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Utah Division (D

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Utah Division (D

Utah Division
Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad
Castle Gate in the Price Canyon, ca. 1929
Locale Utah, western Colorado
Dates of operation 1882–1992
Successor Southern Pacific Lines
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge; originally 3 ft (914 mm)
Length 332.3 miles (534.8 km)[1]

The Utah Division of the former Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad (D&RGW) is a rail line that connects Grand Junction, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah (formerly Ogden) in the Western United States. It is now incorporated into the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) system as its Green River and Provo Subdivisions,[2] forming a portion of the Denver-Nevada Central Corridor. Daily passenger service is provided by Amtrak's California Zephyr, and the BNSF Railway and Utah Railway have trackage rights over the line.

The line dates back to the early 1880s, when the predecessors of the D&RGW completed a Marshall Pass, through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, across the Utah desert, and over Soldier Summit. It was rebuilt to standard gauge in 1890, and has since remained a through line, often serving as parts of larger networks including the Gould transcontinental system, Southern Pacific, and now the Union Pacific.

The division also included a number of branch lines, the longest being the Marysvale Branch through the Sevier Valley.

Route description


Construction: 1870s to 1883

When the Denver & Rio Grande Railway (D&RG) was chartered in 1870, it had the goal of connecting Denver with El Paso, Texas.[3] But when it reached Raton Pass in 1878, it found that the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad had beaten it to the best crossing into New Mexico.[4] After several years of financially draining battle, the two companies came to an agreement in 1880, and the D&RG, under the direction of William J. Palmer, set its sights on Salt Lake City.[5]

In the meantime, the Utah and Pleasant Valley Railway (U&PV) had built a line from the coal mines in the Pleasant Valley to Provo on the Union Pacific Railroad-controlled Utah Southern Railroad. The company was incorporated on December 11, 1875 under the general laws of Utah[6] by owners of land in the valley. The company began grading in April 1877 and track laying on August 29, 1878, driving the last spike between Pleasant Valley and Springville on November 5, 1879. The short distance in the Utah Valley from Springville to the larger city of Provo, which closely paralleled the Utah Southern, opened in October 1880. Investor Charles W. Scofield of New York, who was already in control of two other mining roads - the Bingham Canon and Camp Floyd Rail Road since 1873 and the Wasatch and Jordan Valley Railroad since 1875 - acquired the U&PV in October 1878.[7]

The U&PV began at a mine in the Pleasant Valley south of Scofield,[8] heading north along the present Pleasant Valley Subdivision to the Scofield Reservoir. The old grade has been flooded until it leaves the lake to the north, rising to an elevation of 7,967 feet (2,428 m) above sea level before descending, via a pair of switchbacks, to Starvation Creek. The valley of that creek took the railroad to the Spanish Fork Canyon, and the later D&RGW, at Tucker. The remainder of the U&PV is now, for the most part, still operated, as it follows Spanish Fork Canyon into the Utah Valley.[9]

Associates of Palmer incorporated the Sevier Valley Railway in Utah on December 7, 1880,[6] with a route paralleling the Union Pacific's lines from the railroad center of Ogden south through Salt Lake City and Provo to Nephi, and then continuing through Salt Creek Canyon and the Sanpete Valley to Salina in the Sevier Valley. There it would split, one line continuing south to the Arizona state line, and the other turning east through Salina Canyon and across the Castle Valley to the Grand (Colorado) River, following it to meet the westward-building D&RG at the Colorado border. To counter this threat to its monopoly, the Union Pacific set up the Utah Southern and Castle Valley Railroad less than two weeks later to extend its Utah Southern through Salina Canyon to the Castle Valley. In another week, when UP workers reached the canyon, the Sevier Valley had already begun grading.[7]

