Central Pacific Railroad

Central Pacific Railroad Logo

Central Pacific Railroad, 1865

Central Pacific Railroad, 1865

The Central Pacific Railroad, chartered by Congress in 1862, was the California-to-Utah portion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Breaking ground in Sacramento, California, the organization could lay only 20 miles of track before running out of money. And, for the next three years, during the Civil War, funds would continue to be scarce.

However, under the leadership of Leland Stanford and Collis P. Huntington, progress was made eastward as the organization hired some 10,000 men, many of whom were Chinese immigrants, to work through blizzards, bore tunnels through mountains, and bridges over canyons. Finally, on May 10, 1869, the Central Pacific Railroad met the Union Pacific Railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah.

In 1885 the Central Pacific Railroad was leased by the Southern Pacific Railroad, though it technically remained a corporate entity until 1959, when it was formally merged into Southern Pacific. Through the years, the line expanded to more than 13,000 miles of rail, covering most of the southwestern United States.

Chinese men working on the Central Pacific Railroad.

Chinese men working on the Central Pacific Railroad.

In 1901, the Union Pacific Railroad took control of much of the Southern Pacific Railroad; however, it would be almost a century before it was officially merged. In 1996, the Southern Pacific Railroad came to an end as all remaining operations were merged under Union Pacific’s umbrella.

© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated January 2023.

Also See:

A Century of Railroad Building

Highwaymen of the Railroad

Railroad Companies

Railroad Main Page

Vintage Photographs of Railroads & Depots

Central Pacific Railroad Map