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Union Pacific's 900 South Line, Salt Lake City

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This page was last updated on May 20, 2013.

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Overview

The August 11, 2001 issue of Deseret News carried a story that Union Pacific was planning to reactivate its dormant 900 South Industrial Lead, formerly used as its passenger mainline into Salt Lake City. The news immediately lit a fire under the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) interests in Salt Lake City.

The big to-do between UP and the local politicians was about having as many as ten trains per day of as many as 100 cars each, moving through the west side neighborhoods. The area of interest was along 900 South between Redwood Road (1700 West) and 900 West, and a brief tour of the area showed that there were a lot of nice homes, and some run-down homes; a fairly typical neighborhood. As mentioned in the news, there was a new elementary school being built immediately south of the tracks, at about 1300 West.

There was quite a legal battle brewing. The city sued Union Pacific for not honoring the franchise agreement signed in 1989 by running at least one train on the line in any nine-month period. Doing so was basically impossible after the UP line along 400 West was cut to get the new Interstate 15 off- and on-ramps shortened at 500 South and 600 South.

Most of the trackage between the UP depot at South Temple and at least 700 South had been removed at Salt Lake City's request, to make the rebuilding I-15 easier. The removal of much of the trackage along 400 West left unconnected portions along that same street, and where the line turned west at 900 South to head due west, crossing the old D&RGW passenger line at 500 West and the D&RGW freight main at 700 West.

Once the 900 South line had been cut, to save maintenance costs, Union Pacific removed these 90-degree rail crossings immediately after the 1999 service cutback. All along the 900 South Line, there were few if any trains since the 400 West line was cut in 1999. There was also a bit of unused trackage on the old Utah Southern (known today as the Provo Sub) from 900 South in a general southeast direction to where it connects with the new UTA Trax line at Paxton Avenue (about 1200 South).

Constructed in 1906

By constructing the Passenger Line in 1906, the trains of San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake could enter the depot from the south after traveling along 400 West (then known as 3rd West). The route was used several times a day by UP trains as they proceeded along UP's Los Angeles to Salt Lake City mainline, including UP's City of Los AngelesUtahn, and Pony Express name trains.

The 900 South Line, also known as the "Passenger Line," was built in 1906 as an extension of OSL's "Enamel Spur" that served a enameling company located just east of the RGW passenger line along 500 West. The new passenger line was an extension of approximately 2.5 miles beyond the river as a connection to allow the projected operation of 15-20 passenger trains a day to the planned Union Depot in Salt Lake City (completed in mid 1909). The depot was to be sited on South Temple Street, directly east of the line's route into Salt Lake City from the west. The depot's location would have required several difficult train movements to allow trains to operate directly into the depot.

As part of the 1906 extension, crossings were installed to allow the new line to cross RGW's passenger main at 500 West, and their freight main at 700 West, and new trackage was completed from the Jordan River west to a new station known as Buena Vista, where a connection was made with the westside mainline. The line was constructed and owned by SPLA&SL, which in 1903, took ownership of all former OSL lines west and south of Salt Lake City. In later years, UP used the west portion of the Passenger Line to gain access to the north end of the Small Arms Plant west of Redwood Road.

After May 1971, when Amtrak took over the operation of all Union Pacific passenger trains, the 900 South Line became essentially a freight line that served various shippers along the line, and was also used as a secondary mainline when needed, including irregular use by special steam-powered excursion trains, and for the annual Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus trains.

Between 1971 and 1999, trains operating over the line included the daily freight local that provided service along 400 West, and to the Small Arms Plant and UP's Pioneer and Centennial industrial parks on the city's west side. The last train operated in March 1999. The 900 South Line fell into disuse because, and this was important, access to the line was cut at 900 South and 400 West when the 400 West Line was removed to allow the construction of the Gateway Center, and to allow the 400 South, 500 South, and 600 South on- and off-ramps to Interstate 15 to be improved by shortening them. The new on-ramps were opened to traffic in early April 2001.

Changes in 1999

Union Pacific stated that it was unable to operate and maintain its access to the 900 South Line after 1999 because its access from the east by way of the 400 West Line was blocked by construction along 600 South, 500 South and 400 South where each crossed 400 West. Also, later the tracks along 400 West had been removed at the request of both the city leaders, and the state Department of Transportation.

