Union Pacific In Ogden - 1900 to 1982

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This page was last updated on April 22, 2021.

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(Updated from text originally published in 2005 as part of the book, Ogden Rails)

Ogden Rails, A History of Railroading At The Crossroads Of The West
(Union Pacific Historical Society, 2005)

With control of UP and its two most important subsidiaries, Oregon Short Line Railroad, and Oregon Railway & Navigation Co., firmly in hand by 1900, E. H. Harriman immediately set about making much-needed improvements. The newly reorganized Union Pacific soon began making numerous improvements on the 70 miles of main line in Weber and Echo canyons, east of Ogden. In 1904, 40 miles of line between Ogden and Echo was improved and relocated. The changes included laying more than five miles of new track and alignment, which reduced the total length by a half-mile. A second track was completed between Riverdale and Gateway (also known as Devil's Gate), and between Emory and the top of the grade at Wahsatch in 1916-1917. The remainder of the Wasatch grade east from Ogden acquired a second track in 1921 and 1926.

The economy of the West in general, and California in particular, was booming in the decade between 1900 and 1910. The amount of rail traffic moving through Ogden and Salt Lake City was growing rapidly, especially with the completion of the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad between its namesake cities in 1905. This, along with the general increase in business following Harriman's improvements, soon made a severe bottleneck of the single-track route between Ogden and Salt Lake City, and UP made plans to convert the line to double track. However, that would have to wait for other improvements that would prepare the way. To make an easier entrance into Ogden from the west, a new six-mile cutoff was surveyed that would put the connection to and from Salt Lake City directly at the south end of the yard at 30th Street, completely bypassing the congestion of Ogden, rather than along the original Utah Central line through West Ogden.

Sand Ridge Cutoff

By the turn of the century, construction techniques had improved and plans were made to simply cut through the West Ogden sand ridge and enter the city at a point about a mile south of the original Utah Central line. Oregon Short Line completed the "Sand Ridge Cutoff" between Roy and Ogden in 1906. The new line left the original Utah Central 1869 main line at Roy, cut through the sand ridge, crossed the Weber River on a new bridge, and connected at the western end of a new OUR&D wye track at 30th Street, at a new point called Bridge Junction. The construction of the cutoff was completed on December 10, 1906. The original Utah Central line remained in place as a secondary main line until the second track between Salt Lake City and Ogden was completed in 1912. At that time, the original Utah Central line became UP's Evona Branch, named for a now-abandoned small community near today's Farmer's Co-op grain elevator. (Utah Public Service Commission, Case 2544, Approved March 30, 1942; to abandon part of the Evona Branch, from the connection with the OSL mainline to the crossing of the new U. S. Highway 91, also called the Roy–Hot Springs Highway)

Surveys for the Sand Ridge Cutoff were completed in February 1903. (Ogden Standard Examiner, February 23 1903)

Double Track To Salt Lake

The Ogden-Salt Lake City double-track project began in 1910, and included major line changes that were completed in May 1911. The longest line change was between Layton and Clearfield. Utah Central's original 1869 mainline had been located adjacent to Territorial Road No. 1, later to become U. S. Highway 91. The business sections of both Layton and Clearfield developed along the same route, giving each town a mainline railroad right down its main street. The line change moved the line about a quarter mile west to its present location. A short section of the original track was left in place at the south end of Layton's Main Street, until at least 1930, to allow access to shippers, including Layton Milling Co. and the Layton plant of the Woods Cross Canning Co. Another modification, called the Shepherd Lane Line Change, was completed in August 1911, bringing an easier curve and improved grades to the stretch between Farmington and Kaysville. There was also a minor line change at Roy. (Kaysville-Layton Historical Society, Layton, Utah, Historic Viewpoints, p. 303; Sanborn Map Company, Layton, Utah, August 1930; Union Pacific ICC Valuation Map, which shows the OSL line between Farmington and Kaysville, between OSL MP 18 and MP 21, now MP 799 and MP 803, respectively. There was also a minor line change at Roy, at OSL MP 5, now Union Pacific MP 814.)

