OSL Little Mountain Branch
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This page was last updated on January 13, 2023.
North of Ogden. Hot Springs westward to east shore of Great Salt Lake.
The Little Mountain Branch was built by Oregon Short Line and its lessee, Union Pacific. It was operated under lease by Union Pacific. OSL was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Union Pacific.
Completed in 1971. Abandoned in 1997.
- Mar 1971 -- Construction started
- Sep 1971 -- Completed
- Sep 1996 -- Service ended due to UP-SP merger
- Aug 2000 -- Converted to Rails To Trails
- Jun 2002 -- Trail opened to public
The story of rail service to the Little Mountain chemical complex involves local and national politics, including the U. S. Supreme Court. The major point is that in 1969, the ICC forced SP to share the traffic coming from Little Mountain, at which point SP and D&RGW sued the ICC to stop their decision. As a result of the Ogden Gateway being opened in 1968, SP and D&RGW thought they had a lock on the rail traffic to and from the Little Mountain complex. It was reported that 65-75 percent of the traffic would be shipped east by way of the newly created D&RGW connection at Ogden. UP stepped in and took it away with their Little Mountain Branch, which opened for traffic in 1971, after the Supreme Court upheld the ICC decision that allowed UP to build its branch. Of course, the competition became moot in 1996 when UP bought SP, at which time UP abandoned its Little Mountain Branch.
During the mid-1960s, laboratory studies showed that it was commercially feasible to extract minerals, in addition to salt, from Great Salt Lake. In May 1967, Great Salt Lake Minerals and Chemicals Corp. began building a large plant for commercial extraction of potassium sulfate, sodium sulfate, and magnesium chloride, along with common salt. The plant included 17,000 acres of evaporation ponds just north of Little Mountain, west of Ogden on the lake's eastern shore.
In February 1969, Union Pacific secured Interstate Commerce Commission approval to construct its Little Mountain Branch. The line was to extend 13.27 miles southwesterly from Hot Springs to mineral industry trackage on the east shore of Great Salt Lake, where Great Salt Lake Minerals and Chemicals was developing its extensive facility. Union Pacific's application was protested by both Southern Pacific and the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, arguing that the new trackage would duplicate SP's already existing 1.7-mile spur, and that shippers had not shown that they required duplicate service from two railroads. The two roads argued that SP, as the existing carrier, was entitled to an opportunity to serve the shippers prior to Union Pacific being granted entry into the area. SP had constructed its 1.7-mile spur northward from its main line to transport construction materials to the site, intending further extension into the area to connect with industry trackage as the area developed and industrial plants were completed. The ICC found that the Little Mountain industrial area was not exclusive SP territory, and that the area was as yet undeveloped and not generating any substantial traffic. Great Salt Lake Minerals, the largest potential shipper, testified that it required single-line service access to Union Pacific, because its markets were all located within Union Pacific territory in the Pacific Northwest, southern California, and in Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Nevada, and Wyoming.
The following comes from the March 1971 issue of the UP INFO employee newsletter.
Construction Begins On Utah Line -- Union Pacific has started acquiring right-of-way property in Utah's Box Elder and Weber counties for the construction of a 13-1/2-mile line from Hot Springs to the Bear River Bay area on the shores of the Great Salt Lake.
The new line will serve the developing chemical industry in that area. The current activity is the result of a ruling by the United States Supreme Court on Nov. 23, 1970, affirming UP's right to construct the new line and the reinstatement of a permit issued by the ICC in 1969 granting UP authority to build the line.
Actual construction work began in March and will be completed by September 15. Estimated cost of the project is approximately $2.2 million.
Completion of· the line will terminate a long and hotly contested battle fought by UP for the right to serve the lake's burgeoning chemical industry. UP has long been interested in the chemical potential of the Great Salt Lake and was one of the early firms to investigate the possibilities of chemical production from the lake.
Nearly 18 years ago, in 1953, UP made a study of the lake and worked with Hooker Electrochemical Company toward the development of a plant. However, these efforts failed to materialize. Again in 1958, the railroad participated in an exploration of the lake to develop the chemical possibilities of the lake brine.
