By Bill Buchanan
The Salt Lake City Southern Railroad runs day and night now. But come 2000 it'll be strictly a nocturnal business, thanks to the budding passenger service it's helping to build along the right-of-way it leases from the Utah Transit Authority.
Visit the property starting next spring, and you should see new, electric light rail UTA trains during the day. After midnight, SLCS Geep-led freight trains will ply the same 133-pound welded rail between the capital of Utah and as far away as Draper; 16 miles south.
Salt Lake City Southern 2151 and Texas Northeastern 272 switch cars out at Midvale, Utah, for a customer. Midvale is also the location where Utah Railway bases its locals that perform contract switching for Burlington Northern Santa Fe.
Two different operations, one shared route. They predict a busy future for this former section of Union Pacific's Provo Subdivision. The UTA bought the line from Union Pacific in 1993 after UP moved its Provo-Salt Lake City trains to the nearby former Denver & Rio Grande Western main line, itself now part of the UP empire. Salt Lake City Southern, one of RailTex's smaller subsidiaries, began in 1993, when it signed a lease with UTA to run freight trains from Salt Lake City to Mount, or m.p. 775.19 to 798.74, plus the 1.4-mile Lovendahl spur in Murray. The railroad interchanges only with UP, in Murray and Salt Lake City.
During a typical week, a two-person crew of conductor and engineer comes on duty in Salt Lake City at 7 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and works until 5 a.m. the next morning. Daily activity varies.
"They can deliver freight anywhere from downtown to Draper or out to Midvale," said Jay R. Jackson, the company's superintendent of operations.
Trains go to Draper once or twice per week, he said, and run as short as a car or two to as long as 30, with the average around 15. Trains use one or both engines, depending on the train's weight, but can always get by with one, Jackson said.
Borrowed Central Oregon & Pacific GP9 6440 sets out two loads at Murray for Silver Cup Elevators on January 20, 1997.
This year SLCS also carries building material seven days per week to help the UTA prepare the route for the TRAX (Transit Express) light rail trains, scheduled to start running next March. Crews come on duty at 6:30 a.m., work until 6 p.m., and spend the day hauling such material as cement ties, 1,500-foot lengths of rail, and ballast. The UTA's builders are stringing catenary, replacing jointed 133-pound rail with welded rail of the same size, and substituting cement ties for wood.
"The route was in good shape when we took it over from UP," Jackson said. "Now that we're going to light rail, it's going to be in immaculate condition." Good enough for the UTA to expect its trains to cover 16 stops over 15 miles in 30 minutes.
On April 4, 1994, Salt Lake City Southern's conductor Bruce Weaver walks a cut of cars after a setout on the Murray, Utah, team track. The power is a chopped-nose GP7. The large elevator in the background is the landmark Murray Elevators, which can be found on 4800 South Street.
Salt Lake City Southern doesn't currently run trains to Mount, because it has no customers south of Draper. Railroad customers exist in Mount and south toward Provo, but UP serves them, because it still owns that part of the line. This could change.
"We're always in negotiations with Union Pacific to expand and take over more right-of way," Jackson said. "We'd like to expand as much as UP would allow us. Whatever they don't want, basically.
Salt Lake City Southern Geep 2151 loads a ballast train for Utah Transit Authority's light rail pro ject. The SLCS will move about 1,050 100-ton ballast cars, about 64,000 concrete ties in 150 gondolas, and about 260 pieces of one-quarter mile welded rail by the time the project is finished.
"We've tripled the business in a matter of a few years because of the good service we offer, and we're more flexible," he added.
The UTA would like to run trains to Provo someday, too, but plans to start with service from downtown Salt Lake City to a location known as 10000 South in Sandy. Passenger trains will usually run from 5:30 a.m. to midnight, leaving what's left for SLCS to run its freight trains.
"We'll have a reduced window of operations, from midnight to 5 a.m.," Jackson said. "We'll probably have two crews on."
That will undoubtedly leave very few quiet hours on this stretch of track along Utah's Wasatch Front.