On May 26, 1881, D&RG interests incorporated the Salt Lake and Park City Railway,[6] a branch from Salt Lake City east to Park City and Coalville.[10] The lines of this company and the Sevier Valley were included in the far-reaching charter for the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railway, incorporated on July 21, 1881[6] and immediately consolidated with the others. Palmer knew that it would be important to first complete the line to Ogden, where the Central Pacific Railroad extended west to California. It was rumored as early as April 1881 that the D&RG had gained control of the U&PV and would bypass Salina Canyon, instead using a shorter route northwesterly from Castle Valley to a connection with that road,[11] and Palmer confirmed this in September. (The original grading through Castle Valley was never used for a railroad, although in the 1910s it was briefly part of the Midland Trail, now US-6.) The D&RGW bought the assets of the Wasatch and Jordan Valley Railroad, which had merged with the Bingham Canon and Camp Floyd Rail Road, at foreclosure on December 31, 1881, adding to its system two profitable branches from Midvale to Bingham and Little Cottonwood Canyons.[7]

The D&RGW similarly acquired the U&PV's property on June 14, 1882, and at about that time began operating trains between Salt Lake City and Pleasant Valley, using new trackage north of Provo. The D&RG of Colorado leased the D&RGW of Utah on August 1,[12] allowing the former to operate the latter for a payment of 40% of gross receipts. The difficult double switchback on the original U&PV was bypassed by a new connection to the under-construction D&RGW at Colton on November 23, 1882, as well as the new line from Colton over Soldier Summit to Tucker.[13] D&RG and D&RGW crews met at a point now known as Desert, 14 miles (23 km) west of Green River, on March 30, 1883, and trains began running between Denver and Salt Lake City several days later.[14] (Although the D&RG built the line from the state line to Desert, it was owned by the D&RGW.[15]) Final completion to Ogden in May was delayed for several days by the Union Pacific's refusal to let the D&RGW cross, but on May 19 the D&RGW was complete.[7] Palmer soon resigned as D&RG president, since the directors were opposed to further expansion, but remained in control of the leased D&RGW.[16]

Retrenchment and turmoil: 1883 to 1901

With the line into Utah complete, the D&RG system consisted of a main line from Denver to Ogden, passing through or over Salida, Marshall Pass, Gunnison, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Montrose, Grand Junction, Green River, and Salt Lake City. It included numerous branches, but only three west of Grand Junction - to Pleasant Valley, Bingham Canyon, and Little Cottonwood Canyon.[8] The main line began by following the valley of the Grand (Colorado) River west out of Grand Junction, but curved away at Mack to avoid Ruby Canyon. Some steep grades and sharp curves carried the original line over the highlands north of the river, crossing the state line and continuing southwesterly and westerly to Green River, Utah. Curving northwest around the Beckwith Plateau, the railroad crossed the Price River at Woodside, where it began to follow that river through its valleys and canyons. Almost immediately, due to flooding, the railroad had to be removed from the canyon between Grassy Trail (south of Cedar) and Farnham (southeast of Wellington), though it remained alongside the river from Grassy Trail southeast to Woodside until bypassed by the present standard gauge alignment. Continuing on, the line passed through the Price Canyon, including the Castle Gate rock formation, as it rose to the top of the Wasatch Range at Soldier Summit. The Spanish Fork Canyon took the line down into the Utah Valley, with some 4% grades near the top before it met the earlier U&PV at Tucker. Through the Utah Valley and adjacent Salt Lake Valley, connected by the Jordan Narrows, the D&RGW's line closely paralleled a UP line, serving many of the valleys' populated areas. The final stretch generally followed the Great Salt Lake's shore to Ogden, where it connected to the Central Pacific Railroad.[9][17]

The expansion resulted in a large [6] it terminated the lease of the D&RGW on July 31, giving the latter company significant amounts of rolling stock.[19] Palmer returned to his position as D&RGW president, the company having been released from receivership.[20]

