The Union Pacific Railroad, Building America


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.

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 acquisitions.)


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:

Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad

Chicago & North Western Railway

Chicago Great Western

Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad

Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (Katy)

Missouri Pacific Railroad

Pacific Electric Railway

Southern Pacific

St. Louis Southwestern Railway

Western Pacific Railroad

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. 

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.

UP C30-7 #2488 and an SD40-2 head up an eastbound freight near Deschutes, Oregon on May 23, 1984.

Diesel Locomotive Roster

The American Locomotive Company

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
C85560-61, 60B19643
PA-1604-607, 994A-997A1947-19498
PB-1604B-607B, 998B-999B1947-19496
RS27675-67619592
S21036-1054, 1119-11531943-194554
S41154-11981955-195645
RSC21180-1189194810
RS21191-11951948-19495
FA-11500A-1543A, 1626-16431947-194862
FB-11524B-1541B, 1618B-1642B (Evens), 1618C-1642C (Evens)1947-194834
C6302900-2909196610

Marked as subsidiary Tidewater Southern, RS1 #746 rests at the yard in Stockton, California during March of 1971.

The Baldwin Locomotive Works

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
VO-10001055-10601943-19446
DS-4-4-10001206-121019485
AS6161260-12651951-19526

A set of MP15DCs pull transfer duty as they roll through Kansas City on July 14, 2002.

Electro-Motive Corporation/Electro-Motive Division

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
Streamliner TrainsetM10000-M10001, M10002A/B-M10006A/B1934, 193612
E2ALA1, SF119372
E2BLA2-LA3, SF2-SF319374
E3ALA519391
E3BLA619392
E6A7M1A-9M1A, 7M2A-9M2A, LA4, SF41940-19418
E6BLA5-LA6, SF5-SF619414
DD35A70-84196515
DD3572B-98B196517
GP9130-248, 250-3491954-1957219
GP9B130B-204B, 300B-349B1954125
SD24B400B-444B195945
SD2444819581
GP7700-729 (First)195330
GP20700-729 (Second)196030
GP30700-735 (Third), 800-8751961-1963112
GP30B700B-739B196340
GP35740-7631963-196424
SD7775-784195310
E7A907A, 927A, 930A-931A, 959A-960A, 9881946-19477
E7B908B-909B, 928B-929B, 961B-963B19467
E8A926-9421950-195317
E8B926B-949B1950-195324
E9A900-914, 943-9621954-196435
E9B900B-904B, 910B-914B, 950B-974B1954-196330
F3A905-910, 964A-968A, 1400A-1441A, 1442-1463, 1550-15631947-194987
F3B905B-909B (Odds), 905C-909C (Odds), 969B-978B, 1430B-1458B (Evens), 1430C-1458C (Evens), 1442B-1471B, 1550B-1562B (Evens), 1550C-1562C (Evens)1947-194992
F7B910B, 910C, 1466B-1474B (Evens), 1466C-1474C (Evens), 1476B-1496B, 1476C-1496C1951-195233
FP7911-91219522
NW21000-10951939-194896
SDP351400-1409196510
F7A1467-14831951-195217
SW71800-1824195025
SW91825-1866195342
TR51870A-1877A (Cow), 1870B-1877B (Calf)195116
GP38-22000-20591974-197560
SD403000-3024, 3048-31221966-19714
SD40X3040-304719658
SD40-23123-3304, 3335-3399, 3410-3583, 3609-3668, 3769-3804, 8035-80991972-1980582
SD453600-3649196850
SD40T-23805-380819804
SD70M3779-3873, 3971-3973, 4000-4999, 5103-52312000-20041,227
SD606000-60841986-198885
SD60M6085-63651989-1992281
DDA40X6900-69461969-197147
SD9043MAC8000-83081995-2000309
SD90MAC8160-8205, 8506-85611996-199992
SD70ACe8309-8523, 8621-86702005-2008265
GP40X9000-90051977-19786

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.

