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Union Pacific's Salt Lake City Diesel Shop

This page was last updated on November 28, 2012.

(This article is an updated and expanded version of an article published in The Streamliner, Volume 12, Number 2, Spring 1998)

(see also this article about the opening of the shop on August 2, 1955; and this article announcing the opening of the shop.)

The new Salt Lake City shops were formally opened on Tuesday, August 2, 1955, at a ceremony jointly sponsored by the Union Pacific Railroad, the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce, and the Salt Lake City Rotary Club. The construction of the new shop began in December 1951 with the demolition of the old Salt Lake City roundhouse. The new shop cost $6 million to build and initially provided employment for about 400 men, adding $1.8 million payroll to the local economy and bringing UP's employment in Utah to over 5,000 people. At its peak in the mid 1970s, the shop employed over 500 men and women. At the time it was built, the new shop was the most modern in the nation and would handle all types and classes of maintenance and repair from light servicing to complete heavy overhaul of both diesel motive power units and gas turbine electric locomotives.

Much planning and thought went into the location of Union Pacific's first "Diesel Locomotive Maintenance and Repair Shop," a facility intended to serve the needs of the entire railroad. Planning began in late 1950 with the pending arrival of what would later be known as the "Little Turbines," road numbers 51-60. These locomotives were 4,500 horsepower gas turbine-electric locomotives that were yet another in a long line of Union Pacific motive power innovations. Tests on the design had begun in June 1949 and lasted until April 1951. The first production units arrived and entered service in January 1952. UP's design engineers knew these cutting-edge technology units would require specialized maintenance facilities, and the search began for a suitable location. All of the big terminals in the Eastern District were still very much involved with supporting steam operations. This left the Northwestern and South-Central Districts, which consisted of the subsidiary Oregon Short Line and Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroads, and the Oregon-Washington Railway & Navigation line. The two large terminals suitable for improvements were Pocatello, Idaho, and Salt Lake City, Utah. (Nearby Ogden, Utah, remained as the western terminal of UP's Wahsatch grade and continued to support the road's large steam motive power, including the Big Boy and Challenger locomotives.) Pocatello was the center for the road's maintenance-of-way shops, and still supported extensive steam operations. This left Salt Lake City, whose large 32-stall roundhouse was in need of serious attention after losing a large part of its roof in a freak wind storm a year earlier. Utah, and Salt Lake City specifically, was known to have a large and efficient labor pool that was projected to be able to supply the new shop facility with its needed work force.

A shop facility completely dedicated to the repair of diesel and turbine locomotives would be needed, and soon. Union Pacific had completely dieselized the Los Angeles & Salt Lake route between its namesake cities in 1948 and 1949, and the entire railroad west of Green River, Wyoming, was completely dieselized by mid-1953. In December 1953, Union Pacific placed the largest single order for locomotives from one builder. The order's value was placed at $35.7 million and included 190 freight locomotives and 15 passenger locomotives. These increased numbers of freight and passenger locomotives, along with the on-going delivery of the 25 small turbines, delivered between January 1952 and October 1954, made the completion of the new Salt Lake shops a much awaited event.

The new diesel shop replaced UP's 32-stall Salt Lake City roundhouse, completed as a 20-stall roundhouse in 1905. It was expanded to 32 stalls in the late 1920s, and modified to maintain diesel yard locomotives when they were assigned to Salt Lake City in 1942. In June 1949, a heavy wind storm severely damaged the roof of a large portion of the roundhouse, and 16 stalls were retired in late 1949. In late 1950, as work progressed removing the retired portion of the structure, and the associated radial tracks between the roundhouse and the turntable, the decision was made to locate the new diesel and turbine repair shop at Salt Lake City. In November 1951 the last work to remove the remaining 16 stalls was completed. Photographs show the remaining parts of the roundhouse still in place as the concrete was being poured for new service and inspection pits. As work on the new shop progressed, the remaining portions of the roundhouse were demolished, with the last, stalls 1 to 4, and stalls 31 and 32, still standing as the orange-primer painted steel structure of the new shop rose slowly skyward. (click here for more information about UP's Salt Lake City roundhouse)

Along with the construction of the new shop building itself, the new Salt Lake shop facility included a new four-track service facility located on tracks 6 to 9, just south of the new shop building. At the far south end of the service tracks, a new four track sanding facility was constructed. The terminal's 100-foot girder and lattice design turntable was retained, but re-located from its original position just south of the new shop building, to the shop's northwest side. This original pin-connected turntable was later replaced by the retired turntable from Lynndyl, Utah, a division point 116 miles south of Salt Lake City.

