Union Pacific Cedar City Branch

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This page was last updated on September 17, 2022.

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Completed in 1925, the Cedar City Branch provided railroad service from Lund, Utah, on the Los Angles & Salt Lake mainline, to Cedar City, a distance of 32.5 miles.

Iron Springs was 21 miles east of Lund, and was the connection with the Iron Mountain Branch. The earliest portion, 3.9 miles long, served the Desert Mound iron mine, and was completed at the same time as the Cedar City Branch, in 1925.

From John Signor's book The Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad Company (Golden West Books, 1988).

Zion Canyon, some 100 miles to the south, was also the object of the railroad builders. This great cleft on the southern spur of the Wasatch Range had been known for decades for its remarkable vistas and scenic beauty but was seldom visited due to its remote location. In 1913, President Taft set aside the canyon as a national monument along with nearby Cedar Breaks and Bryce Canyon. Three years later an auto stage line was set up to ferry tourists over a recently completed dirt road between Zion and the Union Pacific station at Lund. A fleet of nine-passenger National cars were used in this service. The "Wylie Way" Company, a tourist operation that had gained experience in this sort of thing while operating a similar concession at Yellowstone Park, provided the cars, eating facilties and camps. The price for this interesting side trip into the heart of "Utah's Scenic Wonderland" was, at that time, $26.50 for the round trip which included auto fare, lunch en route while going and returning, two nights lodging and five meals at the Wylie Camp inside Zion Park.

From time to time there had been talk of building a railroad from Lund into Zion Park. While visiting the park late in July, 1922, Carl R. Gray, president of the Union Pacific System, admitted to reporters for Salt Lake City's "Deseret News", that the proposal was under serious consideration. That fall the ICC authorized the UP to construct a 32-mile line from Lund to Cedar City, the gateway to the park. Work was begun in March of the following year and proceeded rapidly. President Harding presided over the official opening of the line on June 26, 1923.

Not content to just provide the rail transportation, the Union Pacific, under its subsidiary, the Utah Parks Co., erected a modern tourist hotel, the "El Escalante", at Cedar City. Two-story rustic stone and frame pavilions were also built at Bryce Canyon and Zion Park - each with a full compliment of small tourist cabins. A fleet of especially built motor buses, which were operated by the railroad, supplanted the "Wylie Way" auto tours and linked the trains with the "El Escalante", Zion Park, Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks and other points in the district. By the time the hotels, rail and bus service was opened to general travel on May 15, 1925, the Union Pacific had expended $1,847,000 in providing these facilities and services. The Utah Parks Co., in 1928, began running tours from Cedar City to the north rim of the Grand Canyon, a distance of 189 miles, where the railroad built a large tourist hotel. In general, the scenic tours were operated between June 1st and October 1st each year. Through trains from Salt Lake to Cedar City were operated only during the park season, from mid-June through Labor Day.

The opening of Zion Park was not the only motive for the construction of the Cedar City Branch however. No sooner had the graders reached Cedar City, when work began on a 4.1-mile spur from the station of Iron Springs, midway on the branch, south to Desert Mound in the heart of a rich iron ore district. Here the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company held about 5,000 acres of ore bearing ground. The Columbia Steel Corporation held another parcel of about the same size. Within a few miles of the iron ore lay some of the most extensive coal beds in the state. Senator Clark had demonstrated a willingness to build into this district if it became desireable to do so and various railroad surveys had been made from Lund, with the last being completed in 1911. But it was not until 1923, when the Columbia Steel Corporation began to develop a 30-million dollar steel plant near Provo, that working of these ore bodies became practicable. Between June 1923, and July 1924, a 1.7-mile spur was built in conjunction with the Denver & Rio Grande from Provo east to the mill site at Ironton. Once the mill became active, regular shipments of iron ore began to roll off the Cedar City Branch destined for the blast furnaces of central Utah. Between November 1934, and November 1935, the Desert Mound Branch was extended 10.8 miles further to Iron Mountain.

In 1935, the Iron Mountain Extension extended what was known as the Desert Mound Spur from the Desert Mound mine, south for a distance of 10.8 miles to the Iron Mountain mine.