The announcement in 2001 that Union Pacific intended to operate trains between the western connection, and its former D&RGW freight line at about 650 West. With all of the other changes taking place near its line in the Grant Tower area directly west of the Gateway Center, UP wanted to avoid congestion and operate its trains to and from the west, and to and from Roper Yard, by way of the 900 South Line, saving the time and congestion of operating those trains through the Grant Tower interchange.

The news stories and editorials at the time included comments and questions as to why UP couldn't use their line along 1800 South, meaning the connection on the UP mainline (former D&RGW) where the old D&RGW Small Arms Branch connects to the mainline, about a half mile north of Roper. This supposed alternate route makes a connection with the mainline at about 1800 South and heads in a northwest direction to a crossing of Redwood Road at about 1500 South. D&RGW formerly provided daily service along this line to various industries, and had done so ever since the line was completed in 1941.

In the Small Arms Plant, all of the trackage was actually joint trackage, with D&RGW entering at 1500 South and Redwood Road, and UP entering from its 900 South passenger line at about 2200 West, just west of the bridge crossing the Jordan Surplus Canal. Like D&RGW, Union Pacific has continued to provide service to the numerous industries added in the vicinity after the war, and the whole area was well developed as a general industrial "park."

Union Pacific service to the Small Arms Plant area was by way of what was known as its "Pioneer Local," named for Pioneer Road, a major thoroughfare in the area. The former UP portion was in good shape, since they continue to serve the industries, and the former D&RGW portion was in good shape. It's the half mile or so of industrial trackage and spurs that happen to connect the two that the trouble starts. It would take a lot of money to upgrade the trackage, since all of it was at grade, in the dirt, or even below the dirt. Trucks park all over it, and there was not sufficient clearance on several buildings and fences to allow regular safe operation of the mainline trains that would be operating along the line, to and from Roper. Plus there was the problem of the curve where the 1800 South line leaves the mainline; it was way too sharp for mainline trains to safely use. It was really a question of money, and how much UP wanted to spend. They may have been able to work something out with Salt Lake City about running trains all the way along 900 South, or the city could win its battle and be able to keep the trains off of the line completely.

Union Pacific could continue to operate through the Grant Tower interchange at South Temple and 700 West. Or they could reconstruct the combined UP and former D&RGW line along the northern edge of the old Small Arms Plant (along 1500 to 1800 South).

The first solution was to continue to use Grant Tower, an action that would only increase the congestion and train delays in that tight area of downtown. Rail traffic would continue to grow through Salt Lake City, and there was no other way into Salt Lake City from the north. Most trains are westbound out of Salt Lake City, whether they are bound for Los Angeles, or bound for Oakland. These trains must use the Grant Tower interchange.

For the second solution, building a new rail line through the Small Arms industrial area, the costs would have been very high, since they would have to buy a lot of land and demolish some warehouses adjacent to these existing industrial spurs, and tie the spurs together to make a proper Class I mainline. The costs would not be justified just to operate the few trains from the west that are eastbound via the old D&RGW line.

Along the 900 South Line, there were no trains running in the streets. There was an interchange between Union Pacific and abandoned Salt Lake & Utah interurban immediately west of the line's crossing of the D&RGW freight mainline. But the SL&U track paralleled the D&RGW along the west side south to a connection with the west side of the SL&U line after it crossed over the D&RGW at about 1900 South. When D&RGW bought the remnants of the SL&U in 1948, they kept this minor connection and it remained in place well into the 1970s. Utah Power & Light had a pole yard just west of where the UP line crossed 700 West. The D&RGW-UP crossing, where there was at one time a regular crossing tower, is actually at about 650 west.

UP asked the federal Surface Transportation Board to rule on whether or not they, as an interstate corporation involved in interstate commerce, can be blocked by the wishes of a local city and limited by the provisions of a local city franchise. If a settlement could not reached, this legal battle could have ended up in the Supreme Court as a test of the powers of local governmental franchises.

