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Union Pacific Railroad
System map
The meeting of the lines of the First Transcontinental Railroad
Locale Box Elder County, Utah
Dates of operation May 10, 1869–January, 1905
Successor Lucin Cutoff
Track gauge 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge)

Promontory in Box Elder County, Utah, United States, is notable as the location of Promontory Summit where the United States' first Transcontinental Railroad was officially completed on May 10, 1869.

It is at an elevation of 1494 meters (4902 ft) above sea level.[1] Promontory is 51 km (32 mi) west of Brigham City, Utah and 107 km (66 mi) northwest of Salt Lake City, and north of the Great Salt Lake.


Railroad history

The Last Spike, by Thomas Hill, (1881)

In May 1869, the railheads of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads finally met at Promontory Summit. The ceremony to drive in the Last Spike was originally to be held on May 8, but was postponed two days because of bad weather and a labor dispute on the Union Pacific side.

On May 10, in anticipation of the ceremony, Union Pacific No. 119 and Central Pacific No. 60 (better known as the Jupiter) locomotives were drawn up face-to-face on Promontory Summit, separated only by the width of a single tie. It is unknown how many people attended the event; estimates run from as low as 500 to as many as 3,000 government and railroad officials and track workers who were present to witness the event.

However, although eastern and western railroads had met, the transcontinental railroad was not yet coast-to-coast. It was not until September 1869, that the Mossdale bridge across the San Joaquin River near Lathrop, California was completed. This vertical lift drawbridge was the final section in uninterrupted travel across continental America.


Aerial view of the trestle over the northern part of the Great Salt Lake west of Ogden in Box Elder County, Utah in August 1972. The replacement causeway is to the right.
The Golden Spike National Historic Site, with replicas of No. 119 and the Jupiter facing each other to re-enact the driving of the Golden Spike.

Promontory Summit remained in use for 35 years. But, despite its historic importance, it was part of a large detour undertaken by the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific railroads because of the Great Salt Lake. Union Pacific engineers had initially considered a direct route across the lake but instead opted for the surveyed line over Promontory Summit.

This changed when the Southern Pacific Company built a railroad trestle between Ogden, Utah and Lucin, Utah. The Lucin Cutoff, which was constructed between February 1902 and March 1904, completely bypassed Promontory Summit. After this point, rail traffic rarely used the original route. In 1942 the rails over Promontory's "Old Line" were lifted for use in WWII's war effort.

By crossing the lake, the new railroad route avoided 43 miles of curvatures and grades. In the 1950s the trestle bridge was replaced with a parallel causeway built by the Morrison Knudsen construction company. Southern Pacific continued to maintain the wooden trestle as a back-up for several decades although its last significant rail traffic was in the early 1960s.

But by the 1980s the trestle's condition had began to seriously deteriorate. Beginning in March 1993, the timber from the trestle has been salvaged and removed.[2]

Later use

Promontory was the site of a temporary city during and shortly after the construction of the railroad, but this was then dismantled. The area has never had any permanent population. Since 1957 Promontory Summit has been preserved as part of the Golden Spike National Historic Site administered by the National Park Service.

Although there is no longer a continuous railroad track running through Promontory, Utah, a 1½ mile section of track was relaid for Centennial anniversary in 1969. The NPS now operates replicas of the UP #119 and the Jupiter #60 on a seasonal basis. The original Jupiter was scrapped for iron in 1901 and No. 119 had been broken up two years later. The new ones were built in California in the 1970s with $1.5 million of federal funds. These were the first steam engines constructed in the United States since the late 1940s.


External links

Coordinates: 41°37′07″N 112°32′51″W / 41.61861°N 112.5475°W / 41.61861; -112.5475



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