Southern Pacific Transportation Company

"Southern Pacific" redirects here. For the country-rock band, see Southern Pacific (band).
Southern Pacific Transportation Company

SP system map (before the 1988 DRGW merger)
Reporting mark SP
Locale Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah
Dates of operation 18651996
Successor Union Pacific
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge with some 3 ft (914 mm) gauge branches
Headquarters San Francisco, California

The Southern Pacific Transportation Company (reporting mark SP), earlier Southern Pacific Railroad and Southern Pacific Company, and usually called the Southern Pacific or (from the railroad's initials) Espee, was an American Class I railroad. It was absorbed in 1988 by the company that controlled the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad and eight years later became part of the Union Pacific Railroad.

The railroad was founded as a land holding company in 1865, later acquiring the Central Pacific Railroad by lease. By 1900 the Southern Pacific Company was a major railroad system incorporating many smaller companies, such as the Texas and New Orleans Railroad and Morgan's Louisiana and Texas Railroad. It extended from New Orleans through Texas to El Paso, across New Mexico and through Tucson, to Los Angeles, through most of California, including San Francisco and Sacramento. Central Pacific lines extended east across Nevada to Ogden, Utah, and reached north through Oregon to Portland. Other subsidiaries eventually included the St. Louis Southwestern Railway (Cotton Belt), the Northwestern Pacific Railroad at 328 miles (528 km), the 1,331 miles (2,142 km) Southern Pacific Railroad of Mexico, and a variety of 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge routes.

In 1929 SP/T&NO operated 13848 route-miles not including Cotton Belt, whose purchase of the Golden State Route circa 1980 nearly doubled its size to 3,085 miles (4,965 km), bringing total SP/SSW mileage to around 13,508 miles (21,739 km).

By the 1980s route mileage had dropped to 10,423 miles (16,774 km), mainly due to the pruning of branch lines. In 1988 the Southern Pacific was taken over by D&RGW parent Rio Grande Industries. The combined railroad kept the Southern Pacific name due to its brand recognition in the railroad industry and with customers of both constituent railroads. Along with the addition of the SPCSL Corporation route from Chicago to St. Louis, the total length of the D&RGW/SP/SSW system was 15,959 miles (25,684 km).

By 1996 years of financial problems had dropped SP's mileage to 13,715 miles (22,072 km), and it was taken over by the Union Pacific Railroad.

The SP was the defendant in the landmark 1886 United States Supreme Court case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad which is often interpreted as having established certain corporate rights under the Constitution of the United States.

Southern Pacific founded important hospitals in San Francisco, Tucson, and elsewhere. In the 1970s, it also founded a telecommunications network with a state-of-the-art microwave and fiber optic backbone. This evolved into Sprint, a company whose name that came from the acronym for Southern Pacific Railroad Internal Networking Telephony.[1]



Southern Pacific routes on the Pacific Coast, 1885
A Southern Pacific train at Los Angeles' Arcade Depot, 1891
SP tunnel into San Francisco, ca.1900
The Southern Pacific depot located in Burlingame, California, ca 1900; completed in 1894 and still in use, it was the first permanent Southern Pacific structure to be constructed in the Mission Revival Style.
Southern Pacific Company Pacific System in the West, 1901
Belmont, California station, about 1907

One of the original ancestor-railroads of SP, the Galveston and Red River Railway (GRR), was chartered on 11 March 1848 by Ebenezer Allen,[2][3][4] although the company did not become active until 1852 after a series of meetings at Chappell Hill, Texas and Houston, Texas. The original aim was to construct a railroad from Galveston Bay to a point on the Red River near a trading post known as Coffee's Station.[3] Ground was broken in 1853.[4] The GRR built 2 miles (3.2 km) of track in Houston in 1855.[3] Track laying began in earnest in 1856 and on 1 September 1856 GRR was renamed the Houston and Texas Central Railway (H&TC).[4] SP acquired H&TC in 1883 but it continued to operate as a subsidiary under its own management until 1927,[4] when it was leased to another SP-owned railroad, the Texas and New Orleans Railroad.

The Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway (BBB&C), was chartered in Texas on 11 February 1850 by a group that included General Sidney Sherman.[2][5] BBB&C was the first railroad to commence operation in Texas and the first component of SP to commence operation. Surveying of the route alignment commenced at Harrisburg, Texas in 1851 and construction between Houston and Alleyton, Texas commenced later that year. The first 20 miles (32 km) of track opened in August 1853.[5]

SP was founded in San Francisco, California in 1865 by a group of businessmen led by Timothy Phelps with the aim of building a rail connection between San Francisco and San Diego, California. The company was purchased in September 1868 by a group of businessmen known as the Big Four: Charles Crocker, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Jr. and C. P. Huntington. The Big Four had, in 1861, created the Central Pacific Railroad (CPRR). CPRR was merged into SP in 1870.

The Southern Pacific Railroad Locomotive No. 1673 is a standard gauge 2-6-0, Mogul type M-4 class, steam locomotive built in 1900 by Schenectady Locomotive Works. It had a brief starring role in the 1954 film Oklahoma, for which it was fitted with a diamond stack and other turn of the century equipment and colors. It was also the star of Southern Pacific's 75th anniversary in Tucson, Arizona. The locomotive is on display in the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum, 414 N. Toole Ave.. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on January 9, 1992, ref.: #91001918.
Southern Pacific equipment used to rebuild Galveston after 1915 Hurricane
Exterior view of the Southern Pacific's Central Station in Los Angeles ca.1918
The San Joaquin Daylight, March 1971
SP 8033, a GE Dash 8-39B, leads a westbound train through Eola, Illinois (just east of Aurora), October 6, 1992.
Revenue Freight Ton-Miles (Millions)
SP T&NO SSW Texas Midland Dayton-Goose Creek Lake Tahoe Ry and Transp
1925 10,569 4,097 1,475 27 15 0.05
1933 6,138 2,114 1,049 (into T&NO) (into T&NO) (into SP)
1944 29,877 10,429 6,243
1960 33,280 10,192 4,750
1970 64,988 (merged SP) 8,650
Revenue Passenger-Miles (Millions)
SP T&NO SSW Texas Midland Dayton-Goose Creek Lake Tahoe Ry and Transp
1925 1,580 416 75 2 0.2 0.2
1933 869 116 10 (into T&NO) (into T&NO) (into SP)
1944 6,592 1,519 227
1960 1,069 128 0
1970 339 (merged SP) 0

In the tables "SP" does not include NWP, P&SR, SD&AE, PE, Holton Inter-Urban, Visalia Electric (except 1970 includes PE, which merged into SP in 1965; it reported 104 million ton-miles in 1960). "T&NO" total for 1925 includes GH&SA, H&TC, SA&AP and the other roads that folded into T&NO a couple years later. "SSW" includes SSW of Texas.

1971 Moody's shows route-mileage operated as of 31 December 1970: 11615 SP, 1565 SSW, 324 NWP, 136 SD&AE, 44 T&T, 34 VE, 30 P&SR and 10 HI-U. SP operated 18337 miles of track.

Locomotive paint and appearance

Restored SP #9 showing the traditional silver paint on the front of the smokebox.

Like most railroads, the SP painted most of its steam locomotives black during the 20th century, but after 1945 SP painted the front of the locomotive's smokebox silver (almost white in appearance), with graphite colored sides, for visibility.

As locomotives are being restored, some pacific type 4-6-2 locomotive boilers show signs of having been painted dark green. The soft cover book "Steam Glory 2" by Kalmbach Publications (2007) has an article "Southern Pacific's Painted Ladies" which shows color photos from the 1940s and 1950s revealing that a number of SP 0-6-0 yard engines, usually assigned to passenger terminals were painted in various combinations with red cab roof and cab doors, pale silver smokeboxes and smokebox fronts, dark green boilers, multi colored SP heralds on black cab, green cylinder covers and other details pointed out in color. Some other SP steam passenger locomotives may have been so painted, or at least had dark green boilers. The article indicates that these paint jobs lasted years and were not special paint for a single event.

