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Significant Dates
Transcontinental Completions


By Kyle K. Wyatt

Curator of History & Technology

California State Railroad Museum


Dec. 15, 1854              Union Wharf and Plank Walk Company incorporated.  Built a horse-powered railroad from the town of Union (later called Arcata) to the end of a wharf in Humboldt Bay.  Generally considered the first railroad in California.  Converted to steam in 1875.  Reorganized in 1881 as the Arcata & Mad River RR.

Jan 1855                      Panama Railroad completed.  1st railroad to connect the Atlantic (Caribbean) and the Pacific (Gulf of Panama).  US built and owned.  From the Atlantic port it traveled southeast to reach the Pacific port, just as the Panama Canal does today.

Feb 1855                     Grading of the Sacramento Valley RR started.

Feb. 16, 1855              Panama Railroad officially opened.

Feb 22, 1856               Sacramento Valley Railroad completed from Sacramento to Folsom.

June 28, 1861              Central Pacific organized, and formally incorporated in California July 1, 1861.  To be the western link in the Transcontinental Railroad.  Union Pacific chartered by the act of Congress authorizing land grants and support for the Transcontinental Railroad.

July 1, 1862                Pacific Railroad Act signed by President Abraham Lincoln and becomes law.  Officially recognized the Central Pacific as the Western part of the Transcontinental Railroad.

Jan 9, 1863                  Central Pacific broke ground at Front Street near K Street in Sacramento.

Oct 26, 1863               First rail of the Central Pacific laid, without ceremony.

June 6, 1864                San Francisco & San Jose completed between the two cities of those name.

Sept 10, 1865              California Pacific incorporated.  Initially conceived as a western link for the transcontinental railroad, connecting Sacramento with San Francisco via Vallejo, it later developed transcontinental aspirations of its own.

1867                            Western Pacific acquired by CP owners from its owners.  The WP was organized by the interests controlling the San Francisco & San Jose.  (Not to be confused with the 20th century Western Pacific, a completely different company.)

March 1868                 Control of San Francisco & San Jose acquired by the Southern Pacific, organized by the same owners as the SF&SJ.  Control of SP acquired by the Big Four later that same year.

May 10, 1869              Central Pacific and Union Pacific joined at Promontory, Utah, in Golden Spike ceremony.  1st transcontinental railroad in US.

May 13, 1869              Regular service inaugurated between Sacramento and Omaha.  Connecting railroads provided service from the Atlantic.

Sept 6, 1869                Western Pacific completed and opened for service between Sacramento and Alameda.  A branch line from Niles connected in San Jose with the Southern Pacific (SF&SJ).

Nov 8, 1869                Central Pacific overland passenger terminus transferred from Alameda to Oakland, Cal.

Nov 17, 1869              Opening of the Suez Canal diverted most of the Oriental traffic that had been expected to pass over the Central and Union Pacific line.  High value, high speed tea and silk traffic continued to use the American transcontinental route to Europe into the 20th century.

May 31, 1870              Boston Board of Trade train arrived in San Francisco (running up the Southern Pacific - formerly the San Francisco & San Jose -  into the City).  1st true transcontinental train to run from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast of the US.

Apr 13, 1871               Peter Donahue sold the San Francisco & North Pacific to the California Pacific, who planed to move their terminal from Vallejo to Marin County, closer to San Francisco.

Aug 1, 1871                Control of the California Pacific acquired by Big Four, eliminating potential transcontinental competitor.  Transcontinental passenger traffic was diverted from the Western Pacific to this faster line to San Francisco via Vallejo and a long ferry ride.

Mar 1872                    Union Pacific opened the bridge between Council Bluffs and Omaha.

Jan 1873                      After considering and rejecting moving the terminal of the transcontinental railroad from Oakland to Marin County, the Big Four sold the San Francisco & North Pacific (acquired withthe California Pacific purchase) back to Peter Donahue.

Sept 5, 1876                First through train from San Francisco reaches Los Angeles.

Nov 1879                    Tripartite agreement in which the St Louis & San Francisco and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe agree to jointly build the Atlantic & Pacific.

Dec 28, 1879               Train ferry Solano, largest in world, placed in service on the revised transcontinental route west of Sacramento, connecting the California Pacific line with Oakland ferry terminal.  Finally replaced by a bridge on Oct 14, 1930.

