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Kennecott Utah Copper

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Contract Switching at Magna and Garfield

This page was last updated on March 30, 2016.

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Overview

Railroading at Garfield, Utah, on the south shore of Great Salt Lake, changed in 2002 when Rio Tinto ended it own rail operations, and contracted the rail switching to RailWorks. Included in the contract was ownership of three of Kenecott's unique high-cab GP39-2 units, numbered as 707, 790 and 797. RailWorks was sold to Tangent Rail in 2005, and Tangent Rail was sold to Stella-Jones in 2010. In 2012, Stella-Jones sold the Garfield switching contract to Omaha Track.

The Garfield complex includes the Garfield copper smelter, the Garfield copper refinery, and until 2002, the Magna concentrator mill. The adjacent Arthur concentrator mill was also part of the Garfield complex, until it was closed in 1985. After its closure, the site of the Arthur mill was reclaimed, and since its closure in 2002, the site of the Magna mill has also been reclaimed. But much of the railroad trackage remains in place today.

(Portions of this article were first published on the UtahRails.net blog on October 22, 2011)

Early Days

The copper concentrator mill at Magna was completed by Utah Copper Company (now Kennecott Utah Copper) in 1908. In 1909, the adjacent Arthur concentrating mill was completed by Boston Consolidated Mining Company, a competitor to Utah Copper (Boston Con and Utah Copper merged in 1910). American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) completed its copper smelter at Garfield in mid-1906. To serve the construction and later operation of these new industrial sites in the Garfield area, Rio Grande Western Railway completed its Garfield Branch in late 1905. The branch extended 17 miles from its connection at Welby, in the central Salt Lake valley with the road's Bingham Branch, and remains in place today, although unused.

Rio Grande Western provided whatever in-plant switching was needed until Utah Copper grew weary of the too-high rates and completed its subsidiary Bingham & Garfield Railway in 1911 to transport its own copper ore. After its completion, B&G performed almost all of Utah Copper's in-plant switching, under a separate Utah Copper organization known as the Ore Delivery Department. RGW continued as the connection between the Utah Copper mills and ASARCO's Garfield smelter, five miles to the west. (ASARCO sold its Garfield smelter to Kennecott in 1959.)

Throughout the years, D&RGW provided an interchange connection with Kennecott at Magna on the southeast side of the Garfield complex by way of its Garfield Branch. On the north side, in 1903 Oregon Short Line Railroad completed the Leamington Cut-Off for its California-bound trains. Very soon after, OSL sold its lines south and west of Salt Lake City to the newly organized San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad. In 1905, the San Pedro added a new station and siding tracks on the north side of the Garfield complex to serve the new mills and smelter, and in 1909 when Western Pacific was completed between Salt Lake City and Elko, Nevada, it also added a station and siding at Garfield. The WP station was called Smelter, and was located about one mile west of the San Pedro station of Garfield. In 1967, Union Pacific and Western Pacific made a joint-trackage agreement to operate the 15 miles of parallel mainlines between Salt Lake City and WP's station at Smelter.

In a side note about corporate succession, Utah Copper Company became the Utah Copper Division of Kennecott Copper Corporation in 1941, and in 1989, Kennecott Copper Corporation became Kennecott Utah Copper, a unit of the Rio Tinto, one of the largest mining companies in the world. San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake simplified its name to become Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad in 1916. In 1936, Union Pacific leased LA&SL for operation, although it had held almost full control since the road's earliest days. In 1987 Union Pacific formally merged with LA&SL. In 1983, Union Pacific bought Western Pacific, giving UP a direct route between Salt Lake City and Oakland, California. In 1996, Union Pacific bought control of Denver & Rio Grande Western, and merged with the road in 1997.