Some passenger steam locomotives bore the Daylight scheme, named after the trains they hauled, most of which had the word Daylight in the train name. This scheme, carried on the tender, was a bright red on the top and bottom thirds, with the center third being a bright orange. The parts were separated with narrow white bands. Some of the color continued along the locomotive. The most famous "Daylight" locomotives were the GS-4 steam locomotives. The most famous Daylight-hauled trains were the Coast Daylight and the Sunset Limited.

Well known were the Southern Pacific's unique "cab-forward" steam locomotives. These were 2-8-8-4 locomotives set up to run in reverse, with the tender attached to the smokebox end of the locomotive. Southern Pacific had a number of snow sheds in mountain terrain, and locomotive crews nearly asphyxiated from smoke in the cab. After a number of engineers began running their engines in reverse (pushing the tender), Southern Pacific asked Baldwin Locomotive Works to produce cab-forward designs. No other North American railroad ordered cab-forward locomotives.

Early diesel locomotives were also painted black. Yard switchers had diagonal orange stripes on the ends for visibility, earning this scheme the nickname of Tiger Stripe. Road freight units were black with a red band at the bottom of the car body and a silver and orange "winged" nose. "SOUTHERN PACIFIC" was in a large serif font in Lettering Gray (a very light gray). Railfans call this paint scheme Black Widow. An experimental scheme, all-over black with a variety of orange end and side sill treatments was called the Halloween scheme. Over 200 locomotives were so painted between March 1957 and mid-1958.

An EMD FP7 leads a Pacific Rail Society Special through Floriston, California in February, 1971.

Most passenger units were painted originally in the Daylight scheme as described above, though some were painted red on top, silver below for the Golden State (operated with the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad) between Chicago and Los Angeles. Silver cars with a narrow red band at the top were used for the Sunset Limited and other trains into Texas. In 1958 SP standardized on a paint scheme of dark grey ("Lark Dark Gray") with a red "winged" nose; railfans dubbed this scheme Bloody Nose. Lettering was again in Lettering Gray.

Anticipating the failed Southern Pacific Santa Fe Railroad merger in the mid 1980s, the "Kodachrome" paint scheme (named for the colors of the Kodak boxes that the film came in) was applied to many Southern Pacific locomotives. When the Southern Pacific Santa Fe merger was denied by the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Kodachrome units were not immediately repainted, some even lasting up to the Southern Pacific's end as an independent company. The Interstate Commerce Commission's decision left Southern Pacific in a decrepit state, the locomotives were not repainted immediately, although some were repainted into the Bloody Nose scheme as they were overhauled after months to years of deferred maintenance.

After the 1988 purchase of Southern Pacific by Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad owner Philip Anschutz, the side lettering on repainted locomotives was changed from SP's serif font to the Rio Grande's "speed lettering" style. The Rio Grande did not retain its identity, as Anschutz felt the Southern Pacific name was the more recognizable. A variation of the Daylight scheme, also known as Popsicles, designed by Chester Mack, was applied to SP's 4 TE-70s, U25Bs repowered with Sulzer diesel engines.[13] Some former SP locomotives largely retained their original Bloody Nose livery, amended with yellow patches and new numbers, following the takeover by Union Pacific.

Southern Pacific road switcher diesels often had elaborate lighting clusters front and rear, with a large red Mars Light for emergency signaling, and often two pairs of sealed-beam headlamps, one on top of the cab and the other below the Mars Light on the nose. Starting in the 1970s SP had cab air conditioning on all new locomotives and the unit is visible on the cab roof. Southern Pacific placed large snowplows on the pilots of their road switchers for the heavy snowfall on Donner Pass. Many Southern Pacific road switchers had a Nathan-AirChime model P3 or P5 air horn with chords distinct to Southern Pacific locomotives in the western states.

