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Amtrak In Utah

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This page was last updated on April 8, 2024.


This page provides historical information about Amtrak operations in Utah.

An abbreviated general description of Amtrak routes in Utah includes the following:

San Francisco Zephyr/California Zephyr


Desert Wind

Amtrak came to Utah on May 1, 1971 when the federally-owned National Railroad Passenger Corp., or Amtrak, began operations, taking over intercity rail passenger service from most of the nation's freight railroads. Although Union Pacific joined Amtrak, none of its famous City Streamliners were continued. The route of UP's Streamliners across Wyoming was used by Amtrak's San Francisco Zephyr, which operated on the former California Zephyr between Chicago to Denver, then on UP from Denver to Ogden, then on Southern Pacific to Oakland, California, with a bus connection to San Francisco. This was the only Amtrak train in Utah.

Denver & Rio Grande Western chose not to join Amtrak and continued to operate its remaining portion of the pre-Amtrak California Zephyr, which D&RGW called its Rio Grande Zephyr. To make a connection with Amtrak's San Francisco Zephyr, D&RGW continued to operate a smaller verion of its Rio Grande Zephyr between Salt Lake City and Ogden.

Amtrak had wanted to shift its Chicago to Oakland train away from UP's Wyoming main line to Rio Grande's more scenic Colorado line between Denver and Salt Lake City, and was negotiating with the two railroads to make it happen. Nature stepped in and forced a quicker start of the new service. In April 1983, a mudslide at Thistle, Utah, on D&RGW's line through Spanish Fork Canyon, southeast of Provo, closed that line. All Rio Grande trains detoured between Salt Lake City and Denver by way of Ogden and the UP main line across Wyoming, including the non-Amtrak Rio Grande Zephyr. For 10 days, D&RGW continued to detour its Rio Grande Zephyr through Wyoming. On April 25, 1983, Amtrak formally changed the routing of train numbers 5 and 6, its Chicago-to-Oakland train, to run through Colorado rather than Wyoming, christening the new operation as the California Zephyr. The train operated through Wyoming, and through Ogden, until July 16, 1983, when the Amtrak California Zephyr went east from Salt Lake City over the D&RGW and through the new Thistle tunnel for the first time. The tunnel was completed, and the first Rio Grande train ran through it, on July 4. (Ogden Rails, Second Edition, page 149)

In April 1983, the San Francisco Zephyr was changed to the California Zephyr, but continued to travel over UP's Wyoming mainline, and SP's route across the Great Salt Lake. The Deseret Wind continued to travel to Ogden, and was combined with the Pioneer, to form the eastbound CZ. The combining operation was reversed for westbound trains.

In July 1983, the D&RGW line was repaired following the Thistle slide and Amtrak's California Zephyr began using the D&RGW line across Colorado to Denver.

From July to October 1983, the CZ used the D&RGW route across Colorado to Salt Lake City, then traveled to Ogden and connected with the Pioneer, then proceeded west on SP's Great Salt Lake causeway.

In October 1983, Amtrak stopped using SP's route across Great Salt Lake , and began using the former WP route along the lake's south shore and across Nevada. This meant that the Desert Wind from California terminated in Salt Lake City, and the Pioneer from Portland was extended south from Ogden to Salt Lake City, and the combining of three trains into the eastbound CZ, and separating of the westbound CZ into three trains, took place at the the UP depot in Salt Lake City.

During the 1983-1991 time frame, eastbound Trains 6 (California Zephyr), 26 (Pioneer) and 36 (Desert Wind) all connected at the former D&RGW Salt Lake City depot. Two cars from Train 26 (a through Coach and a through Sleeper bound for Chicago), along with two cars from Train 36 (also a through Coach and a through Sleeper bound for Chicago) would be added to the rear of Train 6. In the Summer months, the diner and an F40 locomotive from Train 36 was also be added to Train 6, to go as far as Denver. The diner from Train 36 was a former ATSF diners Amtrak converted into a Diner/Lounge. After 1991, when the Pioneer was changed to its Wyoming route, just the California Zephyr and the Deseret Wind exchanged cars at the former D&RGW depot in Salt Lake City.

Union Pacific provided the switcher and crews from October 1983 until October 1986, when Amtrak moved its operations to the former D&RGW depot. After the move to the former D&RGW depot, Amtrak's own road crews did the switching until June 1988 when Amtrak no. 736, an SW-1, was assigned to Salt Lake City. In 1990, Amtrak no. 551, an SSB1200, replaced the SW-1 as Amtrak's Salt Lake City switcher.

In June 1991, the route of the Pioneer was changed to turn east from Ogden, then across Wyoming. Photos show that the switcher at Salt Lake City (AMTK SSB1200 551) remained assigned to Salt Lake City at least until early 1994. Later, Amtrak road crews did the switching of the CZ and the Deseret Wind at Salt Lake City, until the Desert Wind was discontinued in May 1997. The Pioneer was also discontinued in May 1997.

The California Zephyr continues to arrive daily at Salt Lake City, traveling from Grand Junction, Colorado, through Price and Provo. It continues west from Salt Lake City to Wendover, and on across Nevada to Oakland, California.


May 1, 1971
Amtrak started its service through Utah.