Back to Garfield: After Union Pacific's 1983 purchase of Western Pacific, the former joint facility at Garfield was combined under Union Pacific ownership. Union Pacific's purchase of D&RGW in 1996 included D&RGW's Garfield Branch. The Union Pacific interchange at Garfield was on the north side and closer to Kennecott's own Garfield operations. The former D&RGW Garfield Branch was a longer distance for trains to travel, and passed through rapidly expanding suburbia along the western edge of the Salt Lake valley, leading to UP's decision to curtail operations over the former D&RGW tracks, although the branch remains in place today.

In 1985, due to the low price of copper, Kennecott suspended all mining and milling operation. As the price of copper recovered, mining resumed in September 1986, and milling and smelting operations resumed three months later. Overall operations were much reduced. The Bonneville crusher was the most modern, and its crushing and grinding mill was restarted, feeding the Magna concentrator. The Arthur mill was closed permanently, as was the Magna crushing and grinding mill. Kennecott's private railroad, formerly known as the Ore Haulage Division, was used to move ore solely to the Bonneville mill, at a rate of just 35,000 tons per day (compared to a peak of 110,000 tons per day in 1979).

During the shutdown, in February 1986 Kennecott had started a $400 million modernization program meant to lower its production costs. Included was a new in-mine primary crusher that fed a five-mile conveyor system, which for three miles of its length passed through the 5490 railroad tunnel. The conveyor system passed the ore to the new Copperton crushing and grinding mill, which then passed the ore to the Copperton concentrator. The copper concentrate was then transported to the smelter by way of a new 17-mile slurry pipeline. With the Copperton mill coming on-line, the combined Bonneville and Magna mills were designated as the North Concentrator Complex, and the Copperton mill became the Copperton Concentrator Complex.

In 1992-1995, the Copperton mill was expanded by 50 percent, from 77,000 tons per day to 112,000 tons per day. The added cost to operate the North complex, with its older equipment, and the cost of rail transport, reduced its status to being used only to process excess output from the mine. The North complex was closed in late 2001, and rail operations between the Bingham mine and the mills came to an end.

Contract Switching Starts

With the closure of the Magna concentrator in late November 2001, Kennecott Utah Copper ended the operation of its private mainline railroad between the Bingham mine and the concentrator mill at Magna. With the shutdown of the mainline operations, Kennecott no longer had a need to maintain its railroad locomotive and car maintenance facilities at the Magna location, and contracted with RailWorks Corporation to provide maintenance for Kennecott's large fleet of white KCCX sulfur tank cars, using the former Magna car shop and locomotive shop. RailWorks Corporation had been formed in 1998, and soon became a leader in railroad construction and maintenance services for transit authorities, and commercial and industrial companies with rail infrastructure. At the same time, RailWorks purchased three Kennecott high-cab GP39-2s (KCC 707, 792, 799) to perform the switching.

March 26, 2002
All rail switching operations at Garfield were assumed under a contract awarded to RailWorks. From that date, RailWorks was responsible to deliver rail cars to Copperton, including cars with new conveyor belt segments for the conveyor belt refurbishment project. They also made several trips per month unrelated to the belt cars. On December 11, 2003, a separate contract line item was added for Rail Link to operate "extra switching" trains between Garfield and Magna, and Copperton. These became known as a "Copperton run."

(Read more about RailWorks)

RailWorks was responsible for the operations contract and was also responsible for the maintenance of Kennecott's rail car fleet (mostly the white sulfuric acid tank cars). To fulfill the operations contract, RailWorks purchased three of the GP39-2s from Kennecott.

RailWorks Locomotives

To fulfill the operations contract, RailWorks purchased three of the GP39-2s from Kennecott. The RailWorks contract (and Rail Link subcontract) remained in place until RailWorks was purchased by Tangent Rail in 2005.

Between 2002 and October 2005, the three GP39-2s, 707, 792, and 799, had large RailWorks and Rail Link labels to the sides of the locomotives, covering the Kennecott lettering.

