Donner Pass… the famous name evokes daunting obstacles… and with good reason. Steep grades and seven months a year of winter weather would put any railroad’s resources to the test, but the Southern Pacific was up to the job. The need to transport goods over the Sierras produces a nonstop parade of trains over this famous line, and that was especially true in 1988 when Video Rails captured incredible Southern Pacific Railroad action over Donner Pass. Starting at the classification yards in Roseville, California, you’ll follow Southern Pacific’s trains up and over “The Hill”.
SP’s 6-axle SD40s, SD40T-2s, SD45s, and SD45T-2 tackle 138 miles of up to 2.4 percent grades. Up to 11 units are needed for the climb. The standard arrangement for these 10,000-ton trains is 4 by 6, with four engines leading and 6 mid-train helpers, but you’ll also see long trains with six units leading, six mid-train helpers, and an end-of-train helper. Cabooses are also seen in use here. At Colfax, you’ll see helpers being added to the front and rear of the trains. This is also a stopping point for Amtrak’s twice-daily California Zephyr, several of which are seen with private cars trailing. You’ll follow these trains to Alta, Blue Canyon, Emigrant Gap, Yuba Gap, Cisco, Norden and the “Big Hole,” a 2-mile long tunnel that runs directly under Donner Pass.
Special highlights of this show include rare films of the line’s construction, footage of the trapped City of San Francisco Train 101 at Yuba Pass in 1952, snow fighting equipment with steam powered rotaries pushed by Cab Forwards and other steam power, and chilling views of 1980s railroading through winter blizzards. The scenery is spectacular and the railroading is as intense as it gets when Southern Pacific tackles Donner Pass!