Union Pacific: Golden at 150

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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COVER STORY, MAY 2019 - Railway Age antecedent American Railway Times, May 15, 1869: “On May 10, the last rail connecting the tracks of the Union and the Central Pacific Railroads was spiked in place, thus giving a continuous railway line across the continent. The blows of the hammer driving home the last spike were heard simultaneously by the aid of the telegraphic wires at the extreme eastern and western sides of the continent; and in many places the marked event was celebrated by the ringing of bells, the firing of salutes, and the interchange of congratulations between the different sections of the country.

“Turning back to our files in the Railway Times of 1849 and 1850, we find this enterprise pretty well shadowed forth, by discussions, communications and appeals, all of which probably gave some aid in educating the public mind as to the feasibility and necessity of this great national highway. We well remember the derision with which P.P. Degrande’s statement was received, that the road between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Coast could be built in seven years; but he spoke wisely; the road has been built in about four and a half years’ time, and we are already beginning to see the commercial results which were then promised.

“A direct importation of teas has already reached New York City via the Pacific Railroad, and the papers of that city chronicle the arrival of a passenger from San Francisco in eight days’ time, even with the road in its unfinished state. Now, with the new highway in a finished condition, and with systematic management, passengers can easily pass from New York to San Francisco in six days, or say at an average speed of about 24 mph. The entire distance, via Chicago and Omaha, is stated to be 3,353 miles, and at 30 miles to the hour—and that is not an unusual speed for our express trains—the passage could be made in five days.

“But taking the slower rate of speed, and that certainly is not excessive, let us see what changes are likely to ensue in the mail and passenger movement between Europe and the East, according to some speculation by a contemporary. At San Francisco, the mail will connect with the various steamship lines running on the Pacific, and may be landed at Honolulu in nine days from that city, or 15 days from New York. They can reach Japan in 19 days from San Francisco, or 25 days from New York, or 33 to 34 days from Great Britain—thus beating the British mail sent via the Suez Canal, three to four weeks.

“The trip between Yokohama, Japan and either Hong Kong or Shanghai, is readily accomplished by the Pacific Mail steamships in from five to six days, which added to the time in reaching Japan, will give the through time necessary to reach either of the above named ports of China. The American steamships belonging to the China branch of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company are unequaled in beauty and stability, by any vessels afloat. As they excel all other steamships afloat—except the Great Eastern—in size and capacity, so they also excel them in their various appointments and comfortable accommodations for first class passengers.

“The mail for Australia, it is thought, will hereafter go via San Francisco, as the Australian and New Zealand Steamship Company intend transferring the terminus of their line, which has been running from Sydney to Panama, [to a] run from Australia to Taluti, thence to Honolulu, and thence to San Francisco, making 28 days schedule time, which will give us monthly mail to Australia in 34 or 35 days through time.

“The lighter and valuable traffic of China and Japan with Europe will quite likely come over the Pacific Railroad; the teas, spices, silks, and 1,000 other articles of Asiatic commerce, will seek this line in preference to those now in use, as being less dangerous, taking very much less time, and therefore cheaper.

“The main thing now is to put the whole line in the best possible condition. Let there remain no doubt in the public mind as to the character of the road as to strengthen efficiency in every detail, from Omaha to San Francisco. Put the entire line under one efficient and vigorous management, let the tariff be put in reasonable rates, and the favorable results of the building of this great national highway will soon be approved.”

One-hundred-and-fifty years later, the “efficient and vigorous management” we described is the Union Pacific, whose name and purpose have not changed throughout the years, even as the railroad whose moniker is “Building America” has grown in size and scope, mostly through consolidation.

The building of the Pacific Railroad, and the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit, Utah, has been chronicled in scores of books, photographs, movies, television documentaries and museum exhibits. Andrew J. Russell’s famous photograph of Union Pacific’s 119 and Central Pacific’s Jupiter (above) nearly touching pilots, which he titled “East and West Shaking Hands at Laying of Last Rail” but also known as “The Champagne Photo,” preserved a defining moment in U.S. history. It was one of several glass-plate exposures taken by three photographers who were present at the Golden Spike Ceremony. Following the driving of the last spike, 119 and Jupiter were “run up until they nearly touched,” according to one account. “Railroad officials retired to their cars, leaving the engineers and workmen to celebrate. The champagne flowed, and engineers George Booth and Sam Bradford each broke a bottle upon the other’s locomotive. Samuel S. Montague, Central Pacific’s Chief Engineer, and his counterpart, Grenville M. Dodge, shook hands to symbolize the end of the race to build the nation’s first transcontinental railroad.”