By May 1971, all passenger trains through Utah had been discontinued except D&RGW's Rio Grande Zephyr and UP's combined City of San Francisco and City of Los Angeles from Wyoming to Ogden. At Ogden, the combined UP trains were separated with the City of San Francisco portion being handed off to Southern Pacific for movement west across Great Salt Lake and on to Oakland, California. UP itself took the City of Los Angeles south to Salt Lake City, then west past the south shore of Great Salt Lake and on further south through Delta and Milford and onto to Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

D&RGW's Rio Grande Zephyr was a remaining portion of the earlier California Zephyr that D&RGW had handed off to Western Pacific at Salt Lake City to continue the train's service through to Oakland, Calif. On March 22, 1970, WP ended its portion of the California Zephyr, forcing D&RGW to continue its Denver to Salt Lake City service as the renamed Rio Grande Zephyr. After the March 1970 split, the Zephyr's service to Oakland was provided by a much smaller Salt Lake City to Ogden connection train that allowed California-bound passengers to continue westward on board SP's City of San Francisco.

UP and SP joined Amtrak, but D&RGW did not. The combined UP and SP City of San Francisco was renamed as Amtrak's San Francisco Zephyr.

D&RGW did not join Amtrak, so its Rio Grande Zephyr continued to operate over D&RGW's Denver to Salt Lake City route, with the connection to Ogden remaining in place. Within six weeks, on June 14, 1971, D&RGW's connecting rail service to Ogden was changed from rail service to over-the-road "limousine" service because the number of passengers (21 riders in May 1971) did not justify the expense of specially-assigned railroad locomotive and cars.

(Read more about the Rio Grande Zephyr, 1971-1983)

May 1, 1971
The following comes from the April-May 1971 issue of Union Pacific's INFO magazine (Info magazine, Volume 3, Numbers 6 and 7, April-May 1971, page 3):

Amtrak (Railpax) -- As of April 16, 1971, Union Pacific has entered into a contract with the National Railroad Passenger Corporation as a result of which, effective May 1, 1971; Union Pacific has discontinued all intercity rail passenger service.

However, UP operates an NRPC train for that corporation between Denver and Ogden on a tri-weekly basis. This train, operated between Chicago and San Francisco, is routed over Burlington Northern between Chicago and Denver and over Southern Pacific between Ogden and the San Francisco area.

(This is the San Francisco Zephyr, operating three times a week over UP across Wyoming.)

From May 1, 1971, to May 23, 1971, when Amtrak issued its first official timetable, the only Amtrak train passing through Utah was known as NRPC Passenger 1/101 and 102/2. It was previously known on UP and SP as the City of San Francisco.

The first westbound Amtrak train arrived at Ogden, by way of UP's route across Wyoming, on May 2, 1971, having departed Chicago on May 1, 1971.

Spring 1973
Union Pacific's Salt Lake City shop added SP-style icicle breakers and SP-style snowplows to UP E-units in the Spring of 1973 in preparation for the change from former SP F units, to the former UP E units.

Until Spring 1973, motive power west of Ogden was always SP Fs. The former UP Es first appeared in Spring 1973. Some trains mixed Es and Fs until SDP40Fs arrived, but only west of Ogden. No Fs east of Ogden, as far as I know. (Tim Zukas email dated August 11, 2018)

In Summer 1973 train 6 would likely have a former SP FP7 ahead of three former UP Es out of Oakland, and the FP7 would come off at Sparks to be added to train 5 next morning. (Tim Zukas email dated August 11, 2018)

Late Summer 1973
Amtrak's new SDP40Fs were delivered in June 1973 through August 1974, and first operated through Utah in late summer 1973.

A total of 150 SDP40F locomotives were delivered in June 1973 through August 1974, numbered as Amtrak 500-649. They were built for Amtrak's long distance trains, and first entered service on the Southwest Limited between Chicago on Santa Fe rails between Chicago and Los Angeles.

June 6, 1977
Amtrak's Pioneer, Trains 25 and 26, began service between Salt Lake City and Seattle, by way of Ogden, Pocatello, Boise, and Portland. (The Mixed Train, May 1977, page 12)

June 6, 1977
The first Pioneer arrived at Ogden at 6 p.m. on Monday June 6, 1977. The arrival was to place an empty train at Ogden in preparation for the scheduled start of service on Tuesday June 7th. Several Ogden VIP residents had boarded the train at Pocatello for the trip to Ogden. The train was displayed at Ogden for 1-1/2 hour, then Utah governor Scott M. Matheson and others boarded the train and were taken to Salt Lake City. The train then returned to Ogden. (Ogden Standard Examiner, June 7, 1977)

October 28, 1979
Amtrak's Desert Wind, Trains 35 and 36, began service between Los Angeles and Ogden, Utah, where the train connected with Amtrak's San Francisco Zephyr from Oakland, and Amtrak's Pioneer from Seattle, for service to Chicago. (Amtrak Public Timetable, October 28, 1979, page 45)

February 7-8, 1983
"In anticipation of Amtrak taking over passenger train operations from the D&RGW between Denver and Salt Lake City on April 25, 1983, the Rio Grande operated its Rio Grande Zephyr with Amtrak equipment on February 7th and 8th, 1983. (James Belmont, Facebook, February 20, 2018)

March 16, 1983
Tthe Amtrak Board of Directors approved the re-routing of its San Francisco Zephyr via the D&RGW between Denver and Salt Lake City, replacing the D&RGW's tri-weekly Rio Grande Zephyr: The new daily service will begin with the spring time-change timetable on April 24, and the train name will be changed to the California Zephyr. (Sun Advocate newspaper, March 18, 1983; Railfan & Railroad magazine, July 1983)

