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Union Pacific Iron Mountain Branch

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This page was last updated on October 11, 2021.

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Overview

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.

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.

Timeline

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 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:

"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."

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) (see also: President Harding's Visit at HistoryToGo.utah.gov)

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 Utah Iron Ore Corporation at Desert Mound, 1924 to 1936)

November 8, 1934
The federal Interstate Commerce Commission approved the application by LA&SL to build two rail lines serving the iron mines near Cedar City. (ICC Finance Docket 10622, approved November 8, 1934, 202 ICC 454) (See also: Utah Public Service Commission files, Box B65T1, 9/14/1987)

1935
Columbia Iron Mining expanded their operations to include the open pit mine at Iron Mountain and Union Pacific extended the Iron Mountain Branch 10 miles south to reach Iron Mountain Station. (U. S. Bureau of Mines Report of Investigations 4076, May 1947)

March 1935
Representatives of Union Pacific were in Cedar City buying property for a new 12-mile rail line from Desert Mound, south to Iron Mountain. The Iron County Commission had already approved Union Pacific's request for a crossing of the Cedar-Newcastle Highway (today's Desert Mound Road). (Iron County Record, March 21, 1935, page 1)

April 16, 1935
Union Pacific let the contract for the construction of the new rail line between Desert Mound and Iron Mountain. Morrison-Knudsen of Boise, Idaho is to be the contractor. (Iron County Record, April 18, 1935, "Tuesday")

May 31, 1935
LA&SL began construction of the 11.31-mile line between Desert Mound and Iron Mountain, as an extension of the Cedar City Branch, to serve the iron ore mines that are being developed there. (ICC Financial Docket 10622)

August 25, 1935
Union Pacific completed the Iron Mountain Extension, 11.31 miles long. Construction and installation of a new mining and crushing plant at the Iron Mountain mine was begun on August 1, 1935, and was completed in April 1936. (Iron Mountain Record, July 22, 1937, page 1)

1942
In 1942 mining operations were again expanded to supply ore for the new Columbia-Geneva Steel plant, under construction near Orem to supply steel plate needed for the war effort, and Union Pacific made improvements to the facilities on the branch to handle the additional traffic. (U. S. Bureau of Mines Report of Investigations 4076, May 1947)

October 8, 1943
Union Pacific issued Work Order and Authority For Expenditure to build a spur 194 feet long, and an engine house (16 feet by 60 feet) at Iron Mountain, Utah. The engine house was specifically needed to protect a recently assigned diesel switcher, which was to be used to switch rail cars at the three nearby iron ore mine plants. The project was funded by UP's own special "National Defense Project," which was funding set aside by the railroad specifically to support the war effort. There were three mining plants loading iron ore, and a diesel switcher was needed to expedite the timely movement of trains. The engine house was to be constructed with a wooden frame, covered with corrugated steel, and was to be equipped with an inspection and service pit, and necessary heat, water and lights. About 200 cars per day of iron ore was being moved to the Columbia Steel plant at Geneva, Utah, and to the Colorado Fuel & iron plant at Pueblo, Colorado. The use of a diesel switcher would be more efficient and economical than the use a steam locomotive with its associated coaling and water facilities. (Union Pacific internal communications dated October 8 and 21, 1943)

1950
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)

February 1953
Union Pacific announced the purchase of ten 1,500 horsepower EMD SD7 locomotives. Total cost of $2,150,000. (Union Pacific AFE 12, approved February 3, 1953)

The 10 SD7 locomotives would be used for handling Iron Mountain to Milford, Utah, business, and for heavy switching at the Geneva steel plant. Seven units were to be assigned to the South-Central District, and three units were to be assigned to effect economical operation of various branches, other than on the South-Central District. (Union Pacific letter, Stoddard to Charske, February 3, 1953)

1960s
During the 1960s Union Pacific retired the 9 x 20 depot and other station facilities at Iron Mountain. (Work Order 41394)

1977
Union Pacific received Utah Public Utilities Commission approval to abandon portions of the Ironton Branch. (Public Service Commission of Utah, case 77-400-06)

1981
"The Colorado Fuel and Iron Company ceased shipping iron ore from their Utah property to their Colorado furnaces." (G. D. MacDonald, The Magnet, page ix)

February 16, 1981
Union Pacific operated the last train of iron ore from Iron Mountain to the Colorado Fuel & Iron plant in Pueblo, Colorado. (source not recorded)

Spring 1985
U.S. Steel's Iron Mountain mine on UP's Cedar City/Iron Mountain Branch was closed in 1983, along with the Atlantic City, Wyoming, mine. U.S. Steel's Geneva Works were furnished with taconite from Minnesota. The Iron Mountain mine reopened in spring 1985 to furnish the new Geneva Works, with about two unit trains running per week. (CTC Board, July 1985, page 14)

November 1985
Mines in Iron Mountain region were independent. By summer 1984 all machinery at the mines had been sold to various gold mines developing in Nevada. In January 1985 UP was considering total abandonment of the 31-mile Cedar City Branch, along with the connecting 14-mile Iron Mountain Branch. In April 1985, just after UP had informed U.S. Steel of its intention to abandon the branches, U.S. Steel let UP know that they were considering reopening the mines to furnish ore to the Geneva Works. By June 1985, one mine had reopened and was furnishing ore to the Geneva Works. Mine owned and operated by Gilbert Construction Co. of Cedar City, Utah. Trains being operated were the SUW (Steel Unit West) empties and the SUE (Steel Unit East) loads; on a one train per week schedule. A summary of operations included information that Gilbert Construction Company (of Cedar City, Utah) was the new operator of the Iron Mountain iron mines, plus operational notes that Union Pacific picked up loaded iron ore cars on Thursdays at 4 p.m. The main iron mine was at Comstock. Other iron ore loading facilities were at Iron Springs, Deseret, Mound, and Iron Mountain. (CTC Board, November 1985, pages 49-50)

1994
The 15-mile Iron Mountain Branch was on the abandonment list during the mid 1980s, but removed due to the increasing traffic to support the Geneva Steel mill near Orem, Utah. In mid 1994 Geneva was buying its iron ore on the spot market, reducing traffic on the Iron Mountain Branch. In mid 1994, UP put the branch back on the proposed abandonment list. (Pacific Rail News, November 1994, page 47)

(Read more about UP's Iron Mountain Branch after UP stopped running trains following the shutdown of mining operations in 1985.)

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