SP logo

The Southern Pacific's main logo.

The Southern Pacific (SP) railroad was a standard-gauge US Class 1 railroad (though, they eventually purchased numerous narrow-guage shortlines; most notably the Keeler Branch) that existed from 1870 to 1996, which was originally known as the Central Pacific from around 1853 to 1869 during the events revolving around the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad in the United States.

The railroad was one of the several that was purchased by the Union Pacific (UP) in 1996.

Early History to the Early 20th CenturyEdit

The Southern Pacific was first officially established under the actual SP name during 1870, and was once the largest Western-based US Class 1 railroad which eventually grew by the 1960's and 1970's due to the purchase and absorption of the St. Louis Southwestern "Cotton Belt" Railroad (SSW).

The SP originally operated from California to Utah (and various other places in the West; including a brief period in Wyoming, though trackage in Wyoming was lost after a proposed agreement with Union Pacific as a result of having a denied merger from the Transportation board in 1901, and basically were forbidding anymore US Class 1 railroad companies from purchasing and/or absorbing smaller railroads due to economic issues). Though, SP eventually expanded their routes over the newly established states of New Mexico and Arizona, and eventually the western panhandle of Texas during the 1910's, as well as eventually purchasing several smaller US Class 1 and Class 2 railroads such as the El Paso And Southwestern and half of the Texas And Pacific Railroad during the 1920's (mainly trackage). However, both weren't absorbed until several years later, while the other halves of the Texas And Pacific was purchased by the Missouri Kansas Texas and Missouri Pacific railroads during the 1940's.

They often competed with the Union Pacific, which was their long-time "arch-rival.
Southern pacific 4449

SP 4449.

" Though, in 1996, the SP was fully absorbed into the UP system.

Mid 20th CenturyEdit

Eventually towards the Great Depression and World War 2 in the United States, the Southern Pacific had an ever increasing amount of traffic (mainly with fruit; thus the creation of the Pacific Fruit Express trains; from the respective company which owned them), and grew short of having a fleet of freight locomotives due to their passenger trains originally being a main priority throughout Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Hence, them ordering the unique and specially designed "Cab forward" 2-6-6-2, 4-6-6-2, 2-8-8-2, and 4-8-8-2 steam locomotives built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works from 1911 to 1945 along their long and steep routes, and were some of the last steam locomotives purchased by the railroad besides their GS Series high-speed passenger and mixed traffic steam locomotives built by the Lima Locomotive Works from 1935 to 1944.

Things eventually changed though, for the Southern Pacific began purchasing large fleets of ALCO, GE, and EMD diesel locomotives to replace their aging and expensive fleets of steam locomotives. Thus, all steam locomotives were scrapped, retired, and/or preserved by 1952 (except for a small fleet); to whom the Southern Pacific was one of the first US Class 1 railroads to almost completely retire all of their steam locomotives which actually began the End of the Steam Era in the United States.
SP Cab-forward

SP #4294; the last "Cab-forward" steam locomotive of its kind.

The Southern Pacific eventually purchased the St. Louis Southwestern "Cotton Belt Route" (SSW, or simply Cotton Belt) railroad during the 1960's, and remained as a subsidiary until shortly before the Southern Pacific's demise in 1996.

Demise of Passenger ServiceEdit

However, during the 1970's when the formation of Amtrak occurred and railroads were in a major state of decline, the Southern Pacific became the very last US Class 1 railroad to discontinue passenger service after withstanding the purchase of Amtrak for several years, but unfortunately began to fail due to lack of maintenance with their passenger fleet. Thus, in 1977; Amtrak took over all passenger operations from the Southern Pacific, while later commuter companies such as CalTrain replaced the SP's commuter service throughout areas of the state of California.

SPSF MergerEdit

Towards the mid-1980's, the SP also eventually grew interested in merging with the ATSF (Santa Fe) railroad, to which they both operated on almost the exact same trackage; including more recognizable and famous routes such as the El Cajon Pass, Donner Pass, and the Tehachapi Loop. Thus, both railroads who remained decent neighbors rather than rivals like with the Union Pacific; both decided to propose a merger in 1982, and officially began in 1983 which became known as the SPSF Corporation. Yet, the merger unfortunately was an ultimate failure, and resulted in a huge profit loss and lawsuit by the US Department of Transportation and the Interstate Commerce Commission due to the merger not being accepted right when the plan took place.

D&RGW PurchaseEdit

As a result of the failure of the SPSF, the Southern Pacific grew in debt, and was in desperate need of finances. Thus, another railroad; the D&RGW (Rio Grande) grew interested in merging with the Southern Pacific by sharing their financial stock. Thus in 1988, the SP was purchased by the D&RGW and both shared the same routes and investments, and vowed to not monopolize or absorb one another; but rather serve as partners under the Southern Pacific name. Hence, the D&RGW roadname became defunct in 1989.

