Introduction to WP Passenger Operations

Regular scheduled through passenger service on the Western Pacific was inaugurated on August 22, 1910 by trains designated simply as Numbers 3 and 4. Publicizing this beginning of passenger service was the Press Representative Special which pulled out of the WP’s Oakland Mole at 9 p.m. on the evening of August 17, 1910 traveling eastbound arriving at Salt Lake City, Utah shortly after 1 p.m. in the afternoon on August 19. The special left Salt Lake City at 7:00 a.m. Saturday, August 20 running as Extra 104 West and arriving at the Oakland, California Third Street station as Extra 92 West at 4:15 p.m. August 22.

From that momentous and long-awaited date in 1910 to the sad day of March 22, 1970 when the California Zephyr made its last run, the Western Pacific provided continuous through passenger service between Oakland and Salt Lake City.

Early passenger equipment while lettered Western Pacific was actually leased from the Denver and Rio Grande with observation and sleeping cars coming from the Pullman Company pool. Western Pacific would not own any passenger equipment until 1915 when five Baggage, Mail and Express cars were purchased from American Car and Foundry.

Progress played an important role in the history of passenger service on Western Pacific. With dimly lighted cars, hard to open or close windows, uncomfortable seating, and air conditioning that was either a little or a lot those early trains seemed ancient compared to the modern BUDD built cars of the California Zephyr. The first transcontinental trains on Western Pacific were not true through trains but through cars that were added to trains of the connecting roads beyond Salt Lake City. Progress had made train travel both comfortable and convenient.

Western Pacific’s route to Chicago was originally via the Denver & Rio Grande’s Royal Gorge route which was 400 miles longer than the Overland Route used by the Central Pacific and Union Pacific. 175 miles would be saved with the opening of the Dotsero Cutoff which connected the Moffat Tunnel route of the Denver and Salt Lake Railway with the lines of the Denver & Rio Grande east of Grand Junction, Colorado. True transcontinental passenger service came to WP in 1939 with the advent of the Exposition Flyer.

Name trains on Western Pacific over the years included the Panama-Pacific Express (named for the Panama Pacific Exposition), Scenic Limited, Exposition Flyer (named for the San Francisco International Exposition), Feather River Express, Royal Gorge, Zephyrette, and of course the California Zephyr.