Union Pacific, founded when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act on July 1, 1862, has commemorated this transformational, nation-building project with “The Great Race to Promontory,” which can be found at www.up.com/goldenspike/index.html: “The Central Pacific Railroad of California, chartered in 1861, was authorized to build a line east from Sacramento. At the same time, the Act chartered the Union Pacific Railroad Company to build west from the Missouri River. The original legislation granted each railroad 6,400 acres and up to $48,000 in government bonds for each mile completed.”

Those government bonds, needless to say, have been repaid countless times over by the contribution that UP continues to make to the global economy.

The most spectacular part of the Golden Spike sesquicentennial celebration is the restoration and return to operations of “Big Boy” 4014. One of 25 built for UP by the American Locomotive Company, the massive 4000-class 4-8-8-4 was delivered in 1941. As the story goes, the class series originally was to have been designated the “Wasatch,” as these locomotives were designed to haul freight over the Wasatch Mountains between Ogden, Utah, and Green River, Wyo. But an unidentified Alco worker wrote “Big Boy” in chalk on the smokebox of one unit during construction, and that’s the nickname that stuck.

Originally coal-fired, 4014, like sister units 844 (a 4-8-4 Northern type) and 3985 (a 4-6-6-4 Challenger class), was converted to an oil-burner by UP’s skilled Steam Team. Eight of the 25 survive; the remaining seven are on static public display at various locations around the U.S.

We thought we’d leave you with some additional perspective from our archives. Like all monumental, history-defining projects, the Pacific Railroad, or at least the idea for it, began many years prior to its completion—1832, according John Debo Galloway’s The First Transcontinental Railroad, which Simmons-Boardman published in 1950. (Perhaps not by coincidence, Railway Age’s earliest antecedent, the American Rail Road Journal, was founded in 1832.) Following are several excerpts of note.

“The building of the Pacific Railroad was preceded by the usual discussion that accompanies proposals of this kind. Dreamers, writers, politicians, and promoters precede the practical men who finally take up the project and carry it through to completion. The promotional effort was necessary in order to arouse public interest, inasmuch as an undertaking of the magnitude of the Pacific Railroad could be accomplished only by the assistance of some portion of the public, either as investors or as those who influence the representatives of the people in state or national legislatures.

“While it is not possible to determine with certainty who first suggested a railroad to the Pacific Coast, there is a definite record of such a proposal being made by a writer in the Emigrant, a weekly newspaper published by Judge S. W. Dexter in Ann Arbor, Mich. The editorial was probably written by Judge Dexter in the issue of Feb. 6, 1832. After remarking on the probability that the public would consider the idea a visionary one, the writer outlines the project for a railroad in the following terms:

“‘The distance between New York and Oregon is about 3,000 miles. From New York, we could pursue the most convenient route to the vicinity of Lake Erie, thence along the south shore of this lake and of Lake Michigan, cross the Mississippi between forty-one and forty-two of north latitude, cross the Missouri about the mouth of the Platte, and thence to the Rocky Mountains, near the source of the last named river, thence to Oregon, by the valley of the south branch of that stream, called the southern branch of the Lewis River.’

“The writer suggested that the United States should build the road, or that a company be permitted to do so. This article in the Emigrant is remarkable for two reasons. First it appeared at a time when just two railroads were getting started in the country, the Charleston and Hamburg in South Carolina, and the Baltimore and Ohio, and when there were probably less than 200 miles of track in operation. However, news of English railroads was available to the American public. The other remarkable feature was the editorial writer’s location of the line, which was followed in later years by the railroads west from Chicago and specifically by the Union Pacific across the plains and over the Rocky Mountains by way of the Snake River and the Columbia River on to Oregon.

“In 1833 or 1834, a fairly complete scheme for a Pacific Railroad was outlined by Dr. Samuel Bancroft Barlow, a physician of Granville, Mass. He wrote an article for the Intelligencer, a weekly journal published in Westfield, Mass. Dr. Barlow states that he had read the article in the Emigrant. He assumes a railroad of a length of 3,000 miles, and reaches the conclusion that while the cost per mile in the settled sections of the country might be $10,000, that for the regions beyond would be greater. If the average cost was $10,000 per mile, 3,000 miles would cost $30 million, which was a cost that the United States could stand, since the annual service of the national debt was then from $12-$13 million. The plan called for three years to be devoted to surveys, estimates, and other preliminaries, during which period the then existing national debt would be liquidated. When work on the railroad was undertaken, expenditures would range from $6-$15 million a year, a sum that the country could bear without effort. The writer then goes into rhapsodies over the results to follow from the building of the road in integrating the country. The gorgeous West would be brought to our doors and ‘riches and glory would ultimately be conferred upon a great and magnanimous people.’

