The Union Pacific (UP), the largest and one of the most powerful
railroads in the country has been with us since 1862, more than 150 years.
The UP is far older than any other American Class
I railroad today with the Kansas City Southern in a nearby second (beyond that CSX Transportation ranks as third, followed by Norfolk Southern, and BNSF).
In that time UP has become not only one of the most highly
respected institutions in the nation but also has seen nearly every
major railroading event in our country’s history, and accordingly has a
very long and storied history. Thanks to the company's forward thinking it began gobbling up larger and smaller railroads around it in the 1980s propelling it into the largest system in the country that today serves most states and communities west of the Mississippi River.
Union Pacific's famous heritage steam locomotive fleet, 4-8-4 Northern #844 and 4-6-6-4 Challenger #3785, power an excursion for Railfair 1991 as it rolls through Doyle, California during April of that year.
The Union Pacific began in 1862 created by Congress and President Abraham Lincoln via the Pacific Railroad Act to complete a transcontinental
railroad to the Pacific Coast. This the railroad began in 1863 heading
west from Omaha, Nebraska to meet the Central Pacific building east from
Sacramento, California. The famous meeting of the two railroads took
place at Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869 with a symbolic golden spike
(however, a golden spike was not actually pounded into the railroad tie
as gold is much too soft), with the actual final spike driven into place
at 12:47 p.m. that day. The Union Pacific’s original main line (still in use today) is the Overland Route,
which runs between Ogden, Utah; Omaha, Nebraska; and Chicago.
UP C30-7 #2488 and an SD40-2 head up an eastbound freight near Deschutes, Oregon on May 23, 1984.
Today’s UP is much different from the system prior to 1980 as it operates as far north as Seattle, as far west as Los Angeles/Long Beach, as far east as Minneapolis, and as far south as Dallas, Brownsville, and New Orleans (and about every west in between!). The railroad we presently know, however, was not as large or wealthy prior to the 20th century. It struggled on and off during the late 19th century but after coming under the guidance of Edward Harriman has generally been a profitable railroad since that time. As the 20th century progressed so too did the UP, being instrumental in the development of lightweight streamliners in the 1930s (the M-10000) one of the forerunner's of today’s common diesel-electric locomotive.
(Please note that the below map of the UP illustrates how the
railroad historically appeared in 1950, prior to its major mergers and
Perhaps what UP is best recognized for is its appetite for large
power, which certainly matches its character. It holds the
record for the largest diesel and steam locomotives ever built (the steam issue
remains up to debate) in the way of the American Locomotive
Company’s (Alco) 4-8-8-4 “Big Boys” (behemoth steamers able to produce
some 135,000 pounds of tractive effort) and Electro-Motive's 6,600 horsepower
DD40AX “Centennial” diesel-electrics (which were essentially two SD40 models under one frame). These are not the only largest units the railroad operated, they also owned Alco’s massive model C855 monsters and experimented with a gas-turbine electric locomotive (GTEL) capable of 8,500 horsepower!
The Union Pacific we now know began to take shape in 1982
when it purchased rival Western Pacific giving it access to
northern California. Soon after this takeover it acquired the Missouri
Pacific to reach Chicago, St. Louis, and Texas. In 1988 the company
grew even larger when it purchased the Katy (the Missouri-Kansas-Texas
Railroad) and in 1995 did the same with the Chicago & North Western
Railway. Finally, just a year later in 1996 the UP purchased the
gigantic Southern Pacific, a one-time powerhouse that by then was a company far removed from its glory days prior to the 1970s, so much so that it had been purchased by the Denver &
Rio Grande Western in 1988.
The above map gives a family tree of the largest railroads which have made up Union Pacific. More information about each can be found in the below links:
The future of the Union Pacific is as wide open as the great
western plains where the railroad operates. However, if the company’s
past is any measure of what may happen in the years ahead, I think we
can safely say that when the merger movement picks up again the railroad and its famous shield logo will continue to flank locomotives during their daily task of moving goods across the country. It is important to note the company's nod to its history. The railroad operates an impressive heritage fleet of original equipment from its streamlined business train clad in its classic Armour yellow and gray livery to its stable of steam locomotives maintained in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
One of the most powerful steam locomotives ever built, UP Big Boy 4-8-8-4 #4004 lays over at the engine terminal and yard in Cheyenne, Wyoming on June 18, 1953. In six more years all of these magnificent locomotives will have been retired.
Electro-Motive's massive DD40X, built during the late 1960s when manufacturers looked to see just how powerful they could build a diesel locomotive, was actually somewhat successful. UP #6900 is seen here in Salt Lake City on May 10, 1969 to participate in the centennial of the Transcontinental Railroad.
This fleet includes the never retired 4-8-4 #844, 4-6-6-4 #3985, and the
recently acquired 4-8-8-4 "Big Boy" #4014. The latter is of particular
note; when Union Pacific officially announced its intentions to restore
this steamer on July 23, 2013 the railfan community was shocked and the
news made headlines in the media. The move from its longtime resting
place in Ponoma, California has also been widely watched and
documented. Few ever thought it possible to see a Big Boy
under steam again given their incredible size and the expense to do so.
The locomotive will likely take a number of years to be fully restored
but when she is plying the rails once more will certainly become the
star attraction of the fleet.