The Comstock mine was located seven miles south of the Desert Mound mine. In 1954 Utah Construction Company began mining iron ore from the Comstock claims owned by Colorado Fuel & Iron. The ore was processed and loaded on a spur that connected with the Iron Mountain Branch at the railroad station known as Comstock, about four miles north of the Iron Mountain mine.

(The Comstock mine, and adjacent Mountain Lion claims were the focus of restarted operations beginning in 2005.)

(Read more about current operations on UP's Cedar City Branch, from 2005 to today)

In 1950 and again in 1955, Union Pacific moved its Iron Mountain Branch in the vicinity of the Desert Mound mine, to allow for expanded open pit mining at the mine. (LA&SL Condensed Profile, 1976, page 68, Utah Division Iron Mountain Branch)

Iron ore shipments continued until 1981 when United States Steel ceased its operations. Geneva Steel resumed iron ore mining in 1985, but closed its iron ore operations in Utah in 1995. Mining operations lay dormant until shipments resumed in 2008, bound for export to China. The shipments to China ended in 2014.


January 24, 1899
Utah & Pacific Railroad was completed to Cedar City Junction, 37 miles from Milford. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, January 25, 1899, "yesterday")

The current station of Lund is 35 miles south of Milford.

(Read more about the Utah & Pacific Railroad)

August 1922
Columbia Steel received Utah Public Utilities Commission approval to construct a subsidiary called the Carbon County Railway. At the same time they withdrew their application to build another subsidiary called the Iron County Railway which was to be constructed from Lund, on the Union Pacific, to their iron ore properties in Iron County. The steel company withdrew their application based on the Union Pacific's protest in which Union Pacific stated that they were intending to construct the Cedar City Branch. (Utah Public Service Commission case 577)

The iron ore bodies in Iron County had been discovered in the early 1850s by Mormon pioneers. The particular deposits near Iron Mountain were first located in the 1870s but by the 1920s had not yet been commercially worked. The mines were to be developed to furnish ore for the new Columbia Steel Company's new iron mill that was being constructed near Springville. The actual mining was done by the steel company's subsidiary Columbia Iron Mining Company, and also by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company to supply its mill in Pueblo, Colorado. Columbia's mill near Springville, called Ironton, went into production, producing pig iron, on May 1, 1924. The construction of the Cedar City Branch also included the 4.5 mile Iron Mountain Branch to Desert Mound, which left the Cedar City Branch at Iron Springs (mile post 20.28).

August 17, 1922
Union Pacific, and its Los Angeles & Salt Lake leased subsidiary, applied to the federal Interstate Commerce Commission for authority to build a railroad between a station on its railroad, known as Lund, and Cedar City, a distance of 35 miles. This new railroad line was to be a branch feeder line to the larger Union Pacific system of railroad, comprising 9,585 miles. Construction of the LA&SL branch line was to commence immediately upon approval by the ICC. The following is quoted from the ICC report.

The construction of the [LA&SL] branch line is required in order to develop the irrigated and other agricultural lands adjacent to it, and to afford railroad facilities for the shipping of livestock, hay, grain and other agricultural products, and for the shipping of coal and iron ore and other mineral products. Cedar City, Iron County is the gateway to Bryce's Canyon, Zion National Park, Cedar Breaks, and the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, and in order to provide adequate transportation to these scenic wonders of Utah and to develop the same it is necessary that this branch line of railway be constructed by the Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad Company as it is the nearest transcontinental railroad.

August 23, 1922
Union Pacific, and its leased Los Angeles & Salt Lake subsidiary, protested the application to the Utah Public Utilities Commission by Iron County Railroad, which had applied on August 11th to build its railroad. The following is quoted from the ICC report.

That public convenience and necessity do not require the construction and operation of a line of railroad by the Iron County Railroad Company, as prayed for, which it is proposed to be constructed primarily for the individual needs and requirements of the Columbia Steel Corporation; neither do they require the construction and operation of two lines of railroad into this territory, as the amount of revenue to be derived from all of the freight and passenger business to be developed in this territory for many years to come will not be adequate to pay the expense of operating a single line of railroad, and one line of railroad will be fully adequate to serve the needs of said territory.

