The History and Economics of Utah's Railroads

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By David F. Johnson

Chapter 4

The Independent Lines

Utah has had a number of railroad companies which have never been controlled by the larger corporations. Most of these have been small fines, the great majority having been built to connect a mining district or individual mine with one of the larger carriers.

The first of these was the Coalville and Echo Railroad. A Coalville branch for the Union Pacific was discussed as early as 1867,[1] and as soon as the route of the Union Pacific became apparent, Brigham Young suggested the formation of a railroad line to run from the Union Pacific at a point in Weber Canyon to the coal fields near Coalville, utilizing the Union Pacific and the planned Utah Central to bring coal by rail to Salt Lake City. From its beginning and until the railroads helped solve it, Salt Lake City had a fuel problem. The surrounding hills were not heavily wooded, and it was not long before all nearby sources of wood had been exhausted. The problem of getting coal shipped in was becoming increasingly important. To meet the need the Coalville and Echo was subsequently organized by local people with a capital stock of $50,000; and ground was broken on October 20, 1869.[2]

Whether this road was completed is not known, but apparently it was not because two years later another road, the Summit County Railroad, was organized to build a narrow gage road between these same points. Also, it is possible that the Coalville and Echo was reorganized under a new name. Ground was broken on the Summit County Railroad in October of 1871, but different causes conspired to retard it; and not until May 14, 1873 did it carry the first carload of coal. In 1874 it was carrying over two-hundred tons of coal a day from the eight mines being worked at Coalville, with a steadily increasing traffic.[3] The directors were all local men, including two sons of Brigham Young, which fact seems to indicate that the Coalville and Echo and the Summit County Railroad were one and the same. The road was designed to be continued on to the Parleys Park mining district, and there was talk of extending also to Heber City and Provo;[4] but this was never accomplished. This road continued to operate, hauling coal until 1880 when the construction of the Union Pacific Echo and Park City branch caused its immediate abandonment. The line was not even mentioned in the Sloan directory published in 1880, an index of how rapidly this line must have been abandoned once the Union Pacific branch came in.

The next independent road to be built was also a short-lived one, although different reasons are given for its abandonment. It was the American Fork Railroad, organized on April 3, 1872, capital stock $300,000, to build a narrow gage line up American Fork Canyon to serve the Sultana Smelter Works and Miller Mining Company interests there. This was strictly a mining road, financed by outside capital, only one local name appearing on the board of directors. Construction was started on May 20, 1872,[5] before the Utah Southern had been built to the planned junction point at Lehi. All supplies had to be hauled by wagon from the end of the Utah Southern trackage. The first locomotive was run down under its own power by means of placing temporary sections of track ahead of the engine, letting it run forward onto them, and removing the track from behind to be placed in front of the engine, repeating the process.[6] By November 1872 it had been completed to Deer Creek, twelve miles up the canyon. Grading was completed for the additional four miles to the Sultana Smelter Works, but the road was never finished.[7] The mines in this area failed to a great degree, however, and the other traffic was not as great as anticipated. Excursion trains were operated for a while into the canyon which is noted for its scenery, but the rails were torn up and the project abandoned in 1878.[8]

During the 1880s there was but one line constructed which succeeded in maintaining its independent identity. The Rio Grande was expanding rapidly in the state during this decade, and the story of the Utah Eastern effort has been told in connection with that system.

The Salt Lake and Fort Douglas Railroad was actually little more than an extended street railway system. It was built in 1888 along 8th South Street in Salt Lake City and up onto the East Bench, where it branched, one line running to Fort Douglas and the other turning southward. It passed through Sugar House, where it was the only connection with the Salt Lake and Eastern being constructed at that time, and ran on southward to Mill Creek. It was opened June 1, 1888.[9] In 1894. the $800,000 mortgage on the line was foreclosed and the Utah Central (previously the Salt Lake and Eastern) appointed as receiver.[10]

In 1890 the Bamberger Electric Railroad had its beginning in the organization of the Great Salt Lake and Hot Springs Railway, which was built from Salt Lake City to Beck's Hot Springs and the lime quarries near there. The name of this road was later changed to the Salt Lake and Ogden Railway. Just when this took place is not clear. In Utah-Resources and Activities it is stated that the name was changed "about 1900."[11] There was a Salt Lake and Ogden Railroad incorporated on January 4, 1892[12] and another on May 4, 1903. At any rate, the line had been completed to Farmington by 1896 and to Ogden in 1908. It was electrified in 1910, making it the original electric interurban line in the Intermountain West.[13] The name The Bamberger Railroad Company was taken on August 15, 1917. This road carries a good amount of commuter and interurban passenger service as well as excursionists to the company-owned resort at Lagoon, although this traffic has fallen off a great deal, of course, since the advent of the automobile. The company derives its greatest revenue from the handling of carload freight between Ogden and Salt Lake City, especially traffic from the Southern Pacific bound for Salt Lake industrial plants located on the Bamberger's extensive network of sidings. Today it is known simply as the Bamberger Railroad.

