In the late 1800s, mineral discoveries in Utah made the territory a valuable player in many U.S. markets and spurred a rapid expansion of feeder lines and connections to national railroads.
Recognizing a lack of competition for efficient transport of minerals and ores, U.S. Smelting, Refining and Mining Company founded Utah Coal Railway (UTAH) on January 12, 1912, after opening a mineral processing plant in Midvale, Utah, just four years prior. William Ashton, a veteran engineer for the Oregon Short Line Railroad, surveyed and laid out the project. A local Salt Lake City lawyer, William M. Bradley, was appointed president of the railroad.
UTAH aimed to provide efficient and affordable freight and passenger service throughout much of the territory and offer a connection to the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad for shipments to the West Coast. This required trains to ascend the Wasatch Mountains, including the 7,440-foot (2,256-m) Soldier Summit that stands as one of the highest rail lines in the U.S., that blocked passage to Salt Lake City and then descended 50 miles (80 km) down into Provo, Utah.
In 1913, the railway entered into joint trackage agreements with the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. As business expanded, UTAH ordered nearly 2,000 drop-bottom gondola cars.
Business continued to soar, but a major setback occurred in 1917 when the Mammoth Dam burst and sent nearly 3.6 billion gallons of water down the Price River Canyon, washing out 1,500 feet (457 m) of UTAH’s tracks. The incident interrupted transportation for six months. 1922 brought another challenge, as the railroad was affected by a major coal miners’ strike.
The company was able to emerge from these events, however, and in 1927, crews constructed the railroad’s first office building in Martin, Utah. The two-story structure was equipped with a warehouse as well as offices for dispatchers, agents and operations managers. A third floor was added to the building in 1947 to accommodate sleeping rooms for workers.
In 1972, U.S. Smelting renamed itself UV Industries, Inc. UV Industries then sold UTAH to Sharon Steel Company in 1979. In 1980, Sharon Steel reorganized as Mueller Industries, the company from which G&W acquired the railroad in 2002 (along with Salt Lake City Southern Railroad).
Today, the line extends 47 miles (76 m), but with trackage rights, it spans 378 miles (608 km) from Ogden, Utah, to Grand Junction, Colorado. It connects with BNSF Railway and Union Pacific and hauls coal as well as brick and cement, building materials, chemicals and petroleum products.