The LUE46 with two SD70M locomotives at Fassio Eggs in Erda, Utah this August.
There is for many railfans a favorite train or two to chase on the railroad. Often they are local trains; relatively small mixed freights which travel from major rail hubs to outlying industries along the way. In my case one of my favorite trains to see is the "LUE46" a freight which serves businesses in-between Salt Lake City's North Yard down to the Peterson Industrial Depot in Tooele, Utah. It is one of the first trains I learned to predict regularly, and one that I encounter on a regular basis.
In May 2013 two SD40N units (UP 1684 and UP 1616) lead the LUE46 through Erda, Utah. UP 1684 was once SD40-2 UP 1896 one of the two special units used for the Atlanta Olympic games.
The history of local rail freight from Salt Lake to the Tooele area began in the late 1800's with a narrow gauge railroad known as the Utah Nevada Western Railroad. Building off the line already in place by the Salt Lake Sevier Valley, Pioche Railroad; the Utah Nevada Western extended through the valley to Bauer in 1883. The narrow gauge line was essential to serve the budding mining districts to the south in Stockton which sent wagon teams hauling ores up to the rail head in Bauer.
In 1903 standard gauge railroads came to the Tooele area with the Oregon Shortline (and shortly thereafter owned by the Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad) building the "Leamington Cut-Off." This Harriman-era mainline had smooth curves and gentle grades. Standard gauge rail opened up new traffic to the area, with the Tooele Valley Railway and St. John & Ophir shortlines connecting into the new mainline a few years after it was built. A mining mill grew in Bauer near the former Utah Nevada Western terminal, and local sugar beet farmers used the rails to feed their crops to the sugar refineries across the state. Further north, on the border of Tooele and Salt Lake, counties was the ASARCO Garfield Smelter which would eventually become part of the Kennecott Corporation.
Wartime brought the changes to the area which continue to affect local rail traffic to this day when the US Army placed two detachments of a new ordinance depot along the route. In Tooele at the Warner Jct. where the Tooele Valley Railway and Western Pacific fed into Union Pacific's inherited LA&SL mainline; the Army built what is now known as the Tooele Army Depot. Further south past the former St. John and Ophir interchange was built the Deseret Chemical Weapons Depot (currently known as the Tooele Army Depot South Area). The northern facility handled conventional weapons and vehicle repairs, while the southern area housed chemical weapons of mass destruction. Both of the military bases were rail served; and as the mines and smelter began to fade away the two bases remained a steady source of rail traffic.
Heber Valley 1218 prior to its donation to the historic railroad, was a US Army switcher used at the Tooele Army Depot South Area/Deseret Chemical Depot. The military retired it in 1993 after years of sporadic use as the weapons depot near St. John saw less and less need for rail traffic. Shortly there after all rail-service at the southern depot came to an end. The primary Tooele Army Depot further north continues to see rail-service provided by the LUE46.
In fact the very first chemical weapons to arrive on site at the depot came in 1942 through the new rail spur to the site. The drums loaded with mustard gas had been shipped from the Ogden army base to the new St. JohnDeseret Chemical/Tooele Army South area site. The decision to begin shipments was so rushed that construction of 200 yards of switch track in Rush Valley had to be built while the Mustard Gas was already in transit! (I learned this bit of history and obtained this historic government photo from Richard Trujillo on the Tooele History Facebook group)
Sometime the local train Union Pacific ran along the route became known as "The St. John Local." The chemical depot (and the way stations in St. John and Stockton) required that the locals make treks down that far south, although industry was sporadic on the line between Bauer and the chemical weapons depot. It should be noted that many of the freight stations even further south than the chemical depot's station such as Faust also accepted freight making it hard to determine just how far south the local train really traveled. Warner junction area in Tooele drew heavier traffic with its own Army depot and the Tooele Valley Railway's interchange.
When the volatile chemical weapons from South Area had to move on rail, it was unlikely they were placed in with the rest of the St. John local's regular freight mix. More likely special trains originated and terminated at the depot, with the local train providing more "regular" freight services per the base's needs. A detailed history of shipments of chemical weapons can be found in one of the links at the end of the article. Due to the name changes and base command adjustments during the life of the depot it can be identified as either "TEAD" or "Deseret" in the registry below. The rail service in the chemical depot even earned itself a proper railroad name, "The Beltline Railroad".
