The History and Economics of Utah's Railroads

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By David F. Johnson

Chapter 6

Abandoned Lines And Proposed Roads Never Built

Utah was never overbuilt with railroads. The state was fortunate in being hit but lightly by the railroad-building booms which created such a network of unnecessary lines in the Midwest. Few lines were constructed in the territory that were not planned to meet a definite need of an already existing industry or community. Here, there was little, if any, of the plan of building a road out into some unsettled, undeveloped territory, with the expectation that the presence of the railroad would cause the area to be built up; and then the railroad, being the first on the scene, would for a time at least be able to control the trade of the district.

One reason for this was undoubtedly the lack of ready capital in the territory, and the thrifty characteristics of the citizens. Utah, to be sure, had its share of unsound railway proposals, but few of these ever received sufficient financial support even to commence construction. In fact, even many sound and deserving proposals were never carried through because of inadequate financing.

A second reason was that the mining industry was developing so rapidly that there was sufficient construction of railroads designed to serve this industry to keep the talents and interests of the railroad promoters occupied.

Because the state was never overbuilt in respect to railroads,' there have been few abandonments. Some of the abandoned lines in Utah were mining railroads. Among them were the American Fork Railway Company, the Salt Lake and Mercur Railroad Company, the Eureka Hill Railway Company, the Goshen Valley Railroad Company, the Wasatch and Jordan Valley Railroad Company, the upper parts of the Union Pacific and the Rio Grande branches into the Tintic mining district, all of which were all constructed to connect various non-ferrous metal mining properties either with mills, smelters or with other railways. In each case, mining activity in the area the line was built to serve was discontinued; and the railroad was forced to cease operations. The economics of this is simple-the ores from the mines constituted the total freight traffic for the roads. When the freight stopped moving, there remained no justification for the continued existence of the railroad.

The Uinta Railway is another defunct mining road. But, unlike the situation which prevailed at or near other mine railroads in- the state when they were abandoned, mines in the vicinity of the Uinta were still in operation at the time of its abandonment, with good possibilities for considerable expansion.

Yet there were strong reasons for abandonment of the line. For one thing, the distance covered to serve a single property was unusually long, as mining roads go, with little hope of there ever being much originating or terminating freight at any point between the termini of the line.

Second, the road was notorious for having the steepest grades and sharpest curves of any railroads in the United States. Little wonder that the road was expensive to operate. When the owners of the gilsonite mining properties, also owners of the railroad, found that they could ship their product at less cost by truck, steps were immediately taken to obtain authorization to abandon the line.

At the present time, a movement is under way to expand production at the gilsonite mines near those which this railroad once served. It is possible that this move ten years ago would have resulted in saving the Uinta Railway. At first glance it appears that this line would have been the logical point from which to extend into Vernal, Duchesne, and other Uinta Basin points. In fact, the road actually extended well into the basin, and there were plans at one time for building on to Fort Duchesne and Vernal. The grades on which the Uinta Railway were constructed, however, would have eliminated the possibility of its ever being able to handle any large volume of traffic; and the country over which it was built is of such a rugged nature that the construction of an efficient grade would probably be prohibitively expensive. Possibly a more practical plan, if the Uinta Basin should ever have a railroad, would be to extend the Rio Grande branch from Heber, or complete the Denver and Salt Lake from Craig, Colorado.

The Deep Creek Railroad was also a mining road which was abandoned from causes other than the depletion of the mines. In this case, however, the causes were similar. The main traffic over the Deep Creek road was copper ores from the area around Gold Hill. As development of the mines progressed, the arsenical content of the ore became so high that it could no longer be smelted. Since the ore in this form was not acceptable it was no longer shipped, and the most important source of revenue of the railroad was eliminated. This line showed an operating profit for only three or four of the years of its existence, and the petition for abandonment was granted.

A second class of abandonments is made up of those lines supplanted by another road. Under this classification fall the Summit County Railway, the Utah Eastern, the Castle Valley Railway (sic; Castle Valley Railroad), the Southern Utah Railroad, the upper section of the old Utah and Pleasant Valley Railroad, the Sanpete Valley Railroad, that section of the old Central Pacific line around the northern end of Great Salt Lake, and the Bingham and Garfield.