Moving the trains away from the Grant Tower area, and running them along 900 South (or along 1800 South) would really benefit both UP and the city, if it weren't for the residents along 900 South, and the general desire by other interested parties to rid the city's west side of the stigma of being low-income and industrialized. These people barely (if at all) understand how transportation in Salt Lake City works, but they are quite vocal in their protests. But, people need to live someplace, and trains need to be run. Not quite an immovable object up against an unstoppable force, but almost.

As for the 900 South Line itself, all of the neighborhoods and civic improvements near it, were built after the line was completed in 1907. Several homes have had multiple generations of families raised in them. All the while, UP ran as many as 10 trains a day along the line. Admittedly, most were short passenger trains, but they were trains none the less. Keep in mind that we are talking about the neighborhoods and homes west of 900 West and east of Redwood Road, a distance of about one mile. I have read that many of the disgruntled homeowners have said that they were told that the line was abandoned, and that fact was why they decided to purchase their homes. And where did they get this information? From the real estate agents and developers, of course; those with a huge vested interest in completing the sale. I would imagine that none of the recent prospective buyers approached either the city or the railroad to confirm the fact.

There were several issues at work. People want housing that they can afford, in a nice quiet neighborhood. There is inexpensive housing available all over the Salt Lake Valley; some of it is on Salt Lake City's west side. It also happened to be located near a rail line that was never abandoned, but merely fell into disuse while UP was rearranging itself to take advantage of its recent mergers. The railroad also had to deal with other changes that were necessary in Salt Lake City to accommodate the rebuilding of Interstate 15, and the improvement of the Gateway area.

As with most political happenings, there were other forces at work that we will never know about; on Mayor Rocky Anderson's part, and on the part of others with real estate interests in the area, as well as with Union Pacific. In the meantime, UP continued with its improvements and rehabilitation efforts, stopping only when told to do so by someone whom they recognized as having the authority to do so, namely either a federal court, or the federal Surface Transportation Board.

Some people like Union Pacific. Some people don't. Some people simply tolerate the company. The residents along the 900 South line have their own needs. The city has its needs. And Union Pacific has its needs as well. Depending on your point of view, and what ever your interests might be, one side is wrong and one side is right. We should all try to see all sides, because no one knows the full story, nor will we, or should we. As with any political event, it all makes for some interesting observation.

Salt Lake City "playing hardball" with Union Pacific did not work, and by March 2002, the federal Surface Transportation Board denied Salt Lake City's request to stop all future trains, and the city and Union Pacific began talks to find a solution. At about the same time, a federal District Court also denied Salt Lake City's law suit. The solution was to operate trains at no more than 30 mph, and to not blow train horns at each and every crossing, creating what is known as a "quiet zone." Also, fences were to be built along the line where children would be in the vicinity of the tracks.

Work began late 2003 to reconfigure the tracks through UP's Grant Tower interchange to allow higher train speeds, and the project was completed in November 2007. Union Pacific and Salt Lake City worked together to request the abandonment of the 900 South Line, and the request was approved in June 2006, to take effect upon the completion of the Grant Tower reconfiguration project. The tracks along the route were removed during the summer of 2008, and the right-of-way converted to use as an urban trail for walkers and bikers.

Timeline

At some time in late July 2001, Union Pacific sent a letter to Salt Lake City terminating the franchise agreement with the city for the rail line that paralleled 900 South. The railroad stated that intended to reactivate the line and to operate eight to ten, 100-car trains a day through the Glendale and Poplar Grove neighborhoods. The franchise agreement was signed in 1989 and expired on June 30, 2003, granting Union Pacific the right to cross certain streets in Salt Lake City. The agreement included the city's right to revoke the right to cross city streets for any line not used for nine consecutive months. The last UP train to operate on the 900 South Line was "three years ago." In the letter, Anderson gave Union Pacific until November 1, 2001 to remove the rails from the crossings and restore the streets. (part from Surface Transportation Board Finance Docket 34090, decided November 7, 2001)

The franchise agreement between Salt Lake City and Union Pacific was signed on March 20, 1989, and covered 50 street crossings within the city limits. UP's predecessors (Oregon Short Line Railroad, and San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad) had operated over street crossings within Salt Lake City, pursuant to franchise ordinances dating from 1905, and the agreement from 1989 allowed Union Pacific to "construct, operate, and maintain standard gauge railroad tracks within the streets of Salt Lake City."(Surface Transportation Board, Docket AB-33, Sub 183)

August 3, 2001
The following comes from the Deseret News, August 14, 2001:

"Rocky said, 'Let's play hardball with them,' " according to D. J. Baxter, the mayor's adviser. On Aug. 3, Anderson sent a certified letter to Union Pacific, demanding an entirely different course.

