By Railfan & Railroad Staff
DONNER PASS, Calif. — For the first time in four years, Union Pacific has dispatched its former Southern Pacific rotary snowplows to clear snow on California’s Donner Pass. This week, the rotary plows — SPMW 207 and 222 — were working between their home base in Roseville, Calif., and Truckee. The last time the massive machines were used was back in the winter of 2018 and 2019.
This winter, UP crews have already moved or cleared 310 inches of wet, heavy snow known as “Sierra Cement.” The effort to keep the main line clear is spearheaded by Mike Upton, senior manager for track maintenance, who proudly notes that his team has kept traffic moving over the mountain continuously since 2011. That winter, 58 feet of snow fell in the Sierra Nevada and the railroad was closed for six days.
A photo from a past rotary run on Donner Pass. Photo Courtesy of Union Pacific.
“We are a proud, get-it-done railroad team. While everyone else is waiting for the storm to pass or the highways to reopen, our Union Pacific crew is out there clearing the tracks with some of the biggest, baddest machines in the snow-moving business,” Upton said.
While the rotary plows are the biggest instrument in UP’s toolbox, they’re not the only one. UP uses flangers and spreaders throughout the year to keep the tracks clear, usually starting in November and going until April. This week’s runs not only helped clear some snow that had been piling up along the route but also helped crews get familiarized with the rarely used equipment.