The hundred-mile-long Lucin Cutoff was engineered using earth and wood to allow trains to cross the Great Salt Lake.
In 1904, trains began rumbling across the Lucin Cutoff, a unique specimen of railroad engineering that except for brief contact with solid ground at Promontory Point, bridged the entire breadth of the Great Salt Lake. Since the 1869 meeting of the Union and Central Pacific railroads at Promontory Summit, trains had been forced to make a series of steep climbs, using helper engines, through the Promontory and Hogback mountains north of the big lake. By the 1890s, this old route had simply become too costly for the railroads, and they began searching for a new course for their trains to take.
The idea they came up with was to span the Great Salt Lake using earth fill and a wooden trestle. Construction started in 1902. Nearly 40,000 trees were used to make piles for the 12-mile-long trestle, while 2 million board feet of redwood decking was used to fashion the trestle’s actual railbed. According to one historian of the Cutoff, enough wood went into the portions of the trestle above the waterline that they could have been used to build a four-foot-wide boardwalk from Boston to Buffalo. Nearly 1,000 railroad cars and 80 locomotives were also used on the project.
The Cutoff took a year to complete at a cost of more than 8 million dollars, but trains didn’t start using it until March of 1904. The original path of the Cutoff remained in use for more than 50 years, until the Southern Pacific Railroad, the cutoff’s owner, decided to build a causeway made only of earth fill. By 1959, the new causeway was done and the old Cutoff became obsolete. In 1993, a salvage company began a program to dismantle the trestle portion of the cutoff, and by 2000, this unique piece of Utah history was gone.
Image: Southern Pacific Railroad- Lucin Cutoff. Southern Pacific train on the on Lucin Cutoff, c. 1905. Courtesy of Utah State Historical Society.
Frederick M. Huchel, A History of Box Elder County (Salt Lake City: Box Elder County Commission and Utah State Historical Society, 1999), 192-197. On the salvage project see www.trestlewood.com/story.jsp.