Amtrak In Utah
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This page was last updated on September 1, 2015.
A general description of Amtrak routes in Utah includes the following:
San Francisco Zephyr/California Zephyr
- May 1971 to April 1983 -- The San Francisco Zephyr traveled over UP's Wyoming and Weber Canyon mainline to Ogden, then over SP's Great Salt Lake causeway into Nevada.
- April 1983 to October 1983 -- The San Francisco Zephyr changed to the California Zephyr, and its route was changed to D&RGW across Colorado, and through Provo and Salt Lake City, then to Ogden, then over SP's Great Salt Lake causeway into Nevada.
- October 1983 to present-day -- California Zephyr route is along the former D&RGW across Colorado, and through Provo and Salt Lake City, then west over former Western Pacific along the south shore of Great Salt Lake into Nevada.
- June 1977 to October 1983 -- The Pioneer traveled over UP's mainline from the north (from Pocatello, Idaho) to Ogden, connecting with the San Francisco Zephyr (California Zephyr after April 1983).
- October 1983 to June 1991 -- The Pioneer was extended south from Ogden to Salt Lake City, to connect with the California Zephyr and the Desert Wind.
- June 1991 to May 1997 -- The route of the Pioneer was changed and traveled east from Ogden, across Wyoming, connecting with the CZ at Denver.
- May 1997 -- The Pioneer was discontinued.
- October 1979 to October 1983 -- The Deseret Wind traveled over UP's mainline from Los Angeles, to Salt Lake City and Ogden, connecting with the San Francisco Zephyr (California Zephyr after April 1983).
- October 1983 to May 1997 -- The Desert Wind stopped at Salt Lake City, where it connected with the California Zephyr and the Pioneer.
- May 1997 -- The Desert Wind was discontinued.
In April 1983, the San Francisco Zephyr was changed to the California Zephyr, but continued to travel over UP's Wyoming mainline, until October 1983. The Deseret Wind continued to travel to Ogden, and was combined with the Pioneer, to form the eastbound CZ. The combining operation was reversed for westbound trains.
After the name change in April 1983, and the "official" route change from UP's Wyoming mainline, to D&RGW's Colorado mainline, the CZ continued to use the UP line, until July 1983 when the D&RGW line was repaired following the Thistle slide. From July to October 1983, the CZ passed through Salt Lake City, and connected with the Pioneer at Ogden, the proceeded west on SP's Great Salt Lake causeway.
(Were the Desert Wind and the CZ combined at Salt Lake City, and the CZ and Pioneer combined at Ogden, or did the Desert Wind travel from SLC to Ogden to be combined with the CZ and the Pioneer?)
In October 1983, Amtrak changed to using UP's depot in Salt Lake City, and began using the former WP route to Nevada. This meant that the Desert Wind terminated in Salt Lake City, and the Pioneer was extended south from Ogden to Salt Lake City, and the combining of three trains into the eastbound CZ, and separating of the westbound CZ into three trains, took place at Salt Lake City.
UP provided the switchers and crews from October 1983 until October 1986, when Amtrak moved its operations to the former D&RGW depot. Amtrak's own road crews did the switching until June 1988 when Amtrak no. 736, an SW-1, was assigned to Salt Lake City. Amtrak no. 551 was replaced by the no. 551, an SSB1200, in 1990.
In June 1991, the route of the Pioneer was changed to turn east from Ogden, then across Wyoming. The switcher at Salt Lake City was reassigned, and the road crews did the switching of the CZ and the Deseret Wind at Salt Lake City, until the Desert Wind was discontinued in May 1997. The Pioneer was also discontinued in May 1997.
The California Zephyr continues to arrive daily at Salt Lake City, traveling from Grand Junction, Colorado, through Price and Provo. It continues west from Salt Lake City to Wendover, and on across Nevada to Oakland, California.
May 1, 1971
Amtrak started its service through Utah.
By May 1971, all passenger trains through Utah had been discontinued except D&RGW's Rio Grande Zephyr and UP's combined City of San Francisco and City of Los Angeles from Wyoming to Ogden. At Ogden, the combined UP trains were separated with the City of San Francisco portion being handed off to Southern Pacific for movement west across Great Salt Lake and on to Oakland, California. UP itself took the City of Los Angeles south to Salt Lake City, then west past the south shore of Great Salt Lake and on further south through Delta and Milford and onto to Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
D&RGW's Rio Grande Zephyr was a remaining portion of the earlier California Zephyr that D&RGW had handed off to Western Pacific at Salt Lake City to continue the train's service through to Oakland, calif. On March 22, 1970, WP ended its portion of the California Zephyr, forcing D&RGW to continue its Denver to Salt Lake City service as the renamed Rio Grande Zephyr. After the March 1970 split, the Zephyr's service to Oakland was provided by a much smaller Salt Lake City to Ogden connection train that allowed California-bound passengers to continue westward on board SP's City of San Francisco.
