Facebook Page
WP - a Short History
WP Logo

Western Pacific Railroad
Information Site

WP New Image Logo

A Brief History

The Beginning March 3, 1903 — the End January 11, 1983

While exploring for a wagon road through the Feather River valley in the late 1860's, Arthur W. Keddie discovered a potential rail route that had a low grade crossing of the Sierra Nevada Mountains at Beckwourth Pass (elevation 5000 ft.). His dream of creating a competitive rail route had to wait until the beginning of the 20th century, due to the opposition of the powerful Central Pacific Railroad.

In 1902, Keddie found financial support from Walter J. Barnett (owner of the Alameda & San Joaquin Railroad) and in late 1902 they incorporated a rail route based on Keddie's survey. George Gould, at this time, was looking for a way to extend his railroad empire to the Pacific coast and become a true transcontinental railroad (he was stuck in Salt Lake City, UT where his Denver and Rio Grande Railroad terminated). The Keddie group and Gould came together to organize the Western Pacific Railway Company on March 3, 1903 in San Francisco, CA.

Gould remained a secret part of the group until 1905; after all of the survey work had been completed under a veil of secrecy. Gould then made the financial arrangements for the construction of the railroad by creating $50 million in bonds that were underwritten by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. As part of the construction agreement, the road was to be built with gradients not to exceed 1% compensated and curves no greater than 10 degrees. Construction of the railroad began in the fall of 1905. The railroad was completed on November 1, 1909, with little ceremony, as Track Forman Leonardo di Tomasso drove the last spike at Keddie, CA on the bridge that spanned Spanish Creek.

The new road cost double the estimated $39 million to build and equip. This caused a financial hardship on the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad as well as the rest of Gould's empire. There was no money to build or acquire the feeder lines that the road needed to increase traffic and to gain the revenue to pay off the construction bonds. On June 18, 1916, the Western Pacific Railway Company was sold, at a foreclosure sale, to the Western Pacific Railroad Company; formed earlier by the outstanding bond holders.

The Western Pacific Railroad Company was now free of the debt of the construction bonds and they started building and/or purchasing of the necessary feeder lines to the railroad. Traffic and revenue increased and the company was able to complete the tasks left undone when the road was built. Times became hard again during the Great Depression as many railroads fell into bankruptcy. The Western Pacific did not elude this fate, for in 1935 it defaulted on its bond interest. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation requested a reorganization plan from the company and appointed a receiver to carry out the three year rehabilitation plan. In 1944, the reorganization plan was approved and the company emerged from receivership.

In late 1970, Chairman of the Board Howard A. Newman, formed a holding company called Western Pacific Industries and made the Western Pacific Railroad a subsidiary of the holding company. He also brought in a new management team to turn the company around financially; effective January 1, 1971, Alfred E. Perlman became president of the railroad. This ended the railroad as an independent company.

In 1978, under the direction of then current president Mike Flannery, a management team formed the Newrail Company, Inc. On January 26, 1979, Newrail acquired the assets of the Western Pacific Railroad Company from Western Pacific Industries. This process made the railroad a truly independent company again. A new company logo was designed to reflect the changes to the company as a new/modern operation.

This new freedom did not last long; for on January 23, 1980, an agreement had been reached with the Union Pacific Railroad for control of the Western Pacific (Union Pacific had acquired 90% of Western Pacific's common stock). On January 11, 1983, the Western Pacific board of directors confirmed the company status as subsidiary of the Union Pacific Railroad. It was not until June 17, 1987, that the Western Pacific was legally merged into the Union Pacific system. This officially marked the end of the Western Pacific Railroad Company. The Western Pacific became the Feather River Division of the Union Pacific Railroad.

WP System Map

Click on map to display a larger version.