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Utah Inter-Urban Railway History in Photographs

Excerpt from Utah History Encyclopedia

"The following is extracted from the article on "Railroads" by Don Strack in the UTAH HISTORY ENCYCLOPEDIA. (Allan Kent Powell, ed. Salt Lake City : University of Utah Press, 1994. ) It is used by permission of the Utah State Historical Society.)

The story of Utah's railroads includes the completion of electric railroads, including the electric interurban lines and the electric streetcar lines, for the movement of passengers. Between 1890 and 1920 Utah's population more than doubled, from 210,779 to 449,396. Most of that growth was in the urban areas and nearby farming communities along the Wasatch Front. By the turn of the century, the steam railroads were straining to provide the local populace with transportation to local destinations. To fill this need for additional local passenger transportation, several local electric interurban railroads were organized between 1900 and 1910. This group of companies developed into what became one of the largest electric railroad systems in the nation.

Between 1910 and 1920 four separate railroads completed either the electrification of their lines or the actual construction of their lines as electric railroads. The Salt Lake and Utah Railroad was begun in 1914 as an electric line south from Salt Lake City to Provo, and was completed to Payson in 1916.

The Salt Lake, Garfield and Western began in 1891 as the Saltair Beach Railway, running from Salt Lake City west to the new Saltair Resort. Construction began in 1892, at which time the name of the line was changed to the Salt Lake and Los Angeles Railway to show that the company had larger plans. In 1916 the company was reorganized as the Salt Lake, Garfield and Western Railway and made the announcement that the line would be electrified, a process completed in 1919.

The Utah Idaho Central railroad began as the Ogden, Logan and Idaho Railroad. The earlier road had taken over the streetcar lines of both the Ogden Rapid Transit and the Logan Rapid Transit and completed a connection between the two by way of Brigham City in 1915. The Logan Rapid Transit had completed their line north to Preston, Idaho, in 1912. Preston remained as the northern end of a network of electric interurban railroads that spread along the Wasatch Front from Cache Valley south to Payson, at the southern end of Utah Valley. In 1910 the Salt Lake and Ogden Railroad electrified its line between those two cities. The railroad was built by Simon Bamberger and had been completed to Ogden in 1905. In 1917 the company became the Bamberger Electric Railroad.

Simon Bamberger was elected governor in 1917, as the Progressive candidate. And ironically it was the improved road and highway system that he promoted while he was in office which led to the eventual demise of the interurban railroad system in Utah. As people were better able to get around in their own cars, they were less inclined to take the electric-powered trains into and between Utah's major cities. The improved road system also allowed trucking companies to become more competitive, and they gradually took the lucrative package express business away from the interurban lines. The interurban railroad companies were able to gain back some of the lost traffic by offering their own trucking services between the cities that they also served with electrified railroad service.

Two of Utah's interurban companies--the Utah Idaho Central in the north and the Salt Lake and Utah in the south--were able to hold on only until the late 1940s. The Bamberger ceased passenger train service in 1952, using diesel locomotives to remain in the freight business until 1958. Utah's last interurban line, the Salt Lake, Garfield and Western, is still in business today, having converted to using diesel locomotives in 1951. The line stopped running passenger trains during the early 1960s, however.

The Emigration Canyon Railroad was built in 1907 to move sandstone from quarries located in Emigration Canyon down to Salt Lake City for use as building stone. Unfortunately, the company's timing coincided with the availability of cement within the state. Since concrete is a much better building material, the market for building stone (the railroad's traffic base) virtually disappeared within a three-year period between 1909 and 1912.

Streetcar lines were built in Salt Lake City, Provo, Ogden, and Logan. The line in Provo consisted of only a single line and was abandoned after being in operation for only six years--from 1913 to 1919. There were six lines in Ogden, with a total length of about twenty-four miles. In Logan there were three lines, totaling just over eight miles, with the longest being from the Oregon Short Line depot to the Utah State Agricultural College.

After the 1915 merger of the Ogden and Logan lines, the new Ogden, Logan and Idaho Company continued streetcar service until the respective cities began paving their streets. At that time many of its lines were removed because the company couldn't pay its share of the paving costs. The Ogden lines were sold to a separate company in 1920, and by the mid-1930s the streetcars in Ogden had been replaced by buses.

The streetcar lines in Salt Lake City were by far the most extensive in the state, beginning with those of the Salt Lake City Railroad in 1872 and the Salt Lake Rapid Transit Company in 1890. These two companies built a large network of streetcar lines throughout the city and outlying area. Other companies also were organized in the 1890s and built lines into other parts of the city. All of the lines were merged in 1901 as the Utah Light and Railway Company and again in 1914 as the Utah Light and Traction Company.

The streetcar system in Salt Lake City reached its peak in 1918 with over 146 miles of tracks, including a line south of Holladay and another line north to Centerville. Beginning in the late 1920s buses began to replace the streetcars, and slowly over the next twenty years the individual lines were abandoned. The last streetcar ran in Salt Lake City in 1946.

Of course, with the development of a complete network of modern paved roads and highways throughout the state, along with modern facilities for airline shipment, the role that the railroads play today in the everyday business of the state has been much reduced. Yet the railroads still have a vital role in moving goods and people around and through the state. The amount of rail traffic that moves into, out of, and through Utah is today setting record levels every year. This trend likely will continue, because railroads are still an irreplaceable element in a dynamic chain of the transportation of our nation's goods and services.

See: O. Meredith Wilson, The Denver and Rio Grande Project, 1870-1901, A History of the First Thirty Years of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad (1981); Robert G. Athearn, The Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, Rebel of the Rockies (1977); Leonard J. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom (1958); Robert A. LeMassena, Rio Grand . . . to the Pacific (1974); and Stephen L. Carr and Robert W. Edwards, Utah Ghost Rails (1989).

Don Strack

 Last Modified 4/1/20