UP In Utah

Union Pacific in Utah was in fact, at least until 1987, the combined operations of three distinct companies, two of which were subsidiaries: Oregon Short Line Railroad; San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad; and the parent company, Union Pacific Railroad. In a note from present-day history, on December 30 and 31, 1987, Oregon Short Line Railroad, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad, and the Oregon-Washington Railway & Navigation Co. vanished as separate corporations when they were officially merged with UP.

Oregon Short Line and its predecessors built all Union Pacific lines in Utah, except the original 1869 main line east from Ogden to Wyoming. San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad (its name was shortened to just Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad in 1916) completed its 779-mile line between Salt Lake, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles in 1905, but didn't actually build any trackage in Utah. Instead, it purchased its line between Salt Lake City and the Utah/Nevada line in southwestern Utah from Oregon Short Line in 1903, as part of a complicated land ownership and right-of-way settlement.

Union Pacific Railroad rails from the East ended at Ogden, at Mile Post 992.55 (992.55 miles west of Omaha), adjacent to Ogden Union Station. Oregon Short Line trackage ran from Salt Lake City through Ogden to southern Idaho, with Ogden Union Station being Mile Post 0 for distances measured both north and south. Sandy, Utah, south of Salt Lake City, where historic ownership between OSL and LA&SL split as part of the 1903 sale, was Mile Post 49.98 from Ogden and Mile Post 786.35 from Los Angeles. (During the mid 1970s, the distance from Los Angeles was changed from Sandy to Ogden, ending at the west end of the 30th Street Wye, at Mile Post 818.57.) OSL tracks continued north from Ogden to Pocatello, which was Mile Post 135, and on to Butte, Montana, at Mile Post 397 (397 miles north of Ogden).

The three companies, UP, OSL, and LA&SL, were kept separate for a variety of financial reasons, and to satisfy labor agreements. Union Pacific formally leased the lines and consolidated operations in 1936. Financial arrangements included certain portions of trackage and property being used as collateral for bonds, and labor agreements were kept separate for similar reasons, the three companies still being distinct corporations. Until the late 1970s, as the bonds were paid off, and as labor agreements were renegotiated, operations of OSL were kept separate from those of Union Pacific, especially at Ogden. UP crews terminated at Ogden, their trains being turned over either to Southern Pacific crews for their continued trip west, or to OSL crews who ran them to Salt Lake City, where LA&SL crews took the trains on south to Los Angeles. All switching in Ogden was done by the jointly owned Ogden Union Railway & Depot Co., although portions of OUR&D's switching operations were contracted to either Union Pacific or Southern Pacific. Most trains through Ogden were UP System trains that originated in the East and operated over Union Pacific, OSL, and LA&SL with effective indifference, changing crews as division and ownership boundaries were crossed. Trains that originated or terminated on LA&SL or OSL were different. OSL did not serve Ogden. It only ran its trains through Ogden from Salt Lake City to Idaho, with some minor set-outs at Ogden for interchange with Union Pacific. Technically, OSL did not own either tracks or land in Ogden, but operated its trains by trackage agreements with both Union Pacific and OUR&D.

OSL North

As OSL's Salt Lake City-to-Idaho and Montana business grew throughout the first decades of the 1900s, the operation of its freights through the Ogden yards continued to be a concern to both OSL and OUR&D in its terminal operations. OSL trains were being regularly delayed, sometimes for hours, by either Union Pacific or Southern Pacific trains, or passenger train movements, or by a variety of switching and transfer moves. As early as 1922, proposals were made to build a cutoff that would get OSL trains through Ogden without delay. In 1923, proposed budget items included, along with improved mechanical facilities for Union Pacific, an OSL freight bypass through Ogden. The mechanical facilities were forced to wait for another year, as was the OSL bypass, officially known as the "OSL Run Around Track." Work on the bypass finally began in September 1927, and it was completed in April 1928 along with several other improvements to Ogden yard during the 1920s, which included a new roundhouse, a new Pacific Fruit Express ice plant and icing platforms, extension of the 24th Street Viaduct, and the new Union Station. In some early engineering drawings, the OSL freight bypass was shown as the "Belt Track," and by 1953 it was shown as the "Shasta Track" (for reasons as yet undiscovered), and the later name stuck.