Later History And DemiseEdit

The Southern Pacific's merger with the D&RGW was an initial success, and attracted twice the amount of customers as opposed to the SPSF's customer performance. Yet towards the mid-1990's, the Southern Pacific purchased one of their only other AC-traction diesel locomotives: the GE

AC4400CW, which unfortunately spelled the end of the railroad because of the fact that they were eventually purchased by their long-time rival Union Pacific in 1996. Thus, the Southern Pacific (and the remainder of the D&RGW) was purchased and absorbed by the Union Pacific on September 11th, 1996 and no longer existed as a US Class 1 railroad.


The Southern Pacific used various different paintschemes throughout its history. Such as the "Daylight", "Black Widow", Bloody Nose", and "Kodakchrome". Aside from painting most of their earlier steam locomotives with various black, white, and grey schemes like with the Union Pacific before introducing their "Armor Yellow" scheme.


The so-called "long gone" railroad has been since well preserved amongst train enthusiasts, historical societies, as well as the railroad's successor; Union Pacific. Numerous shortline companies, museums, and historical societies currently own various former SP locomotives, buildings, and equipment (aside from trackage) which were once owned by the railroad (including the SP's counter-parts) and have since been restored to their original condition, while others favor having SP-inspired paintschemes or liveries painted on their various fleets of locomotives owned by numerous different ancestors as opposed to the company that originally owned such painted machines (being the SP).

Such example, would be UP #1996; an EMD SD70ACe owned by the Union Pacific painted in an SP-inspired scheme (with the actual livery actually being a combination of all their schemes) dedicated to the UP's heritage as part of their "Heritage Fleet" (often known as a "heritage unit" by most railfans and train enthusiasts).



  • Ironically, the SP's service ended on the same day (though, not during the same year) as the September 11th attacks.
  • Many former patched and unpatched SP and SSW units still exist on Union Pacific's roster, and completely outnumber the amount of former D&RGW and CNW units which still remain in their original paint. (Unlike their MKT, WP, and MP units.)
  • The SP once owned various narrow-gauged railroads and had locomotives and rollingstock renumbered and rostered under their name, but were eventually absorbed, abandoned, and converted similar to what occurred with the D&RGW and SSW's ownerships.
  • The Southern Pacific was once close to the exact same size as the UP shortly before the merger in 1996.
  • UP #1996; an EMD SD70ACe owned by the Union Pacific; is painted in a combination of all the schemes the Southern Pacific used (excluding the SPSF merger scheme), as well as it being part of the UP's Heritage Fleet as a "heritage unit".
  • SP "Cab-forward" AC-12 4-8-8-2 #4294 is the only "Cab-forward" steam locomotive to be restored and preserved, while SP #4449 is the only high-speed passenger GS-4 steam locomotive to be preserved and currently operate. (Aside from SP GS-6 #4460, 4449's lesser-known "cousin".)
  • Many former Southern Pacific buildings, equipment, locomotives, and rollingstock are preserved by various different preservation societies as well as the Union Pacific railroad itself.
  • Three diesel locomotives from the SP's roster were painted in the "Bicentennial" scheme to celebrate the United States government's (or the US in general) 200th anniversary or bicentennial anniversary in 1976, similar to how SP 4449 was restored and hauled the American Freedom Train for its inaugural excursion.
  • Ironically, during the SP's rebuilding program and merger failure in the 1980's, their diesel locomotives and rollingstock became increasingly dirty similar to how most BNSF's units still currently are.
  • Several SSW units received "SP" lettering such as SSW #9389 as opposed to the distinguished "SSW" reporting mark placed on the front hood and stenciled on the rear hood.
  • Ironically, the Union Pacific briefly had a tradition of repainting former SP units into having simplified versions of the "Bloody Nose" scheme similar to how the purchase of the Missouri Pacific was with having distinguished lettering in the UP's "Armor Yellow" scheme signifying the purchase and the MP being a subsidiary as with the SSW of the SP; thus the technique being similar to BNSF, CSX and SP's traditions with their former ancestors units left in modified versions of their original schemes. (Mainly with the SSW portion of SP being in SP paint, but with SSW-style lettering and reporting marks.)
  • Sierra Railway No. 3 was often painted and renumbered into "Central Pacific No. 131"; it's original number and owner before being sold from the Southern Pacific.
  • Several D&RGW units were also repainted into the SP scheme only because of roster changes and/or units in-need of a repaint.
  • Oddly, SP #7675 (a former SP GP40-2 retaining its original number) and UP #1391 (another former SP GP40-2) were both repainted in unusual "banana nose" liveries which consisted of having UP's "Armor Yellow" painted over the SP's original "Bloody Nose" hood scheme as a unique (yet odd) form of patchwork.
  • Shortline railroads such as the Northwestern Pacific once served the SP and delivered certain freight to the railroad at certain linking destinations. Today (from 1997 onwards), the NWP now pays tribute to the "fallen flag" by painting their locomotives in the various schemes which were once used by the SP, besides also owning several units owned by the SP (and the SSW); although the railroad fell into a state of decay before eventually purchased by the RailAmerica Corp. (later G&W).
  • SP 7551 (an SD45R) was the first unit from the SP portion of the SPSF to retain or wear the SPSF's "Kodakchrome" livery. The unit (unfortunately) was later involved in a massive wreck known as the "San Bernardino Train Disaster"; where the unit was ultimately totaled.


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