Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Beyond Echo Canyon: A Look at a Few of Utah's Lesser Known Railfan Sites

The beauty of the Evanston Subdivision through Echo and Weber Canyons is world renowned in the railfan community (as evidenced in this scenic photo taken at Henefer, Utah). However, Utah offers a wide variety of railfan opportunities which often go unnoticed by many railfans who come from out of state.

Kamblach Publishing's Hot Spots Guidebook: Great Places to Watch Trains (2012), is shockingly sparse in its coverage of the Beehive State. Utah's sole entry is focused on the Union Pacific Evanston Subdivision which passes through Weber and Echo Canyon's. Trains Magazine has also published some info on Soldier Summit, and an article about downtown Salt Lake City written by local railfan James Belmont; yet neither of those two articles made it into the Hot Spots Guidebook. The evidence seems to suggest the railroading world has a fixation on the Evanston Subdivision; the beautiful scenery and frequency of trains has made it a magnet for railfans who visit Utah. The route's history as part of the original Transcontinental Railroad and its later dominion by Big Boys, Gas Turbines, and DDA40X's has made the location famous. 

The truth is, this focus on Echo Canyon has meant many visiting out of state railfans are missing out on some of the best locations to railfan in Utah. Some of the greatest locations are known only to 'the locals' and not well published in the hobby press. This is my list of a few of my favorite under represented locations that are mostly visited by local railfans; and could deserve a little bit more love from the rest of the railroading world. This is not a comprehensive list, but a few locations that I consider to be some of my favorite locations that aren't well visited.

North Yard - Salt Lake City

September 2, 2016; the area around North Yard is easily accessible, and has almost constant railroad action. Pictured here is the Union Pacific 1995, the Chicago Northwestern Heritage Unit on point of the KG1CI-31 stack train as it departs from the yard at Control Point 784. The track in the foreground is the right of way for the UTA Frontrunner commuter train.

September 10, 2016; two GP60 units at rest on the northern end of North Yard.

September 24, 2016; an example of visiting power from another railroad at North Yard. This Canadian Pacific unit came into the yard as the DPU on a manifest freight from Hinkle, Oregon.

With constant movement, this busy Union Pacific yard in Salt Lake City offers plenty of action for a visiting railfan. Perhaps what makes this yard enticing to photograph is the fact both ends of the yard are easily viewed from public roads. The three mainlines are in the front of the action, and an observer can often watch mainline trains getting a crew change. One or two yard switchers are in constant motion on the opposing ends of the yard. Even when Union Pacific traffic is low, the UTA Frontrunner passes through the area with two trains every hour from Monday to Saturday. UTA's Warm Springs Shops are on the far east end of the yard inside a former UP diesel shop. A lucky visitor might be able to spot a Utah Railway train passing by the yard on route to industries upline.

From personal experience I have had a lot of unique catches here at North Yard; from military trains, foreign units, heritage units, and unique switchers. The great visibility of the yard from the road makes it a great place to train-spot!

July 8, 2016; the 'essential' view of north yard is that seen on the Frontage Road, facing south-east; where the rail yard is backdropped by the stunning vista of downtown Salt Lake City in the shadows of the mighty Wasatch Mountains.

The Shaffter Subdivision 

August 3, 2016; if one word could define the Shaffter Subdivision it would probably be 'desolation.' This barren landscape makes an interesting backdrop, as seen here with this light power move near Aragonite, Utah. 

This former Western Pacific mainline might not see a lot of through trains, but industrial switching and local freight action is almost constant on the weekdays. Prosperous salt producing industries, a magnesium plant, a waste incinerator, and a low level nuclear waste dump; all demand rail traffic. The copper mines near Ely, Nevada, (home of the famed Nevada Northern Railway) ship their copper ores to a rail loading facility in Wendover, Utah; where trains take them over the line to the famed Garfield Smelter. When a through train does arrive, the desolate scenery is unique. Few photographers venture out here, and those that dare the trip find stark desert scenery which helps to cement the unique history of this line. If timing works out, a visiting railfan might also get to witness the occasional BNSF train or the Amtrak California Zephyr.

The local industries house a lot of strange locomotives and other pieces of railroading equipment. Broken Arrow's salt plant is home to two Baldwin RS-4-TC units used in active switching, and houses two ALCO units in storage. The ore loading facility in Wendover is home to an ex Canadian National GMD-1, a strange sight to see in the sun-baked desert.

May 15, 2016; This local train near Garfield, Utah; reveals the hidden strength of the Shaffter Subdivision, its myriad of busy industries. The desolate desert is home to a variety of industries that keep demand for local train service high. Stauffer Yard (formerly known as Burmester Yard) is the hub of local train activity.

June 15, 2016; with the right timing a railfan can capture BNSF or Amtrak trains along the Shaffter Subdivision. This photograph shows a California Zephyr which had been delayed while crossing Soldier Summit. Now several hours behind schedule, the train has finally reached the start of the Shaffter Subdivision. In the background is the Rio Tinto/Kennecott Garfield Copper Smelter.

