Union Pacific's Yellow Stripe

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This page was last updated on August 4, 2016.

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(The information in this article was first published in a different format in an article published in The Streamliner, Volume 19, Number 4, Fall 2005; PDF, 10 pages, 1.3MB)


In accordance with a ruling by the Federal Railroad Administration, effective on March 4, 2005, Union Pacific began application of a yellow reflectorized stripe along each and every locomotive’s frame side sill. The FRA ruling calls for a certain square feet of reflectorive material on each locomotive, freight car, and passenger car. For its locomotive fleet, Union Pacific has elected to apply the needed amount of material in the form of a continuous yellow stripe. Although UP has used red Scotchlite striping since the early 1950s, FRA studies dictated that the visibility of super-reflectorized yellow stripes, and in some cases white stripes, exceeded the standard Scotchlite red stripes already used by UP. The FRA rule specifically calls for yellow “retroreflectorive sheeting” to be used on all applications, except where white material has already been applied.

The retroreflective material noted in the ruling is further described as, “ASTM standard D 4956-01a, Type V Sheeting,” with a detailed description showing its full name as “super highintensity retroreflective sheeting.” The reflectorized material is to be placed at 42 inches above the rail level. Even in low light situations, with headlights of automobiles traveling parallel, the super reflectivity is very apparent when viewed from adjacent highways.

The schedule provided in the FRA ruling allowed all railroads quite a long period of time to comply. It showed that all locomotives not already having the new reflective material as of January 3, 2005, must have the needed reflective material by May 31, 2010, allowing the railroads five years to come into full compliance.

A table was provided in the FRA ruling that shows that a specific and increasing 20 percent each year of each road’s fleet must be completed, so that by the end of the five years, the full 100 percent will have been given the new reflectorized stripes. With a fleet of over 7,000 locomotives, this schedule means that UP had to apply yellow frame stripes to 1,400 locomotives every year, or about 115 locomotives each and every month.

As of late August 2005, the new yellow frame stripe was only being applied to repainted units released from Jenks shop in North Little Rock, Arkansas, with no stripes known to have been applied to any in-service units, other than on SD70M 5015. A formal program was to be initiated due to the special cleaning and application requirements on units that have not been freshly painted.


January 2005
The first unit seen with the new frame stripe was SD70M 5015, which had a yellow stripe added as a test in January 2005. Selected at random as the test case, the test was done at Proviso in Chicago, and the unit immediately entered regular service.

March 10, 2005
The second unit on UP to be finished with the new yellow frame stripe, a new unit, was the new environmentally friendly “Green Goat” yard switcher UPY 2004, a hybrid diesel and battery locomotive built by Railpower Technologies as their model GG20B. It was seen at Roseville, California, on March 10, 2005, en route from its builder in Canada to Fresno, California, for extended testing in the Fresno yard.

April 17, 2005
The third unit, another non-new unit with just a yellow stripe added to its existing paint, was ex C&NW SD40-2 2980, seen in Chatanooga, Tennessee, on April 17, 2005.

April to June 2005
Other repainted locomotives that received the new yellow frame stripe during the initial April to June 2005 time frame included GP38-2 609; C44-9CW 9578 (completed on May 10, 2005); C44-9CW 9833; and SW1500 1221 (released from North Little Rock on June 1, 2005).

New Units

April 21, 2005
The first new unit to receive the new yellow stripe was UP 8334, an EMD SD70ACe delivered on April 21, 2005 to UP at Chicago. Its first trip was from the Global 2 intermodal yard in Chicago on April 22, to Oakland, where it arrived on April 27.

For unknown reasons, the deliveries of new EMD units to UP were not in numerical order, so the last unit to receive the original red stripe was UP 8326, delivered on May 29, 2005. In addition to UP 8334 delivered in April, six other units (UP 8332, 8337, 8339, 8341, 8342, and 8348) were delivered with yellow stripes in April 2005. In May, a total of 25 new SD70ACe units were delivered. Of those, 21 units had the yellow stripe, and four units (UP 8319, 8322, 8325, and 8326) had the red frame stripe.

(Read more about the 115-unit order of new SD70ACe locomotives delivered in 2005)

May 10, 2005
The first new General Electric unit was UP 5454, a new C45ACCTE GEVO unit delivered to UP on May 10, 2005. According to one knowledgeable source, the use of yellow frame stripes on new GE units was begun with the 101st unit (UP 5454) of a 200-unit order (UP 5354-5553), with several other upgrades and enhancements being included at the same time.

More Information

FRA Rule -- A direct link to the FRA rule for reflectorized stripes on railrad equipment. (Mirrored here because government websites tend to change over time.)