D&RGW Salt Lake City Yards

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This page was last updated on December 5, 2023.

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Rio Grande had two yards in Salt Lake City. The original yard, located in downtown, and the newer Roper Yard, located 2.6 miles south. The entire Salt Lake City terminal was a joint operation with Western Pacific.

The yard in downtown Salt Lake City was the original Rio Grande yard, first located when D&RGW was completed to Salt Lake City in 1881.

Salt Lake City yard had a capacity in 1943 of 290 cars. Roper yard was built in 1928, and had a capacity in 1943 of 2,160 cars.

In 1906, RGW purchased 480 acres from the LDS church, on what was known as "the Church Farm." The original intent was to abandon the original Salt Lake City yard, and move all facilities south to the new Roper location, to accommodate the operations of the Western Pacific Railway, which had just started construction west from Salt Lake City.

Discussions continued on a regular basis concerning the timing and best way to actually move the yard facilities. The limiting factor was usually the lack of sufficient funding from either RGW (later, D&RG) or from WP, or both. In 1913, the move was almost made, but financial conditions put an end to the plans, and the idea of moving the joint yard in its entirety was abandoned completely.

Roper Yard was first developed in 1916 when increased traffic levels showed that Rio Grande needed more yard space in Salt Lake City. The passing siding at Roper was expanded to include six new yard tracks that had a capacity of 1,000 cars.

During 1941, the total of 292 daily average of cars received and delivered to Rio Grande at Salt Lake City, was broken down as follows:


In 1943, interchange deliveries between Rio Grande and Union Pacific included interchange movements by Rio Grande from Roper yard to Union Pacific's North yard, and interchange movements by Union Pacific from North yard to Roper yard. In both cases, the locomotives returned "light" (without cars) to their respective home yard. Prior to the mid 1930s, return trips were made with whatever interchange cars were ready for the returning railroad. During the 1930s, the operating unions for the two respective railroads complained about work being stolen by the opposing railroad, and the practice of returning engines returning without cars ("light") was initiated. Traveling along the Rio Grande mainline between the two yards, a distance of 5.3 miles, each round trip by either road consumed as little as 3 hours 36 minutes in 1941, to as much as 9 hours 48 minutes in 1943, due to war time traffic congestion.

Deliveries to and from the Salt Lake & Utah, and to and from the Salt Lake Garfield & Western were not considered important to Rio Grande at Salt Lake City. The interchange with SLG&W was at First South, parallel with the passenger tracks along 6th (700) West. The interchanged cars were gathered as part of the normal operations of the Rio Grande's City Local. The interchange with Salt Lake & Utah was at 17th South, in the vicinity of SL&U's overhead crossing of the Rio Grande mainlines. The SL&U interchange cars were gathered by switch engines assigned to Roper.

Fourth West - Sixth West Track Change

A study completed by Rio Grande in December 1943 recommended adding a double track line parallel to UP's tracks along Fourth (500) West. Moving the mainline to Ogden away from its street-running along the center meridian of Sixth (700) West, with its 15 miles per hour speed restriction, over to a new route parallel to UP's line, would greatly improve train speeds through the area between Second South and Second North. The new tracks would also eliminate delays for trains bound for Ogden, which were required to stop before crossing the combined Union Pacific, Western Pacific, and Salt Lake Garfield & Western tracks at the intersection of Sixth West and South Temple streets. Because Union Pacific had priority over Rio Grande trains at this crossing, Rio Grande trains bound for Ogden at times added greatly to the congestion through the old Salt Lake yard while they waited proper clearance. The proposed line change was shown as the "Fourth West - Sixth West Track Change," and would later become known as the Grant Tower Interlocking.

(Read more about the Grant Tower Interlocking)

Roper Yard

D&RGW and WP (as the "Gould" roads) bought 1,100 acres of the "old church farm" in May 1906, for $86,000. The intent then was to move the entire Salt Lake City yards from downtown, south to the new site, keeping in mind that WP started construction in May 1906, but wasn't completed until November 1909.

In a January 1914 newspaper item about the growth of coal traffic from the Sunnyside mine, it was mentioned that "The Church Farm yards in Salt Lake are to be built in order to handle the large increase in traffic and to be used as a storage yard." (Eastern Utah Advocate, January 22, 1914)

Work began in July 1916 (completed in September) for the first tracks in the new yard, a set of six tracks that could hold up to 1,000 cars. The new yard was idle and empty in early 1921 for lack of business, but was reopened in August 1921 when business increased. At the same time, Roper became the arrival and departure yard for Salt Lake City, to relieve congestion in the downtown yard.