October 18, 1922
LA&SL received ICC approval to construct the 32.5 mile Cedar City Branch. To be completed by December 31, 1923. (ICC Finance Docket 2527; Submitted October 7, 1922; Decided October 18, 1922)

The branch was to be constructed to serve the developing iron ore mines in the district west of Cedar City, with 400 million tons of reserves, as well as the agricultural and timber industries in Iron and Washington counties, and as "a convenient means of access to Zion National Park, the north rim of the Grand Canyon, Cedar Breaks, and Bryce Canyon, and a substantial increase in passenger traffic is anticipated from tourists interested in these places."

March 29, 1923
Union Pacific Railroad organized Utah Parks Company as a subsidiary of the railroad. The company was incorporated in Utah. A separate organization was needed to satisfy the concerns of National Park Service that a railroad would not have a monopoly over both transportation services and lodging services in national parks.

(Read more about UP's Utah Parks Company)

June 26, 1923
UP's Cedar City Branch was officially opened, including a ceremony presided over by U. S. President Warren G. Harding, who arrived by special train. Harding died on August 2, 1923. (Signor, LA&SL, page 94)

July 12, 1924
A new branch, 3.6 miles long, was completed from Iron Springs on the Cedar City Branch, to serve the Milner iron ore mine at Desert Mound, Utah. The new mine was a project of the Utah Iron Ore Corporation.

(Read more about the Iron Mountain Branch; portions completed in 1924 and 1935)

May 31, 1926
Union Pacific began the operation of its "Utah Parks Special" seasonal train between Salt Lake City and Cedar City.

Union Pacific's Utah Parks Company began operating the facilities at Grand Canyon National Park, and took over the interests of Utah & Grand Canyon Transportation Company, the bus company that was operating the bus service between Union Pacific's passenger trains at Cedar City and Cedar Breaks National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Monument, Zion's Canyon National Park, and Grand Canyon National Park. The bus company had begun the service in 1923. (Poor's, 1929, p. 1052)

(Union Pacific changed the name of the bus company to Union Pacific Stages.)

April 18, 1928
LA&SL received Utah Public Utilities Commission approval to discontinue Sunday passenger service on the Cedar City Branch. (Utah Public Service Commission case 1018)

October 1930
Union Pacific was operating Trains 3 and 4 between Salt Lake City and Lund, and Trains 103 and 104 between Lund and Cedar City. In October 1930 the Public Utilities Commission approved the road's application to discontinue all four trains and only operate passenger train service to Cedar City during the tourist season. During the off season the service was to be provided using motor buses of the Union Pacific Stages. (Utah Public Service Commission case 1197)

From John Signor's book The Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad Company (Golden West Books, 1988).

The Utah Parks specials, operating between Salt Lake City and Cedar City, Utah, were resumed after the war. Operating only during peak summer season, Nos. 309 and 310 provided direct park access between June 20th and August 31st each year. As evidence of UP's continuing commitment in this area, on December 23, 1948, Union Pacific subsidiary Utah Parks Company, entered into an agreement with the Department of the Interior extending that company's privilege to operate concessions and a tourist service at the North Rim Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, and Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Utah, from January 1, 1949, through December 31, 1968.

May 13, 1961
Beginning with the opening of the 1961 season on May 13, 1961, Union Pacific discontinued the operation of passenger trains to Cedar City. Travelers to the Utah parks and Grand Canyon boarded the buses of Utah Parks Co. at Lund. (Iron County Record, April 13, 1961; the last seasonal trains were operated during the 1960 season, which ended on October 1, 1960)

At the end of the 1960 season Union Pacific stopped operation of passenger Trains 309 and 310, the Utah Parks Special, between Salt Lake City and Cedar City. During 1958, UP also operated two daily bus routes between Cedar City and Lund, the connection of the Cedar City Branch with the Union Pacific mainline. The only UP trains that stopped at Lund were Trains 5 and 6, the Mail Train. The City of Los Angeles and UP's other Streamliners did not stop at Lund.