The Shasta track connected with the double-track OSL main line to Salt Lake City west of the Weber River bridge, at Bridge Junction, crossed the river on its own bridge and ran along the east bank of the Weber to a connection with OUR&D tracks at about 25th Street, just north of the Pacific Fruit Express ice plant. The route beyond was mostly by trackage rights agreements with OUR&D and Southern Pacific, allowing OSL trains to move in a series of crossovers from the Shasta track on the west side of Ogden yard to the east side at 18th Street, north of SP's crossing of the Ogden River, where it separated at a point called Union Pacific Junction and ran north along its already established route completed in 1890. The new bypass allowed the 10 daily OSL trains to avoid the congestion of the 30th Street wye, UP-SP interchange trains, and the multiple passenger trains operating in and out of Union Station. With the traffic-pattern changes in operations in the late 1970s, along with the 1982 merger between Union Pacific, Missouri Pacific, and Western Pacific, the need for a bypass for Idaho-bound trains went away, and while the Shasta track remains today, it is little used except for the occasional storage of cars.

Ogden Changes

Other improvements continued throughout the 1920s. The state highway department, in 1924, completed a concrete overhead viaduct carrying Riverdale Road over the UP tracks. First proposed in May 1919, with costs being equally shared by UP and the state, in April 1920 the federal government was asked to assist in the construction funding, under the provisions of the Transportation Act of 1920. In return for its funding participation, the federal government requested a 20-foot roadway, instead of an 18-foot roadway, and a five-foot sidewalk, instead of a four-foot sidewalk. These changes in the design delayed completion until 1924. (Public Service Commission of Utah, case 515)

In addition to the Riverdale bridge, in 1931, the original wooden bridge carrying U. S. Alternate Highway 91 over the UP tracks at 31st Street was replaced by a modern concrete viaduct. (Public Service Commission of Utah, case 1176; approved in July 1930)

Another improvement came in March 1929, when Union Pacific completed a new Terminal Railway Post Office, which was leased to the Post Office Department. The original railway post office was renovated as a crew locker room for OUR&D crews.

In July 1930, the state had designated the Roy-Hot Springs Road as U. S. Highway 91 by making it an "improved gravel highway," including building a new concrete bridge over the double-track OSL main line. (Public Service Commission of Utah, case 1176)

In May 1942, Oregon Short Line retired and removed the western 1.15-mile portion of the Evona Branch, between a connection with the OSL main line at Roy and a crossing with the Roy-Hot Springs Road. The Evona Branch was the remaining portion of the original 1869 Utah Central between Ogden and Salt Lake City. The portion of the branch to be abandoned had been used only to store cars since 1912, when OSL completed a second track on the new Sand Ridge Cutoff main line. (Public Service Commission of Utah, case 2544)

Abandonment for the portion of the Evona Branch west of the Highway 91 crossing came in 1942 because the state now wanted to pave the entire length of Highway 91 between Roy and Hot Springs, and Union Pacific did not want to pay for grade-crossing improvements for the little-used branch. The abandoned 1.15 mile segment extended between the former OSL mainline (branch MP 3.77), and the crossing with the Roy-Hot Springs Road (Highway 91), branch MP 2.62. (Union Pacific work order 89; Public Service Commission of Utah, case 2544, approved March 30, 1944)

