Most of the classic railroads we know so well today showcased noteworthy locations either due to their incredible degree of engineering
or magnificent scenery (or both). For the Western Pacific, this spot
was its Keddie Wye in northern California. Interestingly, the wye was
not put into use until the 1930s when the WP completed a new line to the
north which added a gateway to Portland and Seattle in an attempt to
compete with its larger rival, the Southern Pacific. While the new
route, unfortunately, did not result in the WP becoming a truly dominant
force for Portland/Seattle to California traffic it remained an
important artery for the railroad for many years. After the WP was
purchased by the Union Pacific many feared the wye would be abandoned.
However, thanks to its strategic engineering and lower gradient than the former SP route UP elected to retain the line and still operates it as a through route today.
The California Zephyr was still in its original state when photographed here heading eastbound as it exits the tunnel and travels onto the Spanish Creek Trestle led by WP FP7 #805-A and an F3A/F3B lashup during September of 1969.
At milepost 277 along the Western Pacific's main line between Salt Lake
City and Oakland lies the small town of Keddie named after the company
first president and chief planner, Aurthur Keddie. After November 1,
1909 the spot was well known simply as being the company's golden spike
location where its eastern line to Salt Lake City connected with its
western route to Oakland. It also sat towards the eastern end of the
WP's legendary Feather River Route through the Feather River Canyon
between Oroville and Portola, California. This section of the main line
hugged the river it was named after along sharp and rocky cliffs that
were not only difficult to survey and navigate but also equally as hard to maintain given their unstable nature (rock slides proved to be a common occurrence).
While the Western Pacific was the vision of Arthur Keddie it
was the financial backing of George Gould, son and heir to father Jay
the legendary tycoon. It took Keddie decades to finally see his
railroad completed as it had been blocked
for years by Collis Huntington, which wanted no competition against his
larger Southern Pacific system through northern California, Oregon, and
connecting to Salt Lake City. While the WP's main line was nearly
2,000 feet lower than the SP's through the Sierra Nevada Mountains at
Donner Pass, Keddie came to realize that to truly compete against his
rival a route northward towards Portland was needed. An ambitious plan was decided, interestingly just after the start of the Great Depression in 1929, to build a branch northward from Keddie to Bieber, California and a connection with the Great Northern.
Union Pacific 4-8-4 #844 and Western Pacific heritage unit, SD70ACe #1983 lead the business train across Spanish Creek along Keddie on May 2, 2009.
The only way to do this, however, was to complete another crossing of
Spanish Creek just to the north and bore out a short tunnel to the east;
doing so created perhaps one of the most unique and rare wyes ever
attempted in railroading. However, it also turned out to be quite
useful as trains from California could now continue northward over the
new bridge towards Bieber, as could trains heading west from Salt Lake
towards the same destination (and vice versa). This new route became
known as the "High Line" or "Inside Gateway" (officially, WP recognized
it as the Northern California Extension). While not officially part of
the Keddie Wye there are also two additional features near the location;
Tunnel 31 along the western edge of the wye where the bridges rejoin
towards Oakland and Keddie Yard just to the east along the main line to
The new 131-mile Inside Gateway opened for use in 1931 and,
unfortunately, was unable to break the Southern Pacific of its
dominance, despite the fact that Donner was a much steeper main line and
required much more maintenance to keep open during the winter months.
Additionally, just four years after opening the High Line the WP was
again in bankruptcy although thanks to the traffic surges during World
War II the company was able to break out of its slump. After the
railroad saw new leadership in
1970 through Alfred Pearlman it perhaps the most lucrative period of
time it had ever experienced. Pearlman was well known for turning
around the New York Central just before it merged with the Pennsylvania
Railroad and he worked his magic again at the WP. As such, it was an
attractive asset to larger lines and in 1982 the Union Pacific purchased
the railroad. To read more about the history of the Western Pacific please click here.
Amtrak's popular California Zephyr is in familiar territory as it passes over the Spanish Creek Trestle along the wye led by P42DCs #199 and #113 on August 12, 2008. Normally these days the CZ under Amtrak uses the ex-Southern Pacific's Donner Pass and not the former WP main line.
UP spent millions of dollars upgrading the WP's former Salt Lake
City to Oakland main line, despite the fact that as late as 1997 it was
strongly considering abandoning the route due to the constant
maintenance headache of wildfires and rock slides. However, to date the
line remains an important artery for the Class I. Also in 1997, UP
sold the Inside Gateway to then BNSF Railway, which continues to use it
today as an additional connection between California and Seattle. For
railfans, today you can still watch trains ply Keddie and are
afforded an excellent location for photographs with state route 70
crossing the location just to the north.