Western Pacific Railroad


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Western Pacific
Western Pacific
April 28, 1968
Founded in 1903, the Western Pacific Railroad was built as a portion of the Gould family's efforts to create a transcontinental railroad in the late 19th and early 20th century.
One of the American West’s most popular railroads, the WP attracted rail enthusiasts from around the world. From 1910 to 1982, its diverse route provided scenic views of the San Francisco Bay Area, the mountain communities of the famous Feather River Route, and the deserts of Nevada and Utah.
One of the more well-known aspects of the Western Pacific was its operation of the famous "California Zephyr" passenger train, in conjunction with the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad. The WP handled the "Silver Lady" from Oakland, California, to Salt Lake City, Utah.(wik) The California Zephyr actually did not begin operations until 1949, until long after the CNW/UP/SP combination had inaugurated the "City of San Francisco" operation. The Q-Rio Grande-WP earlier train was called the Exposition Flyer, and was on a more relaxed schedule.(rp)
Since it competed directly with the long-entrenched and much larger Southern Pacific Railroad, the WP became a company
Western Pacific
Western Pacific
circa 1943
known both for its innovation and for wringing every dollar out of an investment. It was the first large railroad in the West to eliminate steam locomotives in favor of diesels, and then kept some of these early diesels running in regular service long after they had been retired elsewhere. It embraced computerized dispatching, concrete crossties and innovative equipment to protect customer shipments, at the same time fielding antique wooden cabooses and rebuilding outmoded freight cars.(wik)
Short History of the Western Pacific Railroad
pre-1869 - Arthur Keddie had explored the Feather River route which was 2000 feet lower than Donner Pass, used by the Central Pacific.
1869 - Keddie starts building Oroville and Virginia City Railroad in Feather River route. He was stopped by Central Pacific interests and politics.
1892 - New survey shows a good route through Feather River Canyon Route with modest grades. Close to Keddie route. UP interested and San Francisco and Great Salt Lake Railroad Company is chartered with a five year option. No financing could be obtained due to Collis Huntington influences (CP).
1900 - Huntington dies, and Harriman interests control CP/UP and cut off Rio Grande (Gould) connection to west coast.
1900 - Jay Gould's son, George, decides to build separate line to San Francisco from Salt Lake City, bypassing CP.
1900 - WP originated as Alameda and San Joaquin Railroad, a 36 mile line originally built by Keddie interests, and financed and built by D&RGW, under George Jay Gould I, to provide a Rio Grande connection to the Pacific Coast, through Feather River Canyon route.
1902 - A Keddie line, the Stockton and Beckwourth Railroad, is platted and approved with 5 year option, along lines of the 1892 survey.
1903 - Agreement with Keddie interests and Gould interests result in meeting in San Francisco to make public announcement about Western Pacific.
1906 - WP forces battle with SP for rights to Oakland waterfront. SP tries every which way to stop WP's construction.
1909 - Road completed from Salt Lake City through Sierra Nevada's and the Feather River Canyon to Oakland, California.
1910 - First through passenger train from Salt Lake to Oakland.
1911 - Goods to and from Japan move on Gould system, including transcontinental movement using WP, Rio Grande, Missouri Pacific, Wabash and Lackawanna Railroads. Also the "Atlantic Coast Mail", electrically lighted, and fanned 6 car passenger train began operating.
1915 - Low volumes of traffic and inability to pay off obligations force WP into bankruptcy.
1915 - San Francisco Exposition business insufficient to sustain WP.
1916 - WP sold at auction as Gould rail empire is crumbling.
1917 - WP acquires 75% interest in Tidewater Southern between Stockton and Turlock.
The Western Pacific owned several connecting short-line railroads, including the Central California Traction, the Indian Valley Railroad and the Deep Creek Railroad.
1918 - USRA takes over WP. WP/SP used paired track from Winnemucca to Wells and SP takes over Oakland operations.
1920 - WP out from under US control with a much deteriorated system.
1921 - Sacramento Northern, 3rd rail line from Sacramento to Chico, purchased.
1926 - Arthur James takes control of WP and begins acquisition program.
1927 - Trolley powered San Francisco-Sacramento Railroad acquired, and later, the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway acquired.
1931 - WP completes "highline" north out of Feather River Canyon, at the "Keddie Wye", to connect with Great Northern at Bieber, California.
1935 - Great Depression brings WP into bankruptcy.
1937 - Joint plans of Burlington-Rio Grande-WP to install streamlined diesel-electric powered train, Chicago to San Francisco are put on hold due to downward business trends.
1941 - Arthur Curtis James passes away.
1943 - First diesel-electric locomotives arrive on WP.
1944 - WP reorganized
1944-1945 - Heavy war traffic energizes WP. Centralized Traffic Control installed.
1945 - Orders placed with Budd for California Zephyr cars.
1947 - Electro-motive Train of Tomorrow visits Portola, and convinces WP that the upcoming California Zephyr should have vista-dome cars. Six train sets re-ordered to allow daily runs from Chicago with vista-dome cars.
1949 - California Zephyr runs inaugurated with great acceptance and success.
1950 - WP initiates Budd RDC service.
1953 - Improvements to the north coast extension and connections to GN and Santa Fe.
1955 - Ford Milipas plant opens bringing WP much rail traffic.
1955-1957 - Storms and rock slides close main line and require new alignment and tunnel.
1957-1962 - Line relocation due to Oroville Dam impoundment.
1960-1965 - SP and Santa Fe engaged in failed bids to take over WP.
1966 - WP/GN/Santa Fe win court case to level rate structures to compete with SP.
1970 - California Zephyr discontinued.
1970's - Profitable years for WP under Alfred Perlman and R.G.Flannery.
1979 - WP regains independent status as Western Pacific Railroad Company.
1980 - Plans to merge with UP are begun.
1982-1983 - WP acquired by UP.
1983 - Ford closes Milipas plant.

Western Pacific map
Western Pacific Timetable Map


Our Sources
Private Collection of Richard R. Parks(rp)
Wikipedia the free Encyclopedia [web](wik)
Official Guide- April 1940
The Feather River Rail Society, Western Pacific Railroad Historical Society

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Web Page Written and Maintained by Richard Parks
Copyright © Richard Parks, May 2, 2009. revised November 26, 2011