UP and SP joined Amtrak, but D&RGW did not. The combined UP and SP City of San Francisco was renamed as Amtrak's San Francisco Zephyr.
D&RGW did not join Amtrak, so its Rio Grande Zephyr continued to operate over D&RGW's Denver to Salt Lake City route, with the connection to Ogden remaining in place. Within six weeks, on June 14, 1971, D&RGW's connecting rail service to Ogden was changed from rail service to over-the-road "limousine" service because the number of passengers (21 riders in May 1971) did not justify the expense of specially-assigned railroad locomotive and cars.
May 1, 1971
The following comes from the April-May 1971 issue of Union Pacific's INFO magazine (Info magazine, Volume 3, Numbers 6 and 7, April-May 1971, page 3):
Amtrak (Railpax) -- As of April 16, 1971, Union Pacific has entered into a contract with the National Railroad Passenger Corporation as a result of which, effective May 1, 1971; Union Pacific has discontinued all intercity rail passenger service.
However, UP operates an NRPC train for that corporation between Denver and Ogden on a tri-weekly basis. This train, operated between Chicago and San Francisco, is routed over Burlington Northern between Chicago and Denver and over Southern Pacific between Ogden and the San Francisco area.
(This is the San Francisco Zephyr, operating three times a week over UP across Wyoming.)
June 7, 1977
Amtrak's Pioneer, Trains 25/26, between Seattle, Wash. and Salt Lake City, Utah, began service. (The Mixed Train, May 1977, page 12)
In 1977, the Pioneer, Amtrak trains 25 and 26, was established to operate between Salt Lake City and Seattle, by way of Ogden, Pocatello, Boise, and Portland. The first Pioneer arrived at Ogden on June 7, 1977. (Ogden Rails, Second Edition, page 149)
October 28, 1979
Amtrak's Desert Wind, Trains 35/36, began service between Los Angeles and Ogden, Utah, where the train connected with Amtrak's San Francisco Zephyr from Oakland, and Amtrak's Pioneer from Seattle, for service to Chicago.
April 25, 1983
Amtrak's San Francisco Zephyr was renamed California Zephyr, and changed its routing from its UP-Wyoming route to a new D&RGW-Colorado route.
At the same time, Desert Wind service was cut back from Ogden to Salt Lake City. There was no need to duplicate the Salt Lake City to Ogden service that was now being provided by the new California Zephyr train as it came into Salt Lake City from the south via D&RGW, and continued west to Oakland via SP's route west from Ogden across Great Salt Lake.
The following comes from CTC Board magazine's April 1983 issue, page 16:
THE RETURN OF THE CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR -- The WP-D&RGW-CBQ version of the California Zephyr died on March 22, 1970, but now the train name has been revived by Amtrak. With the return of the through service over the Rio Grande on April 25th, the Cal Zephyr name returned, as did daily service. Once again there will be a daily meet of two passengers on the Rio Grande, now scheduled between Rifle and Grand Junction, CO. On the Salt Lake City end, the train will use the Union Pacific depot, which will require a back-up move to and from the Rio Grande tracks. The through cars for the Desert Wind will be switched at Salt Lake, while the Pioneer switching will continue to be handled at Ogden.
One of the big questions concerning the changeover has been answered in part, and that is what will happen with the RG equipment? Amtrak will acquire 3 dome coaches, two regular coaches and the ex-CZ diner. Rio Grande will keep one dome coach, the dome snack car, the dome-lounge-observation, the ex-UP diner, and the two combines. There are reports that the combines have been looked at by possible purchasers. For the cars Amtrak is picking up, it is a safe bet that they will go through the HEP (head-end power) conversion program at Amtrak's Beech Grove Shops. This program has been given continued funding by Amtrak, and cars continue to emerge from the shops. The Rio Grande equipment will be a nice addition to the fleet. In part the eventual changeover from steam heat to electric was one of the stumbling blocks to continued operation of the equipment by the Rio Grande.