Another railroad which eventually became part of the Utah network of electric railways had its beginning on September 26, 1891, as the Saltair Railway Company.[14] Work started in the spring of 1892, and Saltair was opened on June 1, 1893. In the meantime, on July 8, 1892, the name of the company had been changed to the Salt Lake and Los Angeles Railroad Company. Apparently sometime the promoters decided upon a more ambitious project, judging from the name; but they would have done well to leave it as originally named, for the railroad never was built beyond Saltair except for a line to Garfield which is not now in use. The original bathing pavilion was a very elaborate and expensive structure, characterized by one writer as "the greatest watering resort pavilion in the world."[15] The pavilion has been a very popular resort spot, and the road undoubtedly did an excellent passenger business before the popularity of the automobile. The name was again changed on October 28, 1916,[16] becoming the Salt Lake, Garfield, and Western. It was electrified early in 1917.[17] Because of a fire which destroyed much of the Saltair pavilion, and the fact that the lake has receded, the resort has lost much of its popularity, but the road is kept going by carload freight switching in the western part of Salt Lake City and to the salt plants on the shores of the lake.

The Salt Lake and Mercur was a broad gage mineral road built to run from a junction with the Salt Lake and Western to Fairfield, Utah County, to Mercur in the Tintic mining district. It was a very prosperous line during the great producing days of the Mercur mines. When the mines became depleted, the days of prosperity for the road were ended. Construction of the line was begun on September 1, 1894 and completed on February 20, 1895.[18] It was dismantled in 1914,[19] after the abandonment of mining operations at Mercur.

Reference is made in the Freight Shippers' Guide of the Denver and Rio Grande Western to the Carbon County Railway Company as a subsidiary which built several of the Rio Grande branch lines. The operations of this company took place in 1898. There is a Carbon County Railway in existence at the present time (1947, ed.), which owns and operates four and one-half miles from Columbia junction on the Denver and Rio Grande Sunnyside branch to the Columbia coal mines. This road is owned by the United States Steel Company.

The Uinta Railway was organized in 1903 to build from Mack, Colorado, northwestward to a point near the Utah-Colorado border. Later the plans were changed to build over the line to the gilsonite mines at Watson and Dragon in Uintah County, Utah. Plans were made at one time to extend the road northward to Vernal and Fort Duchesne, but these never materialized.[20] This road was distinguished for having some of the sharpest curves and steepest grades in the country. There was one five-mile stretch of seven and one-half per cent grade and numerous hairpin curves, the sharpest of which was sixty-six degrees.[21] It was narrow gage, but used articulated mallet type locomotives. This was the only railroad ever to build into the Uinta Basin in Utah, but it was never extended far enough to be of any benefit to that district. Almost the entire freight of this line consisted of gilsonite ores and supplies for the mines from which the ores were produced.[22] The mines served by this road became exhausted and the owners, to serve the new mines further from the rails, negotiated contracts for trucking at prices which the railroad could not meet. The Interstate Commerce Commission authorized its abandonment in 1938.[23]

The Eureka Hill Railway Company was organized on February 6, 1907 to construct a narrow gage railroad, connecting various mines in the Tintic district with the smelter at Silver City.[24] The line was"built seven miles in length that year. It ceased operations sometime before 1933,[25] and the corporation was dissolved January 26, 1937 -- another mining road whose destinies followed those of the mines.

In 1908 the Utah Copper people apparently decided that the Denver and Rio Grande service in hauling ore from their Bingham mine to the concentrating mills was either not satisfactory or too expensive, and determined to construct their own line. The Bingham and Garfield Railway was incorporated on July 8, 1908,[26] and the line was completed in 1911.[27] While officially a common carrier, the road handles little but low grade copper ore from the mine to the mills. It moves tremendous tonnages of freight daily. The copper company is at the present time (1947) building an all electric industrial line to replace the Bingham and Garfield, which will be abandoned when the new line is complete. It is understood that the new line will be all electric and will be classified as industrial trackage rather than as a common carrier. This change in classification is designed to relieve the owner, The Kennecott Copper Company, of many of the problems of operating rules and wage rates imposed upon common carrier lines.