In 1963, Union Pacific made contact with Lithium Corporation of America concerning the lake's potential. This firm later associated with Salzdetfurth, A.G., a West German corporation, through its U.S. subsidiary, Chemsalt Corp., and in March, 1965, Great Salt Lake Minerals and Chemicals Corp. was organized. This firm is now developing a $30 million chemical production complex in the Bear River Bay area.
UP acquired 2,383 acres of land in the area in 1967 and filed an application with the ICC for permission to construct a line for service. The application was protested by the Southern Pacific and Denver & Rio Grande Western railroads. UP subsequently won ICC approval. This approval was upheld by the Federal District Court in Denver, Colo., and now has been reaffirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States. E. H. Bailey, president, hailed the court's ruling as "a milestone in UP's long effort to develop the lake's resources." He said, "We feel this new industry has the right to the best transportation facilities available and it is our intention to provide it."
With the merger of Union Pacific and Southern Pacific on September 11, 1996, UP had access to the Little Mountain industrial complex via former SP trackage, and the need for its own Little Mountain Branch went away.
In December 1997, UP formally ended operations over the branch, except for a one-mile segment at the west end at Little Mountain, and a one-mile segment at the east end at Little Mountain Junction (Hot Springs), both of which were retained for use as yard tracks.
Great Salt Lake Minerals and Chemicals Corp. had begun building a large plant for commercial extraction of potassium sulfate, sodium sulfate, and magnesium chloride, along with common salt. The plant included 17,000 acres of evaporation ponds just north of Little Mountain, west of Ogden on the lake's eastern shore. (Peter Behrens, "Industrial Processing of Great Salt Lake Brines by Great Salt Lake Minerals & Chemicals Corporation", Great Salt Lake, a Scientific, Historical and Economic Overview, p. 223)
June 16, 1967
Application made to construct a 13.27 mile branch line from Hot Springs (9.95 miles north of Ogden) to the newly developing mineral industries on east shore of Great Salt Lake.
September 6, 1967
The application to the ICC was first made to build the Little Mountain Branch. Hearings were held in December 1967, in which there was support from industries that would benefit from competition between UP and SP to serve their plants, including those already under construction, and those with plans to soon start construction. SP objected to UP's planned spur on the grounds that competition was not needed and that it and its connecting railroad, D&RGW, would suffer detrimental effects. (Ogden Standard Examiner, September 6, 1967, "today"; December 12, 13, 1967)
(The ICC examiners noted in the decision in FD 24635, that SP's joint-line service via Ogden argument did not match its "Ogden is too congested" argument in the recent Ogden Gateway case; ICC Finance Docket 23534, Union Pacific et al. -- Trackage Rights--Terminal facilities at Ogden, Utah, decided November 14, 1966.)
Principle developer of Little Mountain area is Great Salt Lake Minerals and Chemicals Corporation testified that it must have single-line service with UP, which would provide the shortest, most direct route to territories not reached by SP.
Construction to commence before May 3, 1969, to be completed before November 3, 1969.
The federal Interstate Commerce Commission approved Union Pacific's construction of its Little Mountain Branch. The line was to extend 13.27 miles southwesterly from Hot Springs to mineral industry trackage on the east shore of Great Salt Lake, where Great Salt Lake Minerals and Chemicals was developing its extensive facility. (ICC Finance Docket 24635, dated February 3, 1969, in 334 ICC 267)
The following comes from the ICC Finance Docket 24635 (ICC Financial Docket 24635, in 334 ICC 267-272):
Union Pacific's application was protested by both Southern Pacific and the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, arguing that the new trackage would duplicate SP's already existing 1.7-mile spur, and that shippers had not shown that they required duplicate service from two railroads. The two roads argued that SP, as the existing carrier, was entitled to an opportunity to serve the shippers prior to Union Pacific being granted entry into the area.
SP had constructed its 1.7-mile spur northward from its main line to transport construction materials to the site, intending further extension into the area to connect with industry trackage as the area developed and industrial plants were completed.
The ICC found that the Little Mountain industrial area was not exclusive SP territory, and that the area was as yet undeveloped and not generating any substantial traffic.