February 1970
Union Pacific donated the depot at Lund to the Cedar City Post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The organization planned to move the depot building to its site in Cedar City. (Southern Utah Free Press, February 5, 1970)

August 1970
The El Escalante Hotel in Cedar City was demolished. The hotel was where guests of Union Pacific stayed as part of their escorted tours of the Utah parks and Grand Canyon. The hotel was built in 1923 and had 65 rooms and banquet facilities. The hotel was owned by Utah Parks Co. until 1958 when it was sold to the City of Cedar City, and leased to Southern Utah State College for student housing. The city sold the building and the land it sat on to a developer with plans to replace the structure with a modern hotel with 60 rooms and dining facilities. (Deseret News, August 20, 1970)

The El Escalante Hotel had been built in 1923 by George A. Wood, who also built the Union Pacific depot in Cedar City. Wood also built the railroad-owned lodges in Bryce, Grand Canyon, Zion Canyon and Cedar Beaks, all in the same time period. Wood passed away on November 4, 1964 at age 86. (Deseret News, November 6, 1964)

(Research has not yet found when the UP depot in Cedar City was sold or donated to the city, but it was likely in this same 1970 time period. The depot still stands in mid 2021, serving as a restaurant located adjacent to the Best Western hotel and convention center.)

January 7, 1982
Cedar City Council passed a resolution to use the proceeds of a $12 million bond to use as redevelopment funds for the development and re-use of the former Union Pacific depot as a motel, restaurant and shopping center complex. (Iron County News, January 7, 1982)

Cedar City was the stop for the American Orient Express multiple times each year from 1996 to 2008.

(Read more about the American Orient Express)

Bill Magazin wrote on Facebook on August 16, 2021:

In the early to mid 2000's, I was lucky enough to be working as the Conductor on the AOE. The AOE contracted with Amtrak for the locos and operating crews. We used to park the two locos and 18 car train on the track where [PFE refrigerator cars were stored and iced]. The locos would have been just west of the [nearby] grain towers. Cedar City would block the two crossings in town to accommodate us.

The AOE visited Cedar City several times a year from 1996 until its final trip in 2008. The stop was a layover for the bus tours of Cedar Breaks and Zions National Parks. Some years they would tour to Bryce Canyon also. The Cedar City stop was located on the "National Parks of the West" tour. This tour included Albuquerque, the Grand Canyon, using the Grand Canyon Railway, Cedar City, Salt Lake City and Idaho Falls. In the early years, the train would shove backwards all the way from Lund, Utah to Cedar City. Once a wye was built to serve the industries at the Cedar City airport industrial park, the train only had to be turned and backed a few miles to the end of the line in town for parking.

(Later research has found that initially the National Parks of the West tour was an eight-day tour, and later changed to a ten-day tour. During the GrandLuxe years of 2006-2008, the stops were at Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico; Grand Canyon National Park; Las Vegas, Nevada; Zion or Bryce Canyon National Park; Cedar City, Salt Lake City and Park City, Utah; Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.)

(During 1998 the nine-day National Parks of the West tour began May 11, May 29, Oct. 7 and Oct. 25 in Santa Fe and May 20 and Oct. 16 in Denver.)

July 5, 2013
The federal Surface Transportation Board approved Union Pacific application to abandon the last mile of its line to Cedar City, Utah, from MP 30.8 to MP 31.8. UP made the application on June 6, 2013. (Surface Transportation Board, Docket No. AB 33, Sub-No. 283X [Decision 43120]; Union Pacific Railroad Company--abandonment Exemption--in Iron County, Utah; Decision 43120, dated June 6, 2013; Decision 43169, dated July 5, 2013)

The portion of the Cedar City Branch that was abandoned was the line east of the I-15 over-crossing. It served the team track that is right adjacent to Main Street at 400 North. This is an area with increasing commercial development, and the city or the county likely had plans to put in something that would bring in some tax revenue. There are several mixed traffic customers west of the I-15 crossing, so UP continued to serve these customers.

There was a delay in the STB approval due to the state historical society, which is a state agency in Utah, not yet responding to the standard STB request to determine any buildings or structures with historical significance. From past experience, they never find anything of post-1850 historical significance, so this is simply a result of personnel cutbacks due to a reduced state budget. In the final STB decision, UP was restrained from removing any structure, including removing rails and ties, until the historical review had been completed.

This is not related in any way to the iron ore unit trains being shipped over the Cedar City Subdivision, which come on to UP tracks at Iron Springs, nine miles to the west at MP 21.

(Read more about the Iron Mountain Branch; portions completed in 1924 and 1935, and still in service during 2021)