San Luis Obispo, CA
In 1996, Union Pacific Railroad found itself with a new station in San Luis Obispo, Calif., following its acquisition of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Although a seemingly new relationship at the time, the history between the city and the railroad spanned back nearly a century.
San Luis Obispo’s relationship with Union Pacific can be traced back as early as 1901 when UP chairman and financier E. H. Harriman acquired a huge block of stock previously owned by Collis P. Huntington. Huntington was the last surviving member of the "Big Four," a group that included Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker, that had founded the Central and Southern Pacific Railroads and had constructed the western half of the original transcontinental railroad that connected with the Union Pacific at Promontory Summit, Utah.
San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce; Liisa Stark, UP director - Public Affairs; San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum; San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx; San Luis Obispo Councilmember Dan Carpenter
A portion of Harriman’s purchase included the 'Coast Line' route, that was under construction at the time and heading south from San Francisco. The rails arrived in San Luis Obispo in May 1894, with the ultimate goal of reaching Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.
While Harriman’s efforts were ultimately foiled by President Teddy Roosevelt and his trust-busting efforts of the early 20th century, the relationship between these two early railroads was a natural fit, connecting the California Coast to the manufacturing and production centers of the Midwest.
In 1875, San Luis Obispo became a true railroad town with the incorporation and construction of the narrow gauge Pacific Coast Railway. With the connection of the Spanish mission town to the nearby Port of Avila, the city now had a relatively quick rail/marine link allowing for easier access to ship off agricultural goods, while importing lumber, hardware and furniture. Travel time to the metropolitan areas of San Francisco and Los Angeles was cut from nearly a week by horseback or stage coach to less than a day.
Visiting the San Luis Obispo railroad station today, visitors will find that the history of the railroad and the station has been preserved. Many of the improvements made to the railroad during World War II to facilitate movement of freight and passengers are still present. The current passenger station was completed in 1943 as well as the renovated 65,000 gallon steel water tank constructed across from the depot, used to support the steam engines of the era.
San Luis Obispo was a division point and aid district for trains ascending up the Cuesta Grade. It supported a major roundhouse, engine service facilities and a freight house, now being restored for use as a railroad museum. In the 1940s, nearly 10 percent of the local residents had employment related in some form to the railroad, including engine crews, dispatchers and clerks, signal maintainers, railroad police and jewelers who repaired watches.
The railroads, including Union Pacific Railroad, are a very important part of San Luis Obispo tradition, history and future.