The Summit County Railway and the Utah Eastern were both narrow gage, and as such were at a definite disadvantage against a standard gage line at any point where connections are made with a through standard gage railway. The Summit County road operated with a fair degree of success as long as it was the only connection between Coalville and Echo. As soon as the broad gage Echo and Park City branch of the Union Pacific was built, the Summit County Railway was doomed to extinction for two reasons: First, the Union Pacific had the advantage of through-switching loaded cars onto its main line at Echo. Coal from the Summit County road had to be unloaded from narrow gage into standard gage cars, at best an expensive operation. Second, the Union Pacific could not be expected to favor shipment onto its line at Echo from the Summit County road in competition with the Union Pacific's own branch.

The supplanting of the Utah Eastern by the Echo and Park City was dictated wholly by competition. On the haul between Coalville and Park City, there was no problem of connections with through lines. The truth is that the Union Pacific was simply able to operate more efficiently, and consequently was able to deliver coal to Park City at cheaper prices than the Utah Eastern could meet. When its meager working capital was exhausted, the narrow gage road ceased operations. A large railway system can afford to operate certain branch lines for considerable periods of time, even though the expenses of that branch exceed the revenue, if such is to the advantage of the parent company. It is possible that the Union Pacific might have used such tactics in squeezing out the Utah Eastern, but this is not probable, as the line certainly should have been able to accomplish the same end and pay its own way at the same time.

A similar situation arose in the case of the Castle Valley and the Southern Utah rail lines. When the owners of the coal mines served by these lines built a railroad of their own, naturally all of their shipments moved over the new track. As has been shown, when a mineral road loses its mineral traffic, there is little left for it to carry. These two small lines were not well constructed in the first place; so there is no doubt that the new Utah Railway would have supplanted these lines, even if it had not been owned by the mining interests.

Soon after the Denver and Rio Grande Western had completed its through trackage over Soldier Summit, it took steps to build a branch from Colton (Pleasant Valley Junction) to the mines at Pleasant Valley, on the eastern side of the Wasatch Crest. The Utah and Pleasant Valley, coming up from the west, crossed the summit to Pleasant Valley at one point; and the Rio Grande chose another route across Soldier Summit. The Rio Grande, in the interest of operating efficiency, built its new Pleasant Valley branch to eliminate this extra line over the summit.

In the interests of efficiency, the Sanpete Valley Railroad should never have become a part of the Rio Grande. For Rio Grande trains to reach Nephi, it was necessary to run a train down to Manti and then backtrack thirty-odd miles to Nephi-at least half of this distance almost parallel to the line just traversed. Nephi is served by the Union Pacific by a much more direct route. The only wonder is that the Rio Grande did not abandon this line earlier.

The final line under this classification was also eliminated in the interest of operation efficiency. This was that portion of the original Central Pacific line from Corinne north of Great Salt Lake via Promontory to Lucin. The Lucin cut-off eliminated over one hundred miles of extra track, plus the steep grades and sharp curves necessitated by crossing the Promontory Mountains. The old line was not torn up for many years. The Government was concerned over the vulnerability, in event of war, of the long trestle across the lake; so did not authorize dismantling this alternate route on the transcontinental line. Strangely enough, it was in the middle of World War II that the track finally was torn up-the need for steel apparently outweighing potential effects of damage to the mail line.

The Rio Grande branch to Park City also was abandoned because of difficulties of operation due to excessive gradient. This road was acquired originally and standard gauged by the Rio Grande to give that company a share of the rich ore hauls moving out of the Park City district. Contributing factors to its abandonment were the fact that ore shipments have decreased materially in recent years, and that the grades and curvatures, plus the snow removal problem over Parley's Summit, make the road no match competitively with the branch of the Union Pacific from Echo, which is blessed by relatively easy grades and curves throughout its length. Likewise, the Union Pacific branch serves several intermediate communities which add a small but important revenue to that line. The State Road Commission of Utah also favored the abandonment of this line, intending to use parts of the roadbed in a project to widen the motor highway through Parley's Canyon.

The final abandonments to discuss here are those of two of Utah's four electric interurban lines. Both of these roads were paralleled by one or more lines of a competing company. The Salt Lake and Utah ran from Salt Lake City to Payson, via Provo; and the Utah-Idaho Central from Ogden to Preston, Idaho, via Cache Valley. Together with the Bamberger Electric, they formed a continuous all-electric interurban line over 150 miles in length from Payson, Utah to Preston, Idaho. Since the inroads of automobile competition on their passenger traffic, these lines have been in financial difficulties; and in 1946 were abandoned. The Bamberger line had some advantage over either of these roads, both in regard to passenger and freight traffic. The Salt Lake and Utah line was in an unfortunate position in that it tended to by-pass the populated areas south of Salt Lake City, swinging to the west of Murray and Sandy, thus losing a considerable volume of potential commuter traffic. In addition, the Bamberger road gets a large amount of through freight from the Southern Pacific at Ogden, bound for Salt Lake City.