April 20, 1983
The State of Wyoming filed suit in federal district court in Cheyenne to prevent Amtrak from changing the route of its San Francisco Zephyr train from Wyoming to Colorado. Amtrak stated that the change would save it $1.6 million, and increase ridership because of better scenery and that the additional ski and resort towns being served. (Salt Lake Tribune, April 21, 1983)

The judge issued a temporary restraining order two days later, giving lawyers from both sides until May 15th to provide their arguments. (Provo Daily herald, April 24, 1983)

The suit was dismissed on May 9th by the judge, who stated in his cancellation of his temporary restraining order that under the National Passenger Rail Service Act (which created Amtrak in 1970), the U. S. Attorney General was the only agent that could bring suit against Amtrak. The AG at the time, William French Smith, refused to bring the suit against Amtrak. One of Wyoming's arguments in their suit was that Amtrak had changed the route without any public comment. To answer that claim, the AG also stated that Amtrak was under no obligation to allow public comment when it changed one of its routes. Wyoming immdeiately filed for an appeal with the Court of Appeals in Denver. (Salt Lake Tribune, May 10, 1983)

April 24, 1983
Amtrak's San Francisco Zephyr was renamed California Zephyr, and changed its routing from its UP-Wyoming route to a new D&RGW-Colorado route. (Amtrak Public Timetable, April 24, 1983, page 45)

At the same time, Desert Wind service was cut back from Ogden to Salt Lake City. There was no need to duplicate the Salt Lake City to Ogden service that was now being provided by the new California Zephyr train as it came into Salt Lake City from the south via D&RGW, and continued west to Oakland via SP's route west from Ogden across Great Salt Lake.

The following comes from CTC Board magazine's April 1983 issue, page 16:

The Return Of The California Zephyr -- The WP-D&RGW-CBQ version of the California Zephyr died on March 22, 1970, but now the train name has been revived by Amtrak. With the return of the through service over the Rio Grande on April 25th, the Cal Zephyr name returned, as did daily service. Once again there will be a daily meet of two passengers on the Rio Grande, now scheduled between Rifle and Grand Junction, CO. On the Salt Lake City end, the train will use the Union Pacific depot, which will require a back-up move to and from the Rio Grande tracks. The through cars for the Desert Wind will be switched at Salt Lake, while the Pioneer switching will continue to be handled at Ogden.

One of the big questions concerning the changeover has been answered in part, and that is what will happen with the RG equipment? Amtrak will acquire 3 dome coaches, two regular coaches and the ex-CZ diner. Rio Grande will keep one dome coach, the dome snack car, the dome-lounge-observation, the ex-UP diner, and the two combines. There are reports that the combines have been looked at by possible purchasers. For the cars Amtrak is picking up, it is a safe bet that they will go through the HEP (head-end power) conversion program at Amtrak's Beech Grove Shops. This program has been given continued funding by Amtrak, and cars continue to emerge from the shops. The Rio Grande equipment will be a nice addition to the fleet. In part the eventual changeover from steam heat to electric was one of the stumbling blocks to continued operation of the equipment by the Rio Grande.

After the changeover occurs we will have reports on how the train is doing under Amtrak, and some comments on the last of the best little train in all America . . . the RGZ. (Ed von Nordeck, John Arbuckle, Dick Stephenson)

Additional coverage by Railfan & Railroad magazine, July 1983, page 24:

Welcome The California Zephyr -- On March 16, 1983, the Amtrak Board of Directors approved the re-routing of its San Francisco Zephyr via the D&RGW between Denver and Salt Lake City, replacing the D&RGW's tri-weekly Rio Grande Zephyr: The new daily service will begin with the spring time-change timetable on April 24, and the train name will be changed to the California Zephyr: The new CZ will carry Amtrak Superliner equipment.

Throughout the late winter and early spring, railfans from all over the country have been flocking to Colorado to ride and photograph the last of the RGZ--which has been running, for the most part, in style with the D&RGW's last F7 cab unit in the lead. The RGZ will make its last run westbound on April 23 and return to Denver on April 24, while the Amtrak CZs will depart San Francisco and Chicago on the 24th and meet for the first time on the D&RGW on the 25th. Rumors are flying thick and fast about the disposition of the D&RGW F7s and equipment, but now is not the time to speculate in print.

Nature, however, grandly fouled up the last-run/first-run railfan madness with a mudslide and flood which inundated the canyon community of Thistle, Utah, and blocked the D&RGW main line. The westbound RGZ made it through Thistle on Thursday, April 14, but had to return to Denver the next day detouring over the Union Pacific through Wyoming. On Saturday, April 16, the RGZ began running only as far west as Grand Junction, Colorado, with a bus connection on to Salt Lake City. Since it is estimated that it will take two to three weeks to clear the mud and flood to reopen the D&RGW, it appears that the RGZ will make its last runs on April 23-24 only between Denver and Grand Junction, and Amtrak will have to debut its California Zephyr by detouring over the old San Francisco Zephyr UP route and providing bus service to the D&RGW stations.

Typical Amtrak consist for California Zephyr eastbound from Oakland to Salt Lake City included two F40s and eight cars. A sleeper and coach were added at Salt Lake City from Pioneer, and a sleeper and a coach were added at Salt Lake City from Desert Wind; consist eastbound from Salt Lake City: two F40s and twelve cars. (Pacific RailNews, June 1986, page 33)

Between April and July 1983, Amtrak's California Zephyr arrived in Ogden by way of UP's route across Wyoming, then traveled westward from Ogden by SP's route across the lake and into Nevada. This ended in July 1983 when the Thistle tunnel was completed.