“Another of the early advocates of the Pacific Railroad was a civil engineer who had had considerable experience in railroad work as it was then understood. John Plumbe, who lived in Dubuque, Iowa, published a pamphlet in 1836 advocating a railroad from Lake Michigan to Oregon, and on March 31, 1838, he called a convention in Dubuque to discuss the subject. Resolutions were passed and sent to Congress asking for an appropriation for surveys, and a small sum was granted. In 1839-1840, Plumbe secured a memorial from the Wisconsin legislature addressed to Congress, asking that the surveys be continued west of the Mississippi. He took the memorial to Washington and spent considerable time on the subject, but nothing tangible resulted from his labors. His plan proposed a company capitalized at $100 million, to which would be given a land grant of alternate sections along the line of the railroad. Plumbe was the first to appreciate the magnitude of the task of building the railroad and to outline a practical method for accomplishment of the work.

“The second stage in the agitation for the Pacific Railroad began with the work of Asa Whitney in the decade 1840-1850 … Whitney was a merchant from New York City, who, in the course of business, had visited England and had made a trip over the Liverpool & Manchester Railroad. In 1842, he visited China and spent two years there. He was impressed with the extent of Oriental trade and with the possibility of diverting a large part of that trade across the United States. From the time when he returned to this country until his death, he devoted his entire fortune and efforts to promoting the project of a Pacific Railroad.

“In 1845, Whitney made a 1,500-mile trip up the Mississippi, but before starting he presented to Congress a memorial that was introduced in the Senate and the House, in which he outlined his project of a railroad to the Pacific Coast. His first plan was for a railroad from Lake Michigan to the mouth of the Columbia River, in Oregon. The cost was estimated at $50 million, and incidental expenses would increase the amount to $65 million. The cost was to be defrayed by the sale of public lands to colonists who would build the railroad and afterwards settle on the land. A strip of land 60 miles wide would be granted to the settler and the railroad and the land would be his property, but the control would rest with the national government. Excess profits would be devoted to education and other public purposes. However, despite the merits of the plan, no action was taken by Congress.

“Whitney’s second memorial to Congress was presented in 1846 and was favorably reported by the Senate Committee on Public Lands on July 31, but after some debate nothing was done. A third memorial presented to Congress in January 1848 was referred to the Committee on Public Lands, but instead of reporting on the memorial, the committee, in June, reported a resolution for survey and exploration of one or more routes for a railroad from the Mississippi below the Falls of St. Anthony to the Pacific Ocean. As the committee would not report Whitney’s bill, another introduced by Senator Niles favored the grant of land to Whitney. Referred to a select committee, it was reported on favorably, but was lost by a vote in the Senate, largely owing to the opposition of Senator Benton of Missouri. In January 1849, the bill was re-introduced but dissension prevented action and the bill died. The 31st Congress referred all memorials and projects for a railroad to the Committee on Roads and Canals, with the result that an exhaustive report was made favoring the grant of lands to Whitney. Nothing came of it except that the discussion informed the country of the merits of the project. A final bill was presented to the 32nd Congress on April 1, 1852, permitting the sale of public lands to Whitney to enable him to build a railroad from the Mississippi River, to commence south of Memphis and proceed by way of the Rio Grande to San Francisco. Sectionalism defeated the bill and this action terminated Whitney’s efforts. His fortune had been dissipated, and he lived in comparative poverty until he died.

“[Another] plan was proposed by P. P. Degrand, whose railroad was to extend from St. Louis to San Francisco. Stock was to be sold to raise $2 million, and the government was to loan $98 million and to give a ten-mile strip of land. Another man whose name is connected with the Pacific Railroad projects was Josiah Perham of Boston. His plan, which he called the ‘People’s Pacific Railroad,’ was for the general public to subscribe $100 each, and with one million subscribers, he would build the railroad.

“The inability of Congress to reach a decision finally forced the men there to resort to the only sensible procedure, which was to have surveys made over a number of routes to determine the best possible railroad location. Senator Gwin of California finally moved an amendment to the Army Appropriation Bill, approved by President Millard Fillmore on March 1, 1853, which read as follows:

“‘And be it further enacted, that the Secretary of War be, and he is hereby authorized, under the direction of the President of the United States, to employ such portion of the Corps of Topographical Engineers and such other persons as he may deem advisable, to ascertain the most practicable and economical route for a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, and that the sum of $150,000 or so much as may be necessary, be, and the same is hereby appropriated out of any money in the treasury not otherwise appropriated, to defray the expense of such explorations and surveys. That the engineers and other persons employed in said explorations and surveys shall be organized in as many district corps as there are routes to be surveyed, and their several reports shall be laid before Congress on or before the first Monday in February 1854.’

“It was not until Feb. 27, 1855, that Secretary of War Jefferson Davis was able to submit a somewhat incomplete report. His annual report of December 1855, contained a summary of progress, and it was not until his annual report of December 1856, that the project was completed. It had taken nearly three years to make the surveys and to formulate the report. Much work was done both in the field and in the office, and judging by the extent of the surveys and the difficulties encountered, the time consumed was well spent. The selection of the routes to be examined apparently was left up to Secretary Davis, and he undoubtedly had the advice of many men who favored different routes, but his final selection showed his sincere desire to determine the merits of many possible routes and to balance one against the other.

