California's Railroad to the U.S. 1861 - 1996

   Search this site or the web powered by FreeFind
Site search Web search
Model Train Help EBook

Southern Pacific Commute Trains

In the Diesel Era

see also: SP Commute Trains In The Steam Era by Ken Rattenne

commute train at Sunnyvale (78k)

SP's commute corridor was from San Francisco to San Jose, initially from Third & Townsend and later from Fourth & Townsend station.

BTW: SP always referred to their operations as Commute - never Commuter...

From mid 1956 onwards SP started using the famous Train Masters in commute service, they also bought a small number of passenger equipped GP9's and tried passenger equipped SD9's but they could not keep the schedules. After Amtrak took over SP's long distance passenger trains in 1971 the 10 SDP45's went into the commute pool and later in 1974 3 GP40P-2's were bought allowing all the 1953/54 built Train Masters to be retired. After 1962 they also usually kept an RS32 in the area as these could tow a complete commute train and a dead Train Master if necessary and still keep the schedule.

see: for a front of a 1976 Commute Timetable (298k)

see: for a back of a 1976 Commute Timetable (328k)

All these locomotives except the GP40P-2 and the SDP45 (the tougher ones to model, and with the smallest RTR market...) are now available in HO Scale, so modeling 75% of the commute service power is a matter of buying and detailing your choice(s).

Commute cars are another story however, the only available models at this date are:

  • N Scale:
  • HO Scale:
    • Holgate and Reynolds ?
    • 3 Brothers ?
    • Brass Cars Sides ?
    • Walthers RTR

SP's first commute cars would seem to be 60ft coaches from classes 60-C-5 to 60-C-10, these had 72 seats but do not appear to have been designated Commute cars as such. Closer reading of SPHTS Vol.1 finds various number series in the mentioned classes and painting data as per that described for the 72-IC-x cars. The 60-C-5 to -10 series of cars had paired windows unlike the earlier 60-C-1 to -4 which had wide single windows. They were lettered Commute by the doors in the girder sheet. Some were still in use in the late 1960's last of them retired in 1968.

The 60 refers to the length of the passenger compartment, they were actually 68ft 6 7/8inches over the diaphragms including the vestibules and of course rode on 4 wheel trucks.

Modifications over the years consisted of conversion from gas to electric lights, painting or plating over the upper sash windows, plating over the vestibule end windows and shortening the vestibule doors to clear a change in the traps.

SP then had 100 seat 72ft commute cars built as below, commonly known on the SP as Subs short for suburban, you may also hear them referred to as 'Harrimans'; this is totally incorrect, anything built after 1914 is not a Harriman design in fact the SPTHS book refers to them as arch-roof coach. These were class 72-IC-1 to 72-IC-3.

The 72 refers to the length of the passenger compartment, they were actually 80ft 9inches over the diaphragms including the vestibules. The IC probably means Interurban coach and there were 3 classes of them. They also rode on 4-wheel trucks rather than the mainline coaches with 6 wheel trucks. 75 were delivered as below they were all pretty much the same except that last order had different trucks.

  • 72-IC-1 - 60 built 1924 4-TC-2 trucks #2085-2144
  • 72-IC-2 - 10 built 1924 4-TC-2 trucks #2145-2154
  • 72-IC-3 - 5 built 1927 4-TC-3 trucks #2155-2159

Never renumbered, air-conditioned or modernized.

Originally delivered in SP Dark Olive Green, repainted two-tone gray in 1954 and later to solid Lark Dark Gray after 1968. Always with a black roof. Some lasted until the end of commute operations.

Wx4 has a page on the Subs

as does the Golden Gate RR Museum

Lastly SP had three orders of Bi-levels or Gallery Cars built, they might be more properly called Multi-level as SP classed them as below:

  • 85-MLC-1 built 1955 #3700-3709
  • 85-MLC-2 built 1957 #3710-3730
  • 85-MLC-3 built 1968 #3731-3745

SP operations did not require Cab Cars they did not run push/pull like other commuter services, power was always leading.

Walthers represents the last order that were delivered, so they are only correct if painted solid Lark Dark Gray.

Wx4 also has a page on the Gallery Cars

For all this info amd more buy Southern Pacific Passenger Cars Volume.1 Coaches and Chair Cars - by The Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society, or borrow it from your local library.

One interesting commute train of sorts, was The Del Monte from San Jose to Pacific Grove it used the GP9P's with the roof-mounted air-tanks.

Remembering we are in the diesel era, from the above we can sort of draw a synopsis of SP commute operations:

From mid 1954 passenger GP9P's hauling a mix of 60-C-x and 72-IC-x subs.

From mid 1955 torpedo passenger GP9P's hauling The Del Monte - discontinued April 1971.

Also from mid 1955 torpedo passenger GP9P's hauling a mix of 60-C-x, 72-IC-x and 85-MLC-1 the first bi-levels.

From mid 1956 GP9P's and Train Masters hauling a mix of 60-C-x, 72-IC-x and 85-MLC-1's.

From mid 1957 GP9P's and Train Masters hauling a mix of 60-C-x, 72-IC-x and 85-MLC-1's and 85-MLC-2's.

From mid 1968 GP9P's and Train Masters hauling a mix of 72-IC-x and 85-MLC-x's.

From mid 1971 SDP45's, GP9P's and Train Masters hauling a mix of 72-IC-x and 85-MLC-x's.

From mid 1974 GP40P-2's, SDP45's, and GP9P's hauling a mix of 72-IC-x and 85-MLC-x's.

1985 was the end of SP commute operations, CalTrain took over from this date.

Apart from the commute traffic SP ran special passenger trains, examples are the Football Specials, the Suntan Specials and the Reno Fun Trains, any others ?


  • Southern Pacific Passenger Cars Volume.1 Coaches and Chair Cars - by The Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society
    • information on the 60ft, 72ft Commute coaches and 85ft Bi-Level Commutes

  • Official Pullman Standard Library, vol. 6, Southern Pacific Post-War Cars - by David Randfall & Ross William
    • Has photo essays floor and elevation plans for the 1955 and 1968 MLC-1 and MLC-3

  • Western Prototype Modeler Feb 1979 pages 30-41 - Southern Pacific Steel Coaches Common Standard Class 60-C-1 thru -4 by Sheldon King
    • Here is 12 pages of history, data, 12 prototype photos, model photos and information and even a set of plans to 3/16 scale

Commute Car Photo's on this site:

Modeling Commute Car Info Page

Home Steam Loco Index SP MoW Index Diesel Loco Index Diesel Roster Index
Freight Car Index Passenger Car Index Structure Index Depot Index
Feed Back Caboose Index DRGW Index Miscellaneous Freight Car Spec Sheets
Data Index PicIndex Diesel Model Info
website logo for use in banner exchange [185 x 50] (5k) This document prepared and maintained by Richard.A.Percy.
All Corrections, Additions and Flames should be aimed at Richard Percy
This document © 2007. Richard.A.Percy