The Southern Pacific and Cotton Belt were the only buyers of the EMD SD45T-2 "Tunnel Motor" locomotive. This locomotive was necessary because the standard configuration EMD SD45 could not get a sufficient amount of cool air into the diesel locomotive's radiator while working Southern Pacific's through snow sheds and tunnels in the Cascades and Donner Pass. These "Tunnel Motors" were EMD SD45-2's with radiator air intakes at the locomotive car body's walkway level, rather than EMD's typical setup with fans on the locomotive's long hood roof pulling air through radiators at the top/side of the locomotive's body. Inside tunnels and snow sheds hot exhaust from lead units would accumulate near the top of the tunnel or snow shed and be drawn into the radiators of trailing EMD (non-tunnel motor) locomotives, leading these locomotives to shut down as their diesel prime mover overheated. The Southern Pacific also operated EMD SD40T-2s, as did the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad.

A former Southern Pacific GP38-2 locomotive with an intact L-shaped engineer's windshield.

Southern Pacific was known for L-shaped engineer's windshields. Introduced by EMD on SD45 demonstrator 4353, this design improves visibility by omitting the pillar which in conventional designs splits the engineer's windshield into two panes. Southern Pacific selected this option on new EMD locomotive orders starting in 1967 through the early 1980s, one of the few railroads to do so (Illinois Central was another buyer of this option), and ordered a similar windshield design from General Electric. After the "wide nose" design became popular, most of Southern Pacific's locomotives kept their L-shaped windshields before being rebuilt or sold to different private railroads after its merger.

Unlike other railroads whose locomotive number boards bore the locomotive number, SP used them for the train number until 1967. (SP's San Francisco-San Jose commute trains continued displaying train numbers for the convenience of passengers.) The other railroad that used locomotive number boards for train numbers into the 1960s was SP's transcontinental partner, Union Pacific.

In 2006, Union Pacific unveiled UP 1996, the sixth and final of its Heritage Series EMD SD70ACe locomotives. Its paint scheme appears to be based on the Daylight and Black Widow schemes. Today there are still locomotives in SP paint, including ten AC4400CWs with original SP numbers as of January 2013.

Passenger train service

Until May 1, 1971 (when Amtrak took over long-distance passenger operations in the United States), the Southern Pacific at various times operated the following named passenger trains. Trains with names in italicized bold text still operate under Amtrak:

Locomotives Used for Passenger Service

Steam Locomotives

Diesel Locomotives

Notable accidents

Preserved locomotives

There are many Southern Pacific locomotives still in revenue service with railroads such as the Union Pacific Railroad, and many older and special locomotives have been donated to parks and museums, or continue operating on scenic or tourist railroads. Most of the engines now in use with Union Pacific have been "patched", where the SP logo on the front is replaced by a Union Pacific shield, and new numbers are applied over the old numbers with a Union Pacific sticker, however some engines remain in Southern Pacific "bloody nose" paint. Among the more notable equipment is:

SP 1518 at IRM, July 2005

For a complete list, see: List of preserved Southern Pacific Railroad rolling stock.

Morgan Line and the Sunset–Gulf Route

Southern Pacific system as of 1918
Captions read: 1) Southern Pacific docks at Galveston, Texas, 2) Grain carriers and ships at Galveston, 3) Unloading sugar at New Orleans, 4) Southern Pacific docks at New York City, 5) The Southern Pacific steamer Creole, 6) The S.S. Momus entering New York Bay, 7) West end of the docks at Galveston
Passenger steamer Antilles.

Southern Pacific's Atlantic Steamship Lines, known in operation as the Morgan Line, provided a link between the western rail system through Galveston with freight and New Orleans with both freight and passenger service to New York.[21] In 1915 the New York terminus in the North River included piers 49—52 at the foot of 11th Street.[22]

