Central Corridor (Union Pacific Railroad)

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Central Corridor
BNSF Moffat Tunnel Subdivision (16128745762).jpg
A BNSF Railway freight train passes the Gross Dam on the Moffat Tunnel Subdivision
Owner Union Pacific Railroad
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge

The Central Corridor is a rail line operated by the Union Pacific Railroad from near Winnemucca, Nevada to Denver, Colorado in the western United States.[1] The line was created after the merger with the Southern Pacific Transportation Company by combining portions of lines built by former competitors. No portion of the line was originally built by the Union Pacific; in fact, some portions were built specifically to compete with the Union Pacific's Overland Route. The line is known for significant feats of engineering while crossing the Wasatch Mountains of Utah and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The line features numerous tunnels, the longest and highest of these is the Moffat Tunnel.


The line is primarily used for freight by the Union Pacific. The BNSF Railway has trackage rights on the entire line; the Utah Railway has trackage rights from Salt Lake City to Grand Junction, Colorado. However, parts of the line host significant passenger rail traffic. Amtrak's California Zephyr uses the entire length of the Central Corridor, as part of its San FranciscoChicago route. In addition, the portion from Salt Lake City to Provo, Utah hosts a separate, dedicated track built by the Utah Transit Authority for the southern half of the FrontRunner commuter rail service.

Route description[edit]


Proceeding east out of Winnemucca, the route follows the Humboldt River, in a directional running setup with the Overland Route until Wells, Nevada.[1] From Wells to Salt Lake, the route, known as the Shafter Subdivision, loosely follows the historical route of the Hastings Cutoff, tunneling underneath the Pequop Mountains and crossing the Toano Range via Silver Zone Pass. The eastern approach to Silver Zone Pass features a near 360 degree horseshoe curve known as the Arnold loop. After crossing these mountain ranges the route proceeds southwest towards the Great Salt Lake Desert. In Nevada, Interstate 80 follows the Central Corridor, though the two routes are several miles apart in places.[2]


The route enters Utah at Wendover and crosses the Great Salt Lake Desert and the Bonneville Salt Flats, parallel to Interstate 80 and the Wendover Cut-off, en route to the southern shore of the Great Salt Lake and Salt Lake City. Upon reaching Salt Lake City, the line turns south and follows the Jordan River through Point of the Mountain towards Spanish Fork.

After Spanish Fork, the rail line joins the U.S. Route 6 corridor, and the two follow each other towards Denver. Both routes follow the Spanish Fork River up a grade in the Wasatch Plateau, cresting at Soldier Summit. The western approach to Soldier Summit is known for the Gilluly loops, a series of horseshoe curves that allow the railroad to crest the mountains while maintaining grade that never exceeds 2.4%, unlike the highway, which was built using an older railroad grade, that features grades in excess of 5%.[3] The railroad descends from Soldier Summit following the Price River until reaching the town of Helper, so named because in the era of steam locomotives, the railroad added or removed helper engines here for trains crossing Soldier Summit. Upon exiting the Wasatch Mountains, the train follows the southern rim of the Book Cliffs, in route serving the towns of Woodside, Green River (where the rail line crosses the Green River), Thompson Springs and Cisco. Near Cisco is where the rail line for the first time meets the Colorado River, which provides the path up the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. The rail line follows and crosses the river numerous times in Colorado while ascending the Rockies. Ruby Canyon is where the rail line reaches the state line.


The highest point on the line is the Moffat Tunnel. Aside from the now dormant line over Tennessee Pass, this is the highest point on the Union Pacific System.[4]


All of the Central Corridor was built by former competitors to the Union Pacific. The portion from Winnemucca to Salt Lake City, Utah was originally part of the Feather River Route, built by the Western Pacific Railroad, acquired by the Union Pacific in 1983. The portion from Salt Lake City to Grand Junction, Colorado is the former Utah Division of the Denver and Rio Grande Western (D&RGW). From Grand Junction to Dotsero, Colorado was part of the Tennessee Pass Line, also built by the D&RGW. From Dotsero to Bond, Colorado is the former Dotsero Cutoff, built by the D&RGW as a connection between their main line with the main of the unfinished Denver and Salt Lake Railroad, which provided the connection from Bond to Denver, Colorado. The portion east of Salt Lake City came under the Union Pacific's control from the 1996 acquisition of the Southern Pacific Transportation Company.[5] The Western Pacific and D&RGW portions of the line were part of the Gould transcontinental system.


  1. ^ a b UPRR Common Line Names (PDF) (Map). Union Pacific Railroad. Retrieved 4 Jan 2009. 
  2. ^ Nevada Road and Recreation Atlas (Map). 1:250000. Benchmark Maps. 2003. ISBN 0-929591-81-X. 
  3. ^ Carr, Stephen L.; Edwards, Robert W. (1989). Utah Ghost Rails. Western Epics. pp. 174, 193–194. ISBN 0-914740-34-2. 
  4. ^ "UP:Highest Elevations". Union Pacific Railroad. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 
  5. ^ "Chronological History". Union Pacific Railroad. Retrieved 2010-11-03.