May 10, 1983
Beginning on May 10th, the California Zephyr was re-routed for several days over the former WP along the lake's south shore due to storms preventing trains operating across SP's causeway across the lake. (Salt Lake Tribune, May 10, 1983)

May 20, 1983
All Amtrak stations and offices in Wyoming were closed on May 20th, forcing the few passengers to buy tickets from the on-board conductor. No baggage would be accepted or checked, with carry-on baggage only. This remained as the practice until mid July 1983 when the route was changed to D&RGW across Colorado with the completion of the Thistle tunnel. (Salt Lake Tribune, May 21, 1983)

July 16, 1983
Amtrak's newly renamed California Zephyr began using its new route by way of D&RGW through Utah and Colorado. Although officially renamed from San Francisco Zephyr to California Zephyr on April 25, 1983, with the new route being changed at the same time, the train itself was detoured over UP's route across Wyoming due to the mud slide on D&RGW's route at Thistle, Utah. The D&RGW route was reopened for freight service with the completion of a new tunnel on July 4th, bypassing the Thistle slide. Amtrak's passenger service was delayed until July 16th.

"Amtrak's New California Zephyr -- The new Thistle tunnel was opened for traffic on the afternoon of July 4, reopening the main line after 81 days of closure. While the line had been closed, the Rio Grande Zephyr had made its last run on April 24 as a Grand Junction turn, and Amtrak's Superliner California Zephyr had begun its career by detouring over the Union Pacific. On July 16, 1983, the first westbound Amtrak California Zephyr headed out of Denver to use the new tunnel and traverse its intended D&RGW route. The Zephyr got a formal send-off from Denver, complete with a banner and champagne christening by Beulah Ecklund Bauman, a "Zephyrette" hostess from the pre-Amtrak CZ. Meanwhile the Rio Grande F9s were observed in regular freight service." (Railfan & Railroad magazine, November 1983)

(Read more about the Rio Grande Zephyr, 1971-1983)

August 1983
A third unit for motive power was added to Amtrak's California Zephyr between Salt Lake City and Denver. (CTC Board, August 1983, page 15)

Help For California Zephyr -- Starting in early August a third unit has been added between Salt Lake and Denver. This was made possible by using the second unit from the Desert Wind, placing it on #6 at Salt Lake, and then turning it at Denver, returning the next day on #5 to #35 at Salt Lake. This should aid the on-time performance through the Rockies. Heavy summer travel and operational delays have combined to make the Zephyr late almost every day during July. Power for the Zephyr based out of Chicago has been concentrated in units of the 360 and 370 classes. (reported by John Arbuckle)

Amtrak's Desert Wind started service between Los Angeles and Ogden in October 1979, operating over the 900 South passenger line in Salt Lake City to gain access to the south end of Union Pacific's Salt Lake City depot. In April 1983, Amtrak started using D&RGW's line across Colorado for the California Zephyr, operating into the former UP depot. In October 1983, Amtrak changed the California Zephyr's routing to travel due west from Salt Lake City, instead of traveling between Salt Lake City and Ogden, then across SP's Great Salt Lake causeway.

Salt Lake City Depots -- Between April and October 1983, Amtrak continued to use the former UP depot in Salt Lake City, using a switch engine to either combine the California Zephyr and Deseret Wind for their eastbound trip, or to separate them for their westbound trips. In October 1983, Amtrak moved from the UP depot to the former D&RGW depot, which allowed the Deseret Wind to enter the depot from the west by way of Grant Tower, instead of from the south via the 900 South passenger line. Also in October 1983, the route of the Pioneer was extended south from Ogden to Salt Lake City.

October 30, 1983
The last eastbound Amtrak California Zephyr left Ogden Union Station after having come east on SP's Great Salt Lake causeway, ending almost 115 years of continuous passenger service between Ogden and Oakland-San Francisco. After leaving Ogden, the train proceeded south to Salt Lake City and then headed east across Colorado instead of east through Wyoming. The next day, the eastbound train ran into Salt Lake City over Union Pacific's tracks (former Western Pacific) along the south shore of the lake, bypassing the causeway and Ogden completely. From then on the only regularly scheduled Amtrak train through Ogden was the Pioneer, Amtrak trains 25 and 26, which from 1983 to 1991 ran from Seattle to Portland, across Oregon and Idaho, to Salt Lake City, where it connected with the California Zephyr to Chicago. At this time, and throughout the 1980s, a typical consist of the California Zephyr east from Salt Lake City was two F40 locomotives, eight cars from Oakland, two cars from a connection with the Desert Wind from Los Angeles, and two more cars from the Pioneer connection, by way of Ogden. (Amtrak Public Timetable, October 30, 1983, page 46; routing changed from SP westward from Ogden, to UP [former WP] westward from Salt Lake City)

The following planned change in Salt Lake City depot and terminal facilities came from an internal Union Pacific MP&M Department letter, R. P. Neeley to W. F. Cocking, et. al., dated September 13, 1983.