May 2017, the LUE46 works the Garfield Yard where it interchanges traffic with Kennecott's smelter.
May 2017, Later the same day as the previous photo, the LUE46 returns to downtown Salt Lake City having completed its trip out to the Tooele area and back.
Times have changed though. The stations in St. John, Stockton, and Warner vanished, some victim of fires. The resin plant in Bauer, the last rail customer in that area came to a close. The Tooele Valley Railway interchanged its last boxcar in the early 1980's with its rails pulled up a few years later. Finally a base realignment and closure action shuttered the repair portions of the Tooele Army Depot. By the 1990's the Chemical Weapons depot had severed its rail link, with its focus transferring to onsite incineration of the stockpile at hand. Kennecott's smelter and its neighboring industries, the occasional ammunition movement to Tooele's remaining base facilities, and a new feed silo in Erda would have kept the eventually re-christened "Warner Local" around but not very busy compared to its glory days in years past.
September 2016, with a load almost entirely consisting of sulfuric acid cars and a classic GP on point; what appeared to be the LUE46 departs North Yard in a bright fall morning as a Frontrunner commuter train rolls past it.
Recently though, the LUE46 "Warner Local" has been finding a new surge of traffic. The base realignment which shut down a corner of the Army Depot opened up new industrial areas in Tooele City and business began to move into the buildings the Army vacated. Where there once was military repair shops there now rises lumber yards, asphalt dealerships, businesses which require outbound shipments of boxcars containing finished products, and now a railcar re-manufacturing and repair shop which voraciously draws in beaten railcars to it. Across the rails in Warner Yard, a plastic water tank manufacturer Norwesco opened business a few hundred yards from where the Tooele Valley Railway joined the Union Pacific, and with it came the demand for a small but steady need of plastic granules. Further up the line, Kennecott's upgraded smelter began producing sulfuric acid caught in its pollution filtration system, an operation which demands a large fleet of incoming and outgoing white tank cars.
August 2017, on the edge of the Tooele Army Depot and the Peterson Industrial Depot the LUE46 with an interloping GE unit switch PID's rail yard.
In the modern day, the LUE46 leaves North Yard in Salt Lake City. It travels through the city limits, until it reaches the Garfield Smelter. In the interchange yard the job shuffles around boxcars of outbound copper anodes, inbound copper ore cars, and sulfuric acid tankers. Once done in Garfield, the train continues up the line and stops at a small warehouse on the edge of the Kennecott property. From there it heads down to Lake Point and into Erda, with grain for the Fassio Eggs feed silo. Once the train has reached Tooele it has several jobs to do, from servicing the Norwesco facility to dropping into the Peterson Industrial Park's former Army railyard to drop off cars for Peterson's own industrial switch engines to deliver to the myriad of business in the area park. It may also stop for loads from the Army depot itself, which still ships occasional ammunition cars. Then it heads back up north, picking up any outbound cars back in Garfield and returning late-afternoon in Salt Lake City. The train has regular appearances on Tuesday and Thursday; however the influx of traffic going into the Peterson Industrial Depot has meant the LUE46 often works jobs on all weekdays; Monday through Friday.
August 2016, the mid train set of a westbound stack train roll by. In the distance though is two sets of headlights; the furthest belong to the LUE46 as it works Garfield. The other is Kennecott's in plant switcher service which is operated by Omaha Track.
March 2017, the LUE46 to the left is working Garfield while an eastbound work train rolls by.
The LUE46 is a great train to railfan, and its history is surprisingly deep below the surface level. Even if local trains no longer travel as far south into St. John; the spirit of the St. John local lives on in its present day incarnation.
Leamington Cutoff Construction History (UtahRails.net)
St. John local in Salt Lake City meeting a DRGW train in 1973
St. John Local in 1977
St. John Local in 1977 (2)
St. John Local in 1993
Warner Local in 2010
Warner Local in 2011
Chemical Weapons Shipping History
Utah Rails Company List (Includes mention of the Beltline Railroad at the Chemical Depot)
Mining, Smelting and Railroading in Tooele County
Provo's Ubiquitous Local Trains for more information on some local train action in Utah.