After the changeover occurs we will have reports on how the train is doing under Amtrak, and some comments on the last of the best little train in all America . . . the RGZ. (Ed von Nordeck, John Arbuckle, Dick Stephenson)
Additional coverage by Railfan & Railroad magazine, July 1983, page 24:
WELCOME THE CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR -- On March 16, 1983, the Amtrak Board of Directors approved the re-routing of its San Francisco Zephyr via the D&RGW between Denver and Salt Lake City, replacing the D&RGW's tri-weekly Rio Grande Zephyr: The new daily service will begin with the spring time-change timetable on April 24, and the train name will be changed to the California Zephyr: The new CZ will carry Amtrak Superliner equipment.
Throughout the late winter and early spring, railfans from all over the country have been flocking to Colorado to ride and photograph the last of the RGZ--which has been running, for the most part, in style with the D&RGW's last F7 cab unit in the lead. The RGZ will make its last run westbound on April 23 and return to Denver on April 24, while the Amtrak CZs will depart San Francisco and Chicago on the 24th and meet for the first time on the D&RGW on the 25th. Rumors are flying thick and fast about the disposition of the D&RGW F7s and equipment, but now is not the time to speculate in print.
Nature, however, grandly fouled up the last-run/first-run railfan madness with a mudslide and flood which inundated the canyon community of Thistle, Utah, and blocked the D&RGW main line. The westbound RGZ made it through Thistle on Thursday, April 14, but had to return to Denver the next day detouring over the Union Pacific through Wyoming. On Saturday, April 16, the RGZ began running only as far west as Grand Junction, Colo., with a bus connection on to Salt Lake City. Since it is estimated that it will take two to three weeks to clear the mud and flood to reopen the D&RGW, it appears that the RGZ will make its last runs on April 23-24 only between Denver and Grand Junction, and Amtrak will have to debut its California Zephyr by detouring over the old San Francisco Zephyr UP route and providing bus service to the D&RGW stations.
Typical Amtrak consist for California Zephyr eastbound from Oakland to Salt Lake City included two F40s and eight cars. A sleeper and coach were added at Salt Lake City from Pioneer, and a sleeper and a coach were added at Salt Lake City from Desert Wind; consist eastbound from Salt Lake City: two F40s and twelve cars. (Pacific RailNews, June 1986, page 33)
Before 1983, Amtrak had been wanting to shift its Chicago to Oakland train away from UP's Wyoming main line to Rio Grande's more scenic Colorado line between Denver and Salt Lake City, and was negotiating with the two railroads to make it happen. Nature stepped in and forced a quicker start of the new service. In April 1983, a mudslide at Thistle, Utah, on D&RGW's line through Spanish Fork Canyon, southeast of Provo, closed that line. All Rio Grande trains detoured between Salt Lake City and Denver by way of Ogden and the UP main line across Wyoming, including the non-Amtrak Rio Grande Zephyr. For 10 days, D&RGW continued to detour its Rio Grande Zephyr through Wyoming. On April 25, 1983, Amtrak formally changed the routing of train numbers 5 and 6, its Chicago-to-Oakland train, to run through Colorado rather than Wyoming, christening the new operation as the California Zephyr. The train operated through Wyoming, and through Ogden, until July 16, 1983, when the Amtrak California Zephyr went east from Salt Lake City over the D&RGW and through the new Thistle tunnel for the first time. The tunnel was completed, and the first Rio Grande train ran through it, on July 4. (Ogden Rails, Second Edition, page 149)
July 16, 1983
Amtrak's newly renamed California Zephyr began using its new route by way of D&RGW through Utah and Colorado. Although officially renamed from San Francisco Zephyr to California Zephyr on April 25, 1983, with the new route being changed at the same time, the train itself was detoured over UP's route across Wyoming due to the mud slide on D&RGW's route at Thistle, Utah. The D&RGW route was reopened for freight service with the completion of a new tunnel on July 4th, bypassing the Thistle slide. Amtrak's passenger service was delayed until July 16th.
From Railfan & Railroad magazine, November 1983, page 33:
AMTRAK'S NEW CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR -- The new Thistle tunnel was opened for traffic on the afternoon of July 4, reopening the main line after 81 days of closure. While the line had been closed, the Rio Grande Zephyr had made its last run on April 24 as a Grand Junction turn, and Amtrak's Superliner California Zephyr had begun its career by detouring over the Union Pacific. On July 16, 1983, the first westbound Amtrak California Zephyr headed out of Denver to use the new tunnel and traverse its intended D&RGW route. The Zephyr got a formal send-off from Denver, complete with a banner and champagne christening by Beulah Ecklund Bauman, a "Zephyrette" hostess from the pre-Amtrak CZ. Meanwhile the Rio Grande F9s were observed in regular freight service.