The history of Utah's main independent coal hauling railroad[28] begins with the incorporation of two smaller lines. The first of these was the Southern Utah Railroad Company, which was incorporated in Utah on August 30, 1907 -- just when this road was constructed is not clear. The only trackage it owned and operated separately was a stretch three and one-half miles in length from Castle Junction to Hiawatha. Its only connection with through railway trackage was through joint ownership of a line running from Castle Junction to Price, where it connected with the Rio Grande. The other owner, the Castle Valley Railway Company (correction: Castle Valley Railroad, ed.), was incorporated in Wyoming on August 10, 1909; thus, the Southern Utah Railway Company could not have had any connections with the Rio Grande before 1910 when the jointly owned track was constructed; and it is doubtful whether any trackage at all of the system was built until after the second company was organized. These two lines commenced operations on March 10, 1910. The system consisted, as has been stated, of a jointly owned track from Price to Castle Junction. From this point, the Castle Valley Railway Company (sic; Castle Valley Railroad) owned a spur to Hiawatha, and the Southern Utah Railroad Company owned a branch to Mohrland. These railroad companies were owned by the coal mining interests of the two mining towns which they served.

In 1911 and 1912 the mines in the Hiawatha-Mohrland area were acquired by the United States Smelting and Refining Company. The only railroad service to the mines was provided by the Castle Valley Railway (sic; Castle Valley Railroad) and the Southern Utah Railroad companies, mentioned above. These lines had been poorly constructed, contained several steep grades, and were deemed in unsatisfactory condition to move the volumes of coal required by the Smelting and Refining Company. Consequently, this company decided to build its own line. The Utah Coal Railway, a subsidiary of the United States Smelting and Refining Company, was incorporated under the laws of Utah on January 24, 1912, to build a railroad from a junction point with the Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad near Springville to the mines at Mohrland and Hiawatha. (ed. note: Name changed to Utah Railway in May 1912.)

Apparently the smelting company was not on good terms with the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad at this time, as a considerable length of the proposed line, consisting of some expensive construction could have been eliminated by constructing through a junction with the Rio Grande somewhere in Carbon County. As it was, the planned road would have eliminated the Rio Grande altogether from participation in business from these mines. Another possibility is that the smelting interests realized that the Rio Grande was taxed even then to its utmost in moving existing tonnage over Soldier Summit, and that the only means of moving the additional tonnage for the smelting company would be through construction of an additional line over the mountains.

The original plans called for a line running up Spanish Fork Canyon, crossing the summit and thence down Huntington Canyon to the mines. Subsequent surveys, however, determined that a more practical route was available, following the Denver and Rio Grande through Spanish Fork and Price Canyons, but having a somewhat better grade than the Rio Grande over the Summit. Construction began north of Hiawatha in October 1912, and eastward through Spanish Fork Canyon on December 1st of that year. At this point, the Rio Grande became alarmed at the prospect of a competing line parallel to their own over the summit and attempted to reach an agreement with the Utah Railway. An agreement was reached on July 1, 1913 wherein the Utah Railway was to abandon its roadbed between Springville and Thistle and construct a second main track on the Rio Grande roadbed between these points, the resulting double track line to be operated jointly. A further agreement was reached on November 1, 1913 whereby the Rio Grande was to improve and double track its line over Soldier Summit, eliminating the objectionable four per cent grade, and grant joint trackage rights to the Utah Railway from Castle Gate to Thistle. Whether the Utah Railway was to assist financially in these improvements is not stated. Construction began on the Springville-Thistle section September 1, 1913, and was completed September 15, 1914. The line from Hiawatha to a junction with the Rio Grande near Castle Gate was completed October 31 of the same year. In the meantime, the Rio Grande was constructing over Soldier Summit its new line, which was finished by January 1, 1914; so that, the main line of the Utah Railway was connected through upon completion of the branch to Hiawatha.

In June 1913 the Rio Grande had taken over operation of the Castle Valley and the Southern Utah Railroad lines. On November 1, 1914 the Rio Grande took over operation of the Utah Railway, relinquished control of the Castle Valley and Southern Utah roads, and the Southern Utah Railroad acquired ownership of the Castle Valley line. The Rio Grande continued to operate the Utah Railway until November 30, 1914, (correction: November 30, 1917, ed.) when the arrangement was terminated, being mutually unsatisfactory.

