D&RGW Rio Grande Zephyr

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This page was last updated on November 2, 2023.

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Rio Grande Zephyr Timeline

California Zephyr Discontinued

February 13, 1970
The federal ICC approved the request by Western Pacific to discontinue its portion of the California Zephyr passenger train. D&RGW was allowed to cut back the previous daily service, to three-trains per week, connecting with SP at Ogden. Southern Pacific was to continue operating its City of San Francisco service on its three-times per week schedule to accommodate passengers traveling from Chicago to Oakland by way of CB&Q and D&RGW. The changes for WP were to take affect 30 days after the approval, or when D&RGW and SP were able to make the necessary arrangements for their new connection at Ogden. (Salt Lake Tribune, February 14, 1970, "yesterday")

The last westbound California Zephyr departed Chicago on March 20, 1970 at 3 p.m. The last westbound CZ departed Salt Lake City, at 11:15 p.m. on Saturday March 21, 1970. About 150 people were on hand to bid the train farewell. It arrived in Oakland on Sunday March 22nd, at 7:15 p.m., four hours late. (Salt Lake Tribune, March 21, 1970; March 22, 1970; March 23, 1970)

The last eastbound California Zephyr over WP rails arrived in Salt Lake City at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday March 22, 1970, 1 hour 40 minutes late. Only one person was on hand to witness the event. (Salt Lake Tribune, March 23, 1970; Deseret News, March 23, 1970)

(This news items from local Salt Lake City newspapers are wrong. Dean Gray was also there that morning, and took photos. -- View Dean Gray's photos of the last California Zephyr.)

Rio Grande Zephyr Started

March 22, 1970
D&RGW's operation of the California Zephyr between Denver and Salt Lake City was cut back from daily service, to three-times-weekly service on March 22, 1970. The train's western connection with Western Pacific to Oakland was severed when the federal Interstate Commerce Commission allowed WP (decision dated February 13, 1970) to discontinue its portion of the California Zephyr on that same day in March 1970. The remaining D&RGW service between Denver and Salt Lake City became known as the "Rio Grande Zephyr", or just RGZ.

At the same time, SP's City of San Francisco between Ogden and Oakland was also changed from daily service to three-times-weekly. By ICC direction, SP was to provide a western connection, a "stub train", for D&RGW passengers at Ogden via a cross-platform transfer at Ogden with SP's City of San Francisco. At first, this was done by allowing D&RGW to enter Ogden Union Station with a connection with D&RGW's RGZ, that consisted of single passenger car pulled by a single locomotive (usually SP FP7 6447, either leased or loaned to D&RGW).

After the change of destination cities from Salt Lake City, to Ogden and a new connection with SP, D&RGW began operating its through train from Denver to Ogden. The newly named westbound "Rio Grande Zephyr," arrived in Ogden at 10:15 p.m. on Monday, Thursday and Saturday, in time for passengers to change to SP's City of San Francisco for its 10:30 p.m. departure for points in Nevada and California. The eastbound counterpart, the eastbound City of San Francisco, arrived in Ogden at 7:00 a.m. on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday, connecting with the new eastbound Rio Grande Zephyr, for its 7:15 a.m. departure for Denver and a connection with Burlington Northern to Chicago. A photo of the train in Ogden shows SP FP7 6447 and three cars, sitting at the Ogden depot upon the arrival of the first westbound RGZ. (Ogden Standard Examiner, March 28, 1970)

"WP Out, D&RGW and SP In, But Tri-weekly Only -- Reasoning that Western Pacific's tonnage can't subsidize an essentially "sightseeing excursion," the ICC has allowed WP to drop its Salt Lake City--San Francisco leg of the California Zephyr (last runs: March 21). Rio Grande, which also wanted out, was ordered to run its Denver--Salt Lake City CZ link on a tri-weekly schedule; and Southern Pacific was permitted to reduce its Ogden--San Francisco end of the City of San Francisco from daily to tri-weekly frequency. D&RGW and SP trains must connect between Salt Lake City and Ogden over what is at present freight--only trackage of the former." (Trains magazine, April 1970, page 8)

The Salt Lake City to Ogden connecting service usually consisted a just a few cars and a single locomotive. At times, a single car, or two, or even three cars were used, including a diner, depending on the number and type of passengers. An SP locomotive was usually used, usually SP 6447, unless a steam generator was not needed. In such cases, a single D&RGW without steam capability was used. (Rio Grande In Color, Volume 2: Utah, pages 123, 124, three photos)

"RGZ gained home rails, about 3/4 mile to the east of Wilson Lane, via the zig-zag maneuver at Cecil Junction that required an OUR&D switcher's assistance and consumed at least 10 minutes to cover the first mile from Union Station. The consist is the normal equipment for this leg of the journey: Prospector combine, CB&Q or D&RGW dome coach and 10-6 Pullman. Dining and lounge service, as well as any additional cars for revenue passengers, will be added at Salt Lake, along with swapping FP7 6447 for Rio Grande power (A-B or A-B-B), for the journey to Denver." (Bob Mckeen, November 20, 2018 message on Facebook)