Great Salt Lake Minerals, the largest potential shipper, testified that it required single-line service access to Union Pacific, because its markets were all located within Union Pacific territory in the Pacific Northwest, southern California, and in Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Nevada, and Wyoming. Other shippers in the area wanting competitive Union Pacific service included Prior Chemical Co., Boise Cascade Corp., Potlatch Forests, Inc., and Amalgamated Sugar Co. Construction was completed by the end of 1969.
May 20, 1970
Southern Pacific and D&RGW sued the ICC in federal District Court of Colorado, to overturn the commission's decision. The District Court upheld the ICC decision, and the two railroads appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court. (Ogden Standard Examiner, May 20, 1970)
November 23, 1970
The U. S. Supreme Court upheld both the ICC decision and the opinion of the District Court, approving the construction of UP's spur to serve the Little Mountain industrial complex. The ICC, in its original decision had stated that even without UP's spur being built, Union Pacific would receive at Ogden, 65 to 75 percent of the traffic from the complex because the traffic would consist of predominantly eastbound shipment of chemicals. (Ogden Standard Examiner, November 24, 1970)
December 28, 1970
The ICC reinstated its decision from 1969 allowing UP to build the branch, with the stipulation that construction was to start within three months. Union Pacific started construction of its Little Mountain Branch on March 18, 1971, and the line went into service on September 23, 1971. Projected shipments from the Little Mountain complex were reported as being 1 million tons per year by 1974, about 10,000 carloads, or about 30 cars per day. (Ogden Standard Examiner, March 5, 1971; April 1, 1971; September 19, 1971)
September 27, 1971
Little Mountain Branch Opened -- On September 27, the Little Mountain branch was opened for service. Approximately 13 miles in length, the trackage serves the Great Salt Lake Minerals & Chemical Corporation located on the shores of Utah's Great Salt Lake. (UP Info, November 1971; December 1971, with coverage of John Kenefick's visit to Utah to open the branch)
February 10, 1997
Union Pacific first received approval to abandon the Little Mountain Branch on February 10, 1997 as part of a larger request for the abandonment of 10 branches as part of the UP-SP merger in 1996, but stated that the various abandonments would not be "consummated" due to negotiations for conversion of the branches to trail use. The abandonment of the 10 branches was approved as part of the STB decision on February 10, 1997 to extend the abandonments due to trail use negotiations. The decision followed a UP letter on January 23, 1997 requesting an extension of the authority, noting that the actual abandonments would be determined by (in addition to trail use negotiations) ongoing merger implementation, the securing of labor implementing agreements, systems integration, and completion of various capital projects outlined in the merger. (Surface Transportation Board Docket AB-33, Sub 99X, decided January 21, 1998; service date January 26, 1998)
December 22, 1997
By letter dated December 22, 1997, UP notified the STB that service on the former UP Little Mountain Branch had been discontinued, but that additional time was needed to negotiate trail use for 10 miles of the 12-mile branch. The railroad retained a one-mile segment at the branch's connection to the mainline at Little Mountain Junction, also known as Hot Springs, and another one-mile segment was retained at the Little Mountain end. Both segments were needed for car storage. (Surface Transportation Board Docket AB-33, Sub 99X, decided January 21, 1998; service date January 26, 1998)
"UP states that the abandonment does not include active industries at Little Mountain Junction or Little Mountain, UT. UPRR also states that it intends to consummate the abandonment on or after the effective date of the Board’s approval in Finance Docket No. 32760." (STB Docket AB-33, Sub 99X, decided August 6, 1996) (STB FD 32760 was the UP-SP Merger case, decided on September 11, 1996)
September 8, 2002
Negotiations to turn the abandoned 10 miles of right of way of the Little Mountain Branch into a trail began in August 1996, and several extensions were requested through following years, with the last extension expiring on September 8, 2000. All parties reached final agreement in August 2000, and the new Little Mountain Rail Trail was opened to the public in early June 2002. (Surface Transportation Board, Docket AB-33, Sub 99X, decided September 13, 2000, service date September 18, 2000; Salt Lake Tribune, June 3, 2002)
UP/OSL to build Little Mountain Branch:
334 ICC 267
312 F. Supp 329 (D&RGW vs. U.S., sustained)
400 US 921 (Southern Pacific Transportation Co. vs. U. S., affirmed)