With the delivery of its growing fleet of new diesel locomotives, UP found that it soon had a shortage of shop space. During 1953, UP received its 10 SD7s, its 30 GP7s, 42 SW9 switchers, and 44 E8 A and B passenger units. During 1954, the road accepted delivery of 169 GP9s, 75 unique to UP GP9Bs, for freight service, and 15 E9 A and B units for passenger service. The maintenance space that the new shop would provide was badly needed, and many under-construction photos from as early as mid 1954 show locomotives being worked on while situated on the shop's tracks, with construction activity taking place immediately nearby.

The new Salt Lake shop is unusual in that it was designed by the railroad's own engineering staff, and built by the company's own Bridges & Buildings work force. Preliminary work consisted of driving more than 3,200 piles 35 to 50 feet in length to support the building and its heavy equipment. Bridges and Buildings Department employees remember driving as many as four piles end-to-end before striking solid footing. One employee added that at times, when struck by the pile driver, some piles would sink four feet, but rebound as much as three feet due to the unstable nature of the ground. The construction was a combination of reinforced concrete, with more than 2,000 tons of structural steel was used in the original construction. The finished outside surface was a combination of vertical aluminum siding and solid glass blocks. Over 1,600 cubic yards of concrete were poured. The main building is 424 feet, east to west, and 162 feet north to south. Originally the south wing was 324 feet long and 80 feet wide. The 1973 renovation added more running repair space that enclosed the south ends of tracks 1 through 3 at the southwest corner. The north wing, which covers the store department and the north ends of tracks 1, 2, and 3, is 264 feet long and 102 feet wide. The 1973 improvements added two 140-foot long canopies to the south end and the north end of track 1, for the purposes of weather protection of workers while performing inbound (north end) and outbound (south end) inspections on the locomotives. There are five different roof elevations ranging from 32 feet, over the running repair tracks, to 77 feet over the main, high bay that houses the 270-ton crane. When it was completed in 1955, it was the largest diesel shop under cover in the country, with over 144,000 square feet (3.3 acres) under cover, as well as the largest steel insulated building of any kind. UP's own North Platte shop became UP's largest shop when it was completed in 1971, and the Downing B. Jenks shop in North Little Rock, completed in 1984, is also in the same league.

Unusual equipment in the new Salt Lake shops included an overhead traveling crane of 270-ton capacity, the largest locomotive handling crane in the west (this may still be true today, in 1998). The crane was actually installed in April 1954 and was capable of lifting the largest diesel on the Union Pacific and even the heavier gas turbine-electric locomotives. The huge crane's lifting capacity was thoroughly tested on February 5, 1955 when it successfully lifted fully serviced and loaded turbine 51, moving it from track 10 to track 12, over number 58 parked on track 11. The lifting capacity of the crane has served the railroad well for over 43 years, but the length of the shop's lifting bay was proven to be a limiting factor with the arrival of the 6900-class Centennial locomotives in 1969. The Centennials were 98 feet, 5 inches over their coupler pulling faces, and weighed 545,432 pounds (272 tons) fully serviced. While the lifting bay was completed with an interior length of 102 feet, the installation of overhead steam pipes limited the interior length to a bit over 95 feet. This shorter interior length meant that the Centennials could only be lifted up to the height of the tops of the bay doors, where the steam pipes were located. In order to allow truck repairs on the Centennial class, whose four-axle trucks were too long for the 90-ton drop table, the locomotives were lifted sufficiently to allow the trucks to be disconnected and rolled out from under the locomotive. If operations dictated the immediate need for the locomotive, a spare truck was located at the opposite end and rolled into place. If not immediately needed, the locomotive was lowered to a minimal height and left suspended from the crane, awaiting the truck's repair and re-installation. The shop's original equipment included, in addition to the 270-ton crane, a 35-ton model. In the 1973 expansion, a 10-ton model was added in the main east-west bay and another 10-ton the new south wing of the running repair tracks.

Salt Lake shops has a 90-ton drop table for removing complete truck assemblies from under any diesel unit. The drop table and its associated drop pit span tracks 6 and 7, allowing truck assemblies to be removed and brought into the central truck bay (track 5), where they can be repaired. The drop pit is also equipped with an integral smaller table that allows removal of single-axle traction motors without removing the entire truck assembly. In 1973 a single-axle drop table was added to the new running repair tracks which could remove single traction motor assemblies. The rails of tracks 1 through 3 and tracks 6 through 9 are elevated to allow access to locomotive running gear, such as the trucks, brakes, and journal boxes. These same tracks are equipped with elevated platforms at the locomotive walkway level and depressed pits below the shop floor to allow better access the underside of each locomotive. The shop also was built with a wheel-truing machine, which remains today as a major center of activity in the shop complex. The wheel-truing machine permits the re-profiling (truing) of the wheel tread of the wheels of locomotives without removal of the wheel sets from the units.

The shop originally displayed the largest (up to that time) reflective sign ever made. The sign was over 96 feet long and featured a 24 foot Union Pacific shield, with a freight train on one side and a Domeliner passenger train on the opposite side. The shield remains today, but the two trains were removed in the late 1960s.

