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To Move A Mountain

Railroads and mining in Utah's Bingham Canyon

This page last updated on February 23, 2016.

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Miscellaneous Notes

A summary of Bingham and Garfield, and Kennecott's railroads, written in July 2008 in response to an email request:

Utah Copper incorporated the Bingham and Garfield Railway to give themselves full control over the movement of their own ores between their mine at Bingham and their mills and the smelter at Garfield. However, the most important reason the Utah Copper organized the Bingham and Garfield was that Utah Copper, as a corporation, did not have the power of eminent domain (the power to condemn property for the common good) -- an advantage that a railroad corporation does have.

Kennecott Copper's predecessor Utah Copper Company organized the Bingham & Garfield Railway in 1908 to get away from its dependence on the local railroad, then known as Rio Grande Western Railway. The B&G was organized as a common carrier, with the power of eminent domain, and served as such until that feature became a liability to Kennecott's Utah Copper operations during WWII. The laws governing railroads had evolved during the 1930s, especially with regard to labor laws, and having its own common carrier was found to no longer benefit the copper company.

After World War II, Kennecott began surveying for a new railroad line between the mine and the mills, 16 miles to the north on the shore of Great Salt Lake. In 1944 Kennecott completed a new natural gas-fired power plant at Magna, at the time to furnish its own electric power for all of its operations, which included the current electric shovel and rail operations in the mine itself. The new nameless railroad would be electrified to take advantage of the efficiencies of electric motive power, and would not be a common carrier. Instead it was designed and built as a privately owned, in-plant railroad, and would not be subject to the regulations of the Interstate Commerce Commission, or any other laws except mining safety laws. The B&G organization was dissolved and the railroad abandoned with the startup of the new private railroad in April 1948. Regular interstate interchange rail service would continue to be provided by Union Pacific Railroad at Garfield, and by Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad (as successor to the RGW of 1908) at both Magna and in Bingham Canyon.

The new private railroad operated between Copperton at the mouth of Bingham Canyon, north to the Magna and Arthur mills on the shore of Great Salt Lake. Those rails are still in place, but operations have been severely cut back due to the construction of a new crusher and concentrator mill at Copperton, and a new slurry pipeline between the Copperon mill and the smelter. I assume Kennecott owns the railroad and the right of way for the entire railroad, including under Copperton Yard. D&RGW's trackage lay immediately south of Copperton Yard and extended directly east and west between the Proler Steel facility at 5600 West (shown on some maps as Robbe), and area adjacent to Copperton Yard. The only interchange was at the precipitation plant at Copperton.

The years of operation of the B&G, and as Utah Copper/Kennecott continued to acquire and control smaller mining operations in Bingham Canyon, brought a continuing reduction of operations for D&RGW at Bingham. By the late 1940s, there was little interchanged rail traffic other than an occasional carload of supplies. The major source of traffic was the movement of scrap steel to the precipitation plant at Copperton, where copper concentrate was produced by way of leach-water from the copper company's waste dumps being run through steel as part of the reduction process. As Kennecott continued to improve the leaching and precipitation process, the use of scrap steel in the process continued to decline. The scrap facility owned by Proler Steel was closed in the mid 1990s and railroad service west of West Jordan (two miles east of Bingham Canyon) came to an end. In 2002, Union Pacific (as successor to D&RGW) abandoned the entire five-mile Bingham Industrial Lead and sold it to Utah Transit Authority for use as part of UTA's light rail transit system. Current railroad service is provided on the UTA-owned trackage under contract by Savage Bingham & Garfield Railroad, a shortline railroad organized for the purpose.

Like so many questions, yours about interstate railroads "in the mine" needs clarification. Are you asking about the copper mining operation in the open pit mine itself, or railroad service to the town of Bingham located in Bingham Canyon, or the railroad at the mouth of the canyon, which is today the town of Copperton. After 1950, D&RGW provided railroad service to Bingham, but that railroad service was very limited. As the mine expanded throughout the 1940s and 1950s, D&RGW may have formally owned the tracks and right of way at the very bottom of the canyon, but the railroad itself seldom, if ever, operated trains west of the precipitation plant at Copperton, and by that time, D&RGW's tracks had become thoroughly intermingled with those of the copper company. D&RGW's Bingham Branch tracks were removed as Kennecott proceeded with its environmental cleanup of Bingham Creek throughout the 1980s and 1990s. I don't have any information about right of way ownership, whether tracks were in place or not. The best place for that would be the Salt Lake County recorder's office in Salt Lake City.