"U.P. is hereby directed to remove its tracks from said city streets, and restore said streets . . . to the satisfaction of the city, on or before Nov. 1," the mayor wrote.

Baxter learned that Union Pacific officials indicated they weren't coming for any meeting. "I think the letter really surprised the bigwigs at U.P.," Baxter said Monday. "They probably want to deal with it through their legal department." No new meeting has been scheduled.

"We have attempted to meet with the mayor," Union Pacific spokesman Mike Furtney said. "We were told his calendar is too crowded. And now we're told he's out of the country on vacation."

Union Pacific does have the right to use the 900 South tracks, due to its 1989 franchise agreement with Salt Lake City. The one thing that would void the agreement: no use of those tracks for nine months or longer.

And the tracks have been idle for years, Baxter said, though how many years depends on whom you ask. Union Pacific has said it's been two; neighbors say five years.

"We think we're on pretty solid ground" to revoke Union Pacific's permit to use the tracks, Baxter said. "We want to see some proof they've used those tracks." If no such proof is forthcoming, "we'll enforce that deadline" of Nov. 1 for the tracks to be replaced by neighborhood streets.

But Union Pacific has "in no way abandoned the franchise or the track," spokesman Furtney said, and "our legal position is strong." (Deseret News, August 14, 2001) (link)

Mayor Anderson had known in early 2000 of the plans of the previous city administration to force Union Pacific to abandon the 900 South Line, but admitted that he would wait until no trains had run for the required minimum of nine months, allowing him to call into effect that portion of the 1989 franchise agreement. The mayor said that he did not want to give Union Pacific the quick way out by simply running a train down the track within the nine month period. (Deseret News, September 11, 2001) (see also an opinion piece published in the Salt Lake Tribune, May 19, 2002, written by former Mayor Corradini, and Deputy Mayor Brian Hatch, restating these same events, along with other information concerning Salt Lake City's relationship with Union Pacific.)

Union Pacific stated as early as April 1998 that the 900 South Line might be reactivated. This was presented, and recorded in the minutes of a planning meeting between city and railroad officials concerning the upcoming changes needed to remove railroad tracks for the Gateway Project. (Deseret News, September 16, 2002)

In an opinion piece published in the Deseret News on February 7, 2002, Cameron Scott, Superintendent of Union Pacific's Utah Service Unit, gave the details of the 1989 franchise agreement. It included a condition that the city was to give notice to the railroad remove its tracks if the tracks went unused for the nine month time period, but only after the city gave the railroad a 30-day notice to rectify any issue concerning the track. The railroad was not given any such chance prior to the original notice on August 3 to remove its tracks. (Deseret News, February 7, 2002)

August 23, 2001
Union Pacific filed a petition with the federal Surface Transportation Board seeking a "declaratory order" stating that Salt Lake City cannot sever or prevent operation over a 1.32-mile UP line of railroad without obtaining first federal authority under federal law (49 USC 10903). (Surface Transportation Board Finance Docket 34090, decided November 7, 2001)

August 24, 2001
Salt Lake City filed suit against Union Pacific Railroad in the Third District Court of Utah, with the intent to force Union Pacific to honor its 1989 franchise agreement, seeking a restraining order to stop the railroad from taking any action that would allow it to reactivate the 900 South Line. (Case Number 2:01-CV-655ST) (Deseret News, August 25, 2001; August 26, 2001)

A hearing before U. S. District Judge Ted Stewart for the above lawsuit was scheduled for February 5, 2002. (Salt Lake Tribune, December 7, 2001; Deseret News, December 17, 2001)

