Southern Pacific Railroad History Center


Golden State Route

Until the early 1980s, Southern Pacific owned the Los Angeles to Santa Rosa, New Mexico (it leased about 67 miles of trackage between Santa Rosa and Tucumcari, New Mexico from the  Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad (Rock Island)) portion of the Golden State Route (Route) and the Rock Island owned the remainder of the Route to Chicago.

When the Rock Island went into bankruptcy in 1980, Southern Pacific negotiated with William M. Gibbons, who had been appointed as receiver and and trustee by Federal Judge Frank J. McGarr.  Eventually, Mr. Gibbons agreed that Southern Pacific would purchase the former Rock Island’s line of railroad between Tucumcari and St. Louis.  The Cotton Belt was able to arrange for funding to rehabilitate the trackage between Tucumcari and Topeka, Kansas.  Union Pacific Railroad allowed the Cotton Belt to assume the former Rock Island’s trackage rights over the Union Pacific between Topeka and Kansas City.

Subsequently, it was determined that the Cotton Belt did not have the financing to rehabilitate the former Rock Island trackage between Kansas City and St. Louis, and the Missouri Pacific Railroad granted the Cotton Belt the right to operate over its trackage between the aforementioned points.  Due to time constraints, the parties managed to merely negotiate a two-page term sheet to cover the arrangement.  This lead to many disagreements and at the time of the Southern Pacific/Union Pacific merger in 1996, a standard form of trackage rights agreement had not been entered into by the parties.

The upshot of this acquisition is that Southern Pacific now had a route that was 400 miles shorter to the Midwest and points in the northeastern United States. 

In addition to use of the Route for freight operations, between 1902 and 1968, Southern Pacific and the Rock Island ran a premier passenger train, initially named the Golden State Limited and later, the Golden State.  The Route was 2,340 miles long, and the Southern Pacific’s and Rock Island’s main competitor for passenger business between Los Angeles and Chicago was the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.

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