Have been informed by the Senior Director of Operation Control that effective on October 31, 1983, the following procedures will be in effect concerning the operations of Amtrak Trains 5 & 6, 25 & 26, and 35 & 36:

Amtrak Trains 5 & 6
These trains are to be serviced at D&RG passenger terminal. Our forces at SLC will not be required to fuel or service equipment. Effective Oct. 31, 1983, Amtrak trains 5 & 6 will operate over the Western District from the D&RG passenger facility to Winnemucca, Nevada

Amtrak Trains 25 & 26
These trains will be fueled and serviced at Portland Terminal, and locomotive consists will be fueled by outside concern under jurisdiction of Amtrak at Nampa, Idaho. SLC will continue to service and fuel units assigned to these trains. Hinkle and Pocatello will no longer be required to fuel locomotive consists assigned to these trains.

Amtrak Trains 35 & 36
There will be no change in present operations of these trains.

Note that due to lengthy contract negotiations and other operational delays (involving Amtrak, crewing agreements for its CZ, Desert Wind and Pioneer trains, UP, and D&RGW, as well as Salt Lake City) the change in Salt Lake City depots and terminals did not take place until October 1986, but the CZ did begin operating westward over the UP (ex WP) tracks at the end of October 1983.

The work of adding cars or removing cars in Amtrak's CZ, Pioneer and Desert Wind trains took place at Ogden from 1977 to 1983, then at UP's Salt Lake City depot from October 1983 to October 1986 (using UP switchers and crews), then at the former D&RGW Salt Lake City depot after October 1986 (using Amtrak switchers and crews).

January 1985
Amtrak's full-time agency at Ogden's Union Station was closed due to its close proximity to Salt Lake City. After the change, passengers could board the train at Ogden, after buying tickets from travel agencies, but tickets were not available in-person at Ogden. (Salt Lake Tribune, May 25, 1991)

October 27, 1985
Amtrak closed its ticket agency at Helper, Utah. The California Zephyr was to stop to handle passengers and change crews, but ticketing for Helper passengers was to be handled through local travel agencies. Amtrak was also to arrange to have the depot building open prior to, and after, train time. (CTC Board, December 1985, page 35)

March 1986
On the evening of March 13, 1986, the westbound Pioneer had F40s 319 and 324, an example of UP's wintertime requirement of two units for this train (which had been lifted by March). The Desert Wind arriving in Salt Lake City on March 18 had units 287 and 288 and six cars, one car more than its normal consist. This was due to a tour group occupying a second sleeper, with the group continuing on eastward aboard the California Zephyr. In a typical consist for the California Zephyr, two F40s and eight cars came out of Oakland to Salt Lake, where the train picked up a coach and sleeper each, from the Desert Wind and Pioneer. (Pacific RailNews, June 1986, page 33)

October 26, 1986
"Depot Change In Salt Lake -- After a considerable amount of discussion between Amtrak and the Union Pacific, Amtrak will move on October 26 to the former Rio Grande depot about three blocks southwest of the present location. While moving was not Amtrak's first choice in the matter, they will save approximately $800,000 per year with the change. One important factor is that they will take over responsibility for switching in Salt Lake. This has at times been a sore point, as UP crews have frequently taken excessive time to complete the switching on the Pioneer and Desert Wind to add and subtract through cars from the California Zephyr to the connecting trains. The Rio Grande depot site is now in the hands of the Utah Historical Society, and under the new agreement, Amtrak will share a portion of the refurbished wing of the building. They will add standby power and improve lighting at the facility. No mention has been made of whether Amtrak will bring in its own locomotive for switching, or lease one. Small changes will be made in the routing of trains into the new depot location." (The Mixed Train, citing the National Association of Railroad Passengers newsletter)

The following comes from the November 1986 issue of CTC Board magazine (CTC Board magazine, November 1986, page 11):

Rio Grande Depot Update -- In a follow up to the September column's announcement that Amtrak is moving to the D&RGW Salt Lake depot, we learn that during October workers were preparing the building for Amtrak's occupancy later in the month.

To start, the baggage and waiting rooms were enlarged from the configuration last used in Rio Grande Zephyr days. Renovation of the building included concrete repair work on the deteriorated platforms and repair of the canopy on the west side of the station. All station tracks received new ties and in some cases new rail. Trackside 440-volt power plugs were installed for cars laying over on cold nights. About 1,000 feet of new track was installed between 2nd South Street and 1st South Street at 5th West Street. This new track connects with UP's Provo Subdivision just south of the south leg of the Grant Tower wye behind the UP depot. This work is being performed by the Rio Grande, and is scheduled for completion on October 26th.

With all of the new track work Amtrak will no longer have to depend on switchers to pull the trains into the depot upon entry into Salt Lake City. The California Zephyr and Desert Wind will simply come up the UP main and turn south into the D&RGW depot. The Pioneer's layover cars will be turned on the Grant Tower wye.

