In 1916, the Pennsylvania Railroad adopted the motto, “the standard railroad of the world.” That’s somewhat disputable, as it was the Baltimore & Ohio whose maximum grade, curvature, and other engineering standards were adopted by numerous other railroads. But by 1916, the power and profitability of the Pennsylvania had totally eclipsed that of the B&O. In fact, between 1881 and 1901, PRR was the world’s largest private corporation.
In any case, at some point, the Union Pacific began calling itself “the standard road of the West.” When I found this letterhead, I assumed that UP was imitating the Pennsylvania, but according to UP’s web site, it first made this claim no later than 1912 in order to distinguish itself from the Southern Pacific. The motto was also used on this 1911 travel brochure. Of course, it’s possible that PRR had used the motto before 1916.
UP had purchased the SP in 1901, but the federal government charged they were a monopoly and ordered the two to split up. The split was messy as both wanted control of the Central Pacific, the line from Ogden to San Francisco that had been built as a part of the first transcontinental railroad. Of course, SP kept control of that line, but preferred to route traffic over other routes which were more profitable.
Although there were times that the Southern Pacific was more profitable than UP, by the 1980s the SP was falling apart and the Union Pacific again acquired it in 1996. While BNSF would no doubt protest, UP might be justified in calling itself “the standard road of the West” again today.