Oct 23, 1880               California Southern Railroad incorporated for the purpose of serving as the Pacific coast terminus for the Atlantic & Pacific and locating that terminus at San Diego.  Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe President Thomas Nickerson named treasurer of California Southern, representing the official tie between the companies.  Actual terminus established at National City, where the terminal depot and general office building was constructed in 1882.

Mar 1, 1881                Connection between Southern Pacific and Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe at Deming, N.M., forming second transcontinental route.  Southern Pacific Southern Division trackage, in Southern California, Arizona and New Mexico, was leased to the Central Pacific for operation during this time period.

Dec 1, 1881                 Central Pacific assumed operating control of Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio (GH&SA, known as the Sunset Route ).  Control returned to GH&SA's own organization (CP owned) Feb 1, 1883, under new Texas state railroad laws.

Jan 1, 1882                  Texas and Pacific met Southern Pacific at Sierra Blanca, Texas, forming another transcontinental connection.

Jan 1882                      C.P. Huntington and Jay Gould together purchased a half interest in the St Louis & San Francisco (Frisco), which itself owned a half interest in the Atlantic & Pacific.  Huntington envisioned a true transcontinental line connecting his Chesapeake & Ohio system with the Central and Southern Pacific system via the Frisco and the Atlantic & Pacific.  In 1884 Huntington sold his interest in the Atlantic & Pacific to the Santa Fe as part of a larger settlement, and turned his attention to extending his Chesapeake & Ohio system to a Southern Pacific connection at New Orleans.

Oct 25, 1882               The Sonora Railway, built from the Arizona border to the port of Guaymas, Mexico, by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe to provide a Pacific Coast outlet, was officially opened on this day.  It was less successful than hoped, leading the Santa Fe to place more emphasis on its Atlantic & Pacific line to California.  In 1898 the Sonora Railway was leased to the Southern Pacific as part of a larger exchange of trackage between that company and the Santa Fe.

About 1883                 Central Pacific interests gained control of the Morgan Lines (Morgan's Louisiana & Texas and Louisiana Western), providing access across Texas to New Orleans.

Jan 12, 1883                Last spike driven on Pecos River bridge, completing the Sunset Route, a through line from California to New Orleans, with associated steamer connections to New York.  1st US route from the Atlantic (Gulf of Mexico) to the Pacific controlled by a single company (Central Pacific), arguably the first US transcontinental railroad company.

Feb 5, 1883                 1st through passenger trains between Los Angeles and New Orleans leave their respective terminals.

May 21, 1883              Denver & Rio Grande and Denver & Rio Grande Western completed through narrow gauge line from Denver to a Central Pacific connection at Ogden, Utah.  Line subsequently standard gauged.

Aug 1883                    Atlantic & Pacific connection across the Colorado River completed at the Needles, meeting the Southern Pacific at the California border and forming another US transcontinental line.  Santa Fe subsequently purchased the Southern Pacific's Mojave to Needles branch on Aug 20, 1884.

Aug 22, 1883              Northern Pacific completed with driving of gold spike at Gold Creek, Montana, forming, in conjunction with the Oregon Railway & Navigation Co., a transcontinental line from the Great Lakes to Portland, Oregon.

Oct 21, 1883               1st through passenger service via the Atlantic & Pacific and Southern Pacific.

Mar 17,1884               Southern Pacific Company incorporated in Kentucky as a holding company for Big Four interests.  Southern Pacific Railroad leased on Mar 1, 1885; Central Pacific Railroad leased on April 1, 1885.  Central Pacific name gradually disappeared over the next decades.

Nov 7, 1884                Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe purchased full control of the California Southern, securing its outlet to the coast.

Dec 4, 1884                 Oregon Railway & Navigation Co. (OR&N) and Oregon Short Line (Union Pacific controlled) joined at Huntington, Oregon, completing transcontinental link.  Union Pacific subsequently acquired control of OR&N, lost it, then under Harriman reacquired permanent control.

Nov 7, 1885                Canadian Pacific completed, 1st Canadian transcontinental rail line.

Nov 14, 1885              First California Southern/Atlantic & Pacific/Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe through transcontinental train departed for the East from the California Southern depot at National City.  The last spike actually connecting the California Southern to the Atlantic & Pacific was driven Nov 15.  On Nov 16 the first through transcontinental train from the East arrived at the National City depot.  Celebrations marking the completion were held in San Diego on Nov 18.  These events mark the true end of Central Pacific/Southern Pacific monopoly of California transcontinental rail transportation, and the start of a rate war between the two rail networks.

