Union Pacific Iron Ore Trains

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This page was last updated on November 20, 2018.

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Iron Ore Trains

- ACUW/E Atlantic City, Wyoming to Geneva, Utah (US Steel) routed (USS-Winton Jct)-UP;
- MNQA/W Comstock, Utah to Minnequa (Pueblo), Colorado (CF&I) routed UP-Denver-DRGW;
- SUE/W Comstock, Utah to Geneva, Utah routed UP direct;
- CUE/W Cima, California to Los Angeles (export) routed UP direct;
- MIGW/MIGE Minntac, Minnesota, to Geneva, Utah

The Comstock iron mine is in southwestern Utah, in the Iron Mountain Mining District.

(Read more about Iron Mountain)

[MNQA/MNQW] The Minnequa ore trains ran as MNQA eastbound empties from Minnequa (Pueblo) to Comstock, and MNQW westbound loads, from Comstock to Minnequa. The trains usually used a wide variety of motive power, usually the older locomotives that UP owned, as well as a variety of cars, which were usualy a mix of ore cars, bottom-dump gons, ballast hoppers, 3-bay UP hoppers, and even D&RGW hoppers.

The MNQA trains ran UP to Provo, the either UP via Wyoming to Denver, then D&RGW to Minnequa, or UP-Provo-D&RGW-Minnequa

[MIGE/MIGW] MIGE and MIGW (Minnesota Iron Geneva East/West) to replace Atlantic City ore train. Routing was CNW/UP-Omaha. (CTC Board, December 1983, page 4) US Steel was shipping iron ore from their Mountain Iron (Minnesota) facilities to Geneva Works in Utah, via CNW/UP, in three 100, 100-ton car trains per week. Power pool uses CNW, ex CR SD45s. (Pacific News, February 1984, page 26)

The Minntac trains started in the summer or fall of 1981.


Iron ore was also obtained from mines at Iron Mountain, Utah, near Cedar City. This moved both UP-C&S via Denver, or UP-D&RGW via Denver. At various times it also moved UP-D&RGW via Grand Junction. An interchange track called "the Minnequa" was built at Provo; it's now used as a long lead (it's over by Ironton). I've seen photographs of unit iron ore trains on Sherman Hill in the 1960s, and on Tennessee Pass in the 1940s. (Mark Hemphill, February 10, 2005 email to D&RGW Yahoo Group)

Back in 1969-1970, when I was packing cellars on UP's Salt Lake City service pit, they were running an MNQA Minnequa iron ore train from Cedar City to Pueblo, by way of Wyoming to Denver, then by D&RGW to Pueblo. The power was UP SD45s, and the cars were a mix of UP 70- and 90-ton open top hoppers. It was run once or twice a week, and I think the empties were returned by way of regular merchandise trains. (Don Strack, July 14, 2004 mail to D&RGW Yahoo Group)

Cars are a mix of UP HM ore hoppers, GT ore gons, HK ballast hoppers and HT triple hoppers. Other photos show UP's shorter HK ballast hoppers, which the Grande used to haul Eilers slag ballast west on the backhaul. (Jim Eager, July 14, 2004 mail to D&RGW Yahoo Group)

CF&I Minnequa (Pueblo) Colorado: a significant amount of their ore came from mines in Southern Utah. Ore came from either the Duncan, Blowout or Comstock mines from the early 1940s through the early '80s. Those trains were routed either UP-Provo-DRGW or UP-Denver-DRGW. (Mark Amfahr, May 25, 2005 email to Railway Ops Yahoo group)

Mark Amfahr wrote on March 16, 2010:

I'm not certain, but I believe that was CF&I ore traffic heading down to Minnequa, Colorado (near Pueblo) via Denver-DRGW. Freight schedules from more recent years (1970s) show that those trains originated at the Comstock Mine, which was in SW Utah near Cedar City. Mark Hemphill's UP Salt Lake Route book says that Utah mines were supplying around 500,000 tons of ore per year to CF&I at Minnequa. I've heard that some of that ore ran via UP-Provo-DRGW (Tennessee Pass) in the late-1940s / steam era. However, it appears that most, if not all, was routed via Wyoming (Rawlins, Speer) starting sometime in the 1950s.