Now independent, the D&RGW looked to the east, where the standard gauge Colorado Midland Railway was building west from Colorado Springs with the intent of entering Utah. Palmer realized that if he did not widen his gauge and cooperate with the Midland, he might soon have new competition. To raise the money to convert the line, which would require about 100 miles (160 km) of new railroad where the existing grade was too steep or curvy, he incorporated a new Rio Grande Western Railway. (Palmer had initially proposed the name "Utah and Colorado Railway" for the new company.[21]) The State Line and Denver Railway was incorporated May 16, 1889[6] with the power to build east to Glenwood Springs, Colorado, then the terminus of the Midland. That same day, it was consolidated with the old Denver & Rio Grande Western Railway, with articles of incorporation filed in both states on June 24.[22]

Construction began immediately, the line being converted from Ogden to Salt Lake City by mid-November 1889,[23] to Provo on March 7, 1890,[24] and the rest of the way to Grand Junction on June 10.[25] The line was completely relocated out of the canyon of the Price River from Grassy Trail to Woodside, and into the Ruby Canyon of the Grand (Colorado) River from Whitehouse to Crevasse, Colorado. Beyond Crevasse, the RGW leased the D&RG track to Grand Junction in December 1889 and subsequently widened its gauge. The Rio Grande Junction Railway, owned jointly by the D&RG and Midland, was completed to Grand Junction on November 15, 1890, and through service began the next day over the RGW and both eastern roads, the D&RG having completed its standard gauge line over Tennessee Pass.[26] All branches were also converted, except for short 3 ft (914 mm) gauge sections at the ends of the lines into Bingham and Little Cottonwood Canyons.[27]

Ca. 1900 map of the Colorado Midland Railway (red), showing its connections to the Rio Grande Western Railway (black, left) and Colorado and Southern Railway (black, lower right)

For the next ten years, the RGW operated as an independent standard gauge Missouri Pacific Railroad (MP), wished to create a transcontinental railroad system, and identified the D&RG/RGW as the best route west into Utah. The MP began buying D&RG stock in 1900, and the D&RG did the same with the RGW. Palmer still owned a controlling interest in the RGW, but he came to an agreement to sell the company to Gould, and Gould management, including new president Edward T. Jeffery, took over on July 1, 1901.[28]

Gould control and aftermath: 1901 to present

In 1901, the Union Pacific Railroad gained control of the Southern Pacific Railroad, which owned the Central Pacific Railway, the portion of the First Transcontinental Railroad west of Ogden. Searching for another route to the Pacific, Gould incorporated the Castle Valley Railway as a cutoff from the RGW's main line near Farnham to the Marysvale Branch at Salina and beyond to the under-construction San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad (Salt Lake Route) at Milford. However, the Union Pacific gained control of the Salt Lake Route in mid-1903, forcing Gould to construct an entirely new line to California. The financing of the Western Pacific Railway (WP) would take almost all the revenues of the MP, D&RG, and RGW, leaving very little for maintenance, let alone improvements. The D&RG and RGW, operated as a single system since 1901, were merged as the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad on July 31, 1908,[6] finally combining the two halves of the Denver-Ogden line into one railroad company.[29]

Improvement of the standard gauge main line through Utah to relieve congestion had begun in 1898, when the RGW added a second track to the steep 4% grade to Utah Railway (originally the Utah Coal Railway). U.S. Smelting objected to the D&RG's charging of higher freight rates due to the mines' location on a branch line, and began to build its own line over Soldier Summit into the Utah Valley. The two companies reached an agreement in November 1913, where the D&RG would operate the Utah Railway between a junction near Castle Gate and the mines, and the unfinished line between Thistle and Provo would be completed as a second track.[32] This arrangement began with the completion of the road in 1914, and the D&RG now had a double-track line between Provo and Helper. Three years later, the Utah Railway began independent operations between the mines and Provo under a reciprocal trackage rights arrangement that has persisted to the present, where each company allows the other to use its half of the double-track line.[33]

The WP was completed in 1910, but its construction had given the D&RG enormous debts. After periods of ownership by Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad.[34] After buying the Southern Pacific Transportation Company in 1988 and adopting the latter's name,[35] the D&RGW became part of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1996.[36]

With the level of the Great Salt Lake rising in the mid-1980s, the D&RGW and UP came to a trackage rights agreement, where the D&RGW would use the UP's higher line between Salt Lake City and Ogden, and in exchange the UP could use the D&RGW between Salt Lake City and Provo, a better-designed route than the UP's.[35] The majority of the ex-D&RGW north of Salt Lake City is now the Denver & Rio Grande Western Rail Trail, while the UP has sold its Sharp Subdivision north of Provo to the Utah Transit Authority, which operates the Sandy/Salt Lake light rail line and contracts with the Salt Lake City Southern Railroad for freight.


