Kennecott Utah Copper

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Contract Switching at Magna and Garfield

This page was last updated on June 28, 2021.

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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, 792 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.

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, used by Savage Bingham & Garfield, a shortline that took over the freight operations of UP's former D&RGW Bingham Branch in 2007.

Rio Grande Western provided whatever in-plant switching was needed until Utah Copper grew weary of the too-high rates and poor service, 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. The result of these changes was that after 1996, it was only Union Pacific that served Kennecott Utah Copper's mill and smelter complex at Garfield.

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 primary crusher located in the Bingham mine, 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 new 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 and concentrator 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.

Maintenance Shop

Following the end of rail operations by Kennecott itself in 2002, a new maintenace shop was built on the site of the former Arthur mill. The new shop is about 110 feet wide and about 220 feet long, with three tracks. The shop is used by each successive contractor for maintenace on the locomotives that are part of the contract, and for maintenance on Kennecott-owned rail cars (mostly KCCX acid tank cars).

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 5490-tunnel 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).

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 Bingham and Garfield branch (known to UP as its Bingham Industrial Lead), 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.

Stella-Jones, Inc., is 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 (2012-2020)

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.

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

June 30, 2020
The Garfield switching contract was transferred from Omaha Track, to RailServe, Inc.


July 1, 2020
The Garfield switching contract was taken over by RailServe (RSSX), effective July 1, 2020.


The first three locomotives used for the Garfield switching contract, ex Kennecott 707, 792 and 799, were sold to RailWorks in 2002, and have been part of the contract since that time.

With the end of Omaha Track's contract at Garfield in June 2020, the three locomotives (ex Kennecott 707, 792, 799) were moved to other Omaha Track sites, including its Spokane, Spangle & Palouse Railway (SSP) in eastern Washington, running south 66 miles from its interchange with BNSF at Marshal, Washington.

November 2020 Update -- RailServe has been seen using using locomotives it already owns as part of its extensive rail switching and rail services organization (RSSX reporting mark), as well as locomotives from other leasing companies, including GMTX.

No attempt will be made to list, or determine the histories of RailServe (RSSX) or other leased locomotives after July 2020.

To illustrate the variety of leased locomotives being used, the following report for June 24, 2021 comes from Bradley Ogden:

Railserve took over Omaha Tracks operations last year on July 1, 2020. At the time of start up they had the following locomotives.

  • RSSX 116   GP7 blt new as NKP 431
  • RSSX 1337 GP7u blt new as ATSF 2696
  • RSSX 1590 GP9u blt new as CP 8523
  • RSSX 1633 GP9u blt new as CP 8706

Newest addition is RSSX 697, a GP15-1, ex UPY 697, blt new as MP 1697, arrived on the property June 2021.

Last week I saw all but RSSX 1337.

Also seen on July 1, 2020 was GMTX 2642, (I haven't seen since last year), and 2662. Both built as GP40's, now GP38-2's retaining all three cooling fans.

Last fall I believe GMTX sent 2330 to replace the 2642.

Then last December I saw another new locomotive being leased to RSSX, SSRX 3510, a straight GP38. That was followed up with another GP38 from SSRX, the 3670.

Lately they have been running the units in two four-unit sets: GMTX 2662/ RSSX 116 / SSRX 3510 / RSSX 1590 and GMTX 2330 / RSSX 1633/ SSRX 3670.

With RSSX 697 working alone and RSSX 1337 is hiding or it is no longer on the property.

Ex Kennecott Units

Model Horse-
707 OT 3906 EMD GP39-2 2,300 HP Sep 1980 EMD 796342-3 1
792 OT 3901 EMD GP39-2 2,300 HP Oct 1978 EMD 776116-3 2
799 OT 3905 EMD GP39-2 2,300 HP Nov 1978 EMD 776116-10 3

For a brief time in 2019, OmahaTrack used an SW1500 numbered as OT 1502. OmahaTrack (OT) 1502 (EMD 7227-6; Feb 1972) was built as Kansas City Southern 1537, renumbered (before 1985) to KCS 4357; wrecked in January 2013; sold to Midwest Locomotive, rebuilt (after May 2017) from the frame up; to OT 1502. (Data from Randy Keller, email dated March 11, 2019) OT 1502 moved to OT's Eaton, Colorado, location, departing Utah on February 18, 2020.