“A great mass of information was obtained. In difficult regions, actual surveys with transit and level were made, grades determined, and sufficient information taken to determine quantities and costs … When the data came in, it was arranged and edited by an officer of the Army. Maps were made of the entire western part of the country, the first correct ones ever prepared. The reports from different engineering parties, with lithographs of drawings of important scenery, detail maps of each line, cost estimates, data regarding railroads, and everything that could pertain to the subject, were printed in eleven quarto volumes that remain today models of the way such information should be presented.

“The several routes were compared by means of cost estimates. On account of the length of the lines, it was not possible to make detailed estimates, nor was it necessary. On the other hand, the several men on the surveys used their judgment and obtained their cost figures by comparison with costs on railroads built in the eastern states. They tried to adapt such costs to conditions as they found them in the unsettled regions of the West, with the result that the estimates are approximations only. Captain A. A. Humphreys, the officer who edited the reports, comments on the fact that over similar territory, the estimates varied from $35,000 per mile to $50,000 per mile.”

The Central Pacific broke ground in Sacramento in January 1863. Union Pacific followed in December of that year.

Henry Varnum Poor, a financial analyst and founder of H.V. and H.W. Poor Co. (now Standard & Poors), around 1840 established a law firm in Bangor, Me., with his brother, John. By investing in Maine’s growing timber industry, the Poor brothers became wealthy. In 1849, John purchased the American Rail Road Journal, of which Henry became Manager and Editor. In 1862, Henry Poor was appointed a government commissioner to the newly chartered Union Pacific Railroad, and left his position as Editor of the Journal. That year, he was elected as UP’s first Secretary.

Railway Age, 150 years after the driving of the Golden Spike, is proud and pleased for the opportunity to continue reporting on Union Pacific, a railroad that, in at least some small yet significant way, it had a hand in creating.

The Future of Rail Starts Now

By Lance Fritz, Union Pacific Chairman, President and CEO

The transcontinental railroad’s completion 150 years ago fulfilled President Abraham Lincoln’s dream of uniting America from east to west. We will have honored the hard work and sacrifice that gave birth to our incredible legacy with commemoration events in Ogden and Promontory. Looking back on the achievement helps shed light on today’s modern era for Union Pacific and the freight rail industry. It is vital we continue building on progress made by generations before us in the midst of rapid change, market disruptors and competition from yet-to-be-discovered technologies.

Future success requires seeing ourselves through the eyes of our customers. We recently asked for feedback to learn about their service pinch points. It’s no surprise unpredictable shipment arrivals were high on the list. In response, our Information Technology, Operating and Commercial teams developed Advanced Arrival Notification, a web-based system that alerts customers when their facility is the train’s next stop. Approximately 11,000 customers receive notifications, allowing them to line up necessary resources and better-prepare for deliveries. Working to improve the customer experience will help the freight rail industry become a preferred freight transportation mode as new competitors enter the marketplace.

Advanced Arrival Notification is one of hundreds of features available through NetControl, an innovative transportation system built by our employees. Its microservices-based architecture makes it easier and more efficient for our core transportation platform to communicate with new applications. We coupled NetControl with machine learning and real-time GPS to develop more accurate train estimated time of arrival calculations, operating models and customer shipment tracking.

As technology continues advancing, it’s important to remember a fundamental industry truth—railroads are powered by people. The dedication and ingenuity of the men and women serving Union Pacific and our railroad peers are truly unmatched. Ever-present change will require us to become life-long learners and adapt to evolving roles. New technologies will enhance employees’ ability to operate safer, more productive railroads.

The freight rail industry should help train and prepare employees to successfully transition to new roles as automation and artificial intelligence continue penetrating the industry. At the same time, it’s critical we attract and maintain a diverse workforce. Drawing on different experiences and expertise improves decision-making, problem solving and strategic thinking. Inclusive workplaces where people can be their authentic selves and openly share ideas helps build high-performing teams needed to maintain freight rail’s competitive edge.

Union Pacific believes supporting communities where our employees live and work is an integral part of our future. As railroads and communities grow together, we must maintain open lines of communication. Strong community relationships allow opportunities to address concerns and our neighbor’s needs. Union Pacific and our employees take pride in strengthening our communities by sharing our time, money and expertise. Last year, we supported more than 2,600 nonprofit partners and donated $20 million to community efforts. Our public affairs representatives are members of more than 180 local civic organizations. These efforts help us better connect with each other and make a positive difference for future generations.

Union Pacific and other railroads have come a long way in 150 years. I can’t imagine what the freight railroad industry will look like in 2169, but I hope our path continues building America and serving as the economic backbone of its economy.

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