsidiary of the Southern Pacific Transportation Company; this allowed the combined Rio Grande Industries railroad system to operate under the name "Southern Pacific" for all railroad operations while still having the system being represented by two railroads instead of one.
  • 1989: Southern Pacific acquires 223 miles of former Alton trackage between St. Louis and Joliet from the Chicago, Missouri & Western. For the first time the Southern Pacific served the Chicago area on its own rails.
  • 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[25] 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.

*1996-1998: The Union Pacific Corporation finishes the acquisition that was effectively begun almost a century before with the purchase of the original Southern Pacific railroad by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1901, until divestiture was ordered in 1913. Ironically, although the Union Pacific Corporation was the dominant parent company, taking complete control of the Southern Pacific Transportation Company, the Union Pacific Railroad was not the dominant railroad and instead the Union Pacific Railroad was merged into the Southern Pacific Transportation Company, the Southern Pacific Transportation Company becomes the "surviving railroad"; the Southern Pacific Transportation Company changed its name to Union Pacific Railroad. The former Southern Pacific Transportation Company retains the name "Union Pacific" for all railroad operations. The former Southern Pacific Transportation Company becomes the current Union Pacific Railroad.[citation needed]

Southern Pacific history Revenue Tables[edit]

Revenue Freight Ton-Miles (Millions)
SP T&NO SSW Texas Midland Dayton-Goose Creek Lake Tahoe Ry and Transp
1925 10,569 4,097 1,475 27 15 0.05
1933 6,138 2,114 1,049 (into T&NO) (into T&NO) (into SP)
1944 29,877 10,429 6,243
1960 33,280 10,192 4,750
1970 64,988 (merged SP) 8,650
Revenue Passenger-Miles (Millions)
SP T&NO SSW Texas Midland Dayton-Goose Creek Lake Tahoe Ry and Transp
1925 1,580 416 75 2 0.2 0.2
1933 869 116 10 (into T&NO) (into T&NO) (into SP)
1944 6,592 1,519 227
1960 1,069 128 0
1970 339 (merged SP) 0

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.

Morgan Line and the Sunset–Gulf Route[edit]

Southern Pacific system as of 1918
Captions read: 1) Southern Pacific docks at Galveston, Texas, 2) Grain carriers and ships at Galveston, 3) Unloading sugar at New Orleans, 4) Southern Pacific docks at New York City, 5) The Southern Pacific steamer Creole, 6) The S.S. Momus entering New York Bay, 7) West end of the docks at Galveston
Passenger steamer Antilles.

Southern Pacific's Atlantic Steamship Lines, known in operation as the Morgan Line, provided a link between the western rail system through Galveston with freight and New Orleans with both freight and passenger service to New York.[26] In 1915 the New York terminus in the North River included piers 49—52 at the foot of 11th Street.[27]

The steamer service and later operating name began with a small fleet of side wheel steamers owned by Charles Morgan operating out of Gulf ports and later extending to New York. That line was bought by the Morgans, Louisiana & Texas Railroad & Steamship Company that became part of the Southern Pacific system with Pacific Coast to New York service under single management begun February 1, 1883.[26] The Morgan Line, by 1900, had been operating from New Orleans to Cuba for over thirty years and as a result of the war with Spain benefited with the increased trade.[28] Southern Pacific claimed Morgan's blue flag with a white star and red hulled ships were as familiar to Cubans as the lions of Castile as it advertised its new freighters El Norte, El Sud, El Rio as they plied between the company's wharves at Algiers to Havana by way of Key West.[29] By 1899 the company was noting that the railway system, stretching from the Columbia river to the Gulf of Mexico, in conjunction with its steamship lines stretched from New Orleans to New York, Havana and Central American ports and with its Pacific service from San Francisco to Honolulu, Yokohama, Hong Kong and Manila.[30]

In a 1912 report to the United States Senate the Special Commissioner on Panama Traffic and Tolls reported the Southern Pacific's "Sunset—Gulf Route" enabled the line to be the only railroad to control a route between the Atlantic and Pacific Seaboards.[31] The other railroads serving the Pacific Coast largely ran from the Midwest with only one other, the American-Hawaiian Steamship Company competing directly with ships serving Hawaii and the Pacific Coast transshipping cargo and passengers across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec by the Tehuantepec National Railway to meet its ships running to New York.[32] Southern Pacific, using that route under single corporate management, began "active warfare" against its competitors securing a large share of the coast to coast traffic.[32] In 1909 the lines rates were equal to the all rail rates of other railroad lines through a system in which the line absorbed costs getting freight from interior Eastern origins to New York and shipping via the water—rail route that took an average time of fifteen days, five hours.[33]