In preparation for the move, UP moved the former WP passenger track at 1st South, from the center of 5th West street, to the eastern edge, and installed a safety curb to protect road traffic. (James Belmont, Rails Through The Wasatch facebook group, sharing a photo of the change taken on October 13, 1986)

June 1988
Amtrak assigned EMD SW1 736 to work coach switching duties at the Rio Grande depot in Salt Lake City. This pioneer EMD yard goat nicknamed ‘Lil' Toot' was built in January 1942 for the New York Central. It would remain in service as a Penn Central unit, and later as a Ohio Central unit before working for Amtrak in Chicago, most recently in June 1987. The little switcher was used by Amtrak at Salt Lake City to switch cars from the inbound Pioneer and Desert Wind trains, adding them to the outbound California Zephyr. The little locomotive was underpowered and by mid 1990 had been replaced by a larger, more powerful locomotive in the Salt Lake City assignment. Amtrak no. 736 was reassigned by Amtrak to switch coaches in Oakland, California until retirement in 2001. (James Belmont)

Amtrak has asked for bids on switching the various trains as UP and Rio Grande apparently are not interested in providing the service. The only road to put in a bid was the Salt Lake, Garfield & Western, which has performed switching service for Amtrak in the past with private cars. (CTC Board magazine, June 1988, page 16; reported by Ryan Ballard)

Amtrak replaced its SW1 switcher no. 736 at Salt Lake City, with a larger, former AT&SF SSB1200, no. 551.

June 1990
Salt Lake Garfield & Western GE 65-ton number DS5 was leased to Amtrak at Salt Lake City while Amtrak's normal unit, Amtrak SSB1200 551, was at Wilson Railway Corporation's repair facility in Spanish Fork to fix water leaks in crankcase. (Locomotive Notes II, Issue 138, June 1990, pages 14, 16)

March 1991
Ogden's Union Station was reinstated as a full-agency Amtrak station in March 1991. This was the first time an agent was on duty there since January 1985, when the facility was closed due to Ogden's close proximity (36 miles) to Salt Lake City. This took place in preparation for dropping Salt Lake City as a terminal for the Pioneer, and the rerouting of the train eastward from Ogden, east up Weber canyon and across Wyoming to Cheyenne and Denver, there to meet and combine with the California Zephyr as had been done previously in Salt Lake City. (Salt Lake Tribune, May 25, 1991)

May 25, 1991
Amtrak and Ogden City reached an agreement for Amtrak to lease a portion of Ogden Union Station, which has been owned by Ogden City since 1976. (Salt Lake Tribune, May 25, 1991)

June 17, 1991
The route of Amtrak's Pioneer was changed to extend its run from Salt Lake City, further east to Denver, by way of UP's Wyoming mainline. (Pacific RailNews, August 1991, page 12)

The rerouting of the Pioneer from Denver to Ogden via Wyoming took place on June 17. To kick off the return of service to the UP route via Laramie and Rawlins, Amtrak operated a special train for VIPs and guests, departing Ogden after ceremonies there on the morning of June 13, with stops at Evanston, Green River and Rock Springs before stopping for the night at Rawlins. The next day saw an early start from Rawlins, with stops in Laramie and downtown Cheyenne (which normally is served by connecting bus from Borie), Greeley and Denver. A reception and open house followed, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Equipment for the inaugural special was selected and prepared in Los Angeles. Carefully cleaned F40s 325/278/282 handled a 12-car Desert Wind eastbound on June 11 to move the cars to Utah in preparation for the seven-car special.

Regular service began with trains originating at Chicago and Seattle on June 16. The new schedule includes a four-hour layover in Denver eastbound (slightly less westbound). Amtrak is encouraging passengers to tour the nearby downtown area, or even have dinner in town while waiting for the connection to the California Zephyr.

In Cheyenne a new ticket office at the Chamber of Commerce in the Tivoli Building, 301 W. 16th Street, has opened. This is a manned facility, and checked baggage can be handled to and from this new station.

(see also, "Amtrak Returns To Wyoming", Trains, September 1991, pages 22-23)

July 1991
Amtrak planned on extending its connecting bus service from Ogden, south to Salt Lake City and Provo, but was delayed. (Pacific RailNews, September 1991, page 14)

The reroute of the Pioneer seems to be going well. In the initial days after the June 17 change, delays were common, especially eastbound, where travelers could not always count on having the full three hour and 40 minute layover in Denver. First-class passengers are offered a complimentary tour of the city and dinner at Furr's Cafeteria, which is sometimes abbreviated when the train is late. Other dining options include restaurants near the depot, or the Pioneer's diner-lounge, which remains open during the layover.

A mail car has been added to the Pioneer, rerouted from the Empire Builder to operate from Seattle via Wyoming to Chicago. During July the material handling car (Ambox) was not seen on No. 26 every day.

The connecting bus between Ogden and Salt Lake City has been extended south to service Provo and Orem (Brigham Young University). The extension of the service to Provo had been slated to start July 1, but was delayed. It is possible to connect from the Desert Wind to and from the Pioneer in both directions, should someone want to ride the Wyoming route.

April 12, 1996
Amtrak converted its diner on the Pioneer (Train 25) to the "Horizons West Lounge" car, to celebrate the opening of the Oregon Trail in 1841 and the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. The lounge included a display of 75 photos, as well as trail maps and replica artifacts. The Pioneer offered all-reserved coach and first-class sleeping accommodations in the popular bi-level Amtrak Superliners. (Amtrak press release ATK-96-61, dated April 12, 1996)

November 10, 1996
Due to insufficient funding, Amtrak expected to discontinue the routes of both the Pioneer (Seattle to Denver, via Ogden) and the Deseret Wind (Los Angeles to Salt Lake City). The cuts would eliminate passenger service to a total of 42 stations. At the same time, Amtrak was to restore daily service to the California Zephyr, which had previously been scheduled to operate three times per week. The changes were announced in August. A Portland-Seattle segment of the Pioneer would remain, and Amtrak was hoping for to keep a Los Angeles-Las Vegas segment of the Deseret Wind. (Pacific RailNews, October 1996, page 8; Trains, October 1996, page 17)

