The Railroad in the Great Salt Lake: The Lucin Cut-off

The Lucin Cutoff is today’s Union Pacific mainline across the Great Salt Lake between Lucin and Ogden, UT, and remains an incredible feat of engineering even to this day. 

Construction of the Lucin Cutoff

The Cutoff was built by the Southern Pacific in 1904, and at 102 miles in length, it shaved 44 miles off of the Original Transcontinental Railroad route, and also featured an easier grade, only having to traverse over water as opposed to varying land. 

Laying track on the wooden trestle of the original grade.

The original route was only used for local farming customers and passengers, while mainline traffic used the Cutoff. 

What had originated thanks to a war was also abandoned as a result of war. The Transcontinental Railroad's original alignment around the Great Salt Lake would be abandoned in its entirety in 1942, with the iron rails reclaimed to aid in the effort of World War II, with the exception of the area around Promontory Point, which is now part of Golden Spike National Park.

The line even had station in the middle of the lake, Mid Lake, shown on the postcard above.

The original design featured a 12 mile long wooden trestle, which was abandoned in the 1950’s. A rock causeway built immediately north of the former line is still in service today. The location of the earlier wooden trestle is easily found on our abandoned railroads map. One issue this causes is that water from above the cutoff does not mix easily with water below it, since the Cutoff obstructs the flow, and thus water north of the Cutoff often appears brown, while water south of the Cutoff is usually more green.

Note the diversion away from the original alignment visible in the center of this photo. Image: Union Pacific

Sadly, the Lucin Cutoff was also the location of the Bagley Train Wreck, a rear end collision, which occurred on December 31st, 1944 and claimed the lives of 50 people on board. Standard-Examiner describes the scene as occurring in a "thick fog when a mail express train failed to slow down for a caution signal and smashed full speed at 60 mph into the rear of the Pullman car of a passenger train, slowed down to 18 mph for a freight train ahead with mechanical problems."

"This archival photo shows the wreckage where about 50 people, most of them servicemen, were killed when two Southern Pacific trains collided on the Lucin cutoff west of Ogden on Dec. 31, 1944." Deseret Morning News Archives

At least some accounts of the crash suggest that the engineer of the mail train may have suffered a heart attack and died seconds before the crash happened, and since no tracking or recording technology was available on trains in those days, no one will ever really know for sure the cause of the crash, outside of one train striking another.

Thanks as always for reading!


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