Since the Utah Railway now had a superior line to Hiawatha, and the mine owners were also the railway owners, the Southern Utah Railroad had no further coal hauling business, and was limited to handling miscellaneous local freight and passenger service between Price and Hiawatha. The Rio Grande again took over operations of the line for a time in 1916-1917, but discontinued all operations on July 1, 1917. On July 11, 1917 part of the line was washed out and never rebuilt. The road was dismantled in 1920 by the Utah Railway which took over the two upper spurs as part of its system.

After 1920 the Utah Railway began to acquire additional branches throughout the western part of Carbon County. The first of these was the Utah Terminal Railway Company, organized in 1920 by the owners of the Standard, Spring Canyon, and Peerless coal companies to connect their mines with the Utah Railway. It was purchased by the Utah Railway on August 31, 1921. The Wattis branch was built in 1917 and taken over by the Utah Railway, November 1, 1921.

The National Coal Railway Company and the Helper Western Railroad Company were incorporated on July 2, 1909 to build a line from the Rio Grande to Helper to mines fifteen miles up Gordon Creek. In 1920, the roads not yet being built, the National Coal Railway Company was formed as a combination of these companies, with plans to connect with the Utah Railway rather than the Rio Grande, thus saving several miles of construction. Grading began in 1921, and continued until 1925 when the Utah Railway purchased and completed this branch.

(ed. note: Name changed from Helper Western Railroad to National Coal Railway on July 20, 1920; the two companies did not exist at the same time. Some grading took place as early as 1921, but actual construction began in March 1925. The road was completed and to leased to Utah Railway in December 1925.)

Thus the Utah Railway, which started out as a railroad designed to deliver coal only from mines owned and operated by the originators of the line, has developed into a power in the Carbon County coal industry. It operates its rolling stock over the many branches in the coal fields, and over a long section of track of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. From 1917 to 1926 it operated passenger trains also. While amicable working relationship has existed with the Rio Grande for many years, the fact of competition is present, tending to keep the larger Rio Grande constantly looking to its own laurels in matters of services, efficiencies and rates. It provided rail connections to many of the Carbon coal mines, and undoubtedly influenced to a great degree the decision of the Rio Grande to improve its own line over the mountains. It hastened the development of the Utah coal industry, as the Rio Grande, being deluged with coal traffic, was not particularly desirous of extending trackage to additional mines at that time; and had it not been for the impetus provided by the presence of the new line, a number of years may have passed before the Rio Grande made the necessary improvements in its system, although the wisdom of such a. move should have been apparent. Most of the equipment of the Utah Railway is owned jointly with the Union Pacific under the name of Utah Coal Route.

The Tooele Valley Railroad is a spur line, running from Warner, on the Union Pacific, to International.[29] It was incorporated on November 18, 1908 as a subsidiary of the International Smelting and Refining Company to provide rail connections for their plant at International. It is owned and operated by the smelting company, traffic consisting almost completely of ores, smelter supplies, and the products of the smelter.

On October 5, 1912, the Salt Lake and Utah Railroad Company was formed by A. J. Orem, a Nevada mining man, to build an electric interurban line between Salt Lake City and the vicinity of Provo. It was completed in 1914 and began regular service, Salt Lake to Provo, on July 24th of that year.[30] In 1916 an extension was built to Payson, and another was completed to Magna in 1917,[31] From the beginning the corporation found itself in financial difficulties, and in 1938 was taken over by the Eccles interests for the bondholders and reorganized as the Salt Lake and Utah Railroad Corporation. By 1946 physical properties had deteriorated to the point where the line was no longer safe to operate, and the road was abandoned.[32] The Bamberger Electric Railroad took over the extensive industrial siding in Salt Lake City and vicinity, and the Rio Grande acquired sidings in the Provo area, including that section of the line -between Provo and Orem.