A map of the unbuilt railroad lines that have been proposed and planned in Utah since 1870 shows a rail network more extensive than actually exists today. Some of these lines were soundly conceived and would probably have had a beneficial effect on the domestic economy had they been constructed. Others are remarkable mainly for the ingenuity displayed by their promoters. No pretense is made to have found information about all of these schemes, by any means. The facts presented here were mostly those discovered while searching for historical material on roads which were constructed. Most of this information was found in newspaper clippings in the Journal History and in the files of Articles of Incorporation at the office of the Utah Secretary of State.

The Deep Creek mining district was the objective of several proposed railroads before a line was finally built to Gold Hill. The Utah and Nevada Railroad had plans to continue from Stockton, via Dugway, to Deep Creek, and to Bodie, California. The Salt Lake and Deep Creek Railway Company was first promoted in 1892 and filed Articles of Incorporation on December 21st of that year. It was to be capitalized at $4,400,000, for the purpose of building a line from Salt Lake City to Stockton, through Rush Valley, tunneling through the Stansbury Mountains, westward across Skull Valley, passing two miles north of Dugway, and running from there southwest to Deep Creek. Much talk and active promotion was done on this line. It had influential backing, with such men as Elias Kelsey and F. Auerbach behind the scheme; but apparently not much progress was made. It was reorganized on March 17, 1896 as the Salt Lake and Pacific. Grading (of the Salt Lake & Pacific) actually started, ground being broken on May 4, 1896 at Saltair. Problems arose almost immediately as the result of the high prices asked for land on the proposed right-of-way near Tooele. Grading was stopped while negotiations for the land took place. Apparently the negotiations were unsuccessful, as no record of continuation of the work was found; and the road was reported to be in financial difficulties in July 1897.[1] There is another record of the Salt Lake and Deep Creek Railroad's filing with the Secretary of State on May 4, 1903. Whether this was the same company as in the foregoing was not indicated.

(The Salt Lake & Deep Creek and the Salt Lake & Pacific were not associated in any way; their merely shared the same destination, Muncey, Nevada. No action was ever taken on the behalf of the Salt Lake & Deep Creek line, either Railroad or Railway, the 1903 date comes from the date that all Auditor of Public Accounts records were merged with those of the Secretary of State, ed.)

The Salt Lake and Western announced plans in 1881 for extending its line on to Snake Valley, and eventually to Nevada and California via Deep Creek; but these plans were abandoned in 1882. The Denver and Rio Grande Western once had plans for extending its Tintic branch to Deep Creek, which were never carried out.

Another project which seems to have captured the imagination of local promoters was connecting Salt Lake City with the Wyoming coal fields. With this end in view, there was organized the Utah and Wyoming Central Railway Company, a combination rail and water scheme to build a line running from Salt Lake City to the lake, thence by steamer to Corinne, and from there by rail eastward through Cache County and Rich County to the Wyoming border. This company was first organized in 1885 by Salt Lake investors.

There were so many Utah and Wyoming companies promoted between 1881 and 1903 that the issue here is somewhat confused. The Journal History reports grading being done on the Utah and Wyoming Railway in May 1881.[2] This is apparently the same road incorporated on July 5th of that year to run from Corinne, through Cache and Rich counties to Granger, Wyoming, although the original report states that the line was to run from Ogden eastward to connect with some Midwestern road in the Black Hills area.

In 1891 articles were filed for the Utah and Wyoming Railroad Company, which was being promoted by Salt Lake men to build a line from Garfield Beach, northeast to Salt Lake City, Kimballs, Wanship, Coalville, and thence up Chalk Creek to the Wyoming line. Then in May 1892, the Salt Lake and Wyoming was incorporated to build two lines from Ogden eastward to Wyoming, one in Rich County, and one in the vicinity of Chalk Creek. This scheme was promoted by Ogden men who, it is said, were also interested in the Pacific Short Line or the Salt Lake and Sioux City schemes,[3] although just what these plans entailed was not stated.

A Utah and Wyoming Railway Company was organized in 1884 and capitalized at $3,500,000. The aforementioned Utah and Wyoming Central was incorporated the next year for the same amount, and it is possible that the "central" was the result of changes in the organization of this Utah and Wyoming Railway Company. Both of these lines, however, have entries on their charters of May 4, 1903, indicating some sort of consolidation at the time. Whatever the complicated interrelation between these companies, no line was completed of the many contemplated.

