The first transcontinental railroad across the United States was completed on May 10, 1859. At the time, the two railroad companies involved in its construction, the Union Pacific Railroad and Central Pacific Railroad, were worldwide household names (like American Airlines, Amazon are today) despite their at times dubious participation, and what they produced was a feat of engineering, technological prowess and sheer human will, never before witnessed in human history. When completed, the final hammering of the now-famous Golden Spike into the track was broadcasted as single telegraph clicks for the entire country to bear witness, followed by one simple word: "DONE". Few events in the 19th century, if any, have more importance and lasting impact than the completion of a single railroad line joining the east and the west sides of the North American continent.
The transcontinental railroad line was completed around the north shore of Great Salt Lake, Utah, at Promontory Summit, as part of the Salt Lake Division of the Central Pacific Railroad, which became the Southern Pacific. There were actually two grades built, both parallel and adjacent to each other. (Both are depicted north of the lake in the map at left, with the CP line being the northern of the two.) Both the Union Pacific and Central Pacific were under contract by the U.S. Government to build, and each were paid by the mile. It wasn't until after the construction crews passed each other (working in opposite directions) that the meeting point was established. Soon after completion, the segment of the line east from Promontory, built by the Union Pacific Railroad, was transferred to the Central Pacific/Southern Pacific around 1870 when the "transfer point" was moved from Promontory to Brigham City, Utah. (Brigham City was a better location for servicing trains.) With the UP's acquisition of SP in 1996, the tracks reverted back to UP again after almost 130 years.
The transcon was the primary main line for Union Pacific's Overland Route until around 1904 when Southern Pacific's Lucin Cutoff was completed across Great Salt Lake, which offered a shorter distance and easier grades through the Promontory Mountains. The original line, between Umbria Jct. (Lucin) and Corinne, Utah was downgraded to "secondary" status, and was used for passenger traffic only. The tracks were abandoned in 1942 as the rails were needed to support the war effort during World War II; specifically, most of the track and hardware were relocated to military bases on the Pacific Coast.
Today, most of the transcontinental railroad line is still in operation by the Union Pacific (yes, the same railroad that built it 150 years ago). The map at left shows sections of the transcon that have been abandoned throughout the years. Of the two grades constructed around Promontory Point, Central Pacific's is the famous one, and is maintained now by the Bureau of Land Management as a National Backcountry Byway, and is therefore in excellent condition, due also to the near desert-like conditions in the area. Between Promontory and Rozel, a record 10 miles of track was laid on April 28, 1868. Track has been reinstalled on some of the ROW around the Promontory National Historic Site. For about 100 miles or so west of Ogden, and particularly in the completely deserted area west of Promontory, the barely-used UP grade is clearly visible parallel to the maintained CP grade. Having been abandoned in 1870, less than a year after the Golden Spike was driven, it qualifies as one of the oldest abandoned grades that it still clearly visible today.
Stations along the famed "Golden Spike Route", between Lucin and Corrine in Utah:
- Lampo (Blue Creek)
- Umbria Junction