Southern Pacific Lines

Coast Line Division 

“The Route of the Octopus”


General Information

The Coast Mail History

Train Numbering

  1. This train, numbered 71 and 72, was officially titled in employee timetables as merely Passenger, but many employees (and railfans) called it the “Coast Mail.” It was later known as “Sad Sam”. This train ran as 71 & 72, for most of it's existence. Note that both were referred to as Mail Train or Coast Mail

The Coast Mail were known as:

1937 - Trains#71SF Passenger

  1.             #72 LA Passenger- = “Sad Sam”.

1946 - Trains #71SF Passenger

  1.             #72 Passenger

1948 - Trains #71Passenger

  1.             #72 Passenger

1949 - Trains #71     canceled. (Oct. 4, 1949)    became Starlight.

  1.                                          # 72     canceled. (Oct. 4, 1949)    became Starlight.

1953 - Trains #71Coast Mail

  1.             #72 Coast Mail

  2. The “Mail” operated in early morning in both directions on the Guadelupe subdivision.

  3. The SP did run a mail and express train (71-72) on the Coast Line that carried mail and express, as well as a few hardy passengers (since it took about 17 hours to complete it's run.

  4. Bill Daniels

The Coast Mail Timeline


  1. After 1948, the official name of 71 and 72 was merely Passenger, though employees and railfans alike generally called it the “Coast Mail.”


  1. GS-3 #4422 leads Train #72, the daily southbound mail and express train between San Francisco and Los Angeles, at San Luis Obispo, CA on April 2, 1954. It’s typical consist was 10 to 13 express / refrigerated express / mail cars with 2 coaches at the end of the train.


  1. If an inbound Coast Mail had a bad order car, there was time to pull the car off the arriving Coast, turn and clean it and then add it to the departing Starlight.


  1. On May 1, 1957, the Coast Mail Terminal switched from SF to OAK. Prior to renumbering, 90-91 ran between LAUPT and West Oakland.


  1. The Coast Route had Nos. 90-91 operating between San Francisco and Los Angeles until April 1959, later Oakland and L.A. beginning May of 1959.


  1. On May 1, 1960 trains 90 & 91 were changed to operate between Oakland and L.A., instead of S.F. The Coast Mail trains 91 and 92 (West and East, respectively) 91 ran from LA to Oakland while 92 ran the other direction at night. It was listed simply as Coast Passenger.

pre-1964 - Trains              #90

  1.                                            #91

  2. After the renumbering, 90-91 continued to run between San Jose and West Oakland via the Niles Sub (which is the Coast Sub today).

1964 - Trains                     #151    Coast Passenger

  1.                                            #154    Coast Passenger

  2. It was renumbered from 90-91 to 151-154 between San Jose and Los Angeles effective April 26, 1964. The train was renumbered 151-154 apparently to coincide with existing commuter trains with these numbers running between San Francisco and San Jose. These commuter trains were reclassified in the timetable as Mail rather than Passenger at that time.

1965                                    Discontinued

  1. When the U.S. Postal Service canceled the mail contract, the last Coast Mail trains operated on May 19, 1965. It kept this numbering until it was discontinued in August 1965.

  2. The U.S. Mail used to move across the country by rail. The railroad also handled small packages of the Railway Express Agency (precursor of U.P.S.) until they went out of business. The mail trains were made up of baggage cars. Sometimes a Rail Post Office (RPO) car was included in the consist.

  3. The Coast Mail was also bulging with money, receipts North to S.F., payroll South along the coast.

  4. Today much second class and parcel post mail continues to travel by rail, but not in dark green baggage cars. Instead this mail moves in highway vans or containers loaded on flat cars and handled in expedited freight trains.

  5. Every year right after Thanksgiving holiday, the consist of these mail trains began to swell. As the Christmas holidays approached, more cars would be added to the trains. About two weeks before Christmas, S.P. would add a second mail train behind No. 72, the regular Coast Mail. This Santa Claus Train, as it was referred to as, would handle set out mail cars at Gilroy, Watsonville Junction, Salivas, San Luis Obispo, Guadeloupe, Santa Barbara and Ventura.