In October 1945, OSL retired and removed an additional mile of the Evona Branch between its new western end at the Roy-Hot Springs highway, and the jointly-owned (with D&RGW), spur to the Ogden sugar factory, at Evona Branch mile post 1.59. (Union Pacific work order 1332)

The remaining portion of the branch is still in service today. The steel bridge for the Evona Branch over the Weber River, near the west end of today's 24th Street Viaduct, is the oldest metal bridge (highway or railroad) in the state, being a Peagram truss design, built in 1889. Traffic today on the pioneering Evona Branch (also known as the Evona Industrial Spur) is made up of cars bound for customers in the Ogden Industrial Park, an occasional carload of sugar from the Amalgamated Sugar Co. plant, and a regular large quantity of grain and grain products cars to and from the Cargill, Inc. flour and grain mill in West Ogden.

In 1942, OUR&D built its new East Yard, which later became known as Riverdale Yard. The yard was greatly expanded in 1954.

(Read more about Riverdale Yard)

The continued rising volume of traffic through the Ogden yard, along with its strategic place in Union Pacific's operations, qualified it as one of earliest locations at which diesel switcher locomotives were placed in service. Omaha, Nebraska, and Los Angeles, California, were the first of UP's yards to receive diesel switchers in 1940, but Ogden received its first diesel switcher soon after. Ogden's East (Riverdale) Yard has a slight 0.3 percent (four inches rise in 100 feet of distance) grade down to 30th Street, and the rest is level, at least to the Ogden River. This means that switchers need a bit more power to work both ends of Riverdale Yard. In late 1951, Union Pacific purchased six 1,600-horsepower Baldwin heavy switchers, known as model AS-616. Two were to be assigned at each of the retarder hump yards in Pocatello, Idaho, and North Platte, Nebraska, two were assigned to local service in Kansas (soon reassigned to heavy switching in North Platte), and the other two, numbers 1264 and 1265, were specifically purchased for and leased to OUR&D for the heavy "flat" switching at Ogden. Crews immediately labeled the two units as "Mike" and "Ike." They remained at Ogden throughout their careers, until they were retired in 1968. (Gordon Cardall interview, May 1, 1992)

OUR&D also leased Southern Pacific locomotives. From 1943 to 1946, five SP 0-6-0 steam switchers were leased. These were replaced in 1946-47 by four Alco model S-2 diesel switchers. (SP 1943 classification book, cited in P. Allen Copeland to Don Strack, March 11, 1996)

In June 1961, in the space inside the balloon track, Union Pacific constructed a facility to unload automobiles from rail cars. Using an apparatus called a "Buck Unloader," it had a capacity to unload 200 automobiles per day for distribution throughout northern Utah. (Ogden Standard Examiner, May 4, 1969)

During mid-1965, the major rail traffic customers included four packing plants, three grain mills, and the continuing traffic of the Ogden Union Stock Yards, which handled $40 million in livestock during 1964, mostly in lambs. (Salt Lake Tribune, August 28, 1965, p. C1)

As with many other railroads in the late 1960s, Union Pacific and Southern Pacific began operating more "run-through" trains assembled in predetermined blocks for particular destinations, and doing away with random switching operations at various yards along the line. With the opening of UP's giant hump yard in North Platte in 1968, all of the railroad's operations changed. All eastbound trains were pre-blocked for movement to North Platte, avoiding switching at points such as Nampa and Pocatello in Idaho; Yermo, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Salt Lake City and Ogden. More and more trains in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s simply moved through Ogden with only a change in crews, and without any switching. To support the run-through concept, work began as early as December 1971, on run-through tracks for both Ogden and Cheyenne, Wyoming. The new run-through track in Ogden, completed in May 1974, was added south (railroad direction east) from the 30th Street wye, and along the west side of Riverdale Yard. (Pacific News, Issue 125, March 1972, p. 11; Info Magazine, May 1974)

The new Riverdale By-Pass run-through track, completed in September 1973, avoided the congestion of trains from Salt Lake City and California by passing along the west side of Riverdale Yard. Before the By-Pass run-through track, the trains had to work their way across the north end (railroad west end) of Riverdale yard to reach the main line on the east side, dodging switching operations and trains bound for points on Southern Pacific. The By-Pass run-through track was part of a general modernization of Riverdale Yard, including a locomotive service track at the east (compass south) end of the yard. With a new service track at Riverdale, the service track at the roundhouse near 29th Street was closed, and a highway truck was equipped to bring fuel, water, and other supplies to the locomotives, including the numerous switchers that still worked in Ogden.