A long branch was begun in 1890 as 3 ft (914 mm) gauge and widened in 1891, extending south from Panic of 1893 stopped new construction until 1896, when the Sevier Railway was extended farther south to Belknap.[37]

The Ballard & Thompson Railroad between Thompson Springs and Sego was purchased in 1913 by the D&RGW and became the Sego Branch.[38]

In the future, a new rail line into the Uintah Basin, currently under study by the state of Utah, may be constructed, branching off the existing line near Soldier Summit.[39]


This is a list of presidents (and equivalents) of the Utah company before it was merged into the D&RG in 1908. For post-1908 presidents, see Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad Presidents.

Station listing

County Location MP[1] Name Notes
Mesa Grand Junction 450.0 Grand Junction Junction of Tennessee Pass Line/Moffat Line (1890–present) and Gunnison Line (1882–present)
451.7 Durham
Fruita 460.5 Fruita
468.9 Mack Junction of Uintah Railway (1904–1939)
473.1 Ruby
478.0 Shale
483.3 Utaline
Grand 488.4 Westwater
498.1 Agate
504.4 Cisco
510.5 Whitehouse
515.6 Elba
520.7 Sagers
528.1 Thompson Junction with Ballard and Thompson Railroad (1912–1950)
533.8 Brendel Junction with Cane Creek Branch (1962–present)
540.4 Floy
546.9 Solitude
Emery Green River 555.2 Green River
561.5 Sphinx
567.6 Desert
574.2 Cliff
581.4 Woodside
586.6 Grassy
593.1 Cedar
602.9 Mounds Junction with Sunnyside Branch (1899–present)
Carbon 611.3 Wash
Wellington 613.0 Wellington
Price 619.1 Price
622.1 Maxwell
Spring Glen Junction with Kenilworth and Helper Railway (1907–1926)
Helper 626.4 Helper Junction with Kenilworth Branch (1926-1960s) and Spring Canyon Branch (1912-1970s)
628.8 Utah Railway Junction Junction with Utah Railway (1914–present)
630.4 Castle Gate
632.0 Lynn
Utah 638.9 Kyune Junction with Jennings and Potter's Quarry Branch (1892–1917)
644.8 Colton Junction with Pleasant Valley Branch (1882–present)
Wasatch 651.4 Summit
Utah 661.0 Gilluly
Tucker Original junction with Pleasant Valley Branch (1882)
665.6 Detour
672.3 Narrows
676.7 Rio
681.0 Thistle Junction with Marysvale Branch (1890–1983)
684.4 Castilla
Springville 695.8 Springville Junction with Tintic Branch (1891–present)
698.6 Ironton
Provo 701.1 Provo Junction with Orem Branch (1946-1970s) and Provo Canyon Branch (1899–1970)
Orem 705.7 Lakota
707.1 Geneva
708.4 Pipe Mill
American Fork 715.0 American Fork
Lehi 720.3 Mesa
Salt Lake Draper 728.6 Riverton
Midvale 734.9 Midvale Junction with Bingham Branch (1882–present) and Little Cottonwood Branch (1882–1964)
South Salt Lake 742.0 Roper Junction with Park City Branch (1900–2005)
Salt Lake City 745.1 Salt Lake City
745.5 Grant Tower
748.7 Becks
Davis North Salt Lake 750.3 North Salt Lake
West Bountiful 753.9 Woods Cross
Farmington Farmington Junction with Lake Park Branch (1887–1925)
Clearfield 770.4 Clearfield
Weber Roy Roy Junction with Hooper Branch (1905–1959)
Ogden 779.3 Sugar Works
782.0 Ogden