After about 18 months, in late 2003, RailWorks subcontracted with Rail Link (RLIX) to operate the locomotives and provide operating crews. Rail Link was a subsidiary of Genesee & Wyoming Industries (GWI) which had just purchased the Utah Railway in August 2002. Utah Railway was under contract with Union Pacific and BNSF to provide local railroad service over UP's former D&RGW Garfield Branch, connecting with Kennecott Utah Copper's Magna concentrator.

Tangent Rail (2005-2010)

In October 2005, RailWorks sold portions of its rail services business to the newly created Tangent Rail Corporation, including its rail car and locomotive maintenance operation at Magna, Utah. Tangent Rail took over both the rail car maintenance contract, and the switching contract. Large new labels were applied to the locomotives, covering the RailWorks logo on the hood sides, and the Rail Link logo on the cab sides.

Tangent Rail Services provided rail grinding services for class I, short line, and transit rail lines in the United States and Canada. It also offered switching, and locomotive and car maintenance services to operators of industrial tracks. The company was founded in 2005 and had an office at Rio Tinto's Kennecott Utah Copper in Magna, Utah. Tangent Rail Services was a subsidiary of Tangent Rail Corporation.

October 19, 2005
Tangent Rail Corporation purchased the four products and services subsidiaries of RailWorks Corporation, including RailWorks Wood Products, RailWorks Rail Products & Services and RailWorks Wood Waste Energy. Tangent Rail, with headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, soon became a leading provider of maintenance-of-way products and services to the railroad industry. Tangent Rail President and CEO was William Donley, who previously served as president of RailWorks' Track Products & Services Group.

Tangent Rail was formed by its management team (a group of former RailWorks managers) and PNC Equity Partners, a private investment fund sponsored by The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc., which provided $13.2 million to fund the acquisition.

March 21, 2007
Loram Maintenance of Way, Inc., purchased the rail grinding business of Tangent Rail Corporation. Tangent Rail was a leading provider of maintenance-of-way products and services to the railroad industry. Loram was a railroad maintenance equipment and services provider based in Hamel, Minnesota. Loram acquired Tangent Rail's rail grinding fleet and hired most of the associated operations personnel. Tangent Rail sold its rail grinding unit to focus on its core business of providing the railroad industry with quality treated wood products and preservatives, switching and track maintenance services and environmentally friendly railroad tie pickup and disposal services. Founded in 2005, Tangent Rail had operations throughout the United States. Tangent Rail Corp. was based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Tangent Rail news release dated March 21, 2007, Business Wire)

Stella-Jones (2010-2012)

Stella-Jones is a Canadian company, serving customers throughout North America, furnishing treated wood products such as utility poles and wooden railroad ties. Through their acquisition in 2010 of Tangent Rail Corporation, they also operate the rail car maintenance facility and rail switching operation at Garfield.

April 1, 2010
Stella-Jones, Inc., purchased Tangent Rail Corporation, including its three operating units, Tangent Rail Services, Tangent Rail Products, and Tangent Rail Energy. This acquisition expanded Stella-Jones' capabilities within the U.S. railway tie market and provided the company with coal tar distillation operations.

In April 2010, Tangent Rail Corporation was sold to Stella-Jones, Inc., a large international company that furnishes treated wood products to all industries, included treated wood ties to the railroad industry worldwide. In the years following its creation in October 2005, Tangent Rail Corporation had become the major U.S. supplier of treated wood products, and its sale to Stella-Jones was said to be a good fit, allowing them to enter the U.S. market with a well-established sales and service organization.

The Garfield switching contract was described in the Stella-Jones 2011 annual report: "Tangent operated three complementary business streams new to our group, namely, the distillation of coal tar and the distribution of products from that process, recovery and chipping of old ties taken out of service by the railroads, and the operation of a private railroad network servicing one of the world’s largest copper mines in Utah."