Five of the line's new ships were among the first six built by the new shipyard at Newport News, Virginia that became Newport News Shipbuilding and the contracts were instrumental in the early success of the company.[34][35] All five, the tug El Toro and the liners El Sol, El Norte, El Sud and El Rio, were taken by the Navy as a Navy tug and as cruisers for the Spanish–American War. The ships were not returned requiring new construction and temporarily crippling the line.[36] Another, El Cid completed in 1893 was sold to Brazil.[34] Ships were leased and in 1899—1901 a new group built including some of the previous name: El Norte, El Dia, El Sud, El Cid, El Rio, El Valle, El Alba, El Siglo and others with a new El Sol built in 1910 along with three others of the same type.[36] Again war took ships, even newly constructed ones such as El Capitan, and the passenger ship Antilles. By 1921 the fleet consisted of five passenger ships, seventeen freighters and two tank ships with more being constructed.[26]

Ferry service[edit]

The Southern Pacific Company's Bay City ferry plies the waters of San Francisco Bay in the late 19th century

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[37] and in New Orleans[38] 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[39][40] and SP ferry service was discontinued altogether in 1958.

Predecessor and subsidiary railroads[edit]



New Mexico[edit]



Former Southern Pacific railway caboose on exhibit in Flatonia, west of Houston, Texas


Successor railroads[edit]






  1. ^ a b Blaszak, Michael W. (November 1996). "Southern Pacific: a chronology". Pacific RailNews. Pasadena, California: Interurban Press (396): 25–31.
  2. ^ Blaszak, Michael W. "Southern Pacific: a chronology". Interurban Press. Retrieved 23 March 2017.
  3. ^ a b c Young, Nancy Beck. "Galveston and Red River Railroad". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 6 January 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d Werner, George C. "Houston and Texas Central Railway". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 6 January 2013.
  5. ^ a b Werner, George C. "Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 6 January 2013.
  6. ^ Yenne (1996), pp. 44-45.
  7. ^ a b Yenne (1996), p. 31.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Yenne (1996), p. 51.
  9. ^ Yenne (1996), p. 52-54.
  10. ^ Yenne (1996), p. 59.
  11. ^ Thomas Samuel Duke. Celebrated Criminal Cases of America. James H. Barry Company, San Francisco, California, 1910. pp. 277–286. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
  12. ^ Yenne (1996), p. 47.
  13. ^ a b Young, Nancy Beck. "Houston East and West Texas Railway". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 25 February 2014.
  14. ^ a b c Bart, Joseph L., Jr. "Southern Pacific Terminal Company". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
  15. ^ a b Yenne (1996), p. 63.
  16. ^ a b c d e Yenne (1996), p. 71.
  17. ^ a b c Williams, Howard C. "Texas and New Orleans Railroad". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 25 February 2014.
  18. ^ Reed, S.G. "Texas Midland Railroad". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 25 February 2014.
  19. ^ a b c Yenne (1996), p. 83.
  20. ^ Yenne (1996), p. 103.
  21. ^ a b Yenne (1996), p. 104.
  22. ^ Yenne (1996), p. 108.
  23. ^ Yenne (1996), p. 107.
  24. ^ <Please add first missing authors to populate metadata.> (August 9, 1976). "Short and Significant: SP wins Dow safety award". Railway Age. Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corporation. 177 (14): 8.
  25. ^ Eisen, Jack (April 1994). "NWP disappeared in 1992". Pacific RailNews. Pasadena, California: Interurban Press (365): 48. ISSN 8750-8486. OCLC 11861259.
  26. ^ a b c Luce, G. W. (1920). "Sunset Gulf—The 100 Per Cent Route". Southern Pacific Bulletin. San Francisco: Southern Pacific. 10 (February 1921): 16–18. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  27. ^ Rand McNally (1915). Rand McNally Hudson River Guide. New York, Chicago: Rand McNally & Company. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  28. ^ Mayo 1900, p. 96.
  29. ^ Mayo 1900, pp. 96—98.
  30. ^ Woodman (Editor) 1899, p. 100.
  31. ^ Johnson 1912, p. 4.
  32. ^ a b Johnson 1912, p. 8.
  33. ^ Johnson 1912, p. 22.
  34. ^ a b ShipbuildingHistory: Newport News Shipbuilding.
  35. ^ Beale 1907, p. 56.
  36. ^ a b Jungen 1922, p. 5.
  37. ^ "Map of the Avondale/Harahan area in 1932". Retrieved 5 May 2014.
  38. ^ "Map of New Orleans in 1932". Retrieved 5 May 2014.
  39. ^ "Map of the Avondale/Harahan area in 1953". Retrieved 5 May 2014.
  40. ^ "Map of New Orleans in 1953". Retrieved 5 May 2014.
  41. ^ Not the Gould Western Pacific of 1903
  42. ^ "The Rise and Fall of the Portland Traction Company". Craigsrailroadpages.com. Retrieved 2012-05-15.


  • Yenne, Bill (1996). The History of the Southern Pacific. New York, New York: Smithmark Pub. ISBN 0-8317-3788-3.