A third unit for motive power was added to Amtrak's California Zephyr between Salt Lake City and Denver. (CTC Board, August 1983, page 15)
HELP FOR CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR -- Starting in early August a third unit has been added between Salt Lake and Denver. This was made possible by using the second unit from the Desert Wind, placing it on #6 at Salt Lake, and then turning it at Denver, returning the next day on #5 to #35 at Salt Lake. This should aid the on-time performance through the Rockies. Heavy summer travel and operational delays have combined to make the Zephyr late almost every day during July. Power for the Zephyr based out of Chicago has been concentrated in units of the 360 and 370 classes. (reported by John Arbuckle)
Amtrak's Desert Wind started service between Los Angeles and Ogden in October 1979, operating over the 900 South line to gain access to the south end of Union Pacific's Salt Lake City depot. In April 1983, Amtrak started using D&RGW's line across Colorado for the California Zephyr, operating into the former UP depot. In October 1983, Amtrak changed the California Zephyr's routing to travel due west from Salt Lake City, instead of traveling between Salt Lake City and Ogden, then across SP's Great Salt Lake causeway.
Between April and October 1983, Amtrak continued to use the former UP depot in Salt Lake City, using a switch engine to either combine the California Zephyr and Deseret Wind for their eastbound trip, or to separate them for their westbound trips. In October 1983, Amtrak moved from the UP depot to the former D&RGW depot, which allowed the Deseret Wind to enter the depot from the north via Grant Tower, instead of from the south via the 900 South line. Also in October 1983, the route of the Pioneer was extended south from Ogden to Salt Lake City.
October 30, 1983
The last eastbound Amtrak California Zephyr left Ogden Union Station after having come east on SP's Great Salt Lake causeway, ending almost 115 years of continuous passenger service between Ogden and Oakland-San Francisco. After leaving Ogden, the train proceeded south to Salt Lake City and then headed east across Colorado instead of east through Wyoming. The next day, the eastbound train ran into Salt Lake City over Union Pacific's tracks (formerly Western Pacific) along the south shore of the lake, bypassing the causeway and Ogden completely. From then on the only regularly scheduled Amtrak train through Ogden was the Pioneer, Amtrak trains 25 and 26, which from 1983 to 1991 ran from Seattle to Portland, across Oregon and Idaho, to Salt Lake City, where it connected with the California Zephyr to Chicago. At this time, and throughout the 1980s, a typical consist of the California Zephyr east from Salt Lake City was two F40 locomotives, eight cars from Oakland, two cars from a connection with the Desert Wind from Los Angeles, and two more cars from the Pioneer connection, by way of Ogden. (Ogden Rails, Second Edition, page 150)
October 31, 1983
From a Union Pacific MP&M Department letter, R. P. Neeley to W. F. Cocking, et. al., dated September 13, 1983:
Have been informed by the Senior Director of Operation Control that effective on October 31, 1983, the following procedures will be in effect concerning the operations of Amtrak Trains 5 & 6, 25 & 26, and 35 & 36:
Amtrak Trains 5 & 6
These trains are to be serviced at D&RG passenger terminal. Our forces at SLC will not be required to fuel or service equipment. Effective Oct. 31, 1983, Amtrak trains 5 & 6 will operate over the Western District from the D&RG passenger facility to Winnemucca, Nevada
Amtrak Trains 25 & 26
These trains will be fueled and serviced at Portland Terminal, and locomotive consists will be fueled by outside concern under jurisdiction of Amtrak at Nampa, Idaho. SLC will continue to service and fuel units assigned to these trains. Hinkle and Pocatello will no longer be required to fuel locomotive consists assigned to these trains.
Amtrak Trains 35 & 36
There will be· no change in present operations of these trains.
Amtrak's full-time agency at Ogden's Union Station was closed due to its close proximity to Salt Lake City.