May 10, 1997
The last eastbound and westbound Pioneer trains, passed each other on May 10, 1997 near Hood River, Oregon. The last eastbound Pioneer had one sleeping car, two coaches, a Superliner II diner, that also served as a lounge, a dormitory sleeper for the crew, and a baggage car at the rear. A second sleeping car was deadheaded empty of passengers, and was coupled directly behind the lone diesel locomotive, Amtrak number 323. (Trains, August 1997, page 24)

May 11, 1997
The last eastbound Amtrak Pioneer arrived in Ogden on the morning of May 11, 1997. The scheduled arrival was at 6:18 am on May 11, after departing Seattle at 7:30 am on May 10. The scheduled arrival at Denver was at 6:05 pm on the evening of May 11. ( - Amtrak November 10, 1996 timetable)

May 11, 1997
The last eastbound Amtrak Pioneer left Ogden at 7:38 am on the morning of Sunday May 11, 1997. The train had arrived at Ogden at 7:00 am. (Ogden Standard Examiner, May 12, 1997)

May 11, 1997
Amtrak's Pioneer (Seattle to Denver) and Deseret Wind (Los Angeles to Salt Lake City) were discontinued. Both trains were operating on a tri-weekly basis. (Trains, June 1997, page 16)

AFTER MONTHS of backroom negotiations that kept trainloads of coach and sleeping-car inventory out of its reservations computers and off the market until April, here is what Amtrak's landscape--barring any last-minute political maneuverings--will look like with the new timetable on May 11:

The Salt Lake City-Los Angeles segment of the Desert Wind will be gone. Its alter ego, the California Zephyr, will return to daily operation Chicago-Oakland. It's possible that service will come back in 1998 on the southerly portion of the Wind's route, for Amtrak West is negotiating with potential private and public partners toward an L.A.-Las Vegas "demonstration," once Talgo trains now being assembled in Washington state become available

The Portland-Denver Pioneer will also be missing. If Oregon's legislature had come up with $2.9 million in loan guarantees, service would have continued on the Portland-Salt Lake City portion as a bare-bones tri-weekly accommodation with two coaches and a cafe car, leaving the Rose City early in the morning to connect early the next morning in Utah's capital with the CZ and arriving back in Portland the next day at 7 p.m.

The plan would have preserved the route across eastern Oregon and southern Idaho until October, when Amtrak intends to begin a daily Chicago-Portland express service via Omaha, Cheyenne, and Ogden. At this old passenger-train rendezvous point, a cross-platform connection with the Zephyr--and possible interchange of Bay Area express cars--would be possible as the Zephyr would switch back to the ex-SP Lucin Cutoff across the Great Salt Lake.

Unfortunately, Oregon wouldn't accept Amtrak's ex-Santa Fe hi-level cars as collateral and the deal died.

The express service could still materialize, but only if Union Pacific agrees (or is forced) to handle the "son of the Pioneer" over tracks that UP says are too congested to make room for a fast, scheduled Amtrak express train. With the Pioneer gone, there will be sufficient Superliners to return the Empire Builder and City of New Orleans to daily operation May 11, possibly as a Chicago run-through a la the Capitol Limited-Southwest Chief connection.

The final eastbound Desert Wind (Train 36) departed Los Angeles on may 8, 1997 at 10:45 a.m. Motive power was two Amtrak P42 locomotives (numbers 34 and 17).

The final westbound Desert Wind (Train 35) arrived at Los Angeles on May 12, 1997, at 4:00 p.m., after departing Chicago on May 10th. The final train was made up of two locomotives and 12 cars, and included an 1100-series baggage, a 39000-series transition sleeper, three 34000-series Coaches, a 31000-series Coach, a 33000-series Lounge Cafe, a 38000-series Dining Car, three 32000-series Sleepers, and a 1700-series Mail and Express, along with Amtrak 837 (P40) and Amtrak 43 (P42) as motive power.

General description of Pioneer service. (Trains, August 1997, page 24):

Sitting in the lower-level lounge of the dorm as the last train skimmed along the Columbia River's south bank, Gary Erford, Amtrak's Product Line Manager, offered a post-mortem. "We ran full at the holidays and during the summer, but just couldn't get more than eight solid months of activity along the route. January through March are dead over here," he said. By contrast, the Chicago-St. Paul-Spokane-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder was packed.

Another coach, a dorm sleeper in revenue service, and a second "ranch" dining car featuring lower-cost meals were added last summer and still could not satisfy demand; the winter ski season helps keep the Builder full all year. Worse, according to Erford, "long operating crew layovers helped cancel out most of the savings realized from less-than-daily service without providing any additional revenue." Without a mail contract or a year-round traffic base, the Pioneer took the bullet so its equipment could be used on a daily Empire Builder.

In reality, perhaps 25 and 26 never had a fighting chance. Started as a Seattle-Salt Lake City Amfleet coach train on June 7, 1977, the Pioneer eventually acquired through Super-liners to Chicago. Dan Kuhn, Amtrak's Portland-based Sales Manager, asserts that traffic to Salt Lake and the Rocky Mountain destinations was strong, "but we lost that base in 1991 when the train was rerouted via UP's line across Wyoming." (That route had been previously abandoned by the San Francisco Zephyr in 1983 in favor of the Rio Grande's more scenic passage through the Rockies.) Shifting to a Denver connection with the California Zephyr, rather than Salt Lake City, corrected the 5 a.m. Seattle departure problem, added another state back to Amtrak's national map, and allowed the CZ to handle three Oakland-Denver mail cars.