New tracks were added at Roper in April 1928, along with moving the running-repair car shop from the downtown site.

The new expanded Roper Yard opened in August 1928. Between 1916 and 1928, Roper was used as an auxiliary yard to the main Salt Lake City yard. In 1928, the roles were reversed, when due to increasing traffic, and to reduce costs of switching within Salt Lake City's restricted yard, centered around 3rd South and 4th South. The changes in 1928 made Roper Yard the main yard for Salt Lake City, with the old downtown yard became the auxiliary yard.

June 9, 1929
"In Eastern Div. timetable No. 12 of June 9, 1929, Rio Grande's Roper Yard was designated for the first time as the Salt Lake terminal for WP freight trains. WP continued to utilize this yard for many years, although some trains shifted to UP's North Yard in the 1970s. Roper yard today is UP's major terminal in Salt Lake City." (Jeff Asay, The Iron Feather, page 176)

March 1934
D&RGW "recently completed yards in Salt Lake City 1-1/2 miles long by 1000 feet wide containing 10 tracks with a capacity of 110 cars each and 10 tracks with a capacity of 50 cars each and an ice dock 1400 feet long with a 60-car capacity." (Salt Lake Telegram, March 7, 1934)

March 12, 1939
The new yard office and engine crew locker room was under construction "last week" at Roper yard. The concrete and brick structure included showers and lockers for 200 employees, as well as a large office for general clerical work, and three smaller offices for the yardmaster and assistants. (Salt Lake Tribune, March 12, 1939)

In 1943, due to war time traffic increases, Roper was holding back about 200 cars per day for Western Pacific, compared to holding just 25 cars per day in 1941. Expansion of Roper was badly needed to support projected increases due to the Pacific War Theatre. The congestion and the volume of traffic was limiting proper maintenance to the yard tracks, and several derailments had occurred at Roper due to poor track. Additional Lead Tracks were to be added in 1944 at both the west end (21st South) and the east end (30th South).

The tracks at Roper included the following:

The outbound engine track was also used to fuel and service diesel switchers, and the new 5,400-horsepower road locomotives being delivered to both Rio Grande and Western Pacific. There was some concern in 1943 about not having a track dedicated to the storage of 5,400-horsepower diesel locomotives that had been serviced and were awaiting their outbound call. But at the time, Rio Grande diesels were being turned back at Soldier Summit and returned east, and Western Pacific diesels were being called for their westbound trips before arriving in Salt Lake City with their eastbound trains. Plans for post-war operations projected storage times of three hours for locomotives awaiting an outbound call. A new track was to be added in 1944 at Roper for this purpose, adjacent to the run-around tracks at the west (compass north) end of Roper yard at 21st South, for both Rio Grande locomotives, and for Western Pacific locomotives.

Diesel locomotives were preferred in the old Salt Lake yard, to comply with Salt Lake City's anti-smoke ordinance. The anti-smoke ordinance did not apply at Roper, but diesel locomotives were preferred due to the lack of coaling facilities.

Other improvements at Roper during 1944 included a pneumatic tube system to allow transfer of paperwork between the yard office at 21st South, and the east end at 30th South. Also in 1944, a two-way radio communication system was to be added to allow better communication, along with a loudspeaker paging system throughout the yard, replacing the "dummy" telephone system that required a person monitoring each end of the line.

Tracks located adjacent to the mainline between Salt Lake City and Roper included:

The ice for the ice dock at Roper was purchased Utah Ice and Cold Storage Company, from its plant at 3rd South and 5th West on Rio Grande tracks, or from its plant on 5th West between 2nd and 3rd North, on Union Pacific tracks. During 1941, a total of 234 cars passing through the Salt Lake terminal required re-icing.

Salt Lake City Old Yard

The study completed in December 1943 showed that the 11 tracks in the old yard in Salt Lake City, with a combined capacity of 290 cars, were not used to make up or break up trains, or as an arrival or departure yard. These 11 tracks were used for the following:

Also in Salt Lake City were the following:

Salt Lake City Roundhouse

(Read more about the Rio Grande Salt Lake City roundhouse and locomotive shop)


D&RGW in Salt Lake City in 1951 -- a page taken from the D&RGW Traffic Manual of 1951.

Salt Lake City yards -- Several maps showing the industries along the D&RGW lines in Salt Lake City; starting at Roper.