The steamer service and later operating name began with a small fleet of side wheel steamers owned by Charles Morgan operating out of Gulf ports and later extending to New York. That line was bought by the Morgans, Louisiana & Texas Railroad & Steamship Company that became part of the Southern Pacific system with Pacific Coast to New York service under single management begun February 1, 1883.[21] The Morgan Line, by 1900, had been operating from New Orleans to Cuba for over thirty years and as a result of the war with Spain benefited with the increased trade.[23] Southern Pacific claimed Morgan's blue flag with a white star and red hulled ships were as familiar to Cubans as the lions of Castile as it advertised its new freighters El Norte, El Sud, El Rio as they plied between the company's wharves at Algiers to Havana by way of Key West.[24] By 1899 the company was noting that the railway system, stretching from the Columbia river to the Gulf of Mexico, in conjunction with its steamship lines stretched from New Orleans to New York, Havana and Central American ports and with its Pacific service from San Francisco to Honolulu, Yokohama, Hong Kong and Manila.[25]

In a 1912 report to the United States Senate the Special Commissioner on Panama Traffic and Tolls reported the Southern Pacific's "Sunset—Gulf Route" enabled the line to be the only railroad to control a route between the Atlantic and Pacific Seaboards.[26] The other railroads serving the Pacific Coast largely ran from the Midwest with only one other, the American-Hawaiian Steamship Company competing directly with ships serving Hawaii and the Pacific Coast transshipping cargo and passengers across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec by the Tehuantepec National Railway to meet its ships running to New York.[27] Southern Pacific, using that route under single corporate management, began "active warfare" against its competitors securing a large share of the coast to coast traffic.[27] In 1909 the lines rates were equal to the all rail rates of other railroad lines through a system in which the line absorbed costs getting freight from interior Eastern origins to New York and shipping via the water—rail route that took an average time of fifteen days, five hours.[28]

Five of the line's new ships were among the first six built by the new shipyard at Newport News, Virginia that became Newport News Shipbuilding and the contracts were instrumental in the early success of the company.[29][30] All five, the tug El Toro and the liners El Sol, El Norte, El Sud and El Rio, were taken by the Navy as a Navy tug and as cruisers for the Spanish–American War. The ships were not returned requiring new construction and temporarily crippling the line.[31] Another, El Cid completed in 1893 was sold to Brazil.[29] Ships were leased and in 1899—1901 a new group built including some of the previous name: El Norte, El Dia, El Sud, El Cid, El Rio, El Valle, El Alba, El Siglo and others with a new El Sol built in 1910 along with three others of the same type.[31] Again war took ships, even newly constructed ones such as El Capitan, and the passenger ship Antilles. By 1921 the fleet consisted of five passenger ships, seventeen freighters and two tank ships with more being constructed.[21]

Company officers

Presidents of the Southern Pacific Company

Chairmen of the Southern Pacific Company Executive Committee

Chairmen of the Southern Pacific Company Board of Directors

Predecessor and subsidiary railroads



New Mexico



Former Southern Pacific railway caboose on exhibit in Flatonia, west of Houston, Texas


Successor railroads





Ferry service

The Southern Pacific Company's Bay City ferry plies the waters of San Francisco Bay in the late 19th century

The Central Pacific Railroad (and later the Southern Pacific) maintained and operated a fleet of ferry boats that connected Oakland with San Francisco by water. For this purpose, a massive pier, the Oakland Long Wharf, was built out into San Francisco Bay in the 1870s which served both local and mainline passengers. Early on, the Central Pacific gained control of the existing ferry lines for the purpose of linking the northern rail lines with those from the south and east; during the late 1860s the company purchased nearly every bayside plot in Oakland, creating what author and historian Oscar Lewis described as a "wall around the waterfront" that put the town's fate squarely in the hands of the corporation. Competitors for ferry passengers or dock space were ruthlessly run out of business, and not even stage coach lines could escape the group's notice, or wrath.

By 1930, the Southern Pacific owned the world's largest ferry fleet (which was subsidized by other railroad activities), carrying 40 million passengers and 60 million vehicles annually aboard 43 vessels. The Southern Pacific had also established ferry service across the Mississippi River between Avondale and Harahan, Louisiana[34] and in New Orleans[35] by 1932. However, the opening of the Huey P. Long Bridge in 1935 and the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge in 1936 initiated the slow decline in demand for ferry service, and by 1951 only 6 ships remained active. Mississippi River service ceased by 1953[36][37] and SP ferry service was discontinued altogether in 1958.