October 27, 1985
Amtrak closed its ticket agency at Helper, Utah. The California Zephyr was to stop to handle passengers and change crews, but ticketing for helper passengers was to be handled through local travel agencies. Amtrak was also to arrange to have the depot building open prior to, and after, train time. (CTC Board, December 1985, page 35)
On the evening of March 13, 1986, the westbound Pioneer had F40s 319/324, an example of UP's wintertime requirement of two units for this train (which had been lifted by March). The Desert Wind arriving in Salt Lake City on March 18 had units 287/288 and six cars, one car more than its normal consist. This was due to a tour group occupying a second sleeper, with the group continuing on eastward aboard the California Zephyr. In a typical consist for the California Zephyr, two F40s and eight cars came out of Oakland to Salt Lake, where the train picked up a coach and sleeper each, from the Desert Wind and Pioneer. (Pacific RailNews, June 1986, page 33)
Amtrak moved its Salt Lake City station from the UP depot to the D&RGW depot. (CTC Board, November 1986, page 11; June 1988, page 16)
RIO GRANDE DEPOT UPDATE -- In a follow up to the September column's announcement that Amtrak is moving to the D&RGW Salt Lake depot, we learn that during October workers were preparing the building for Amtrak's occupancy later in the month.
To start, the baggage and waiting rooms were enlarged from the configuration last used in Rio Grande Zephyr days. Renovation of the building included concrete repair work on the deteriorated platforms and repair of the canopy on the west side of the station. All station tracks received new ties and in some cases new rail. Trackside 440-volt power plugs were installed for cars laying over on cold nights. About 1,000 feet of new track was installed between 2nd South Street and 1st South Street at 5th West Street. This new track connects with UP's Provo Subdivision just south of the south leg of the Grant Tower wye behind the UP depot. This work is being performed by the Rio Grande, and is scheduled for completion on October 26th.
With all of the new track work Amtrak will no longer have to depend on switchers to pull the trains into the depot upon entry into Salt Lake City. The California Zephyr and Desert Wind will simply come up the UP main and turn south into the D&RGW depot. The Pioneer's layover cars will be turned on the Grant Tower wye.
Amtrak has asked for bids on switching the various trains as UP and Rio Grande apparently are disinterested in providing the service. Interestingly, the only road to put in a bid was the Salt Lake, Garfield & Western, which has performed switching service for Amtrak in the past with private cars. (reported by Ryan Ballard)
Additional coverage by Pacific RailNews, November 1986, page 33:
DEPOT CHANGE IN SALT LAKE -- After a considerable amount of discussion between Amtrak and the Union Pacific, Amtrak will move on October 26 to the former Rio Grande depot about three blocks southwest of the present location. While moving was not Amtrak's first choice in the matter, they will save approximately $800,000 per year with the change. One important factor is that they will take over responsibility for switching in Salt Lake. This has at times been a sore point, as UP crews have frequently taken excessive time to complete the switching on the Pioneer and Desert Wind to add and subtract through cars from the California Zephyr to the connecting trains. The Rio Grande depot site is now in the hands of the Utah Historical Society, and under the new agreement, Amtrak will share a portion of the refurbished wing of the building. They will add standby power and improve lighting at the facility. No mention has been made of whether Amtrak will bring in its own locomotive for switching, or lease one. Small changes will be made in the routing of trains into the new depot location. (reported by NARP and The Mixed Train)
March 31, 1987
Consist of Amtrak Train 25, The Pioneer, Salt Lake City to Seattle:
- 337 FP40H
- 38009 Diner
- 31040 Coach Baggage
- 34061 Coach
- 32027 Sleeping Car
- UP 151 Private car
March 31, 1987
Consist of Amtrak Train 35, The Desert Wind, Salt Lake City to Los Angeles:
- 247 FP40H*
- 39909 Coach Dorm
- 39982 Diner/Lounge
- 31009 Coach Baggage
- 34079 Coach
- 32018 Sleeping Car
- *Original power; removed and put on the Zephyr; Desert Wind picked up 377 and 394 dead power units from the Zephyr; added an unknown GP power unit
March 31, 1987
Consist of Amtrak Train 5, The California Zephyr:
- 3015 BN GP40*
- 377 FP40H
- 394 FP40H
- 1173 Baggage (fluted sides); switched out in Denver, CO
- 1130 Baggage (smooth sides)
- 1234 Baggage (fluted sides)
- 39921 Coach/Dorm (Amtrak #0510)
- 32053 Sleeping Car (0531)
- 34016 Coach (0511)
- 34081 Coach (0512)
- 33023 Lounge/Cafe
- 38029 Dining Car
- 34072 Coach (2515)
- 32027 Sleeping car (2535; handicapped access)
- 34079 Coach (3516)
- 32018 Sleeping car (3530)
- *Added BN GP40 in Lincoln, NB and dropped in Denver
- Added DRGW GP40-2 3100; switched out at Leyden; power problems
- Added DRGW GP40-2 3125(?); switched out at Leyden; power problems
- Added third engine (number unknown); removed at Grand Junction, CO
Amtrak assigned EMD SW1 736 to work coach switching duties at the Rio Grande depot in Salt Lake City. This pioneer EMD yard goat nicknamed ‘Lil' Toot' was built in January 1942 for the New York Central. It would remain in service as a Penn Central unit, and later as a Ohio Central unit before working for Amtrak in Chicago, most recently in June 1987. The little switcher was used by Amtrak at Salt Lake City to switch cars from the inbound Pioneer and Desert Wind trains, adding them to the outbound California Zephyr. The little locomotive was underpowered and by mid 1990 had been replaced by a larger, more powerful locomotive in the Salt Lake City assignment. Amtrak no. 736 was reassigned by Amtrak to switch coaches in Oakland, California until retirement in 2001. (James Belmont)
Amtrak replaced its SW1 switcher no. 736 at Salt Lake City, with a larger, former AT&SF SSB1200, no. 551.