July 4, 1886                First scheduled Canadian Pacific transcontinental train arrived at western terminus, Port Moody, British Columbia.

May 12, 1887              Southern Pacific Company acquired control of Oregon & California, officially leased to SPCo on July 1, 1887.

May 23, 1887              First official train arrived at new Canadian Pacific terminal over extension from Port Moody to Vancouver.

Dec 17, 1887               Oregon & California last spike driven at Ashland, completing line between California and Portland, Oregon.

April 13, 1888             Northern Pacific completed line through the Cascades to Tacoma, Washington, ending its reliance on the Oregon Railway & Navigation Co. for a Pacific Coast terminal.

Jan 5, 1893                  Great Northern completed line to Puget Sound, the first transcontinental line built without federal land grant support.

1900                            Collis P. Huntington, last of the Big Four, died.

1901                            E. H. Harriman of the Union Pacific acquired control of the Southern Pacific.  The two railroads were operated together as the Associated Lines.  Union Pacific forced to divest its control of Southern Pacific in 1913 by government anti-trust action.

March 8, 1904             Lucin Cutoff opened across Great Salt Lake.

March 20, 1904           SP Coast Line completed.

Jan 20, 1905                San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake (Union Pacific affiliated) drove last spike in their line between Los Angeles and Utah.

May 14, 1909              Chicago, Milwaukee & St Paul completed to Seattle, the last US Pacific Northwest transcontinental line.

Nov 1, 1909                Western Pacific line between Oakland and Salt Lake City completed, the last US transcontinental railroad to reach completion.  Built by the Gould interests to secure a Pacific Coast outlet for the Rio Grande Western and other Gould lines, in response to the Harriman control of the Union Pacific, the Southern Pacific and the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake.

April 9, 1914               Grand Trunk Pacific completed from Winnipeg to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, the 2nd Canadian transcontinental line.  Bankruptcy forced government takeover in May 1915 under the Canadian Government Railways, becoming the Canadian National in June 1919.

1915                            Canadian Northern completed from Montreal to Vancouver, British Columbia, the 3rd Canadian transcontinental line.  Bankruptcy forced government takeover in 1917, leading to formation of the Canadian National in June 1919.

Jan 1, 1926                  Oregon & California property deeded to Southern Pacific Company; O&C corporation dissolved Jan 25, 1929.

Mar 1, 1927                All major Southern Pacific controlled lines in Texas and Louisiana leased to the Texas & New Orleans, and subsequently merged under T&NO on June 30, 1934.

1932                            Southern Pacific Company acquired control of the St Louis & Southwestern (Cotton Belt).

Sept 30, 1947              Southern Pacific Company reincorporated as a Delaware corporation after changes in the Kentucky corporation law.

Sept 30, 1955              Southern Pacific Railroad merged with Southern Pacific Company.

June 30, 1959              Central Pacific merged with Southern Pacific Company.

Nov 1, 1961                Texas & New Orleans merged with Southern Pacific Company.

Nov 26, 1969              Southern Pacific Company reorganized as Southern Pacific Transportation Company, itself a subsidiary of the newly formed Southern Pacific Company.

1981                            Union Pacific acquired the Western Pacific, and also the Missouri Pacific.

Dec 31, 1983               Southern Pacific Company (parent of Southern Pacific Transportation Company) and Santa Fe Industries (parent of Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railway) merged to form Santa Fe Southern Pacific Corporation.  Planned merger of the railroads denied by Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) on final appeal June 30, 1987.

Oct 13, 1988               Rio Grande Industries, owners of the Denver & Rio Grande Western, took control of Southern Pacific Transportation Company following a Dec 28, 1987 purchase and subsequent ICC approval.

May 1, 1989                Southern Pacific Transportation Co. and Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad combined their two operating departments under a single operation, known as Southern Pacific Lines

May 4, 1993                Rio Grande Industries changed its name to Southern Pacific Rail Corporation (SPRC).

Sept 11, 1996              Union Pacific purchases the Southern Pacific, unifying the original transcontinental partners, and reassembling Harriman's Associated Lines on an even grander scale.  This functionally combines the turn-of-the-century Harriman Lines (UP and SP) and Gould Lines (MP, D&RGW, and WP), plus more.

Courtesy Kyle K. Wyatt, Curator of History & Technology. California State Railroad Museum.

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