To Move A Mountain
Railroads and mining in Utah's Bingham Canyon
By Don Strack
This page last updated on September 30, 2011.
The Levels of the Bingham Mine
As the open-cut mining operations began in 1906, Utah Copper (Kennecott's predecessor) began removing the waste above the original underground mine, working in 50-foot terraces, naming them alphabetically, starting with the A-Level, at the original elevation of 6,340 feet. Eventually, the levels continued upward to the V-Level, at the very top of the west side of the pit.
The levels in Kennecott's mine were first named for the levels above the A-Level, the original level and site of the opening for the original underground Utah Copper mine.
On the east side the levels climbed to the Q-Level (7,340 feet), at top of the ridge between the pit and the Salt Lake Valley. The levels below the A-Level were named for their actual elevation. Thus the A-Level was also referred to as the 6340 Level, and subsequent levels below were called by their elevations, each 50 feet less than the one above it.
The C-Level rail line on the south side was connected by a new fill across the recently closed county road to Copperfield in 1939. the county road was replaced by the vehicular tunnel between lower Bingham and upper Bingham.
The three railroad tunnels were named for the level in the mine where the tunnel opening was located. They were the 6040 tunnel, completed in 1944; the 5840 tunnel, completed in 1952; and the longest, at 3.4 miles, the 5490 tunnel was completed in 1961.
The visitor observation center, until the mid 1960s was at the south edge of the pit in the town called Copperfield. It was reached by way of a tunnel rising from Bingham that curved into the mountain to avoid the slowly expanding pit operations. The visitor outlook was moved from Copperfield down to the north side of the pit adjacent to the D-Line bridge in June 1966. (Read more about the Bingham visitors center)
Kennecott's high bridges located in Carr Fork of Bingham Canyon were named for the levels of the railroad that they carried across the canyon. There were seven of them, from lower to upper:
- A-Line (the B&G bridge at the mouth of Carr Fork)
- D-Line ('D' Dump Line)
- L-Line (highest)
From a page torn from an issue of Kennescope [no date]:
The levels with alphabetical designations do not have the same elevations on the east and west sides, which brings up the question of why alphabetical designations at all. Well, it's very logical, if you start at the first. "A" level was the lowest cut of the original excavation. Its elevation then and still is 6340 feet above sea level. As successive cuts were made above, they were designated by successive letters of the alphabet. Then some of the bench levels were eliminated, and some banks were left more than 100 feet high. Later the levels were restored, except that "B" level was eliminated. Then there was an "F" and "F Prime." After awhile, when cuts were made lower than "A" level, they were named "A-1," "A-2," and "A-3" and so on, but still the engineers had to look their elevations. So it was decided to skip the later alphabetical designations, make the levels 50 feet apart and call them by their elevations -- which works out better than trying to give each level a name. (source not recorded)
This same issue of Kennescope included an aerial photo, taken from 13,000 feet altitude, that had been labeled with the various lettered and numbered levels of the mine. At the time, the highest level on the west side was the 'Q' Level at 7,340 feet. The top of the mine on the west side was shown to be 7,805 feet. On the east side, the highest level was 'L' Level at 7,015 feet, with the top of the mine being noted as 7,300 feet. Below is a table comparing west side elevation with east side elevations.
|Level||East Side||West Side|
|D||6475||6490||'D' Level was the highest level on the south side (Copperfield), with continous railroad trackage common to both east and west sides of the mine|
|A||6340||6340||'A' Level was the beginning elevation where the original opening for the original underground mine. It was the elevation of the large rail yard, as well as being the elevation of the Carr Fork Bridge.|
|6040||'6040' Level was the highest level on the north side that had continous railroad trackage that was common to both sides of the mine. The '6040' Level was the elevation of the first tunnel, completed in 1944, between the mine levels and the lower regions of Bingham Canyon to reduce the cost of transporting ore up out of the mine, then down the canyon for movement to the mills.|
|5840||'5840' Level was the elevation of the second railroad tunnel, completed in March 1953.|
|5490||'5490' Level was the elevation of the later third railroad tunnel, completed in February 1959. At the time of completion, the lowest level was at 5640 feet. The 5490 tunnel was completed and a specially constructed spiral drop-cut was completed to gain access to the tunnel from the mine itself. The spiral drop-cut circled around what became known as the "5640 Island."|
|5440||The mine continued to be expanded downward and by the mid 1960s the 5490 Level became a large open area that was the flat bottom of the mine, about the size of two football fields. In the late 1960s, to allow additional expansion downward, the 5490 tunnel was cutback by about 500 feet in a move to push the opening in the mine back to allow additional lower levels, starting with the 5440 Level in March 1969.|