SL,G&W GE 65 ton DS5 leased to Amtrak at Salt Lake City while Amtrak's normal unit, Amtrak SSB1200 551, was at Wilson Railway Corporation's repair facility in Spanish Fork to fix water leaks in crankcase. (Locomotive Notes II, Issue 138, June 1990, pages 14, 16)
Ogden's Union Station was reinstated as a full-agency Amtrak station in March 1991. This was the first time an agent was on duty there since January 1985, when the facility was closed due to Ogden's close proximity (36 miles) to Salt Lake City. This took place in preparation for the rerouting of the Pioneer from Ogden, east up Weber canyon and across Wyoming to Cheyenne and Denver, there to meet and combine with the California Zephyr as had been done previously in Salt Lake City. (Ogden Rails, Second Edition, page 150)
June 17, 1991
The route of Amtrak's Pioneer was changed to extend its run from Salt Lake City, further east to Denver, by way of UP's Wyoming mainline. (Pacific RailNews, August 1991, page 12)
The rerouting of the Pioneer from Denver to Ogden via Wyoming took place on June 17. To kick off the return of service to the UP route via Laramie and Rawlins, Amtrak operated a special train for VIPs and guests, departing Ogden after ceremonies there on the morning of June 13, with stops at Evanston, Green River and Rock Springs before stopping for the night at Rawlins. The next day saw an early start from Rawlins, with stops in Laramie and downtown Cheyenne (which normally is served by connecting bus from Borie), Greeley and Denver. A reception and open house followed, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Equipment for the inaugural special was selected and prepared in Los Angeles. Carefully cleaned F40s 325/278/282 handled a 12-car Desert Wind eastbound on June 11 to move the cars to Utah in preparation for the seven-car special.
Regular service began with trains originating at Chicago and Seattle on June 16. The new schedule includes a four-hour layover in Denver eastbound (slightly less westbound). Amtrak is encouraging passengers to tour the nearby downtown area, or even have dinner in town while waiting for the connection to the California Zephyr.
In Cheyenne a new ticket office at the Chamber of Commerce in the Tivoli Building, 301 W. 16th Street, has opened. This is a manned facility, and checked baggage can be handled to and from this new station.
(see also, "Amtrak Returns To Wyoming", Trains, September 1991, pages 22-23)
Amtrak planned on extending its connecting bus service from Ogden, south to Salt Lake City and Provo, but was delayed. (Pacific RailNews, September 1991, page 14)
The reroute of the Pioneer seems to be going well. In the initial days after the June 17 change, delays were common, especially eastbound, where travelers could not always count on having the full three hour and 40 minute layover in Denver. First-class passengers are offered a complimentary tour of the city and dinner at Furr's Cafeteria, which is sometimes abbreviated when the train is late. Other dining options include restaurants near the depot, or the Pioneer's diner-lounge, which remains open during the layover.
A mail car has been added to the Pioneer, rerouted from the Empire Builder to operate from Seattle via Wyoming to Chicago. During July the material handling car (Ambox) was not seen on No. 26 every day.
The connecting bus between Ogden and Salt Lake City has been extended south to service Provo and Orem (Brigham Young University). The extension of the service to Provo had been slated to start July 1, but was delayed. It is possible to connect from the Desert Wind to and from the Pioneer in both directions, should someone want to ride the Wyoming route.