September 14, 2001
Salt Lake City advised the Surface Transportation Board that Union Pacific had contractually agreed to remove any tracks over city streets that had not been used for a minimum of nine consecutive months. (Surface Transportation Board Finance Docket 34090, decided November 7, 2001)

Also on September 14th, Salt Lake City asked for a waiver from most of the requirements of federal public law concerning adverse abandonment of railroad tracks. In its decision, the Board stated that the City's request was inappropriate and that the City must comply with existing federal law. The City stated that it intended to file its petition for adverse abandonment on the 900 South Line on or before September 14, 2001. Due to delays in its preparation, the petition was finally filed on November 13, 2001. (Surface Transportation Board, Docket AB-33, Sub 183, decided October 4, 2001)

October 13, 2001
Union Pacific maintenance crews began work on reactivating the 900 South Line. The work started at the eastern end of the line where new trackage was constructed to connect between the east-west running line to the north-south running mainline. Salt Lake City had decided not to pursue a court imposed stop-work order because of the requirement to post a bond that would cover potential damages if the City were to lose the lawsuit. The financial risk was seen as being too high. (Deseret News, October 17, 2001)

November 7, 2001
The Surface Transportation Board decided that a declaratory order was not needed because federal courts have consistently upheld that the Board held exclusive and complete authority over the abandonment (adverse or otherwise), or forced removal of any railroad line involved in interstate commerce. (Surface Transportation Board Finance Docket 34090, decided November 7, 2001)

November 13, 2001
Salt Lake City filed an application for adverse abandonment for the subject piece of Union Pacific tracks. Salt Lake City stated that trains had not operated over the track for two years and that the tracks were currently inactive. Protests and comments were to be filed by December 28, 2001, and on that date Union Pacific filed its protest of the adverse abandonment. Due to claims a and counter-claims, the deadline was extended until January 22, 2002. (Surface Transportation Board, Docket AB-33, Sub 183, decided October 4, 2001)

Major points made by each side included Union Pacific's desire to have its trains avoid the street congestion surrounding the 2002 Winter Olympics, adjacent to its Grant Tower interchange, allowing trains inbound and outbound to its Roper Yard. Reactivation of the line would also allow Union Pacific to pursue its long term transportation needs. The City contended that reactivation of the line would negatively impact its plans for the area, and would run through a minority community and cross a major thoroughfare creating safety risks and environmental violations.

December 21, 2001
U. S. District Judge Ted Stewart denied Union Pacific's request to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Salt Lake City. A further hearing was scheduled for March 11, 2002. (Deseret News, December 21, 2001)

December 26, 2001
The first test train, made up of 10 cars, operated over the reactivated 900 South Line. Additional trains were scheduled for the next day. (Deseret News, December 26, 2001)

January 5, 2002
The first operational train to travel over the reactivated 900 South Line was the westbound Wendover Local on January 5, 2002, at 11:25 am. The train was made up of 36 cars, with SD40-2s 3778 and 3686 as motive power. There was a signal crew (Wayne Stewart and John Carter) on hand to ensure the newly installed signals worked properly. (from Chuck Panhorst, via a June 24, 2002 email from Jim Belmont)

January 11, 2002
The Surface Transportation Board denied the City's demand for Union Pacific to furnish documents and interrogatories in connection with the railroad's protest of December 28, 2001, and which the City had counter-protested on the same day. Also on January 11th, the Board extended until January 22, 2002, the period allowed for Salt Lake City to answer Union Pacific's protest of the adverse abandonment.

February 6, 2002
Union Pacific put the two specially-painted Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympic locomotives on display at the Parkview Elementary School to allow the neighborhood children along the 900 South Line to get close to them to see how important it was to stay safe. (John Bromley, posted to Trainorders.com, March 13, 2002)

March 8, 2002
The Surface Transportation Board denied Salt Lake City's petition for adverse abandonment of Union Pacific's 900 South Line. The Board stated that the City did not make its case, other than showing that Union Pacific was in breach of contract, which included an agreement that the railroad would operate trains over city streets, and that the railroad must remove its tracks if trains are not operated for a minimum of nine months. The Board found that it had exclusive authority to allow the abandonment and removal of railroad tracks, and that both the City and the railroad would be in violation of interstate commerce if either the City or the railroad removed the tracks.(Surface Transportation Board, Docket AB-33, Sub 183, decided March 6, 2002, effective April 7, 2002; Deseret News, March 9, 2002; Salt Lake Tribune, March 9, 2002)

