Utah Division (D&RGW) - History - Construction: 1870s To 1883

Construction: 1870s To 1883

When the Denver and Rio Grande Railway (D&RG) was chartered in 1870, it had the goal of connecting Denver with El Paso, Texas. 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. 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.

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 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.

The U&PV began at a mine in the Pleasant Valley south of Scofield, 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.

Associates of Palmer incorporated the Sevier Valley Railway in Utah on December 7, 1880, 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.

On May 26, 1881, D&RG interests incorporated the Salt Lake and Park City Railway, a branch from Salt Lake City east to Park City and Coalville. The lines of this company and the Sevier Valley were included in the far-reaching charter for the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railway, incorporated on July 21, 1881 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, 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.

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, 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. 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. (Although the D&RG built the line from the state line to Desert, it was owned by the D&RGW.) 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. Palmer soon resigned as D&RG president, since the directors were opposed to further expansion, but remained in control of the leased D&RGW.

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