(The same concept of a by-pass track had worked very well for Oregon Short Line trains bound for Idaho in the mid-1920s when the Shasta track was built along the west side of the yard north from the 30th Street wye.)

July 1976
Riverdale received a new all-metal yard tower, replacing one that had been in place since the early 1950s. When Riverdale Yard was increased to its present size in 1954, a new yard tower was needed. A water tower was already standing at the north end, so the tank was removed and a small shanty was lifted up to sit atop the support structure. This unique structure became a landmark among railroad enthusiasts nationwide. With the modernization of Riverdale yard in the mid-1970s, computers were added along with other improvements. Rather than spend money to upgrade the unique little shanty, UP in July 1976 replaced it with a $250,000 all-metal tower that served both as a yardmaster's office and as a communication building. (Pacific News, August 1976, p. 14)

In January 1974 the balloon track at Ogden was removed. The balloon track had not been used for passenger movements (specifically the Butte Special) since the beginning of Amtrak in 1971. "Trackage is being rearranged and constructed in the Ogden area to facilitate movement of traffic between Pocatello and Salt Lake City. North-South traffic has previously moved around the Ogden Balloon Track when going through that terminal." (Info magazine, January 1974, page 4)

(The Ogden balloon track was added in 1942-1943 to improve the operations of passenger trains between Salt Lake City and Pocatello, as well as serving Salt Lake City freight trains when pickups or setouts were required in the OUR&D yard.)

Another improvement, made in 1977, was construction of a different connection to the 6.8-mile Hill Field Branch, which had been built in 1908 by the Salt Lake & Ogden Railway, a predecessor to the electrified Bamberger Railroad. Union Pacific purchased the branch, which serves Hill Air Force Base, in 1959, when Bamberger went out of business. Originally, access for a UP train was over the former Bamberger/UP interchange on the east side of the main line, then by a saw-back move to enter the branch, and cross above the UP main line on the former Bamberger bridge. In 1977, after UP removed the bridges and embankments (completed in 1914) that raised the former Bamberger line up and over the UP, the Hill Field Branch connected directly with the west side of the yard.

Statistics compiled by the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1979 showed that for all rail traffic along the Central Corridor between California and points east, 51 percent was via SP-UP at Ogden; 22 percent was via WP-UP at Salt Lake City; 12 percent was via SP-DRGW at Ogden, with SP run-through trains between Ogden and Salt Lake City; and 15 percent was via WP-DRGW at Salt Lake City. The traffic moving eastward by Union Pacific (73 percent), moved by way of UP's route in Weber and Echo canyons. The traffic moving via D&RGW (27 percent) was by way of D&RGW's route from Salt Lake City to Provo, and Spanish Fork Canyon. (Mark Amfahr, email to the Classic UP Yahoo discussion group, February 28, 2013)

On December 22, 1982, Union Pacific merged with Western Pacific and Missouri Pacific. The operations of Western Pacific were quickly absorbed by UP, with the MP operations taking another three years to be fully integrated with UP's. The immediate change was that UP no longer interchanged most of its California-bound traffic with SP at Ogden. Instead, the traffic was moved south to Salt Lake City where it then headed west over the former lines of the Western Pacific.

More Information

UP In Utah -- Timeline chronologies with updates and new research.

UP In Ogden Research Notes -- Research notes taken in 1995 while visiting UP headquarters in Omaha.