Brigham City, the Ogden Subdivision, and the Malad Branch

May 3, 2016; The Central Pacific depot which still stands in Corrine alongside the Malad Branch.

I have talked previously about the Cache Valley Branch on this blog, and with it I mentioned that Brigham City hosts the departure point for local trains on that line. In fact, Brigham City also hosts the operations of yet another branchline, the Malad Branch. The Malad Branch passes through territory that first saw rails as part of the construction of the first Transcontinental Railroad. The city of Corrine, Utah, was one of the last "Hell on Wheels" towns built alongside the railroad. The wild west image of the city has been replaced by the tranquility of rural Utah, but a quick look reveals many artifacts that remain including a rare Central Pacific built train depot still standing near the tracks. A short distance from Corrine is the Promontory Summit Historic Site. Those who are willing to follow the Malad Branch north will enter former Oregon Shortline Territory, which now includes Nucor Steel; a large processor of scrap metals. Local trains on the branch are nearly a daily occurrence, as Nucor Steel demands a constant supply of scrap metal.

Also near Brigham City is the Ogden Subdivision. This route from Pocatello, Idaho, to Ogden, Utah, is not heavily trafficked, often only hosting one, two, or three through trains a day. Yet for those willing to railfan the Ogden Subdivision, they will discover beautiful scenery dotting the line all the way from Brigham City to Pocatello. North of Brigham City is Wheelon, a siding on the Ogden Subdivision that overlooks the stunning Cutler Dam. Further north is Red Rock Pass, a beautiful scenic location in southern Idaho which marks were Lake Bonneville drained into the ocean thousands of years ago.

May 3, 2016; the history of the Malad Branch is more than just that of the Transcontinental Railroad and the Oregon Shortline; it also encompasses the history of NASA and space travel. This facility owned by ATK, is used to load Solid Rocket Booster segments into railcars for transport from Utah to Cape Canaveral in Florida. The rocket motors hauled in these cars would be assembled in Florida and used on the Space Shuttle. With the Space Shuttle's currently mothballed, this facility is not in use; although current NASA designs for the next generation of space vehicles suggest that these rockets will soon be in use again.

June 22, 2016; the Malad Local passing through Corrine. The train often hauls scrap metal for Nucor Steel and grain cars for local grain silos.

The former Oregon Shortline/Union Pacific railroad depot in Brigham City is now home to a musuem on area history. To the north of the depot is the Brigham City railyard which is the hub of operations for the Malad and Cache Valley locals.

"The Cut" - Erda 

April 16, 2016: The frequent stack trains which pass through "The Cut" are one of the area's defining railfan opportunities. The ports in Southern California produce stack train traffic, which is then shipped over to points on the eastern edge of the UP system. 

The Lynndyl Subdivision might as well be the railfan definition of "local favorite." The scenery is a stark sage brush desert passing through sparsely populated desert valleys which house a lot of military and mining history. Once near Tooele, Utah, the scenery slowly begins to urbanize as the rails make their final approach into Salt Lake City. "The Cut" is a bluff overlooking the Lynndyl Subdivision at Erda, Utah, offering views of the Great Salt Lake to the north, and the Tooele area to the south. The traffic in the area mostly consists of intermodal freight which travels from the ports of Los Angeles and its surrounding area, and towards intermodal yards back east. On slow days the train traffic might only be a handful of locals and manifests, while a busy day could see a train every half hour. The site is easily accessible by a short drive from Salt Lake City.

April 16, 2016: The MWCNP, after a meet at Erda Siding, is finally moving through "The Cut" in this photograph. This train was rather popular among railfans that day, in particular due to the presence of SP 343 on it. Schon Norris's post from a few days ago explains a bit more about this train:

April 16, 2016: the KG1CI-14 passing through "The Cut" heading south.

August 9, 2016; the PRORO2 09 a passenger special ran for Operation Lifesaver approaches "The Cut" on an early morning run. 

May 21, 2013; The LUE 46 aka "The Warner Local" or "The Tooele Local" is seen here at "The Cut." The lead unit is UP 1684 trailed by UP 1616. UP 1684 (numbered as UP 1896) was once one of the two SD40-2 locomotives dressed up in special paint for the Atlanta Georgia Olympic Games.

I hope you enjoyed this brief look at some of the less famous railfan sites in Utah! While this list isn't comprehensive, I hope it is enough encouragement to entice railfans to go and visit places other than the most famous ones.

-Jacob Lyman


I am sure as we continue to post in this blog we will be referring to trains using their symbols (such as the MWCNP or the LUE46). For those unfamiliar with the train symbol system used by the Union Pacific; I highly recommend visiting Spencer Peterson's UC Rail page which has a wonderful resource of current train symbols. These symbols are a great way to understand rail traffic movements through out Utah and the surrounding states.

No comments:

Post a Comment