  6. Local freights handled the less-than-carload (l.c.l.) lots of merchandise which were set out by the stations. At stations were the mail or Santa Claus trains did not set out cars it was necessary for railroad employees to load and unload the mail cars.

  7. The railroad established Train Baggage Men  or Tams  to load and unload the mail. Tams  were brakemen assigned to the baggage cars. On the Coast Mail trains, two Tams  were assigned out of S.F. with one working through to San Luis Obispo and second working between S.F. and Salivas. At Salivas the TAM  would go off duty until the westbound mail train arrived and then work back to S.F.

Train Schedule

  1. It left San Francisco and Los Angeles, about 1:00 A.M. and arrived at  it's destination about 4:00 P.M. Near the end, it's terminal         changed  to Oakland.  This was the fastest train on the Coast Route, even though it had the  longest terminal to terminal time. It had the longest schedule, because of it's many stops. Sometimes, it would set a car out, or pick a car up.

  2. As an example of the stops on the entire line from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles:

  3. Santa Barbara, Summerland, Ventura, Montalvo, Oxnard, Somis, Camarillo, Simi, Santa Susana, Chatsworth, Northridge, Reseda, Burbank, Glendale, and Los Angeles.

  4. #151 arrived in San Jose at 1:35 p.m. and #91 departed at 2:05 p.m. #151 to San Francisco did not depart until 4:10 p.m. The timetable shows the 151 trains in the same column, though, so the inference is that they had the same consist. The eastward (southerly direction) is closer in timing, with #154 arriving from San Francisco at 10:15 p.m., #90 at 10:40 p.m. and #154 departing San Jose at 11:10 p.m. There must have been some fancy switching at San Jose to get all this accomplished on time. 151-154 between San Jose and San Francisco continued to make all the commuter stops even though they were called mail trains in the timetable. Probably had something to do with crew utilization and pay rules.

The Coast Mail Train Consist

Coast Mail Steam Motive Power

  1. A fine Wilbur C. Whittaker shot of Number 72 at King City on July 13, 1947 shows the train powered by Class Mt-1 no. 4311.

  1. A dramatic Frank J. Peterson photo (from the Robert McNeel collection) of Number 71 at Gaviota Trestle on October 15, 1949, powered by an Mt-3 no. 4335.

  1. The Coast Mail trains Nos. 71 & 72 were powered in the 1950s with usually a GS class 4-8-4 (including SP’s handsome GS-1 class) or a 4-8-2, and occasionally a heavy Pacific until 1956.  It normally had a Daylight, 4400 locomotive. These were in S.P. freight colors, although they had higher gearing for speed and they had steam heat boilers. The cab on #72,  ran at speeds of up to 93 M.P.H. on a 4400 class locomotive. (Daylight style engine).

  2. The Semi-Daylight GS-4s also ran on trains 71 & 72, so this was absolutely NOT some sort of San Joaquin paint scheme -- it was just a derivative of the Daylight scheme that happened to be used on a variety of routes.

  3. Pat LaTorres

Coast Mail Diesel Motive Power

  1. In 1956 F7 units in A-B combinations replaced steam power. F-units were later bumped from the Coast Mail. Later Alco PA units were assigned to the Coast Mail trains.

  2. In 1960, the motive power being a Fairbanks-Morse Train Master. There are photos of them a TM ARRIVING in San Luis Obispo with the mail train. Presumably they then returned northward (SP westward). See the photo of #4811 at San Luis Obispo on pg. 146 of "Coast Line Pictorial." The Train Master was probably going to the LA Shops for wheel turning. Before the SP got a Wheel Trimming Lath in Sacramento, all of the commute fleet engines were sent to LA to have their wheels pealed.

