Donald J. Russell

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Donald J. Russell
Born Donald Joseph McKay Russell
(1900-01-03)January 3, 1900
Denver, Colorado
Died December 13, 1985(1985-12-13) (aged 85)
San Francisco, California
Education Stanford University, 1917–1920 Loyola University, 1955 (LL.D.)
Occupation 1920–1941: Surveying, Engineering, Construction 1941: Assistant to President 1941–1951: Vice President 1943: Director 1951: Executive Vice President 1952–1964: President 1964–1972: Chairman of the Board
Board member of Trustee Stanford University, Board member of Stanford Research Institute, Regent University of San Francisco, Delta Tau Delta, Sigma Phi Upsilon
Spouse(s) Mary Louise Herring

Donald Joseph McKay Russell (January 3, 1900 – December 13, 1985) was an American railroad executive. He was president of Southern Pacific Railroad from 1952–1964 and then chairman from 1964–1972. Russell was featured on the cover of Time on August 11, 1961 and Forbes on November 1, 1965.[1]

Early life and education

Russell was born in 1900. He attended Stanford University, but left in 1918 to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War I;[2] during the war, he was badly injured in a plane crash, and subsequently returned to California.


Southern Pacific Service Area by 1918

In 1920, Russell started with Southern Pacific, a railroad company, and held a wide variety of positions within the company; he started as a timekeeper.[3] From 1923 to 1926, he was in charge of double tracking the railroad line over the Sierra Nevada mountains; in 1926 and 1927, he was in charge of rehabilitation of the railroad line between Grass Lake in Northern California, and Kirk, Oregon, and construction of a new railroad terminal at Klamath Falls and Crescent Lake, Oregon.

In 1937 he became Assistant to the General Manager at Southern Pacific's headquarters in San Francisco; in 1939, he became Superintendent of the Los Angeles Division. In this period, he held many executive positions; in 1941, he became Assistant to the President of Southern Pacific and subsequently Vice President; in 1943, he was promoted to Director; in 1951 to Executive Vice President; and in 1952, he became the organization's president.[3] On December 1, 1964, he became Southern Pacific's chairman.

One of the most noteworthy events during his tenure was how Southern Pacific handled the so-called "Passenger Problem" during the 1960s. Russell was accused of deliberately sabotaging the service his passenger trains provided so that he could pull Southern Pacific out of the passenger business.[4] Robert Jochner, Passenger Department Director for Southern Pacific denied this saying the only reason that Russell downgraded service was not so much to get rid of the passenger trains, but to make sure they made money.[4] Nevertheless, many passenger trains, some very famous, were discontinued under Russell's tenure as President and Chairman of the Board.[4]

While he was in leadership positions, Southern Pacific began a $3 billion modernization program, which included full locomotive dieselization. Southern Pacific also diversified to non-rail operations, including truck and piggy-back services; petroleum and coal slurry pipelines; and communications services. In 1952, Russell directed rescue efforts for passengers stranded on the City of San Francisco when it was marooned by record snow in the Sierra.[2] Also in 1952, Russell led the reconstruction of 25 miles of line in 25 days after the Kern County earthquake in the Tehachapi Mountains.[2]

Russell also funded research and development; he served as a member of the Stanford University Board of Trustees and was also a long-time board member of the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), and helped connect technical challenges at Southern Pacific with researchers at SRI starting with a project to design a new coupling system in 1954, resulting in the development of the SRI Hydra-Cushion freight car, designed by William K. MacCurdy. Later research would result in the still-used train-tracking TOPS computer system.[5] Russell retired in 1972 and died in 1985.[3]

See also


  1. "Donald J.M. Russell". Time. 1961-08-11. Retrieved 2012-03-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Hofsommer, Don L. The Southern Pacific, 1901-1985. pp. 225–227.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Rother, Larry (1985-12-16). "Donald J. Russell Dies at 85; Led Southern Pacific Railroad". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-03-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Frailey, Fred W. Twilight of the Great Trains. pp. 40–51.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Nielson, Donald (2006). A Heritage of Innovation: SRI's First Half Century. Menlo Park, California: SRI International. p. 6-1 - 6-2. ISBN 978-0-9745208-1-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Preceded by
Hale Holden (1932–1939) position then became vacant
Chairman of the Southern Pacific Railroad Board of Directors
Succeeded by
Benjamin Biaggini (1976–1983) position vacant from 1972–1976