Transcontinental Railroad - TravelStorys

Transcontinental Railroad

Location Trip Time Travel Type
Utah 2 hours

Travel the Original Rail where East Meets West

About This Tour

All aboard the Transcontinental Railroad!

This trip will take you down 90 miles of the original hand-constructed Transcontinental Railroad grade. You will pass through multiple ghost towns, seeing old foundations, earthworks, culverts, and trestles, which carried the old steam engines, passengers, and Western adventurers into new and undiscovered country.

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed a law creating a transcontinental railroad to connect the East to the West for rapid expansion and the transfer of goods. At the time, it took over a year to travel across the country by wagon.

Two companies set to the task, with Union Pacific Railroad starting in Omaha, Nebraska, and laying track heading west, while Central Pacific Railroad started in Sacramento, California, and began to lay track heading east. Both companies were new and required the hiring of thousands of workers, most of whom were of Chinese, Mormon, or Irish descent. The project took six years and 1,800 miles of railroad track to complete. On May 10th, 1869, the two rail lines met at Promontory, Utah, now known as the Golden Spike National Historical Park.

Townsites popped up all over the West as men and women flocked to start businesses and build their legacies next to the railroad line. Many townsites, such as Omaha, Cheyenne, Reno, and Sacramento became prominent cities. The towns in Utah's West Desert -- the area you'll travel through on this tour -- weren't so lucky. The original railroad line crossed the West Desert and hosted 28 sidings, stations, and associated towns that serviced up to ten trains a day. This section, called the Promontory Branch, was built by Central Pacific Railroad, which was later purchased by South Pacific Railroad, who built a shorter route across the Great Salt Lake in 1904, called the Lucin Cutoff. As trains passing through the West Desert townsites became fewer and further between, homes and businesses were abandoned due to the lack of water and commerce. Use of this section of the Transcontinental Railroad ended altogether at the start of World War II, when the rails along the Promontory Branch were removed to be melted down for war efforts.

In 1992, the Bureau of Land Management was deeded the Promontory Branch of the Transcontinental Railroad and began to manage the railroad grade as a National Backcountry Byway.

Sample Stories

For more content, click the "Explore this Tour Remotely" button below.


Click here to see a transcript of this story.


Click here to see a transcript of this story.