Fairbanks Morse

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
H10-44DS1300-DS13041945-19475
H15-44DS1325-DS132919485
H16-44DS1340-DS134219503
H20-44DS1360-DS1365, DS1367-DS1370194710
Erie Built (A)700-7071945-19488
Erie Built (B)700B, 702B-703B, 705B-706B1945-19485

General Electric

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
44-TonnerDS139919471
U5031-531963-196523
U25B625-6401961-196216
C30-72415-2539, 2960-29741978-1980140
U28C2800-2809196610
U30C2810-29591972-1976150
U50C5000-5039197140
ES44AC5248-5347, 5353-5553, 5695-5699, 7345-7469, 7600-79242005-2008756
AC4400CW5554-5694, 5700-6081, 6430-6699, 6738-6887, 6995-6999, 7080-7297, 9997-99991994-20041169
AC6000CW7000-7009, 7510-7579, 7111 (Second)1995-200081
AC6000CW (Rated At 4400 HP)7010-7079, 7300-73351996-1998106
C40-89100-93551988-1989256
C40-8W9356-94801990-1991135
C41-8W9481-9559199379
C44-9W9700-9739199440

A UP 2-10-2 Santa Fe, #5309, rolls through the yard at Butte, Montana on February 26, 1941.

Steam Locomotive Roster

Class Type Wheel Arrangement
219, 400 (Various), 1300 (Various), 1600 (Various), 1901, C (Various)Consolidation2-8-0
600, 700 (Various), 800 (Various), 900American4-4-0
900 (Various), 1200 (Various), 1300 (Various), 1400, 1703, 1800 (Various), TTen-Wheeler4-6-0
4664 (Various), CSA-1, CSA-2Challenger4-6-6-4
9000Union Pacific4-12-2
A-2 Through A-4Atlantic4-4-2
Big BoyBig Boy4-8-8-4
FEF-1 Through FEF-3Northern4-8-4
MC (Various)Mallet2-8-8-0
MC-1Chesapeake2-8-8-2
MK (Various)Mikado2-8-2
MT-1, MT-2Mountain4-8-2
P (Various)Pacific4-6-2
TTT-1 Through TTT-7Santa Fe2-10-2

UP 4-8-4 #844 frolics through the snow at Humboldt, Nevada as it leads an excursion on April 15, 2009.

Notable Passenger Trains

Butte Special: (Salt Lake City - Butte, Montana)

Challenger: (Chicago - Los Angeles)

City of Denver:  (Chicago - Denver)

City of Los Angeles: (Chicago - Cheyenne - Los Angeles)

City of Portland: (Chicago - Cheyenne - Portland)

City of Salina: (Kansas City - Topeka - Salina, Kansas)

City of San Francisco: (Oakland - Cheyenne - Chicago)

City of St. Louis: (St. Louis - Los Angeles/San Francisco/Portland)

Columbine: (Omaha - Denver)

Forty-Niner: (Chicago - Oakland)

Gold Coast: (Chicago - Oakland/Los Angeles)

Idahoan: (Cheyenne - Portland)

Los Angeles Limited: (Chicago - Los Angeles)

Pony Express: (Kansas City - Los Angeles)

Portland Rose: (Denver - Portland)

San Francisco Overland: Connected Chicago and Oakland, later serving only as far east as St. Louis.

The Spokane: (Spokane - Portland)

Utahn: (Cheyenne - Los Angeles)

Yellowstone Special:  (Poncatello, Idaho - West Yellowstone, Montana)

Notable Advertisements

Seven Great Vacation Regions

Notable Programs

Steam Program

"Commemorative"/Heritage Fleet


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.

For more reading on the UP you might want to consider Union Pacific Railroad from authors Joe Welsh and Kevin Holland. Of course, being that the Union Pacific is so well known and has been around for so many years, hundreds of publications (many quite good) have been written about it detailing various subjects of the railroad. However, this book will at least give you a general overview and history of the UP (filled with many, excellent, historical and colorful photographs) at which point you can decide if you are interested in further books of study on the railroad. Even if you are a historian of the UP and have not seen this book I'm sure you will enjoy it! One other book of interest is Union Pacific's Streamliners, also from Joe Welsh. The book gives an in depth look at the railroad's famed streamliners, notably its City fleet. In any event, if you're interested in perhaps purchasing either (or both) of these books please visit the links below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.

Share Your Thoughts

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below. Please note that while I strive to present the information as accurately as possible I am aware that there may be errors. If you have potential corrections the help is greatly appreciated.


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Passenger Trains



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4-8-8-4 "Big Boy"




"Union Pacific" 4-12-2




The #4014 Project




The Steam Program




The Commemorative Fleet




Union Pacific 4-6-6-4 #3985




Union Pacific 4-8-4 #844