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Southern Pacific commuter train, 1960s-1985

Southern Pacific commuter train (San Francisco peninsula), 1960s-1985

Fred Klein, 2013

The Southern Pacific ran commuter trains along the peninsula route (San Francisco to San Jose) from the early 1900’s until the service was taken over by Caltrain in 1982. In 1982, Caltrain took over management of the commute service but contracted with SP to provide service using the old SP equipment until the Caltrain Nippon Sharyo gallery cars and F40PH locomotives arrived in 1985. 


SP bought ten 145-seat double-deck gallery cars from Pullman Standard in 1955.  These were followed by 21 more ACF-built cars in 1956-7, and 15 more PS cars in 1968.  The 1955-57 gallery cars were delivered in dignified two-tone gray paint, but during the 60’s were gradually repainted solid gray with gray-painted doors.  The 1968 gallery cars were painted solid gray with unpainted aluminum doors.  It was very common to see cars of both paint schemes mixed together.  Consists had 1-8 cars depending on the traffic demands and the platform length of the stations in the trip.  In the early pre-freeway years, trains had more cars: rush hour trains also had more cars.  Many of the rush hour trains used the old Harriman-roofed standard coaches (in 1969 SP had 55 standard coaches and 46 gallery cars).  The SP gallery cars were retired by Caltrain in 1985 and replaced with stainless steel push-pull Nippon Sharyo cars.


Fairbanks-Morse trainmasters were the favorite commute power because of their ability to rapidly accelerate between the frequent commuter stops.  Initially the trainmasters were in the black widow paint, but in the 60’s they were repainted in the scarlet and gray bloody nose scheme before their retirement in 1972. EMD GP-9’s were also used and eventually replaced the Trainmasters. They had dual controls so the locomotive did not have to be turned.  None of these SP gallery passenger cars had engineer controls, and the locomotive was always in the lead.  The later Caltrain cars with an engineer’s cab greatly simplified operations with push-pull running and no reversal of the locomotive.


A commute train of the 1970s led by a GP9, followed by a 78’ Harriman coach from the 1920s and two gallery commute cars of 1956 vintage.


Commute train #147 in Palo Alto powered by a Trainmaster in gray and “bloody nose” red paint. Two of the 1955-57 gallery cars in solid grey paint are followed by a single-level Harriman type coach. From page 188 of Signor’s Southern Pacific’s Coast Line.


Commute train #147 (the same train number as the photo above but on a different locomotive) in Millbrae in June of 1975. The locomotive is a GP9 with torpedo-tube air reservoirs on the roof. There are three different car types in the train. The first gallery car is from the 1955-57 Pullman Standard order and has 12 pairs of windows per side. The second car is from the 1968 PS order and has 10 pairs of windows per side. The conductor is standing by the 1968 car which has unpainted aluminum doors. The third car is an old 78’ Harriman style coach from the 1920s.


Commuter train, 1960’s to 1985


The beauty of this train is that most of a prototype train can be purchased off the shelf without modification.  The GP9 diesel is from Atlas, and has torpedo-tube air reservoirs on the roof just like the 1975 photo above. The gallery cars (prototypes made by ACF and PS in 1956-7) were made by Wheels-of-Time in both two-tone gray and solid gray. The prototype cars were repainted solid gray in the mid 1960s.  The cars include a lavatory window at one end.  Unlike many other passenger cars, the gallery cars are prototypical as modeled and painted.


The single level coach is an attempt to model a 78’ Harriman commuter coach. It uses a Microtrains 78’ “paired window” coach (the SP prototype had single windows). I replaced the 6-wheel Pullman trucks with 4-wheel trucks. I replaced the clerestory roof supplied by Microtrains with a resin arc roof and vents made by I painted the coach solid grey as they were after the mid-1960s


Commuter train, additional cars for post-1967 trains



The first of these three cars is an old (1970’s?) Rapido model.  The other two cars are from Con-cor.  The middle car is a regular gallery car, and the last has a control cab (for push-pull operation) and red jewel for side visibility.  SP never owned any of the gallery cars with engineer’s cabs.  I added road number decals to the Con-cor cars.  These Rapido and Con-cor cars with 8 pairs of windows are models of the 161- to 168-seat gallery car Pullman Standard made from 1958-1970 for CNW.


The Southern Pacific gallery cars of the 1968 order from Pullman Standard had 10 pairs of windows per side (with the end window being half-size).  The Con-cor/Rapido models thus more closely resemble the Pullman CNW gallery cars of 1958-70, which had 8 pairs of windows per side (see my streamlined smooth-side car web page).  The 1968 SP cars were painted solid gray with unpainted aluminum doors, unlike the 1955-57 gallery cars.  The Rapido and Con-cor cars are reasonably close to prototype, but are only suitable for post-1967 trains.



Photo of SP gallery car from the 1968 PS order. Note there are 20 windows per side in this 1968 car, but 24 windows per side in the 1955-57 cars. From page 160 of Dorin’s Commuter Railroads.


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Dorin, Patrick, Commuter Railroads, A pictorial review of the most traveled trains, Superior Publishing Co., 1970.

McGovern, Janet, Caltrain and the Peninsula Commute Service, Arcadia Publishing, 128 pages, 2012.

Ryan, Dennis, and Joseph Shine, Southern Pacific Passenger Trains, vol. 2, Day trains of the coast line, Four Ways West publications, 2000.

Signor, John, Southern Pacific’s Coast Line, Signature Press, 1995.