Notable employees

See also


  1. 1 2 Block, Melissa; Neff, Brijet (2012-10-15). "Sprint Born From Railroad, Telephone Businesses". NPR. NPR. Archived from the original on 2013-01-14. Retrieved 2013-01-14. It all began in Kansas in the late 19th century and came to include a long distance system created by the Southern Pacific Railroad Internal Network Telecommunications, or SPRINT.
  2. 1 2 Blaszak, Michael W. (November 1996). "Southern Pacific: a chronology". Pacific RailNews. Pasadena, California: Interurban Press (396): 25–31.
  3. 1 2 3 Young, Nancy Beck. "Galveston and Red River Railroad". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 6 January 2013.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Werner, George C. "Houston and Texas Central Railway". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 6 January 2013.
  5. 1 2 Werner, George C. "Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 6 January 2013.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Williams, Howard C. "Texas and New Orleans Railroad". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 25 February 2014.
  7. Thomas Samuel Duke. Celebrated Criminal Cases of America. James H. Barry Company, San Francisco, California, 1910. pp. 277–286. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
  8. 1 2 3 Young, Nancy Beck. "Houston East and West Texas Railway". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 25 February 2014.
  9. 1 2 3 Bart, Joseph L., Jr. "Southern Pacific Terminal Company". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
  10. Reed, S.G. "Texas Midland Railroad". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 25 February 2014.
  11. <Please add first missing authors to populate metadata.> (August 9, 1976). "Short and Significant: SP wins Dow safety award". Railway Age. Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corporation. 177 (14): 8.
  12. Eisen, Jack (April 1994). "NWP disappeared in 1992". Pacific RailNews. Pasadena, California: Interurban Press (365): 48. ISSN 8750-8486. OCLC 11861259.
  13. Percy, Richard A. (2007). "Southern Pacific TE70-4S". Espee Railfan. Retrieved 6 July 2016.
  14. 1 2 "Imperial and Apache consists". Rock Island Technical Society. Retrieved December 12, 2013.
  15. 1 2 Schwantes, Carlos A. (1993). Railroad Signatures across the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington Press, Seattle, WA. ISBN 0-295-97210-6. OCLC 27266208.
  16. "Sontag and Evans". Retrieved August 6, 2013.
  17. San Bernardino Sun, San Bernardino, California, 29 March 1907.
  18. Cantara Trustee Council 2007 "Final Report on the Recovery of the Upper Sacramento River"
  19. California Department of Toxic Substance Control "20th anniversary of largest chemical spill in California history "
  20. "Orange Empire Railway Museum - Bringing Southern California's Railway History to Life.".
  21. 1 2 3 Luce, G. W. (1920). "Sunset Gulf—The 100 Per Cent Route". Southern Pacific Bulletin. San Francisco: Southern Pacific. 10 (February 1921): 16–18. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  22. Rand McNally (1915). Rand McNally Hudson River Guide. New York, Chicago: Rand McNally & Company. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  23. Mayo 1900, p. 96.
  24. Mayo 1900, pp. 96—98.
  25. Woodman (Editor) 1899, p. 100.
  26. Johnson 1912, p. 4.
  27. 1 2 Johnson 1912, p. 8.
  28. Johnson 1912, p. 22.
  29. 1 2 ShipbuildingHistory: Newport News Shipbuilding.
  30. Beale 1907, p. 56.
  31. 1 2 Jungen 1922, p. 5.
  32. Not the Gould Western Pacific of 1903
  33. "The Rise and Fall of the Portland Traction Company". Retrieved 2012-05-15.
  34. "Map of the Avondale/Harahan area in 1932". Retrieved 5 May 2014.
  35. "Map of New Orleans in 1932". Retrieved 5 May 2014.
  36. "Map of the Avondale/Harahan area in 1953". Retrieved 5 May 2014.
  37. "Map of New Orleans in 1953". Retrieved 5 May 2014.
  38. "W. Burch Lee Funeral Here in Afternoon: Former Clerk of Federal Court Expires After Week of Illness". The Shreveport Times through Retrieved March 22, 2015.
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