The Zephyrette's - Trains 1 & 2

Page 3

RDC Crew Lawsuit

One case of unusual interest involving the WP arose during 1950 after the RDC’s were placed in service. The State of Nevada brought an action under the Nevada Full Crew Law for statutory penalties because Western Pacific did not use a fireman in Nevada on the self propelled, diesel Budd car. The Nevada Full Crew Law was enacted in 1913 and required an engineer, fireman, conductor, and brakeman on all trains of less than two cars exclusive of the locomotive.

The operations complained of in the suit were not the regularly scheduled runs but the test runs made during January 1950, with a crew consisting of an engineer, conductor, and brakeman, concededly legal in California and Utah. WP argued the car was so constructed that the engineer had an unobstructed view ahead and on both sides, and there was no place provided for a fireman in the head end. As the engines were underneath the car, no possible service in the operation of the car could be performed by a fireman.

The case was tried in the District Court of Washoe County, Nevada. The Court found that the Budd car was a train within the meaning and intent of the Nevada statute and that its operation without a fireman was in violation of the statute. This ruling in effect required the use of employees with no services to perform, at a cost in excess of $20,000 per year. An appeal was filed with the Nevada Supreme Court, where a more favorable decision was hoped for.

On March 6, 1952, the Nevada Supreme Court unanimously reversed the ruling of the District Court, holding that the Budd car was not a "train" within the meaning and intent of the statute; that the language of the statute makes it plain that the legislature was concerned with the essential duties to be performed by the specified members of the crew in order to provide a safe operation, and that where, as in this instance, there were no essential duties to be performed by a fireman that would reasonably contribute to such safety, the statute would not apply.

The Court further stated that a construction of the statute that would require the use of a fireman with no essential duties to perform would be so unreasonable as to make the statute unconstitutional.

Million-Mile Mark Reached

At a place called Merlin, deep in California’s Feather River Canyon, the two RDC units eased to a halt on a dark night in January 1958. The stop may have been brief; but it marked something of a celebration. With better than seven years service on the books, each of the units was completing its first million miles of operation.

RDC's pass at Merlin, California.
Meeting at night, WP's "Zephyrettes” roll toward Oakland and Salt Lake City. RDC’s turned in top performance with an on time record that was near perfect.

First of the type RDC-2 (passenger-baggage-express) built by the Budd Company, the Western Pacific units were placed in service between Oakland and Salt Lake City in September 1950. Since then they averaged better than 270,000 miles a year and rolled up an enviable performance record. WP records at the time showed that in only one case did one of the cars fail to reach its final destination, coming up short by 11 miles because of a damaged compressor motor.

In addition to their nearly 100 per cent availability these two cars also trimmed losses on the 924-mile run. The 1949 deficit was close to $1 million; in 1957 it was down to about $300,000. According to a report from the builder the cars had a 95 per cent "on time" record. They operated under temperatures ranging from as low as minus 30° to as high as 110° above.

The cars were equipped with disc brakes. Budd reported in 1958 that no disc had been renewed on either car and brake shoe life averaged 126,000 miles. Wheels averaged four turnings and 350,000 miles before renewal. One spare engine was kept available and when used the replaced engine was then overhauled. Engine life averaged 100,000 miles before replacement.


Use of the RDC’s presented a viable low cost solution to the steam/diesel powered two or more conventional car trains then being run at an annual loss to the company of $900,000.00. In contrast use of the RDC on a tri-weekly basis reduced losses the first year to $156,800.00, a vast improvement. Citing higher wages paid to operating crews and increased payroll taxes losses continued in the years 1951 to 1959 culminating with a yearly operating loss of $254,000.00. With the increasing costs, lack of ridership, little company need to use the trains for deadheading crews or transporting other employees the service was doomed. Abandonment papers were filed with the ICC on April 10, 1960 requesting service end on June 1. Citing protests from “certain” unnamed individuals, associations, communities, and railroad employees the commission suspended the request for discontinuance for four months. Hearings commenced on July 25th in Reno at which time the company presented evidence supporting its request. Those protesting the discontinuance were also allowed to address the commission. Continuing in San Francisco on July 28 the commission reconvened the hearings for the purpose of hearing any further testimony necessary before making a decision. Citing in part that “The relatively small use of these trains by the public does not justify the heavy financial losses to the carrier, which amounted to $254,000.00 in 1959 and $85,000.00 in the first four months of 1960” authorization was granted to the railroad for the discontinuance of Trains 1 & 2 effective October 1 with the last run taking place on October 2, 1960.

With no further service to perform and declared surplus the RDC’s were sold to the Northern Pacific who in turn sold them to Amtrak. Both cars have since been scrapped.

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