November 10, 1996
Due to insufficient funding, Amtrak expected to discontinue the routes of both the Pioneer (Seattle to Denver, via Ogden) and the Deseret Wind (Los Angeles to Salt Lake City). The cuts would eliminate passenger service to a total of 42 stations. At the same time, Amtrak was to restore daily service to the California Zephyr, which had previously been scheduled to operate three times per week. The changes were announced in August. A Portland-Seattle segment of the Pioneer would remain, and Amtrak was hoping for to keep a Los Angeles-Las Vegas segment of the Deseret Wind. (Pacific RailNews, October 1996, page 8; Trains, October 1996, page 17)
May 11, 1997
Amtrak's Pioneer (Seattle to Ogden) and Deseret Wind (Los Angeles to Salt Lake City) were discontinued. Both trains were operating on a tri-weekly basis. (Trains, June 1997, page 16)
AFTER MONTHS of backroom negotiations that kept trainloads of coach and sleeping-car inventory out of its reservations computers and off the market until April, here is what Amtrak's landscape--barring any last-minute political maneuverings--will look like with the new timetable on May 11:
The Salt Lake City-Los Angeles segment of the Desert Wind will be gone. Its alter ego, the California Zephyr, will return to daily operation Chicago-Oakland. It's possible that service will come back in 1998 on the southerly portion of the Wind's route, for Amtrak West is negotiating with potential private and public partners toward an L.A.-Las Vegas "demonstration," once Talgo trains now being assembled in Washington state become available
The Portland-Denver Pioneer will also be missing. If Oregon's legislature had come up with $2.9 million in loan guarantees, service would have continued on the Portland-Salt Lake City portion as a bare-bones tri-weekly accommodation with two coaches and a cafe car, leaving the Rose City early in the morning to connect early the next morning in Utah's capital with the CZ and arriving back in Portland the next day at 7 p.m.
The plan would have preserved the route across eastern Oregon and southern Idaho until October, when Amtrak intends to begin a daily Chicago-Portland express service via Omaha, Cheyenne, and Ogden. At this old passenger-train rendezvous point, a cross-platform connection with the Zephyr--and possible interchange of Bay Area express cars--would be possible as the Zephyr would switch back to the ex-SP Lucin Cutoff across the Great Salt Lake.
Unfortunately, Oregon wouldn't accept Amtrak's ex-Santa Fe hi-level cars as collateral and the deal died.
The express service could still materialize, but only if Union Pacific agrees (or is forced) to handle the "son of the Pioneer" over tracks that UP says are too congested to make room for a fast, scheduled Amtrak express train. With the Pioneer gone, there will be sufficient Superliners to return the Empire Builder and City of New Orleans to daily operation May 11, possibly as a Chicago run-through a la the Capitol Limited-Southwest Chief connection.
The last eastbound and westbound Pioneer trains, passed each other on May 10, 1997 near Hood River, Ore. The last eastbound Pioneer had one sleeping car, two coaches, a Superliner II diner, that also served as a lounge, a dormitory sleeper for the crew, and a baggage car at the rear. A second sleeping car was deadheaded empty of passengers, and was coupled directly behind the lone diesel locomotive, Amtrak number 323. (Trains, August 1997, page 24)
General description of Pioneer service. (Trains, August 1997, page 24):
Sitting in the lower-level lounge of the dorm as the last train skimmed along the Columbia River's south bank, Gary Erford, Amtrak's Product Line Manager, offered a post-mortem. "We ran full at the holidays and during the summer, but just couldn't get more than eight solid months of activity along the route. January through March are dead over here," he said. By contrast, the Chicago-St. Paul-Spokane-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder was packed.
Another coach, a dorm sleeper in revenue service, and a second "ranch" dining car featuring lower-cost meals were added last summer and still could not satisfy demand; the winter ski season helps keep the Builder full all year. Worse, according to Erford, "long operating crew layovers helped cancel out most of the savings realized from less-than-daily service without providing any additional revenue." Without a mail contract or a year-round traffic base, the Pioneer took the bullet so its equipment could be used on a daily Empire Builder.
In reality, perhaps 25 and 26 never had a fighting chance. Started as a Seattle-Salt Lake City Amfleet coach train on June 7, 1977, the Pioneer eventually acquired through Super-liners to Chicago. Dan Kuhn, Amtrak's Portland-based Sales Manager, asserts that traffic to Salt Lake and the Rocky Mountain destinations was strong, "but we lost that base in 1991 when the train was rerouted via UP's line across Wyoming." (That route had been previously abandoned by the San Francisco Zephyr in 1983 in favor of the Rio Grande's more scenic passage through the Rockies.) Shifting to a Denver connection with the California Zephyr, rather than Salt Lake City, corrected the 5 a.m. Seattle departure problem, added another state back to Amtrak's national map, and allowed the CZ to handle three Oakland-Denver mail cars.
