Transcontinental Railroad

Rails of History

The Transcontinental Railroad Back Country Byway represents an epic achievement in American history, linking East to West in the new nation. Today the landscape looks much the same as it did in 1869, but the rails, the towns, and even the lonely rail sidings are gone. Now the visitor can only imagine the vision and effort of those who struggled to build the nation's first transcontinental railroad.

The Central Pacific Railroad began laying track east from Sacramento in 1863. After tackling the rugged terrain of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and crossing the Great Basin, the railroad reached Utah in March 1869. The Byway follows the last 90 miles of grade laid by the Central Pacific before their rails met the Union Pacific's at Promontory Summit.

As you travel west from Golden Spike National Historic Site, you can see two parallel grades. In an effort to reap greater government subsidies, the two competing railroads laid grade along side each other for over 200 miles.

On April 28, 1869, the Central Pacific crews laid 10 miles of track in one day, a record which resulted from a bet between the two railroads. The Central Pacific crews rested at Camp Victory (Rozel), just west of the back country byway information site.

After the rails were joined on May 10, 1869, the new railroad had to be operated and maintained. Along the Promontory Branch, 28 sidings, stations, and associated towns were built to service up to ten trains a day. From Kelton, with a population of about 700, a major stagecoach line and mail and freight route supplied Idaho, Oregon, and the Intermountain North. Terrace, with nearly 1000 residents, was the largest community and served as the maintenance headquarters for the Salt Lake Division. The town included a roundhouse, a machine shop, and an eight-track switch yard, along with hotels, a saloon/justice of the peace, a library/bathhouse, and many other thriving businesses.

The Promontory Branch of the railroad was replaced in 1904 by the Lucin Cutoff, a shorter route built on pilings across the Great Salt Lake. The original grade saw only local use afterwards, and railroad facilities and dependent towns were soon abandoned. The rails were removed in 1942 for use in the war effort.

Today cattle graze where once thousands labored to open the West to industry and commerce. The Transcontinental Railroad Back Country Byway is interpreted at over 30 sites along the grade. Enjoy the past as you travel this route on Utah's public lands.

Chinese grading crews--forgotten men

Nine of every ten men who built the Central Pacific Railroad were Chinese. Renowned for their reliability and industrious work ethic, they labored into Utah ten thousand strong with little more than picks, shovels, and black powder. Subsisting on tea, rice, and dried vegetables from China, they lived in segregated quarters in camps such as Lucin and Terrace.

The Transcontinental Railroad National Back Country Byway is administered by the Bureau of Land Management for public use and enjoyment. Due to its unique history and scenic beauty, the Transcontinental Railroad Grade is a designated Area of Critical Environmental Concern and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Cultural Resources

  • Enjoy but do not destroy America's heritage. Cultural resources are fragile, irreplaceable, and protected by law.
  • Digging or disturbing sites is illegal.
  • The Archaeological Resources Protection Act provides penalties up to $250,000 and 5 years imprisonment for violators.

Help Prevent Vandalism!

  • Notify the Box Elder County Sheriff (734-9441) or the BLM (1-800-722-3998) if you see someone violating the law. Make a note of physical descriptions and license plate numbers.

Off-highway Vehicle Regulations

  • Off-highway vehicle use is limited to the Byway corridor and other existing roads. Driving even one vehicle over the side of the grade and on untouched terrain can leave a scar that will last decades.
  • Respect adjacent private lands.
  • Chasing or harassing wildlife or livestock is illegal.

Camping

  • Camping is permitted on BLM lands.
  • DO NOT LITTER! Pack it in, pack it out.
  • Use firepans to contain campfires.

Facilities and Services

  • There are no facilities or services on the Transcontinental Railroad Back Country Byway. Make sure you have plenty of gas and water.
  • Gas and services are available in Snowville, Tremonton, Corinne or Brigham City to the east and Wendover to the west. Limited fuel services are available in Park Valley to the north and Montello to the west.
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