The History and Economics of Utah's Railroads

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David F. Johnson

A thesis submitted to the Faculty of the
University of Utah in partial fulfillment of the requirements
of the degree of Master of Science

Department of Economics

University of Utah



The railroad network of a state or a nation is yet, in spite of auto highways, airways and rivers, a most important factor in the economy of the region which it serves. In many localities the railroad has been the key factor in the history of the economic development of that area. The financial health of the railroads is a matter of utmost importance to the people of a nation.

The importance of the economics of railway transportation is well evidenced by the great interest of state and federal governmental units of the nation in their many attempts to solve some of the railway problems of legislation. The railroad industry was one of the first to come under the jurisdiction of governmental regulation; and, likewise, was one of the first to be favored with governmental subsidies of several types designed to foster the growth and development of transportation.

The subject of railway economics has been treated by numerous volumes - textbooks explaining the general theories, pamphlets arguing the pros and cons of various plans and proposals-and by a special Bureau of Railway Economics in Washington making studies and issuing its own share of writings.

A further example of the importance of this industry to the national well-being is the fact that during the first World War the Federal Government saw fit to take over the operation of the roads in the interest of the war effort, and that a great many persons are seriously in favor of permanent governmental ownership of the railroads.

The most serious obstacle encountered in making this study was the scarcity of available data. Because of differences with the Federal Government, Utah was denied statehood until 1896-years after she had achieved the necessary political and economic stature, and after the major part of the railroad building was complete. Few records of the territorial government were found in the files of the state offices. Utah was one of the last states to establish a Public Utilities Commission and the Interstate Commerce Commission had no jurisdiction over construction and abandonments prior to 1920; so these bodies were able to supply little pertinent information.

Reference was made to the available articles of incorporation on file at the office of the Secretary of State of Utah, but these were not complete for fines built prior to 1896 but not now in existence. Extensive use was made of material from the United States Bureau of Census for indexes of economic activity. Most historical data were gleaned from newspaper clippings and standard histories of Utah. The Journal History compiled by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was a valuable source of historical data. This work consists mainly of newspaper clippings filed chronologically in scrap book form. The only fault of this source was that, naturally, items of church interest received first importance. The weakness of newspaper items for historical purposes was that each new railroad promotion was announced with much ballyhoo; but when the project failed to materialize, or the road was not a success, it was allowed to die alone and unannounced, thus making it difficult to discover just what became of many grandiose promotion schemes.

Likewise, the available histories almost universally devoted much of their space to the political and religious controversies of the times, with but brief discussions of trade and commerce.

Information, which proved to be of considerable value, was gathered also from the Salt Lake City offices of several railroads, especially those of the coal routes of Carbon County.

Some of the common statistical indexes of economic activity which would have been of considerable value, such as bank clearings, carloadings, etc., were not available for the years over which the railroads had their greatest influence. However, a fair picture of the prosperity or lack of prosperity of the Utah communities can be gained from the general data which are used.