  3. Paul C. Koehler

  1. By the way, the often-reproduced image of 4811 on train 71 at Salinas was taken on March 18, 1955.

  2. Joe Strapac

  3. In 1965 Alco PA-PB units were removed from the Coast Mail. FP7 became the prime mover + F7A, F7B and GP9's. SSW #6067 and #6068 operated exclusively on 90/91 when transferred west.

Coast Mail Passenger Equipment

  1. The cars were all heavyweight headend cars with a working RPO and bringing up the markers, was a rider coach, usually a Harriman style coach. It usually ran with about 18 cars, but would run longer around Christmas time. The RPO car was only 30 ft long and had two  mail clerks. Several short, heavyweight double door mail cars right after the engines, followed by more standard heavyweight head end cars and heavyweight coaches. There was also a baggage car.

  1. The mail train usually had all the express box cars together at the head end, because of course crew couldn't pass through them.

  2. Tony Thompson

  1. On nos. 71 and 72, it is obvious that the consist was dominated by 60-foot baggage cars, normally with a single RPO and a single rider coach. Often seen as well were 70-foot baggage cars, 80-foot baggage-horse cars, and 40-foot express box cars. At times, express reefers were included, and it was not uncommon to see deadheading passenger cars in either direction, heavyweight Pullmans, lightweight coaches, or other passenger equipment, normally on the rear end. In 1946, as shown in SP’s Equipment Circular No. 14 (MHP reprint), the train normally had nine cars in its Central Coast portion of the run, including two coaches, and after 1949 only a single coach, making eight cars. The consists shown in Equipment Circular No. 14 have the RPO behind the baggage cars and ahead of the coach, but a few photos show the RPO at the head end.

  2. Tony Thompson

  1. The 70-foot baggage-horse car were almost always present in the Coast Mail, judging from photos and from information in Ryan and Shine’s book, SP Passenger Trains: Vol. 1, Night Trains of the Coast Route.

  1. A fine Wilbur C. Whittaker shot of Number 72 at King City on July 13, 1947 shows the train with seven cars: three 60-foot baggage cars, an 80-foot baggage-horse, the RPO, and two coaches. Power is Mt-1 #4311.

  2. A dramatic Frank J. Peterson photo (from the Robert McNeel collection) of Number 71 at Gaviota Trestle on October 15, 1949, with seven cars, this time with the 80-foot baggage-horse leading, and a single coach; the second car is a 70-foot baggage. Power is Mt-3 #4335.


  1. Three important sources of background on this topic are:

  2.    First, the Introduction to the SPH&TS book, Volume 3 of Southern Pacific Passenger Cars, contains very valuable information on mail operations.

  3.    Second, this is supplemented by another SPH&TS book, The Ghost Trains of SP’s Overland Route, by Randall Cape and Robert McKeen.

  4.     Third, for information specifically about the Coast Line trains, see Dennis Ryan and Joe Shine’s book, Southern Pacific Passenger Trains, Night Trains of the Coast Route; Chapter 5 is about the “Coast Mail.” It’s both detailed and informative.

  5. Tony Thompson

Modeling Coast Mail Passenger Equipment

Coach Yard

  1. The Coach Yard has now announced the upcoming delivery of an entire Coast Mail consist of eight cars, and all cars will also be available separately, with a variety of paint and lettering options available (Dark Olive, Two-Tone Gray, Daylight, etc.). You can see the announced car descriptions at this link: . These of course will be all-brass models, no doubt with the excellent detail for which Coach Yard models are known, so they will not be cheap.

  2. Tony Thompson

  3. The 70-foot baggage-horse car will be included.


Specific Equipment Used on the Coast Mail

10-6 Pullman Sleeper

    10-6 Pullman Sleeper (Sunset Ltd cars)2 Deadheading cars

    This car was seen at Oceano, 1963    see: PT1-158

Southern Pacific Lines
Coast Mail Passenger Train
Passenger Trains
The Coast Mail History
Train Numbering
The Coast Mail Timeline

Coast Mail Train Consist
Steam Motive Power
Diesel Motive Power
Passenger Car Equipment

Specific Equipment Used

Photo courtesy of Brian Moore