Between 1954 and 1957, Union Pacific's 1400 class F3's which hadn't been re-assigned in to the Northwest in 1950, were converted internally to F7's by the railroad's own shop forces. While other shops on Union Pacific may have done some of the work, most of the conversion project was done at the new Salt Lake shops. The conversion consisted of installing a 567BC engine in place of the original 567B engine, and updating the electrical components. Many of the F3's also received the F7 type of dynamic braking with the three-foot diameter cooling fan. Although the trade press announced that the F3 to F7 conversions were being done by EMD (one source said that there fifty-four units to be done on the UP), the upgrade was projected to be so extensive that UP and EMD decided to complete it at the railroad's new shop facility in Salt Lake City. This project, along with the prospects of the same type of work to be done on both the AT&SF and the SP, was a leading factor in EMD opening its facility and warehouse in North Salt Lake, located about five miles north along the mainline to Ogden from the new Salt Lake shops. Rather than Union Pacific sending the old engines and generators all the way from Salt Lake City to La Grange, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago), for remanufacture and upgrading, the railroad only had to move these locomotive components five miles north to EMD's new shop.

After having been under construction for the previous two years, on Wednesday, April 6, 1955, three months before the formal opening of UP's Salt Lake shop, General Motor's Electro-Motive Division (EMD) completed its own factory branch in nearby North Salt Lake, Utah, a separate community located north of Salt Lake City, but across the county line in adjacent Davis County. EMD's North Salt Lake facility was meant as an important link in a series of factory branches, and was built to serve railroads and electric utilities throughout the west. EMD had foreseen its need and had purchased the needed 9.4 acres in May 1952, with the help of the Union Pacific Land Department. The facility was equipped with a 20-ton overhead crane, and an enclosed load cell for the testing of remanufactured diesel engines, along with a short spur and interior loading dock. By the early 1950s, the railroads in the west were well into entering their second phase of dieselization, upgrading from FT and F3 to F7 and F9 freight locomotives, and from the earlier models of the pioneering E-series to the newer E8 and E9 passenger locomotives. A facility was needed to perform the remanufacture of earlier versions of EMD's 567 diesel engine to its most modern version, the 567BC and 567C types. The Salt Lake City area was selected and construction commenced in early 1953.

The North Salt Lake branch remained as an important link in EMD's remanufacturing and warehousing network until April 1965, when the property was sold to a local developer. By that time EMD had greatly increased its capacity at its La Grange factory, and had completed warehouses in both Ogden, Utah, and Commerce, California. After EMD vacated the facility in 1965, it was occupied by defense contractor Sperry Corp. In 1971 General Electric, EMD's competitor in the world locomotive market, moved into the shop, calling it the Salt Lake Apparatus Service Shop. GE needed a facility for some rework on components of UP's U50Cs, along with work on other heavy rotating electrical gear for the company's other divisions. This GE shop was where some of the 8,500 horsepower, three-unit turbines were stripped after UP traded them in during the early 1970's. And as this is written in 1998, the shop is still serving as a focal point for GE's service to its customers nationwide. During early 1992, an extensive truck modification was completed on UP's then-new 9100 class Dash 8-40C's (now known as C40-8s), and like the F3-to-F7 project with EMD, the workload was shared between the North Salt Lake facility and UP's Salt Lake shops.

Union Pacific's Salt Lake shops were the focal point for heavy repair of UP's turbine locomotives, both the smaller 4,500 horsepower "Standard" and "Veranda" models, and the much larger 8,500 (later 10,000) horsepower three units "Big Blows." Throughout the 1960s, as the 51-75 series little turbines were retired in 1962 and 1963, the specialized facilities and highly trained mechanics concentrated on keeping the 1-30 series Big Blow three-unit turbines maintained. Many factors contributed to the diminishing use of Union Pacific's unique turbine units, including the challenges of dedicating special areas within Salt Lake shops for turbine maintenance. As the road's diesel fleet continued to grow, there was more and more demand for additional space for maintenance. By the late 1960s, the turbine fleet was falling from favor, and the first three-unit turbine was retired in August 1968. The last of the turbines was retired in February 1970.

In March 1973 work began on a $3 million expansion of Union Pacific's Salt Lake shops, which included a 400-foot, two-track service facility located just west of the diesel shop to replace the older, original four-track service facility which had been constructed just south of the shop. The expansion also included the previously mentioned expansion the running repair wing and inspection canopies on the north and south sides of the shop.