Some surveying work was done in 1889 on a line called the Wyoming, Salt Lake and California, which was to run from Salt Lake City to Coalville, via Emigration Canyon, thence up Chalk Creek to Wyoming. It was said that the road was being promoted by the men interested in the Utah, Nevada and California; if so, the line probably was to be part of the vast system proposed by that company.

Probably the most grandiose of all railway schemes to hit Utah was that of the Utah, Nevada and California. This plan contemplated a two-pronged system, one originating in Emery County, presumably connecting with the Rio Grande, and the other originating at Salt Lake City. These two forks were to connect somewhere in the vicinity of southwestern Utah and continue to Los Angeles. As planned, this railroad would have served most of the counties of southern, central and southwestern Utah. The road was organized in 1889, and in 1892 consolidated with the Nevada and California Railroad Company. Construction of this line would have served essentially the same purpose as the later-built Los Angeles and Salt Lake line. While that section between Salt Lake City and southwestern Utah would have been superfluous, the territory already being served by the Oregon Short Line to Milford, the scheme should have served the purpose of a cut-off to Los Angeles, even better than did the Los Angeles and Salt Lake, as it would have provided a definitely shorter route to Los Angeles from Denver, making use of the Rio Grande and the connection in Emery County to run through to southern California. As it is, traffic from Denver must swing far north to Ogden if by Union Pacific, or Provo, if by Rio Grande, before the line to Los Angeles is reached.

Another Utah, Nevada and California Railroad was organized by the Union Pacific in 1899 to complete its line from Milford to California. Another railroad proposed to serve the southwestern part of Utah was the Utah and California Railroad, incorporated in 1896 with the idea of building from Salt Lake City to the vicinity of St. George, with spurs to Cedar City and other points in that area. Although the line was not built, Senator Clark used the organization charter in his Los Angeles and Salt Lake schemes to acquire right-of-way through southern Nevada.

Probably of all the proposed lines, one of the plans to build through the Uinta Basin would have been most beneficial.

The first of these was the Denver, Georgetown and Utah Railway, incorporated in Colorado in 1872. This road later became known as the Denver, South Park and Pacific line; and the proposed Utah extension was dropped.

The Denver and Rio Grande surveyed lines into the basin around 1883,[4] and the Denver and Northwestern Pacific, growing out of these surveys, was organized in 1902.[5] This line actually was built as far as Craig, Colorado; and its name was changed to the Denver and Salt Lake. Numerous efforts were made to finish this line through to Salt Lake City, but it was never built beyond Craig, even though the worst of the mountain country had been passed when this point was reached. Today, the Rio Grande owns the Denver and Salt Lake, using part of the Denver and Salt Lake line on its new short line to Salt Lake via the Moffat Tunnel, and it is not very likely that the road will ever be extended through. Other Rio Grande plans in Utah which did not materialize consisted of a line from Farmington, New Mexico, along the San Juan River through southern Utah, and across the Colorado River to points near the western boundary of Utah,[6] and a route from Green River west, through the San Rafael Valley, and over the Wasatch Range into Sevier Valley in western Utah. Other preliminary surveys extended from points along the Price River, through Castle Valley, skirting the southern margin of the Utah coal fields, also reaching the Sevier Valley in western Utah.[7]

A local attempt to build a line into the Uinta Basin resulted in formation of the Salt Lake and Denver in 1920, which was to run from Provo, northeastward through the basin to connect with the Denver and Salt Lake at Craig. This attempt was made after all hope was abandoned that the Utah Midland would ever complete its line. The Midland was organized back in 1887,[8] and actually some grading was done southeast of Heber City. Still earlier plans for a road in this area are indicated by a reference to a Utah and Colorado Railroad in 1872.[9] Nothing ever came of any of these plans and the Uinta Basin is still without railway connections.

Southeastern Utah has also received its share of attention from the railroad builders. In addition to the plans of the Rio Grande, as-previously mentioned, there was the San Juan Railroad, discussed in 1887,[10] to run from Durango, Colorado to Albuquerque, New Mexico, cutting through the southeastern corner of Utah; and the Eastern Utah Railroad Company, organized m 1911 to build from Wellington to Emery, apparently with the aim of connecting this latter point with the Rio Grande.