Unfortunately, the trade-off also meant more inconvenient times at Boise, Idaho, and less population from which to draw. Reliability suffered as Union Pacific couldn't get the Pioneer through eastern Oregon's Blue Mountains on time. Riding the locomotive incognito once in 1992, Amtrak President W. Graham Claytor Jr. asked the engineer to inquire why three freights rolled by while his passenger train cooled its heels in a siding. The UP dispatcher let the hog-head and his secret guest know who was boss. "You'll move when I tell you to move!" he shouted. Fuming, Claytor got off at La Grande, Ore., and dialed up the railroad's chairman, Drew Lewis, at home. The call didn't help. With weaker ridership and an ever-tightening budget noose around Amtrak management's neck,the Pioneer's subsequent conversion to a confusing tri-weekly schedule eventually sealed its fate.
Amtrak began planning a resurrected version of its recently discontinued Pioneer. This new version was to operate between Chicago and Portland, via an all-UP route. The announced new service was to include expanded mail and express business that would include the use of RoadRailer trailers and high-speed, insulated boxcars, and was to begin on October 1, 1997. Strong objections by UP over the use of its already congested Nebraska and Wyoming mainline brought an end to the proposed new service, with UP wanting Amtrak to fund over $56 million in needed improvements to handle the additional traffic. No mention was made as to the route being either by way of Utah's Weber and Echo canyons, or by way of UP's Oregon Short Line route across the southwestern corner of Wyoming. (Trains, July 1997, page 16)
The abandonment (in September 1998) of UP's trackage in Salt Lake City along 400 West, 500 West, and 900 South forced Amtrak to move (in July 1999) from the former D&RGW passenger depot to a temporary intermodal facility directly to the west and located adjacent to the former D&RGW freight line along 600 West. Trains magazine's "NewsWire" reported the following on September 30, 1998:
Thanks to the 2002 Olympics to be held there, Salt Lake City will be getting a new Amtrak station. Presently Amtrak's daily California Zephyr uses a small portion of the former Rio Grande depot. The impetus for the change is that several overhead street crossings that now go over the Union Pacific passenger line and the former Rio Grande station line have to be rebuilt as part of a major highway project before the Olympics, and if those lines can be removed, the new bridges will be much shorter (and less costly). Without the long approach bridges the area around the two lines can more quickly be redeveloped.
The city has had a team of consultants working on the project for the past two years, and has selected architect Eli Naor of VBN Architects of Oakland, who designed the Jack London Square station there. The new Salt Lake City station is to be located on a triangular plot of land where the original D&RGW station was located in the 19th century. It is on the east side of the freight line leading south from Grant Tower interlocking toward Roper Yard. Some little-used freight tracks and sheds will be removed at the site. The station will be centered on the east-west street that the current D&RGW station is centered on, but about 2 blocks farther west. All this change will remove tracks of the former UP Provo Sub, and will leave both the Rio Grande and UP depot buildings with no tracks. The former Rio Grande freight line through the area will remain, as will the current UP main lines that head west.
Grant Tower, which is still standing, is the key junction where UP's two western routes (former Los Angeles & Salt Lake, and Western Pacific) connect with the former Rio Grande and the UP line north to Ogden, and in a related project, Grant Tower trackage will be modified to provide higher-speed curves. Also, a single double-track route west will replace the current separate UP and WP single-track alignments, thus reducing the number of grade crossings.
The new Amtrak station will be a full-service facility with three wide passenger platforms that can accommodate Amtrak and commuter service at the same time. It will include Greyhound and transit district bus routes, as well as the future commuter service. Salt Lake City will remain a service facility for the California Zephyr, and two platforms will be long enough to accommodate the train even with a string of express and mail cars.
May 15, 2002
Provo City officials held a ceremony to dedicate a new passenger depot in Provo at 600 South and 300 West. Although commuter rail was at least 10 years in the future, city officials hoped that the new depot would serve as a transportation hub for buses, trains, and light rail services. (Deseret News, May 16, 2002)
As of August 2008, Amtrak's situation in Utah is essentially the same since its move to its "temporary" facility in Salt Lake City in July 1999, nine years ago.
- Amtrak coverage in Ogden Rails
- Wikipedia entry for Amtrak
- Wikipedia entry for Amtrak's Deseret Wind
- Wikipedia entry for Amtrak's Pioneer