Salt Lake & Denver Railroad

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This page was last updated on February 28, 2016.

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By Don Strack

John Fike wrote to the D&RGW YahooGroups discussion group in June 2001:

"A couple weeks back I had the opportunity to drive part of US 40 through Northwestern Colorado along part of the original Denver & Salt Lake route. I really am not familiar with the history of this line and am curious what the planned route would have been west of Craig, CO had the line been completed. Would it had more or less followed US40 through Vernal,UT and on to Salt Lake, or was there another route planned?"

In response, I wrote:

(D&RGW Yahoo Groups message no. 19323)

I have the original incorporation papers for the Salt Lake & Denver Railroad, "The Uinta Basin Route." The road was organized in 1919 by Simon Bamberger to build from Provo to a connection with the D&SL at Craig. The route was basically south-southwest from Craig to the White River, along the White River to its meeting with the Green River, then up the Duchesne River and the Strawberry River to the Wasatch Mountains. It was then to cross the Wasatch Mountains and head west down Hobble Creek Canyon to Provo. Its major business was to be agricultural and oil, including oil from shale, with a bit of coal and timber, plus taking away the entire Gilsonite traffic from the narrow gauge Uintah Railway. A large portion was also to be bridge traffic between Denver and Salt Lake City

The line was never built, or even seriously planned, much like the original DNW&P or later D&SL. In the case of the SL&D the ICC hearings of July 1925 were unproductive, showing that the line would not make any money. These ICC hearings are interesting in that they are quite detailed about the potential traffic (or lack thereof) for any road operating across the Uinta Basin. The ICC denied the application based on the lack of need, and the anticipated completion of the Dotsero Cutoff, which it saw as taking away the bridge-traffic component of the proposed line's traffic base.

Pure fiction follows...

Now, let's have some fun ... let's turn Don's fertile imagination loose on the subject. Let's say that the potential agricultural traffic was a bit more, and the coal traffic was better, with a coal mine or two actually in the basin itself, and the oil traffic was more developed. The line was completed in 1925, and the bridge traffic grew rapidly with the completion of the Moffat Tunnel. The Dotsero Cutoff was never built because D&RGW was still deep in receivership.

The line meshed nicely with the D&SL, successful now with the Moffat tunnel completed, and the two roads successfully compete head-to-head with the D&RGW, and its Pueblo-Tennessee Pass Route. Throw in some legal entanglements from the Uintah-Ouray tribe over some improper right-of-way across its reservation. After settling with the tribal fathers, the SL&D is financially exhausted and is completely reorganized as the Uintah-Utah Transportation Company, with the tribal council in complete control. They contract with a protectionist consortium of competing and connecting roads to run the line, similar to the way Union Pacific and Northern Pacific ran the Camas Prairie line in western Idaho. By the late 1950s, the Uintah-Utah is running with a mixture of UP, SP, WP, and D&RGW equipment. It's a nice trick to ensure that I can operate prototype models of first generation power for all of my favorite roads.

Throw in some more fiction that has United States Fuel Company (the real world operator of many of Utah's big coal mines, and owner of the real Utah Railway) building a couple coal mines in the Basin where real-world studies have shown large coal deposits that have not been developed due to the lack of good transportation. This allows the fictional railroad to run lots of coal loads east via the UUT and D&SL connection.

A major change had come in 1937 with the completion of Strawberry Tunnel, a combined railroad and water tunnel that brings water from the Colorado River drainage into the Great Basin-Great Salt Lake drainage (similar to the Moffat Tunnel-Denver City water arrangement).

(Real world: The Central Utah Project completed a water-only Strawberry Tunnel in 1982. An earlier Strawberry Tunnel was started in 1906 by the Strawberry Valley Water Users Association, and the original tunnel was completed in 1913, with Strawberry Dam and Reservoir being completed in 1915. A total of 50,000 acres in Utah Valley was under irrigation using Strawberry water. More water comes from Deer Creek Dam and Reservoir, completed in 1938.)

The fictional Strawberry Tunnel completed in 1937 runs for five miles under the top of the Wasatch Range from Strawberry Reservoir to the top of Diamond Fork. The accompanying rail line runs west down Diamond Fork to a connection with Utah Railway in Spanish Fork Canyon, completely replacing the original SL&D rail line in Hobble Creek Canyon. A new Strawberry Yard was built in 1943 at Duchesne as a central marshalling point for eastbound coal and oil, and westbound coal, oil, and phosphate ore, and to serve as a central blocking terminal for all bridge traffic. Now this is railroading!

Rule Number 1: This is my railroad.

Rule Number 2: While illuminating discussion of prototype history, equipment and operating practices is always welcome, in the event of perceived anachronisms, detail discrepancies or operating errors, see Rule Number 1.

D&RGW has always been a favorite road. I really enjoy studying the real D&RGW, but sometimes history needs to be bent and tweaked here and there to have some fun.