Back in 1904 the Grand Valley, Colorado and South Pacific announced plans to build from the head of the Colorado River to the Gulf of California via Grand Junction, Colorado, and Moab, Utah. The essential features of this plan were taken by the proposed Denver Pacific Railroad Company which proposed to link Denver, Colorado, with San Pedro Harbor, California, utilizing a route along the Colorado River. The plan was developed in the early thirties; and the road was to be all-electric, utilizing power from Boulder Dam. The Interstate Commerce Commission dismissed the proposal in November, 1933, with the statement: "We are of the view that the applicant's contentions are without merit."[11] The proposal was absolutely unworkable, simply not taking into consideration the existence of major geographical barriers.

Another proposal, to build from the San Juan River Valley to the Gulf of Mexico, was advanced in 1923. This was to be a portion of the Staley System of Electrified Railways. The proposed line would have cut through the extreme southeastern corner of Utah. The application to construct this road was denied by the ICC on grounds that the anticipated volume of freight was excessive, and that such a road would have little chance for profitable operation.[12]

Some other lines that have been proposed in Utah are the Salt Lake, Fillmore and Kanosh, incorporated in 1918, which may have become the Fillmore branch of the Union Pacific.

The Salt Lake and Idaho, to run from a point on the Ogden and Lucin Railroad (The Lucin cut-off) northward through the Raft River Mountains to Boise, Idaho, was incorporated in 1909. There seems to have been little justification for the construction of this road, except that it would shorten the haul from the agricultural areas of southwestern Idaho to California. This is now accomplished through the Union Pacific line from Wells, Nevada, to Twin Falls, Idaho; but this road was not in existence at the time the Salt Lake and Idaho was being proposed.

A Utah and Idaho Railroad was proposed in 1906 to run from Provo to Logan. This was somewhat before the three interurban lines had connected these points; thus, had it been built, the Utah and Idaho might have taken the place of the electric interurbans.

Newspaper discussion of a railroad known as the Utah and Arizona was noted in 1889,[13] but the first record of incorporation of a company of such name, in the office of the Secretary of State, was in 1903 when the Utah and Arizona Railway Company organized to construct a line from Chester to Manti. This was obviously the extension of the old Sanpete Valley Railway. The name indicates that the company hoped to extend on southward, but such a move was never made.

(ed. note: The 1889 date is correct; the 1903 date comes from the date that all Auditor of Public Accounts records were merged with those of the Secretary of State.)

In 1910 a road known as the Utah and Grand Canyon was incorporated in Utah, to build lines from Marysvale, across the mountains to Panguitch, and from Lund to Saint George. From description of the routes, it would appear that this company intended to provide rail service to points from which the National Parks in Southern Utah would be available. This object was accomplished later by the Union Pacific branch to Cedar City.

A Salt Lake and Ogden Railway was proposed in 1875 to build a narrow gage line between these points. Years later, the Bamberger Electric, under the name of Salt Lake and Ogden Railroad, finished a line from Salt Lake City to Ogden.

In 1873 a bill was introduced in Congress to incorporate the Utah Railroad and Mining Company, to connect the mining districts of Stockton, Rush Valley, Ophir and Camp Floyd with the Utah Southern at Lehi. The bill did not pass, but its objectives were subsequently accomplished by branches of the Union Pacific and the Rio Grande.

Between 1885 and 1890 the Colorado Midland was building a standard gage line westward from Colorado Springs towards Salt Lake City - a threat which undoubtedly hastened the standard gauging of the Rio Grande. The Midland was built to Grand Junction, Colorado, and actually operated trains into Salt Lake City behind Rio Grande locomotives. The Santa Fe came very close to extending this road on into Salt Lake City in 1920, but these plans were abandoned.


[1] Journal History, various entries for February 1892 through July 1987.

[2] Journal History, May 24, 1881.

[3] Journal History, May 24, 1892, p. 6.

[4] Official Freight Shippers' Guide and Directory of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, p. 31.

[5] Shippers' Guide, p. 38.

[6] Shippers' Guide, p. 31.

[7] Shippers' Guide, p. 36.

[8] Journal History, March 14, 1887, p. 7; March 22, 1887, p. 4.

[9] Journal History, May 3, 1872, p. 2.

[10] Journal History, March 29, 1887.

[11] William Forsythe. "Dreams of Empire", Trains. Vol. V, No. 5, March 1945, p. 28.

[12] Forsythe, "Dreams of Empire", p. 27.

[13] Journal History, January 25, 1889, p. 2.