Unfortunately, the trade-off also meant more inconvenient times at Boise, Idaho, and less population from which to draw. Reliability suffered as Union Pacific couldn't get the Pioneer through eastern Oregon's Blue Mountains on time. Riding the locomotive incognito once in 1992, Amtrak President W. Graham Claytor Jr. asked the engineer to inquire why three freights rolled by while his passenger train cooled its heels in a siding. The UP dispatcher let the hog-head and his secret guest know who was boss. "You'll move when I tell you to move!" he shouted. Fuming, Claytor got off at La Grande, Oregon, and dialed up the railroad's chairman, Drew Lewis, at home. The call didn't help. With weaker ridership and an ever-tightening budget noose around Amtrak management's neck,the Pioneer's subsequent conversion to a confusing tri-weekly schedule eventually sealed its fate.

Summer 1997
Amtrak began planning a resurrected version of its recently discontinued Pioneer. This new version was to operate between Chicago and Portland, via an all-UP route. The announced new service was to include expanded mail and express business that would include the use of RoadRailer trailers and high-speed, insulated boxcars, and was to begin on October 1, 1997. Strong objections by UP over the use of its already congested Nebraska and Wyoming mainline brought an end to the proposed new service, with UP wanting Amtrak to fund over $56 million in needed improvements to handle the additional traffic. No mention was made as to the route being either by way of Utah's Weber and Echo canyons, or by way of UP's Oregon Short Line route across the southwestern corner of Wyoming. (Trains, July 1997, page 16)

July 1999
The abandonment (in September 1998) of UP's trackage in Salt Lake City along 400 West, 500 West, and 900 South forced Amtrak to move (in July 1999) from the former D&RGW passenger depot to a temporary intermodal facility directly to the west and located adjacent to the former D&RGW freight line along 600 West. Trains magazine's "NewsWire" reported the following on September 30, 1998:

Thanks to the 2002 Olympics to be held there, Salt Lake City will be getting a new Amtrak station. Presently Amtrak's daily California Zephyr uses a small portion of the former Rio Grande depot. The impetus for the change is that several overhead street crossings that now go over the Union Pacific passenger line and the former Rio Grande station line have to be rebuilt as part of a major highway project before the Olympics, and if those lines can be removed, the new bridges will be much shorter (and less costly). Without the long approach bridges the area around the two lines can more quickly be redeveloped.

The city has had a team of consultants working on the project for the past two years, and has selected architect Eli Naor of VBN Architects of Oakland, who designed the Jack London Square station there. The new Salt Lake City station is to be located on a triangular plot of land where the original D&RGW station was located in the 19th century. It is on the east side of the freight line leading south from Grant Tower interlocking toward Roper Yard. Some little-used freight tracks and sheds will be removed at the site. The station will be centered on the east-west street that the current D&RGW station is centered on, but about 2 blocks farther west. All this change will remove tracks of the former UP Provo Sub, and will leave both the Rio Grande and UP depot buildings with no tracks. The former Rio Grande freight line through the area will remain, as will the current UP main lines that head west.

Grant Tower, which is still standing, is the key junction where UP's two western routes (former Los Angeles & Salt Lake, and Western Pacific) connect with the former Rio Grande and the UP line north to Ogden, and in a related project, Grant Tower trackage will be modified to provide higher-speed curves. Also, a single double-track route west will replace the current separate UP and WP single-track alignments, thus reducing the number of grade crossings.

The new Amtrak station will be a full-service facility with three wide passenger platforms that can accommodate Amtrak and commuter service at the same time. It will include Greyhound and transit district bus routes, as well as the future commuter service. Salt Lake City will remain a service facility for the California Zephyr, and two platforms will be long enough to accommodate the train even with a string of express and mail cars.

July 31, 1999
Amtrak trains (Train 5/6) left the former D&RGW depot in Salt Lake City for the last time. Amtrak had completed a new, $100,000 "temporary" station at 350 South 600 West. The move to new station was to accommodate the removal of both the former UP Provo Subdivision tracks along 400 West, and the tracks of the former D&RGW passenger line along 500 West, both as part of the new Gateway Project. Arrivals and departures for Amtrak had been averaging 15 to 25 persons in each direction. (Flimsies, Issue 269, August 13, 1999, pages 9, 10)

Amtrak's Train 5, the westbound California Zephyr, on Saturday July 31, 1999, was the first train to depart from the new Salt Lake depot. (Deseret News, August 7, 1999, "S. L. transit center gets its first tenant")

May 15, 2002
Provo City officials held a ceremony to dedicate a new passenger depot in Provo at 600 South and 300 West. Although commuter rail was at least 10 years in the future, city officials hoped that the new depot would serve as a transportation hub for buses, trains, and light rail services. (Deseret News, May 16, 2002)

As of early 2024, Amtrak's situation in Utah is essentially the same since its move to its "temporary" facility in Salt Lake City in July 1999, although the station and depot area has been shared since 2008 with UTA's Frontrunner commuter trains, and TRAX light rail trains.

More Information

Amtrak coverage in Ogden Rails

Wikipedia entry for Amtrak

Wikipedia entry for Amtrak's Deseret Wind

Wikipedia entry for Amtrak's Pioneer