June 14, 1971
The connecting service from D&RGW's Rio Grande Zephyr at Salt Lake City, to Amtrak's San Francisco Zephyr at Ogden, was changed from rail equipment to limousine service. (Rio Grande In Color, Volume 2: Utah, page 124)

Six weeks after the startup of Amtrak on May 1, 1971, and the first run of Amtrak's new San Francisco Zephyr, the D&RGW "stub" train was substituted with "limousine service". Because SP joined Amtrak and D&RGW did not, SP was forced to charge $953 per day for use of Ogden Union Station during May 1971, the first full month of operation of the RGZ Ogden connection. As a consideration of Amtrak's startup, both SP and D&RGW appealed the requirement for the stub train to the ICC, and the limousine service was substituted for the single locomotive and coach that were making the Salt Lake to Ogden connection. (Extra 2200 South, May-June 1971, page 29, "Passenger Train News", reported by Jim Davidson)

The limousine service was a contract operation between SP, D&RGW, and local motor carrier Lewis Brothers Stages. As late as October 1974, it was a standard 15-passenger van operated by Lewis Brothers Stages, and on one particular trip, there were five or six passengers. The Salt Lake City to Ogden limousine service continued from June 1971 through June 1982. Amtrak's Pioneer service began between the two cities on June 7, 1977.

(The limousine service from Salt Lake City to Ogden, remained in place at least through June 1982; shown in the D&RGW public timetable dated June 10, 1982.)

Rio Grande Zephyr Discontinued

March 16, 1983
The Amtrak board of directors formally voted to re-route the San Francisco Zephyr over the D&RGW between Denver and Salt Lake City. The new routing for Amtrak's San Francisco Zephyr (later California Zephyr) was to April 25, 1983.

(Read more about the changes of Amtrak's California Zephyr passenger train)

As a test of the change of routes, D&RGW and Amtrak ran a test train in February 7 and 8, 1983 with Amtrak equipment running as D&RGW's Rio Grande Zephyr, trains 17 and 18.

April 15, 1983
The D&RGW mainline at Thistle, Utah, in Spanish Fork canyon, was closed by a mud slide.

The Thistle slide cut the connection between Colorado and Utah, forcing the end of the Rio Grande Zephyr 10 days earlier than planned. The last eastbound train traveled through Utah and Wyoming over Union Pacific tracks on April 15th, arriving back in Denver in the evening of that same day.

April 16, 1983
"On Saturday, April 16, the RGZ began running only as far west as Grand Junction, Colorado, 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." (Railfan & Railroad magazine, July 1983)

The bus connection was by Trailways bus from Salt Lake City to Grand Junction, passing through Provo, Helper, Price, and Green River, Utah.

Amtrak continued to operate its San Francisco Zephyr by way of Denver and Union Pacific across Wyoming to Ogden, then Southern Pacific across the Great Salt Lake and into Nevada.

April 24, 1983
Amtrak's San Francisco Zephyr was renamed California Zephyr, and officially changed its routing from its UP-Wyoming route to a new D&RGW-Colorado route. (Amtrak Public Timetable, dated April 24, 1983)

Also on April 24th, a Sunday, the last westbound Rio Grande Zephyr departed Denver Union Station at its normal schedule time of 7:30 a.m., arriving at Grand Junction at its normal 2:55 p.m. The train was immediately service and turned, and the last eastbound RGZ departed Grand Junction, and arrived in Denver at close to its normal arrival time of 9:30 p.m.

April 25, 1983
Amtrak's newly renamed California Zephyr departed Denver and traveled its temporary detour route by way of Union Pacific across Wyoming to Ogden, west over the SP across the lake and into Nevada.

All Amtrak stations and offices in Wyoming were closed on May 20th, forcing the few passengers to buy tickets from the on-board conductor. Only carry-on baggage was allowed. This remained as the practice until mid July 1983 when the route was changed to D&RGW across Colorado with the completion of the Thistle tunnel.

July 1983 to October 1983 -- California Zephyr began running on D&RGW tracks in Colorado and Utah, following the completion of the Thistle tunnel.

July 15, 1983
The last eastbound Amtrak California Zephyr across Wyoming departed from Borie (near Cheyenne), bound for Denver. The last westbound California Zephyr departed Evanston, bound for Ogden, at 7:20 p.m. on the same day.

July 16, 1983
The first eastbound Amtrak California Zephyr operated through the Thistle tunnel. The route was by way of the D&RGW across Colorado to Grand Junction, then across Utah through Price, Provo and Salt Lake City. The routing of the train had previously been via Union Pacific through Wyoming to Ogden and Salt Lake City. The new routing replaced the route of the Rio Grande Zephyr, which ended on April 24, 1983.

The route taken by the CZ from July to late October was across Colorado to Salt lake City, then north to Ogden using Union Pacific tracks and the SP across the lake.

In late October the route was changed to use UP's former WP route along the south shore of Great Salt Lake.