Union Pacific Donner Pass Track Improvement and Tunnel Clearance
Historically, there have been three practical rail routes from Northern California and the state’s central valley directly into the inland United States: the Overland Route via Donner Pass, completed in 1869 via Ogden, Utah; the Sunset route via Tehachapi Pass, completed in 1883 via El Paso, Texas; and the Feather River Canyon route, completed in 1909 via Salt Lake City, Utah.
Of the three routes, the Overland was largely double tracked in stages from 1901 to 1925. The other two routes have remained single tracked from California’s central valley through the mountains. However, double-stack intermodal container traffic has been precluded from moving on the Overland route due to tunnel clearance restrictions.
Following are key facts related to Union Pacific’s Donner Pass track improvement and tunnel clearance project.
- Double-stack intermodal container traffic can move between Sacramento, Calif., and Reno, Nev.
- The Donner Pass route is the shortest rail route between Oakland, Calif., and Chicago.
- Schedule reliability is inherently improved due to the shorter route.
- Tunnel clearances have been modified to allow for double-stack trains up to 20 feet, 9 inches in height. Tunnels had to be notched from between one and 18 inches.
- The Donner Pass route is less vulnerable to natural hazards than Feather River Canyon.
- Longer train length capability – from 5,700 feet to up to 9,000 feet – results in enhanced operating efficiency.
- Average train speed is increased due to faster route.
- It creates a truck-competitive option for Port of Oakland and Northern California shippers.
- Highway congestion and repair costs are reduced, particularly over the I-80 highway system, by displacing heavy freight trucks.
- The environmental footprint is improved from increased fuel efficiency and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
- A Union Pacific intermodal train takes up to 300 over-the-road trucks off America’s congested highways.
- Union Pacific can move one ton 830 miles on a single gallon of diesel fuel.