With all the talk of light-rail systems to ease downtown congestion and relieve commuter headaches, many may have forgotten a type of light-rail service operated along the Wasatch Front during the first half of the 20th century.
Not the sleek, streamlined cars in such places as Portland, Sacramento and Buffalo, N.Y. No, these were the days of the large, perhaps more impressive interurbans running in three directions from Salt Lake City and another between Ogden and Preston, Idaho.But not since the 1952 demise of the Bamberger have these rail cars, which got their power from overhead wires, rumbled down Utah streets or on private rights of way through rural areas.
And many people might be surprised today to learn how close they live to what was once interurban right of way (see listings on B2). In some places, traces of these lines still remain.
In fact, the rights of way could one day be used again if rumblings about a new light-rail system pan out. Although many of the rights of way have been purchased for private dwellings and would not be available, those north of Ogden and south of Salt Lake Valley could be used if a light rail catches on.
"The fact that they (the rights of way) are there would definitely be a boon if a light rail is opted for and becomes more popular," said Craig Rasmussen, spokesman for Utah Transit Authority, which is studying the light-rail concept. "It's always nice to have a few options down the road - or down the rail line, as it were. To find out the rights of way are available for future potential pursuit is a positive factor."
Rasmussen said a light rail could be the wave of the future instead of a thing of the past.
"The demise of those old interurbans wasn't because they weren't efficient," he said. "What happened was the war ended and we turn out automobiles like gangbusters, and the rage is to get your own wheels."
Those responsible for dismantling the interurban operations, especially in the urban areas served by the Salt Lake & Utah, have done such a good job that few traces remain. In one instance, officials of the Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant chain, whose marketing strategy includes the use of old streetcars - or replicas of old streetcars - were unaware of the Orem's existence when planning one of their restaurants at the Family Center at Midvalley, 5718 S. 19th West. The building is within feet - and may be right on - the former Orem right-of-way.
The oversight is especially significant because each Spaghetti Factory features a streetcar in its dining area, and the one at the Family Center features a blue car from the Salt Lake Light & Railway Co. The restaurant's menu makes no mention of the Orem Line.
Bob Barr, marketing director for the restaurant parent company, OSF International, said company executives were unaware of the building's proximity to the former Orem line.
"I'm disappointed that it got by me," Barr said. He added that references to the Orem Line would be included in future menus once the historical information was verified.
What was it like when Utah was cross-stitched with train tracks? Cars on the Bamberger Railroad sped between Salt Lake City and Ogden; the red cars of the Salt Lake & Utah - or Orem line - ran through West Jordan, Riverton, Pleasant Grove, Provo and Springville en route to Payson on one line and through what is now West Valley City to Magna on another; and the Salt Lake, Garfield & Western, known for short as the Saltair, made a beeline on South Temple for the Saltair pavilion on the southeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake.
The nearly 198-mile run between Preston, Idaho, and Payson using the Utah Idaho Central, Bamberger and Orem constituted one of the nation's longest continuous interurban journeys west of the Mississippi. It was also one of the most interesting with its mountain and valley scenery, especially the climbs between Brigham City and Wellsville on the north and the passage through the Jordan Narrows on the south.
The only Salt Lake & Utah track still in place is the stretch that crosses Third West at Brooklyn Avenue (1450 South) from northeast to southwest. It is now a spur of the Denver, Rio Grande and Western.
The Bamberger right-of-way from Clearfield almost to the Ogden outskirts is still in place - although one stretch was relocated because of I-15 construction in the '70s - and is owned by the Union Pacific. The line, however, is single-tracked.