March 12, 2002
U. S. District Judge dismissed Salt Lake City's lawsuit against Union Pacific Railroad to stop freight trains from using the 900 South Line. Judge Stewart concluded that the city had violated its own 1989 agreement with the railroad, but also that the agreement did not have any force because federal law preempts local laws and ordinances. (Salt Lake Tribune, March 13, 2002)

Late March 2002
Salt Lake City met with Union Pacific Railroad to begin negotiations concerning trains operating along the 900 South Line. Possible solutions included sound walls, a "quiet zone" that did not allow trains to use their horns, and scheduling trains to avoid trains during the evening hours. (Salt Lake Tribune, April 3, 2002)

January 14, 2003
During a public meeting was to gather input for the City to mitigate the impact of the rail line to the neighborhood, including the establishment of a 30 mph speed limit and of a "quiet zone" to stop trains from blowing their horns at street crossings. Fences along the tracks were also to be installed to prevent children from crossing the tracks. Several residents asked whatever funds that may be available, instead be used in hurry the realignment of tracks in the Grant Tower interchange, which would in-turn do away with the need for trains to operate along the 900 South Line. (Deseret News, December 20, 2002; Salt Lake Tribune, December 20, 2002; Deseret News, January 14, 2003)

March 31, 2003
Public hearings were held to allow public comment for the establishment of a "quiet zone" all along the 900 South Line. Other improvements include fences and crossing guards at the railroad crossings near the two elementary schools. (Deseret News, March 29, 2003)

September 4, 2003
The Salt Lake City Council voted to allocate $700,000 for the creation of a quiet zone along the 900 South Line, instead of the estimated $2.7 million. (Deseret News, September 5, 2003)

October 27, 2003
Union Pacific and Salt Lake City announced an agreement for the realignment of tracks in the Grant Tower Interchange which would allow no longer running trains along the 900 South Line. (Deseret News, October 23, 2003)

November 17, 2004
The quiet zone designation for the entire 900 South Line went into effect. (Deseret News, November 18, 2004)

February 13, 2006
Union Pacific and Salt Lake City jointly filed a petition for the abandonment of freight operating rights and rail freight service over 2.22 miles of Union Pacific line in Salt Lake City. (Surface Transportation Board, Docket AB-33, Sub 237X, decided May 24, 2006, effective date June 2, 2006)

The map that accompanied the petition showed that the trackage to be abandoned was from mile post 780.1 (near Indiana Avenue, just west of the Interstate 215 overhead crossing) eastward to mile post 782.32 (near the intersection of 900 South and 650 West), where there was a curving connection with the former D&RGW freight mainline.

June 2, 2006
Union Pacific received federal Surface Transportation Board approval to formally abandon the 900 South Line between milepost 780.1, west of Redwood Road, and milepost 782.32, near 400 West, all in Salt Lake City. The line's abandonment was not to actually take place until after the reconfiguration of UP's Grant Tower interchange, which was planned for completion in early 2007 as part of many changes in support of UTA's commuter rail project between Salt Lake City and Ogden. (Surface Transportation Board, Docket AB-33, Sub 237X, decided May 24, 2006, effective date June 2, 2006)

February 14, 2007
Salt Lake City and Union Pacific signed an agreement that upon completion of the Grant Tower Realignment Project, Union Pacific agreed that within 180 days it would transfer ownership of the 900 South Line to Salt Lake City. (Salt Lake Tribune, February 14, 2007)

November 2, 2007
Union Pacific began full use of the re-aligned trackage through the Grant Tower interchange. The adjacent right-of-way for Utah Transit Authority's commuter rail was located and partially graded; UTA trackage was laid and in place by December 28, 2007. (Read more about Grant Tower in Salt Lake City)

In late December 2007, the last train ran along Union Pacific's 900 South Line.

Summer 2008
The tracks of the 900 South Line were removed.

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