The 1973 improvements included a 200-foot load test platform along the west side of the main shop building. This load test platform allowed the location of the four load test boxes to a single location, replacing two already there and moving two others that had been located along the east side of the shop. One of the factors for this move were protests from residential neighbors to the east complaining of the sound of diesel locomotives operating at full throttle load at all hours of the day and night. Today, all locomotives are equipped with a self-load feature and units are tested at any convenient location without the exterior shop complex. The improvements also included a group of retired tank cars that were installed to accommodate treated and untreated waste water, used lubricating oil, new lubricating oil, and support bearing oil. The load test platform was removed during 1993.

Along with the many other improvements in the 1973-1974 time period, the large powerhouse (completed in 1944) was completely re-equipped with three modern water-tube, 30,000-pound per hour gas-oil fired steam generators. The new steam generators replaced the four very large fire-tube boilers. Also added was a large, modern rotary air compressor that replaced the two 1,500 cubic foot compressors located in the old powerhouse, which was then demolished.

Improvements in the shop interior included the installation of the system air brake shop, which featured fourteen workstations with individual spray booths and cleaning hoods, two cleaning vats, and a rolling conveyor that encircled the room. Later, a specialized test cell was completed to test refurbished air horns. All facilities, inside and outside, were cleaned and given a coat of fresh paint. In 1976, a new locomotive washer was added, along with two trash compactors. Between 1972 and 1976, Union Pacific spent $5 million to renovate the Salt Lake City shops.

During 1972, Union Pacific completed a new "One-Spot" freight car facility at Salt Lake City, at a cost of more than a half-million dollars. The facility is located northwest of the diesel shop and was completed in December 1972. The One-spot includes a 114 feet by 200 feet main repair canopy, with a 30 feet by 170 feet shop area that includes a carpenter shop, a blacksmith shop, offices and a locker room for workers. The main canopy is equipped with jib cranes and an in-floor car jacking system. The new shop is just one of several on the UP system and greatly increased the efficiency of UP's car repair forces. Traditionally, repairs to freight cars had been made by spotting the cars in repair areas and having repairmen move from car to car, taking the required tools and materials to each car needing repair. In the one-spot operation, the cars are moved through completely equipped repair stations in an assembly-line fashion, in effect bringing the cars to the repairman and his tools and materials.

Excerpts from a July 1973 newspaper article about the shops:

The 1980s saw limited changes in the Salt Lake shops, mostly concerning personnel changes. Many journeyman mechanics took offered positions in the new Jenks shops, which opened in 1984 in North Little Rock, Arkansas. More changes followed as Union Pacific continued to refine its maintenance practices, making changes to take advantage of mergers with Missouri Pacific and Western Pacific in 1982, and with Missouri Kansas Texas in 1988. Many processes were changed as UP tried to balance the types of maintenance being done by each of its system shops, which included Salt Lake City, North Platte and Omaha, Nebraska, North Little Rock, Kansas City, Stockton, California, and Fort Worth, Texas.

During the 1990s, UP continues its on-going attempts to balance the workload of each of the system's mechanical facilities, including shops that became part of the railroad with the Chicago & North Western merger in 1995, and the Southern Pacific merger in 1996. On January 6, 1998, Union Pacific announced that the Salt Lake shops would be closed to consolidate its locomotive maintenance facilities in the western United States. With a fleet of over 6,500 locomotives, UP is constantly searching for methods to reduce its costs of maintaining its fleet of locomotives. While apparent cost savings may be obvious on paper, the wisdom of closing such a large facility, with such a wide range of capabilities for locomotive repairs, may be a decision that may be looked back on with some regret. The locomotive repair shop in Salt Lake City had not been used to its full capacity for at least ten years, with the railroad's planners instead deferring for a variety of reasons to the former Missouri Pacific facilities located on the eastern portion of the system.

Union Pacific closed is Salt Lake City shop in June 1998, and the building was used by the railroad for a variety of temporary purposes. In May through August 1999, the large powerhouse was demolished, and on August 3, 1999, the powerhouse's large smokestack was demolished by exploding its base and allowing it to fall where the powerhouse had stood.

Sale To UTA

In early 1998, talks had started between Union Pacific and Utah Transit Authority for UTA to run commuter trains from Salt Lake City to Ogden, using either UP tracks, or paralleling UTA tracks located on UP right-of-way. In April 2001 a final purchase agreement was signed, with formal regulatory approval coming on May 22, 2002.

In a separate purchase agreement, on September 17, 2003, UTA purchased the property and buildings of UP's Salt Lake City shop. UTA took possession of the shop building in early 2004 and began the needed modernization of the facility. As new commuter cars were completed in August 2006, and new locomotives in January 2007, they were delivered to what UTA had named its new Warm Springs Maintenance Facility.

Construction of UTA's Frontrunner North, between Salt Lake City and Ogden, started in July 2005, and operations began in April 2008. UTA began construction of Frontrunner South in August 2008, for operations between Salt Lake City and Provo, with a projected completion in late 2012. All maintenance for Frontrunner cars and locomotives takes place at the Warm Springs facility.

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