Railfan Sites in Utah

A self-guiding railfan tour

Railfan, railfan--where do you see trains in Utah?

Mapwork: If you're going to be looking for railfan locations, you'll need an industrial strength map resource. I definitely recommend you get a DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer, study it before your trip, and copy pertinent pages for your field work. You can find information here about Railfan Maps that are available.

Cities And Sites


(1) These most excellent postings are courtesy of Bob Trueman. Many, many thanks, Bob.

BRIGHAM CITY (February 13, 2000)

The south end of the Brigham City Union Pacific freight yards is at MP 19 on the Ogden Subdivision, or at about the 1100 block of South Street. Forrest Street crossing is where the Brigham depot is located, and good photos can be taken there. The north end of the yards is at about 1500 North Street, which is right at mile post 23.

This line sees it all: BNSF, AMT, UP, and even American Orient Express. Brigham City's two-story depot, built in 1906 by the Oregon Short Line, and which sat empty for 20 years(!), is undergoing a long-term restoration project undertaken by its caretaker organization, the Golden Spike Association. By the way -- it's worth a visit.

This most excellent posting is courtesy of Bob Trueman. Many, many thanks, Bob.

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There is a rest stop off of the westbound lanes of I-80 (mile point 170, not accessible from eastbound lanes) not far east of Echo. Park in the rest stop and hike to the pavilion at the top of the hill above and just to the west of the rest stop parking area. It's a dynamite area for eastbound trains in the morning and westbounds in the early afternoon. Highly recommended. There are a fair number of other areas that require a bit of bobbing and weaving off the interstate and/or parallel old highway immediately to the west (and not a continuous road), but the I-80 rest stop is like shooting fish in the barrel given good sun and a couple of cooperative trains!

Thanks and a tip of the Frograil hat to Don Woodworth for this railfan information.

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HEBER CITY (February 13, 2000)

The Heber Valley Railroad terminal is located at 450 South and 600 West in downtown Heber City. The railroad operates a 32 mile, 3 1/2 hour round trip excursion ride to Vivian Park and return. This former Denver & Rio Grande line (constructed in 1899) passes thru rolling farmlands, skirts the banks of a mountain lake, and traverses the Provo River deep in the Provo Canyon.

Trains are powered by steam during the regular tourist season, and diesel power prevails during the off season. On winter weekends, the steamer is used to pull trips to Deer Creek and back, a 22 mile round trip across the snow covered farmlands of the Heber Valley, following the shore of Deer Creek lake to its western edge. The enclosed coaches are warmed by pot belly stoves, and a great deal of wildlife will often be seen along the tracks.

This most excellent posting is courtesy of Bob Trueman. Many, many thanks, Bob.

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Helper (February 13, 2000)

Tiny Helper (population 2,000+) is a classic railroad town preserved almost unchanged for nearly a century. The six-block downtown area, fronting onto the tracks, includes so many turn-of the [20th]-Century brick- and stone-faced buildings that it has been declared a National Historic District. However, the sad truth is that most of these old buildings have stood vacant and abandoned since the railroad switched to diesel power in the 1950's.

Before the diesel came, Helper was a very active community, with a bustling downtown. It was named in 1892 when the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad built a depot and roundhouse here to hold the "helper" engines that were added to trains in order to push them over Soldier Summit, 25 miles to the west.

Though the line of boarded up hotels, bars and pool halls along Main Street may not encourage you to linger, the excellent Western Mining and Railroad Museum at 296 South Main Street contains enough raw material on railroading and coal mining, not to mention the region's diverse immigrant cultures, to keep you occupied for an interesting hour or more. There is also a display recounting the exploits of Butch Cassidy and his Robber's Roost gang, who raided banks and rustled cattle throughout the region in the late 1890's, hiding out in the surrounding hills.

Behind the museum, an outdoor lot displays some of the giant machines used in the coal mines, which, unlike the railroad, still employ a large number of local people.

And don't forget -- there is still a busy mainline right outside the door.

This most excellent posting is courtesy of Bob Trueman. Many, many thanks, Bob.

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[Webmaster's comment: Here are differing comments about this historic and interesting railroad location. Both are well thought out and worth considering. As for me, I think the way to fan it is by boat.]

From Bob Trueman on February 13, 2000:

Lucin Cutoff is a 30-mile rail link connecting the cities of Ogden and Lucin, which originally included an almost 12-mile long trestle over the Great Salt Lake. While under Union Pacific control, Southern Pacific completed the Cutoff in 1904 at a cost of $8,000,000 -- a lot of money in those days! In 1959 the decaying trestle was replaced by an earth-fill causeway. Within the 1990's, Southern Pacific fought some epic battles maintaining the causeway's integrity, as the level of the lake has risen somewhat. TRAINS Magazine had a great article on this a few years back.