From what I've seen, those CF&I / Minnequa trains didn't typically use sets of the "ore jenny" type cars. The photos and train lists I've looked at show they used mainly older conventional hoppers. I don't really have a significant sample of those trains, but that's what several of my sources show…

Taking a guess on traffic volume, the gross tons/train figure that you mentioned above would result in something like 29 trains for every 100,000 tons of ore they transported. If we plug in 350,000 tons per year as a guess for the mid-50s, that would have generated about 100 loaded trains per year, or 2/week average volume. (Mark Amfahr, March 16, 2010 email to Classic UP Yahoo group)

Ted Ferkenhoff wrote on January 21, 2014:

S. Kip Farrington's "Railroads Of The Hour" discussing UP's iron ore movements for 1957.

Ore was loaded at Iron Mountain and Desert Mound for the Columbia Iron Mining Company, at Iron Mountain and Comstock for the Utah Construction Company, and at Iron Springs for H.L. Beatty.

"In 1957 the UP moved a total of 72,802 carloads of iron ore, ore fines and sinter to various points."

Further breakdown given as follows:

  • 51,076 carloads of ore to Geneva and Ironton (US Steel)
  • 16,569 carloads of ore to Minnequa (CF&I Steel-Pueblo)
  • 2,601 carloads of ore to Fontana (Kaiser Steel)
  • 110 carloads ore to the "Missouri River and east"
  • 2,119 carloads ore to Long Beach for export
  • 59 carloads of fines and sinter to Geneva and Ironton
  • (Ted Ferkenhoff, January 21, 2014 email to Classic UP Yahoo Group)

Mark Amfahr wrote as part of a summary of Union Pacific operations in Ogden, Utah:

Most of the ore traffic that was seen moving east from Ogden originated at mines in southern Utah (Cedar City / Iron Mountain Branches, about 240 miles south of Salt Lake City).  The majority of that ore was headed east via Green River, Speer and Denver to CF&I at Minnequa, Colorado (just south of Pueblo) where it was used for steel making.  This traffic often moved via U.P. but shipments were not consistent since an alternate route via D&RGW's Tennessee Pass was utilized at times.  When the traffic moved via U.P. it flowed in relatively large quantities but cars did not move in unit trains in this era as was the case in later decades – true unit trains would not appear until the late 1960s.  As of the 1940s and '50s groups of ore cars were loaded and moved as they were released - maybe 20 cars one day, 45 the next, for example.  With that pattern, the ore traffic could be seen moving one day as a group of 20 cars on a drag freight and another day as a train made up of mostly ore, perhaps several days' loadings that had been consolidated.  Due to the nature of the ore traffic and equipment – often using older, heavily-loaded, plain-journal cars such as hoppers and drop-bottom gondolas – trains handling ore were normally restricted to 25 mph at that time.  With trains handling lumber or ore typically being heavy, low priority, speed restricted and mechanically problematic, the (crew) call times for these trains were typically adjusted with the intention of having them follow passenger and priority freight trains out of town.

Don Strack wrote on January 1, 2014:

According to an article in New York Times in June 1960, construction on U. S. Steel's Atlantic City iron mine started in mid 1960. UP's Wyoming Division track profiles show 1963 as the date the line between Winton Junction and Atlantic City was completed, having been constructed by UPRR for the benefit of U. S. Steel. Production from the iron mines at Utah's Iron Mountain fell by 2/3 when the Atlantic City mine opened in 1963, and it was the movement of ore to CF&I in Pueblo, by way of Wyoming, that saved the Utah mines.

Rock Springs to Winton Junction (9.3 miles) was the South Pass Branch. Rock Springs to Stansbury (MP 7.68) completed in 1911; Stansbury to Winton Junction (MP 9.3) completed in 1917.

Winton Junction to Atlantic City (76.68 miles) was the Atlantic City Spur, completed in 1963 by UP for U. S. Steel.

The Atlantic City trains were ACUW (Atlantic City Unit West - loads) and ACUE (Atlantic City Unit East - empties).

My limited research indicates that ACUW and ACUE used SD45s as motive power from late 1968 through 1971, when the trains received sets of four SD24s and and four SD24Bs as motive power. The SD24s were replaced in 1974 by UP's unique SD40X former demonstrator units. The SD40X units were assigned to North Platte as hump switchers in late 1975, and replaced in ACUW and ACUE service by new GE U30C units in the 2900 series. In 1977 the U30Cs were replaced by new C30-7s, numbered as UP 2960-2974, renumbered to UP 2400-2414 in 1978. I don't know what was used before 1968, or after 1978.