Soldier Summit, Utah

Two railroads share this rugged mountain crossing in Utah
Soldier Summit is one of two sites in Utah profiled in Kalmbach's Guide to North American Hot Spots by TRAINS Senior Editor J. David Ingles. Read below for Soldier Summit information.

Description
Double-track main line of Union Pacific's ex-Denver & Rio Grande Western line over the Wasatch Mountains, used jointly by UP and the Utah Railway. Assembled from many railroad company ancestors, the line was originally completed in 1882.

The western slope's troublesome 4-percent grade was soon replaced by two horseshoe curves and a steady 2-percent grade. The eastern slope still sports a hefty 2.4-percent gradient.

Operations
CTC-controlled; main line freight action. Also, Amtrak's California Zephyr.

Typical motive power
Any motive power that UP owns is likely to show up on freights. Helper operations (at the time of this writing) were still ex-D&RGW SD40T-2s. Since 1996, Burlington Northern Santa Fe has also been a tenant, with any available BNSF power heading up freights.

Utah Railway SDs generally work coal trains and serve as BNSF helpers. Run-through power is frequently seen.

Peak operating hours
Weekdays: Trains generally spread evenly during daylight hours.
Weekends: Early morning or late afternoons are best.
Amtrak No. 6 comes through in early morning; No. 5, late evening.

Approximate daily train frequency
Reduced drastically from the late 1990s. Currently, weekdays see 10 freights per day; weekends, four to five daily. Most traffic is coal with two or three manifest/intermodal trains breaking up the coal parade, plus two or more BNSF trackage rights trains.

Radio frequencies
UP (ex-D&RGW): 160.455 (road), 457.900 (repeater)
Utah Railway: 161.145

Nearby points of interest
In Helper, the Helper Rail Museum.
Utah Railway's headquarters and yard at Martin.
The Thistle Mudslide site: In 1983, a massive mudslide descended upon and blocked the D&RGW main line, forcing the railroad into a six-mile right-of-way relocation and the drilling of two new tunnels.

Remarks
Scenic highlights include the two horseshoe curves on the west side of Soldier Summit (the "Gilluly loops"), the limestone buttress at Castle Gate, Price River Canyon (Kyune to Helper), and the twin "Thistle" tunnels constructed under Billies Mountain to bypass the 1983 mudslide.

Other double tunnels exist at Nolan and Kyune.

Many coal trains on the 21-mile Pleasant Valley Branch, which departs the main line at Colton.

Safety considerations
U.S. 6, which parallels the ex-D&RGW main line virtually the entire way, is a very busy two-lane road between Rio and Helper. However, with care, there are many pull-offs available for great views of the railroad.

Contributor: Dave Gayer

Soldier Summit, Utah, was where the Rio Grande waged battle against the Utah Mountains. In its November 2003 issue, TRAINS Magazine describes the ongoing challenges the Denver & Rio Grande faced in the 1960s moving coal over Soldier Summit's 4-percent grade while the railroad itself was in a period of transition.
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