See also


  • R. A. LeMassena (1974). Rio Grande ... to the Pacific!. Sundance Publications.  
  1. ^ a b Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad Company, (Employee) System Time-Table No. 6, effective October 30, 1983
  2. ^ Agreement Between Union Pacific Railroad Company and Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, effective February 1, 2000 (includes a list of subdivisions from the first post-merger timetable in 1998)
  3. ^ LeMassena, p. 15
  4. ^ LeMassena, p. 22
  5. ^ LeMassena, pp. 26, 30
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Interstate Commerce Commission, 26 Val. Rep. 733 (1929), p. 805: Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Company
  7. ^ a b c d Clarence A. Reeder, Jr., The History of Utah's Railroads, 1869-1883 (1970 doctoral dissertation), published 1981 by Arno Press, ISBN 0-405-13759-1
  8. ^ a b Rand McNally & Company, Denver and Rio Grande Railway System, 1886
  9. ^ a b Google Maps street maps and USGS topographic maps, accessed July 2008 via ACME Mapper
  10. ^ Charter of the Salt Lake and Park City Railway: George A. Lowe, primary stockholder, was a D&RG man
  11. ^ Deseret News, Sevier Valley Railroad, April 27, 1881, p. 9
  12. ^ LeMassena, p. 83
  13. ^ Salt Lake Daily Tribune, November 23, 1882
  14. ^ Ogden Daily Herald, Connection Completed, March 31, 1883
  15. ^ LeMassena, p. 85
  16. ^ LeMassena, p. 41
  17. ^ LeMassena, pp. 41, 83, 85, 367
  18. ^ Salt Lake Daily Tribune, Receiver Bancroft, August 13, 1884, p. 4
  19. ^ LeMassena, pp. 43, 46, 51, 85, 87
  20. ^ Ogden Daily Herald, Changed Hands, July 30, 1886, p. 4
  21. ^ Robert M. Ormes, Railroads and the Rockies: A Record of Lines in and Near Colorado, 1963, OCLC 1557664, p. 389
  22. ^ LeMassena, pp. 87, 89, 255
  23. ^ Salt Lake Daily Tribune, New R. G. W. Time Card, November 14, 1889, p. 4: "[one of the new broad gauge passenger engines] is hauling trains Nos. 7 and 8 between here and Ogden"
  24. ^ Salt Lake Tribune, Broad Gauged at Last, March 8, 1890, p. 5
  25. ^ Ogden Standard, Narrow Gauge No More, June 10, 1890, p. 2
  26. ^ Salt Lake Tribune, Rumbles of the Railroad, November 16, 1890, p. 5
  27. ^ LeMassena, pp. 57, 87, 89, 91-92
  28. ^ LeMassena, pp. 70, 74, 76, 101, 107, 109, 111
  29. ^ LeMassena, pp. 76-81, 111-115
  30. ^ LeMassena, pp. 101, 115, 123, 125
  31. ^ Condensed Profile of the D&RGWRR System, 1923, 1934, and 1970
  32. ^ Eastern Utah Advocate, Utah Railroad Abandons Work, November 6, 1913, p. 3
  33. ^ LeMassena, pp. 125, 129
  34. ^ LeMassena, pp. 123, 149, 163
  35. ^ a b Don Strack, Ogden Rails: Denver & Rio Grande Western (Union Pacific Historical Society), 2005, ISBN 1-932704-04-3
  36. ^ Union Pacific Railroad, Chronological History, accessed August 2008
  37. ^ LeMassena, pp. 89-101
  38. ^ Don Strack. "Sego Mine". Utah Rails—Utah Fuels the West: Utah's coal industry and the railroads that served it. Retrieved July 10, 2008. 
  39. ^ "Utah looks to build new railroad to tap oil boom". Trains Magazine. 9 October 2014. Retrieved 26 October 2014. 
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