General Notes:

  1. Numbers 707, 792 and 799 are equipped with extra height cabs (26 inches) for improved visibility in the Bingham open pit copper mine, along with with extra clearance pilots and fuel tanks, and dynamic braking. Both locomotives were purchased by Kennecott under a leasing agreement dated September 1, 1978. The lease expired and Kennecott took full ownership on June 24, 1999. The per-unit purchase price was $575,000.
  2. KCC 707, 792 and 799 were sold to Railworks in 2002, as contract operator of Kennecott's rail operations at Magna/Garfield, Utah; sold to Tangent Rail in October 2005 as part of their purchase of Railworks; sold to Stella-Jones in April 2010 as part of their purchase of Tangent Rail; sold to Omaha Track in October 2012 as part of their purchase of the Garfield switching contract. (There were reports that 792 and 799 were used briefly during April 2009 at Energy Solutions at Clive, Utah, 59 miles west of Garfield on UP's former WP mainline.)


  1. Kennecott 707 was repainted and renumbered to Omaha Track 3906 in September 2020, with SSP (Spokane, Spangle & Palouse Railway) reporting mark. Moved to SSP at Marshall, Washington, after November 2020.
  2. Kennecott 792 was renumbered to Omaha Track 3901 in March 2019, moved during July 2020 to the Omaha Track shortline, Spokane, Spangle & Palouse Railway (SSP) in Washington.
  3. Kennecott 799 was renumbered to Omaha Track 3905 in February 2020, moved during July 2020 to the Omaha Track shortline, Spokane, Spangle & Palouse Railway (SSP) in Washington.
  4. Progressive Railroading magazine published an article in its June 2019 issue about Omaha Track's SSP operation in Washington.

Leased Units

The following leased locomotives were used at various times by OmahaTrack from 2012 through 2020. All were returned to SSRX at the end of July 2020.

Model Horse-
SSRX 279 EMD/ICG GP10 1,750 HP Apr 1953 EMD 17981 EMD 5253-01
SSRX 3510 EMD GP38 2,000 HP Aug 1969 EMD 35379  
SSRX 3670 EMD GP38 2,000 HP Oct 1967 EMD 33325 EMD 7060-08
SSRX 9525 EMD GP38AC 2,000 HP Aug 1969 EMD 35169  

General Notes:

  1. SSRX 279 was built in 1953 as Pittsburgh & Lake Erie GP7 5735; renumbered to P&LE 5928; renumbered to P&LE 1502; retired and sold to Illinois Central Gulf, rebuilt to GP10 in 1977 and numbered as ICG 8203; retired in April 1994 and sold to Neosha Rail Services; sold to National Rail Equipment (NREX); sold to S&S Sales and Leasing (SSRX); leased to Rock and Rail, Canon City, Colorado, until about April 2017; leased to Marathon Oil, Robinson, Illinois, during 2017; leased to Omaha Track and used at Garfield, Utah.
  2. 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.
  3. SSRX 3670 was built as B&O 3807, renumbered to CSX 2007; sold to Bangor & Aroostook 302; sold to Helm (HLCX) 3670; sold to PRLX 3670; sold to S&S Sales and Leasing (SSRX); leased to Omaha Track and used at Garfield, Utah.
  4. SSRX 9525 was built as GM&O GP38AC no. 706; to ICG 9525; to IC 9525; to Gulf, Colorado & San Saba no. 9525. This was the last unit remaining in GCSR paint on the property, and was repainted from the GCSR red, white and blue scheme to a green and white paint scheme. Plans in January 2015 were to interchange the unit with BNSF at Lometa, Texas. SSRX 9525 isn't a GP38AC anymore. It is a GP9 in a GP38 body and frame. At some point, while still in service on the Gulf, Colorado & San Saba, the 16-645 suffered freeze damage and instead of repairing it, GCSR decided to remove the freeze-damaged 16-645 engine and the AR10 alternator. They replaced it with the 16-567C prime mover and D12B main generator from a wreck damaged GP9. This combination reduced its value on the used locomotive market, and caused a delay in when GCSR was able to sell the locomotive.

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