The last built of Utah's electric interurban lines was The Utah Idaho Central Railroad Company. It came into being as the Ogden, Logan and Idaho Rapid Transit Company when the Ogden Rapid Transit Company and the Logan Rapid Transit Company joined their trackage, forming a complete electric line from Ogden to Logan. The new company then extended its line to Preston, Idaho.[33] On August 8, 1918 the name was changed to the Utah Idaho Central. On April 8, 1919 it was consolidated with the Cache Valley Railroad Company which had been incorporated on November 28 of the previous year. The entire line was abandoned in 1946.[34]

The Goshen Valley Railroad Company was organized on December 27, 1918 to build a line from Pearl Junction, on the Denver and Rio Grande Western Tintic branch, to several mines in the Tintic district. Its length was nine miles. With the decline of mining in this area the traffic over the road ceased to exist, and it ceased operations prior to 1935.[35]

Utah Railroads As Of 1914

Ballard & Thompson R.R. Co. 5.00 1.00
Bingham & Garfield Rwy. Co. 19.76 22.32
Bingham Central Rwy. Co. 3.41 ---
Castle Valley R.R. Co. 20.40 12.25
Central Pacific R.R. Co. 273.09 59.30
D. & R. G. W. R.R. Co. 762.67 236.45
Echo & Park City R.R. Co. 27.59 9.07
Emigration Canyon R.R. Co. 13.50 0.50
Eureka Hill Railway Co. 6.91 1.21
Kenilworth & Helper Rwy Co. 3.60 2.50
Ogden Union Rwy. & Depot Co. 3.31 12.23
Oregon Short Line R.R. Co. 242.94 144.7
Salt Lake & Alta R. R. Co. --- ---
S. L. C. Union Depot & R.R. Co. 4.8 ---
S. L. & L. A. Railway Co. 14.36 2.75
S. L. & Ogden Railway Co. 58.10 ---
S. L. & Utah Railway Co. 23.60 0.45
San Pedro, L. A. & S. L. R.R. Co. 483.60 109.92
Southern Utah R. R. Co. --- ---
Spring Canyon Branch, D. & R. G. W. 3.98 1.36
St. John & Ophir R.R. Co. 9.00 ---
Tooele Valley R.R. Co. 6.27 1.00
Uinta Railway Co. 17.70 1.02
Union Pacific R.R. Co. 75.11 36.85
Utah Railway Co. 22.70 1.30
Western Pacific R.R. Co. 121.60 12.28

‡ Source: State Board of Immigration Labor & Statistics, H. T. Haines, Commissioner, Facts and Figures Pertaining to Utah (Salt Lake City, Arrow Press, Tribune-Reporter Printing Co., 1915), p. 10.


[1] Journal History, November 17, 1867, p. 3.

[2] J. Cecil Alter. Utah, The Storied Domain. (American Historical Society, Inc.,1932.), p. 382

[3] Edward L. Sloan. Gazetteer of Utah and Salt Lake City Directory. (Salt Lake Herald Publishing Co., 1874), p. 47.

[4] Sloan. Gazetteer of Utah (1874), p. 47.

[5] Sloan. Gazetteer of Utah (1874), p. 32.

[6] Millennial Star, September 3, 1872.

[7] Sloan. Gazetteer of Utah (1874), p. 46.

[8] H. L. A. Culmer. Utah Directory and Gazetteer for 1879-80. (H. L. A. Culmer & Co., 1879), p. 28.

[9] Journal History, June 1, 1888, pp. 3-5.

[10] Journal History, January 31, 1894, p. 4.

[11] Utah - Resources and Activities. Department of Public Instruction. (Paragon Press, 1933), p. 388.

[12] Journal History, January 4, 1892, p. 3.

[13] Utah - Resources and Activities, p. 388.

[14] Article of Incorporation, Utah Secretary of State's office.

[15] Alter, Utah, The Storied Domain, p. 471.

[16] Articles of Incorporation.

[17] Alter, Utah, The Storied Domain, p. 494.

[18] S. A. Kenner. Utah As It Is. (Deseret News Press, 1904), p. 238.

[19] Alter, Utah, The Storied Domain, p. 499.

[20] Articles of Incorporation.

[21] Quiz on Railroads and Railroading. Number 45. (Association of American Railroads, 1940).

[22] Official Freight Shippers' Guide and Directory of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, p. 53.

[23] Quiz on Railroads and Railroading.

[24] Alter, Utah, The Storied Domain, p. 499.

[25] Utah - Resources and Activities, p. 387.

[26] Utah - Resources and Activities, p. 398.

[27] Alter, Utah, The Storied Domain, p. 499.

[28] Corporate History of Utah Railway, on file at office of Utah Railway Co., Salt Lake City, Utah.

[29] Utah - Resources and Activities, p. 387.

[30] Alter, Utah, The Storied Domain, p. 499.

[31] Utah - Resources and Activities, p. 388.

[32] Articles of Incorporation.

[33] Utah - Resources and Activities, p. 388.

[34] Articles of Incorporation.

[35] Utah - Resources and Activities, p. 387.