You cannot get photos without trespassing -- the east end is private property, and the west end is on a military base. You would be able to get around the east via boat, and you might be able to get some great pix. Give it a try, and give us some feedback.

From Don Woodworth on June 18, 2006:

Contrary to what's posted in your piece on Utah about the Cutoff being inaccessible, there is a part of it which is indeed accessible from a public road and which affords pretty decent shots (telephoto lens recommended). North of Ogden, use the I-15/I-84 exit that takes one to Corinne via UT-83, and on toward the National Park Service site at Promontory. There is a road junction about six miles before the NPS site where, if one bears left instead of heading for Promontory, the road bears left for Promontory Point (about 30 miles distant).

[Webmaster's comment: This road is clearly visible on the Rand-McNally highway atlas, but does not appear on either MapQuest or YahooMaps. This site is definitely a combat railfan's goal.]

The road is paved except for the last nine miles, which is pretty good dirt. There are no services in this area, so tank up in Corinne and buy ice, sandwiches, etc. at the gas station there. The dirt road heads downhill toward a private settlement as it approaches the Great Salt Lake. From the hillside, there are excellent views of the railroad causeway as it crosses the Great Salt Lake with the Wasatch Mountains nicely reflected in the water.

Afternoon/late afternoon is the best time to shoot westbounds. Our experience over a day and a half was one westbound and about 6 or 7 eastbounds, suggesting (perhaps) that the UP uses this former SP line as an east bound main and the former WP line south of the lake as a westbound main, giving them in effect a double track railroad. This is just theory - someone better acquainted with operations in this area may know better - but this seems a definite likelihood given the paucity of westbounds. This said, if you get one, it's a fine shot!

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Promontory Summit is the site where the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific railroads met, forming this nation's first transcontinental railroad. A golden spike was driven to celebrate this seminal event in our nation's history on May 10th, 1869. The ceremony is re-enacted every year on the same date, but not at Promontory Summit. A National Historic Site has been established at Promontory Point, 30 miles south of the actual summit. As with all things the National Park Service does, this is a fine vacation/journey attraction for railfans and families alike.

The visitor center gives tours along the railroad, and visitors can ride replica steam engines along the tracks during the summer months. There is a hiking trail and a very long auto tour of the unspoiled desert back country on an unpaved road with no shoulders. The Transcontinental Railroad National Back County Byway follows the last 90 miles of grade laid by the Central Pacific before their rails met the Union Pacific's at Promontory Summit.

Traveling west of the NHS, you will see two parallel grades laid by the two railroads as they competed for government dollars and land-grants. They actually laid parallel grades for a full 200 miles before agreeing to link up at Promontory Summit.

Just west of the Byway's information site, you'll encounter Rozel, which you may never have heard of, but you know what happened there. Rozel was then known as "Camp Victory" to the Central Pacific crews. On April 28, 1869, the crewmen laid an incredible 10 miles of track in one day, a record that has never been bested. More than 30 interpreted stops along the byway fill in many of the details of railroad history. While the rails themselves are gone -- they were uprooted to support the war effort in 1942 -- mute evidence of the great work that was done here remains in the form of trestles and culverts.

There is a much shorter self-guided auto tour, "The Promontory Trail", of 9 miles along historic railroad grades. A guide book is available at the NHS visitor center. To reach the Golden Spike NHS, go north from Ogden and take the exit north of Brigham City to west on UT-83. You will be pretty much in the absolute middle of nowhere west of the interstate, and the directional signs to the NHS will get you to the proper place.

This outstanding posting is courtesy of Bob Trueman. Many, many thanks, Bob.

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From I-15 south of Provo, go east on US-6/US-89. US-6 is an old friend to most railfans, and won't disappoint you up the mountain to Soldier Summit. After US-89 departs to the south, US-6 continues up through bright red sandstone canyons along the otherwise stark eastern side of the towering Wasatch Front, and then twists along pines and cottonwoods to the crest, at 7,477 feet elevation. Think of it, the railroad has climbed 2,000 feet from Provo, and you've been given a front row seat for much of that climb! Be prepared to spend hours exploring and enjoying the 22 miles between the US-6/US-89 split and the summit.

The summit marks the boundary/divide between the Colorado River drainage system to the east, and the Great Basin to the west. In 1919 the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad built its division point here. Between 1925 and 1930, over 300 people lived in the town. In 1930, the division point was moved to Helper, and the town very soon died.

Union Pacific is the successor road, and the route up and over Soldier Summit is very much alive and well today, thank you.

This most excellent posting is courtesy of Bob Trueman. Many, many thanks, Bob. Also, Don Woodworth has given us an update in June, 2006).

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