Southern Pacific Railroad

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Southern Pacific tracks in 1918.
United States  >  Migration  >  Railroads  >  Southern Pacific Railroad

The Southern Pacific Railroad (combined with other railroads) was the second, third, and fourth railroad to offer "transcontinental" service in North America. In 1883 Southern Pacific's own tracks connected New Orleans, Louisiana, to California. Settlers were attracted to nearby communities because the railroads provided access to markets. Railroads encouraged settlement along their routes to help increase the need for their service. For example, the Southern Pacific built significant hospitals in Tucson, San Francisco, and other towns. If an ancestor settled near a railroad, you may be able to trace their place of origin back to another place along the tracks.

Historical Background

The United States bought the Gadsden Purchase (Arizona and New Mexico south of the Gila River) from Mexico to have a snow-free route between California and the rest of the United States. The Butterfield Stage, and later the Southern Pacific Railroad both made use of it.

The Southern Pacific Company was formed in 1865 to link San Francisco and San Diego, California by rail. By 1877 they were building track east into Yuma, Arizona and headed for New Mexico and Texas. In March 1881 the Atcheson, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad connected with Southern Pacific lines at Deming, New Mexco to form the second transcontinental line. A few months later, in December 1881 the Southern Pacific linked with the Texas Pacfic Railway at Sierra Blanca, Texas to form the second "transcontinental" railroad. Fourteen months later in February 1883 the Southern Pacific completed an expensive low bridge over the Pecos River in Texas linking New Orleans to Los Angeles entirely on its own tracks (fourth transcontinental line).[1] In 1892 Southern Pacific considerably shortened its Sunset Route by building a new Pecos Viaduct (high bridge) near Langtry, Texas, for many years the highest bridge in America. This viaduct was replaced with a new railroad bridge including all concrete piers in 1944.[2]


From east to west some of the most signficant towns on the route are:

  • New Orleans
  • Houston
  • San Antonio 
  • El Paso
  • Tucson
  • Yuma
  • Los Angeles

Routes in Oregon and the old Central Pacific tracks to through Nevada to Ogden, Utah also were controlled at various times by the Southern Pacific Company.

Settlers and Records

Settlers who made their way west on the Southern Pacific were likely to be from the southern states, especially Louisiana and Texas. However, via the Texas and Pacific Railway link to St. Louis, and the Atcheson, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad link to Chicago, many settlers using the Southern Pacific Railroad in New Mexico, Arizona, and California could also have come from northern states as well.

There are no known passenger lists for the Southern Pacific Railroad. 

Internet Links


  1. American Western History Museums, "Southern Pacific Railroad" in "Western Railroads" in American Western History Museums at (accessed 4 July 2009).
  2. U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, "Amistad National Recreation Area: The Pecos Viaduct" in National Park Service [Internet site] at (accessed 4 July 2009).