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Moving The Moab Tailings

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This page was last updated on April 7, 2014.

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In April 2009, Union Pacific began moving uranium tailings from the former Atlas Minerals uranium mill near Moab, Utah. With a total of 16 million tons of contaminated material to be moved, and with Union Pacific's Cane Creek Subdivision (the former D&RGW Cane Creek Branch) immediately adjacent to the mill site, rail transportation was seen as the best option for removal. A disposal site was selected 30 miles north at Brendel, where the the Cane Creek line connects with Union Pacific's former D&RGW mainline in eastern Utah. (The nearby highway junction, where U. S. Highway 191 to Moab connects with Interstate 70, is known as Crescent Junction.)


September 14, 2005
The Department of Energy (DOE) issued a decision that the transportation of the Moab tailings would be by rail, using trucks for portions that could not be moved by rail.

April 2007
Two Department of Energy railroad locomotives were moved from the recently closed Department of Energy site at Fernald, Ohio, to Moab for use during the cleanup of the Moab tailings. Moved for storage to the far south end of Union Pacific's ex-D&RGW Potash Spur. (Read more about these two DoE locomotives)

June 2007
Energy Solutions, Inc., was selected as the contractor for the removal effort, with plans to move the tailings in specialized containers, placed on board standard flat cars. Each train, operating daily on four days per week, was to be made up of 80 containers, each with a capacity of 16 tons. Specialized container handling cranes were installed at the mill site, and at the disposal site.

February 2008
Bowing to politcal pressure from trucking industry special interest groups, DOE issued a supplementary decision to use an increased number of trucks to move the Moab tailings.

At the time of the February 2008 change to use trucks, DOE stated that the highway between Moab and Crescent Junction was to be widened and improved, allowing a never-ending stream of trucks to move the 16 million tons of material. (Salt Lake Tribune, March 2, 2008)

Local residents were against using trucks due to the increased level of traffic along the road during tourist season. There were serious safety concerns about possible accidents, especially during the tourist season, with trucks leaving the mill site every five to ten minutes.

August 5, 2008
Department of Energy announced that rail transportation would be used, stating that it would be safer and less expensive to upgrade the rail line, than to widen and improve 27 miles of the highway (three miles of the road north of Moab were already improved as a divided highway). (DOE news release dated August 5, 2008) (DOE Public Meeting presentation, October 2008) (PDF)

September 9, 2008
Energy Solutions, the contractor for the tailings removal, signed an agreement with Union Pacific for the railroad to upgrade the track, and improve several road crossings. Additional trackage would also be built at the mill site near Moab, and at the disposal site at Brendel. Service was expected to start in April 2009. (DOE news release dated September 9, 2008)

October 2008
Union Pacific began upgrading the line with new ties and continuous welded rail. Additional trackage was laid near the north portal of the Bootlegger Tunnel to accommodate a new truck-to-rail transloading facility. Initial plans called for operations to begin in Spring 2009, with one train of 22 cars per day, five days per week. Each car was to carry four containers, making a total of 88 containers per train.

April 20, 2009
Union Pacific moved the first train of tailings material from the mill site, north to the disposal site at Brendel.

June 2009
The contract for the removal of the Moab tailings received additional funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to hire 200 additional workers to accelerate the disposal effort, increasing the train frequency.

February 27, 2012
"The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reached another milestone today for the Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action Project, having shipped 5 million tons of tailings from the massive pile located in Moab, Utah, to the engineered disposal cell near Crescent Junction, Utah. The pile comprised an estimated 16 million tons total when DOE's Remedial Action contractor EnergySolutions began relocating the tailings in April 2009, less than 3 years ago. The tailings are transported by rail in containers away from their current location next to the Colorado River to Crescent Junction 30 miles north. The Moab Project currently ships one train a day, 4 days per week. With today's shipment, the project also reached record of 69 consecutive trainloads carrying the maximum 144 containers without a missed shipment." (DOE news release dated February 27, 2012)

February 25, 2013
Thirty-six percent of the 16 million tons of Moab Mill Tailings have been moved. A seasonal work stoppage, and planned furlough of 27 employees, took place in late November 2012, with 30 employees retained for administrative and maintenance activities. During the furlough, to take advantage of the availability of a large supply of empty containers, a permanent liner was installed in the containers to replace single-use liners previously being used. The tailings tend to be sticky, making complete removal from the containers a difficult and at-times manual effort. New permanent liners will greatly improve the dumping time at the disposal cell. The work to continue transporting tailings from the mill site to the disposal site was scheduled to resume on March 4, 2013. (DOE news relaease, dated February 25, 2013)

DOE Locomotives at Moab

In April 2007, the Department of Energy moved two small railroad locomotives from its nuclear waste cleanup site at Ferald, Ohio. They were moved to the DOE-owned site near Moab, Utah, with plans to use them to switch rail cars as needed, to move the 16 million tons of uranium tailings from the Moab mill site, to a disposal site 30 miles north at Crescent Junction, by way of UP's Cane Creek Subdivision.

These two locomotives, painted red, with reporting OHFX reporting marks and numbered as OHFX 1250 and 1258, are part of a group of 77 unique locomotives built for the U. S. Army in 1953. They were designed to match a military specification for a small railroad locomotive that could be easily and quickly moved to any part of the world to aid in the supply of U. S. forces wherever railroad facilities were available. These two locomotives were numbered in the 1200-series, a group of 30 locomotives built to operate only on standard gauge tracks. A separate group of 44 locomotives could have their wheels narrowed or widened to match whatever track gauge was available.

When they arrived at Moab in April 2007, the two locomotives were moved to the far south end of the UP Cane Creek branch, at the Intrepid potash site at Potash, Utah, nine miles south of the Moab mill site. DOE leased a 150-foot piece of track from UP, at the far south end of track, which they fenced off to protect the public because the two locomotives had some very slight, very minimal contamination from wind-blown dust at the Ohio site.

After sitting unused for over four years, in Fall 2011, Union Pacific and Intrepid potash informed DOE that they were about to start operation of unit trains, and needed those last few feet of track of the Cane Creek Subdivision. To comply with the request, DOE hired a local heavy-haul trucking firm to load the two locomotives on trucks and move them north from Potash, to the Moab tailings disposal site at Crescent Junction, about 37.5 miles. The actual movement may not have taken place until after May 2012.

The locomotives have always been owned by DOE. The OHFX reporting mark was for Ohio Fernald. Fluor Daniel Fernald was DOE's contractor for the disposal of the contaminated Fernald, Ohio, site, and was allowed to apply their logo and name to the locomotives.

As of mid July 2012, the two locomotives sit at the end of track at the Crescent Junction site, and are available for sale by DOE. Donation to a museum would also be considered, but DOE cannot participate (logistics or funding) in any further movement. If a new owner is not located within a reasonable period of time, the locomotives will be dismantled and buried at the disposal site as part of the Moab tailings disposal effort.

(Read more about OHFX 1250 and 1258)

(Read more about all U. S. Army RS4TC locomotives)

More Information

DOE Moab Tailings Web Site

MoabTailings.org web site

Timeline for the closing of the Atlas mill, and removal of the tailings