Southern Pacific Freight Train Symbol History

by John Carr
Copyright 2001

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Many changes have taken place on the Southern Pacific over its last 30 years of its life. These changes include the opening of the Palmdale Colton Cutoff in July 1967, opening of West Colton Yard at Bloomington in July 1973, and acquisition of the Rock Island trackage into Kansas City from Tucumcari in June 1980. Changes have also been felt in the housing market directly affecting lumber traffic out of Oregon. Some changes have been in relationships with other railroads, such as the Union Pacific on the Overland Route, the Santa Fe in the failed merger attempt in 1986 and most notably the merger with the D&RGW in August 1988. When the Western Pacific merged with the Union Pacific, the Rio Grande became SP's new interchange partner. The problem with the Rio Grande was its slogan was true. It ran through the Rockies not around them. Soldier Summit in Utah had to be crossed no matter which way traffic was routed in Colorado. There were restrictions on how many trains could use the Moffat Tunnel. The alternative was Tennessee Pass with its difficult three percent grade. Also the distance between Kansas City and Ogden was longer, so the railroad was at a double disadvantage compared to the Union Pacific. The bright spot for the SP was its double stack traffic on the Sunset Route. However, it too faced serious restrictions as most of the route was single track. That is why the SP began pulling track off Donner Pass in 1994 and adding double track to the Sunset Route. The SP was always an innovator embracing containers over conventional trailers in the early 1980s and opening the ICTF near the Long Beach Harbor in 1987. All have had an impact on the schedules and symbols used by Southern Pacific for its trains.

Click on any small picture in this report to see a larger picture from one of the pages in the SP Gallery. The left browse button at the bottom of that Gallery picture page will take you back to the SP Symbol History page for that train symbol. The right browse button will take you to the next picture in geographical sequence in the Gallery. If you get confused, you can always use the back button in your browser to back up one or more pages.

I have been working on the Southern Pacific train symbol history for many years. This is more of a reference manual than a traditional history book about the railroad. Each symbol is listed with a brief history and description of its primary functions and work activities. Following the description is a list of condensed schedules. This gives the train symbol's origin, destination, departure and arrival times. Near the end of each line will be a number to indicate the number of days it took for its schedule. For example, if the train departed its origin on Monday and arrived at its destination on Wednesday, then the number would be a two to indicate the arrival two days after it departed. If the train leaves its origin and arrives at its destination on the same day, then no number is given. The last pair of numbers indicate the year of the schedule from my reference material. If the schedule remained the same for several time periods then the beginning and ending years are given with a dash between. If the schedule remained the same but the symbol was changed, the schedule for both symbols are listed to show the change in symbol.

There are several sections to this report. Sections cover the design of the train symbol system (rules), the origin and destination codes, and unit trains. The Old Symbol Index is a cross reference from older symbols to the updated symbol.

Symbol Rules

Origin and Destination Codes

Unit Trains A-L

Unit Trains M-Y

Old Cotton Belt Symbols

Old Symbol Index - 524 symbols are cross referenced

D&RGW Coal Train Symbols

Southern Pacific Picture Gallery Series
- Black Butte Sub Dunsmuir and Mount Shasta, CA area
- Cascade Sub Klamath Falls north and west to Albany, OR
- Modoc Route Klamath Falls to Sage Hen, CA
- Siskiyou Line
- Altamont and Donner Passes
- Overland Route across Nevada with the WP
- San Joaquin Valley Sacramento to Bakersfield, CA
- Tehachapi Mountains Bakersfield to Mojave with the Santa Fe
- Mojave Sub Mojave to Saugus, CA
- Coast Route Paso Robles to Chatsworth, CA
- Sunset Route Los Angeles to Yuma
- Sunset Route in Arizona and New Mexico
- Golden State Route in New Mexico
- Dallas to Flatonia and south Texas
- Sunset Route El Paso, TX to Lafayette, LA

D&RGW Picture Index
- Utah
- Moffat Tunnel Route
- Tennessee Pass Route

There are 16 pages of scheduled train symbols. All symbols are listed in alphabetical order by origin code. Use the following link bar to access the various pages.

 A 

 B 

 C 

 D 

 E 

F-G

H-I

J-K

 L 

 M 

N-O

 P 

 R 

 S 

T-V

W-Y

There are many people that helped me put this material together. To avoid missing any and protect those that still work for the railroad, I haven't listed any names. Thanks to all that helped. As with any work of this size, I know that there will be errors. Please email me any mistake you find so this report can be as accurate as possible.

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