An additional description comes from the company's 2011 Annual Information Form: "The property consists of approximately 48 kilometres of railroad track associated with the Rio Tinto copper mine, refinery smelter and other associated facilities near Salt Lake City, Utah. The operation consists of 3 locomotives, track maintenance equipment and a locomotive and railcar repair shop (leased). The operation provides a shunting service for material entering and leaving the mine on standard track as well as track maintenance, track construction, and railcar repair."

(The 48 kilometres [29.8 miles] of track noted above was greatly reduced beginning in October 2011 when Kennecott asked that the former mainline between the Bingham mine and Magna concentrator be removed. Including sidings, the distance was 16 miles. Stella-Jones started work in October 2011, and completed in April 2012.) (The green line on this map)

With the purchase of Tangent Rail Corporation, Stella-Jones became a leading North American producer and marketer of industrial pressure treated wood products, specializing in the production of railway ties and timbers as well as wood poles supplied to electrical utilities and telecommunications companies. The company also provided treated consumer lumber products and customized services to lumber retailers and wholesalers for outdoor applications. Other products include marine and foundation pilings, construction timbers, highway guardrail posts and treated wood for bridges.

After Stella-Jones purchased Tangent Rail Corporation, Stella-Jones' North American wood treating infrastructure consisted of 19 facilities, 11 of which were located in the United States, including facilities located in Warrior, Alabama; Terre Haute and Winslow, Indiana; Alexandria, Louisiana and McAlisterville, Pennsylvania. The wood preservative, creosote, was produced at its distilleries in Terre Haute, Indiana and Memphis, Tennessee. Railroad tie disposal operations consisted of tie pickup and tie disposal, and were carried out at three facilities in Alabama, Minnesota and North Carolina. During 2009, Tangent Rail Corporation generated sales of approximately $178 million and earnings of approximately $28 million. The purchase price was approximately $165 million. The purchase of Tangent Rail allowed Stella-Jones to expand within the U.S. railway tie industry and provide the company with creosote manufacturing operations.

One minor result of the sale of Tangent Rail to Stella-Jones, was that the locomotives assigned at Magna, Utah for the Kennecott switching contract had their logos changed to reflect the new owner.

Omaha Track (2012-today)

October 15, 2012
Stella-Jones sold the Garfield switching contract to Omaha Track. The operation became the Omaha Track, Utah Division.

November 2012
According to the Stella-Jones, Inc., 2012 annual report, in November 2012 Stella-Jones sold the assets of its Kennecott, Utah, rail service operations. Total proceeds of the sale generated C$4,044,000.

The sale was to Omaha Track, a railway supplies and services contractor. (Visit the company's official web site)

In addition to the ex Kennecott high-cab GP39-2s, local reports show that S&S Shortline (SSRX) 3510 (GP38) and 9525 (GP38AC) are also under lease to Omaha Track for the Garfield switching contract.

(View a photo of SSRX 9525; built as GM&O 706, to ICG 9525, to Gulf, Colorado & San Saba 9525, to SSRX in January 2015)

SSRX 3510 is a GP38, built as Penn Central 7750 (EMD 35379, 8/69, 7191-76); to CR 7750 in April 1976; to Chicago Missouri & Western (CMNW) 7750 in April 1987; to CMNW 2021 (no date); to Gateway Western (GWWR) 2021 in January 1990; sold to Helm and rebuilt as HLCX 3610 before October 1994; sold to Progress Rail (PRLX) 3510 after November 2006; to S&S Shortline (SSRX) 3510 after June 2015; leased to Omaha Track and used at Garfield, Utah.

Photos

790 and 799 at Garfield in April 1994, as Kennecott Utah Copper

792 and 799 at Garfield in June 2004, as RailWorks/Rail-Link

707 and 799 at Garfield in November 2005, as RailWorks/Rail Link

792 and 799 at Garfield in February 2009, as Tangent Rail

707 and 799 at Garfield in May 2009, as Tangent Rail

792 and 799 at Garfield in August 2011, as Stella-Jones (scroll down almost to the bottom)

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