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1905 (San Pedro) Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad

Roach Lake, Jean, Nv.

San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad (1901-1916)

The San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad (SPLA&SL) was a significant transportation route in the early 20th century, connecting the port city of Los Angeles with Salt Lake City, Utah. Here is a detailed history of the railroad from its inception to its absorption into the Union Pacific Railroad.

Founding and Early Development (1901-1905)


The SPLA&SL was incorporated, spearheaded by Senator William A. Clark, a wealthy copper magnate from Montana. Clark saw the potential for a direct route between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, envisioning a railroad that would facilitate trade and transport between the Pacific Coast and the interior West.

Construction Begins:

Construction commenced soon after the incorporation, with crews working from both Los Angeles and Salt Lake City toward a meeting point in the middle. The challenging terrain included deserts, mountains, and river crossings.

Completion and Early Operations (1905)


The railroad was completed, marking a significant achievement in connecting two major cities across difficult terrain. The completion provided a more direct route for passengers and freight, bypassing the longer routes previously necessary.

Service Initiates:

The railroad began operating passenger and freight services, contributing to the growth of the cities and towns along its route. Key stops included Barstow, Las Vegas, and various smaller communities that benefited from improved access to goods and markets.

Economic Impact and Expansion (1905-1910)

Economic Boom:

The railroad spurred economic growth along its route. Las Vegas, in particular, saw rapid development due to the railroad's influence, eventually becoming a significant hub.

Expansion and Improvements:

The SPLA&SL continued to improve its infrastructure, laying additional tracks, building stations, and upgrading facilities to handle increasing traffic.

Challenges and Changes (1910-1916)

Financial Difficulties:

Despite its success, the SPLA&SL faced financial challenges, partly due to the high costs of construction and maintenance in the harsh desert environment.

Union Pacific Involvement:

The Union Pacific Railroad, seeing the strategic value of the SPLA&SL route, began acquiring shares and influencing the railroad's operations. This involvement helped stabilize the financial situation but also signaled a shift in control.

Merger and Absorption (1916)


The SPLA&SL was officially merged into the Union Pacific Railroad. This merger marked the end of the SPLA&SL as an independent entity but ensured that its valuable route continued to serve as a vital link in the Union Pacific's network.


The route established by the SPLA&SL remained an essential part of the Union Pacific's operations, contributing to the ongoing economic development of the regions it served.


The San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad played a crucial role in the development of the southwestern United States, particularly in promoting the growth of Las Vegas and improving transportation between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. Its legacy continues through the routes still in use by the Union Pacific Railroad today.

This summary captures the major events and significance of the SPLA&SL from its founding to its merger into the Union Pacific Railroad.

Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad (1916-1936)

The Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad (LASL), also known as the "Salt Lake Route," had a significant impact on the development of transportation and commerce between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City during its operational years from 1916 to 1936. Here’s a detailed history of the LASL during this period:

Transition and Early Years (1916-1920)

1916: The San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad was officially merged into the Union Pacific Railroad, and the line was renamed the Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad. This transition marked the beginning of a new era under Union Pacific’s management. Operational Changes: Under Union Pacific’s control, the LASL benefited from increased investment in infrastructure and rolling stock. The focus was on enhancing the efficiency and reliability of the line, ensuring it could handle more traffic and provide better service.

Infrastructure Improvements and Expansion (1920-1930)

Track Upgrades:

Significant efforts were made to upgrade the tracks, including double-tracking key segments and improving signaling systems. These improvements helped to reduce travel times and increase the capacity of the line.

Station Enhancements:

Major stations along the route, including those in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Salt Lake City, saw renovations and expansions. These upgrades improved passenger amenities and streamlined freight handling. Expansion into New Markets: The LASL expanded its reach into new markets, fostering economic growth in the areas it served. The railroad played a crucial role in transporting agricultural products, minerals, and other goods to and from the interior West.

Economic Challenges and Adaptation (1930-1936)

Great Depression:

The onset of the Great Depression in 1929 posed significant challenges for the LASL. Passenger and freight traffic declined sharply as economic activity slowed.

Operational Adjustments:

In response to the economic downturn, the LASL made several operational adjustments, including reducing services, cutting costs, and seeking new revenue sources. Efforts were made to attract more business by offering competitive rates and improving service reliability.

Technological Innovations:

During this period, the LASL began to adopt new technologies to improve efficiency. This included the introduction of diesel-electric locomotives, which offered better performance and lower operating costs compared to steam engines.

Union Pacific Absorption and Legacy (1936)


The LASL was fully absorbed into the Union Pacific Railroad, becoming a part of its extensive network. This absorption marked the end of the LASL as a distinct entity, but its legacy continued through the continued operation of its routes.


The LASL left a lasting legacy on the regions it served. It played a vital role in the development of cities like Las Vegas, which grew significantly due to the railroad’s presence. The LASL’s routes remained an important part of Union Pacific’s operations, contributing to the efficient transportation of goods and passengers across the western United States.


The Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad was a crucial transportation link between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City during its 20-year existence. Despite facing significant challenges, including the Great Depression, the LASL managed to adapt and continue providing valuable services until its absorption into the Union Pacific Railroad. Its impact on the economic development of the regions it served and its contributions to the growth of key cities like Las Vegas remain noteworthy aspects of its history.

The San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad (often abbreviated SPLA&SL), which later became known as the Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad, was a significant railway in the development of the American West. Here's an overview of its history:

Founding and Construction

Early 1900s:

The SPLA&SL was formed in 1901 by a group of investors led by Senator William A. Clark of Montana. Clark was a mining magnate and entrepreneur interested in establishing a rail connection from his mines in Utah to the Pacific Coast.


The railroad was designed to connect Salt Lake City, Utah, to San Pedro, California, where it could reach the ports of Los Angeles. This route was strategically chosen to serve the booming mining and agricultural industries in Utah and Nevada.

Expansion and Operation

Construction Challenges:

The construction of the railroad was fraught with difficulties, including harsh desert conditions and financial challenges. Despite these obstacles, the line was completed in 1905.

Growth and Development:

The railroad played a pivotal role in the development of Southern California, particularly in the growth of towns and cities along its route. It also helped in the establishment of infrastructure like ports and terminal facilities in San Pedro and Los Angeles.

Ownership and Influence

Union Pacific Railroad:

In 1903, even before the line was completed, Clark negotiated a deal with E.H. Harriman of the Union Pacific Railroad, where both parties agreed to joint control of the SPLA&SL.

Full Control by Union Pacific:

By 1921, Union Pacific had acquired full control of the railroad and it was rebranded as the Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad. This acquisition helped Union Pacific extend its reach to the Pacific Coast.

Impact and Legacy

Economic Impact:

The railroad was crucial in facilitating the transport of goods, particularly minerals and agricultural products, to larger markets. This substantially boosted the economies of Utah, Nevada, and Southern California.

Cultural and Social Influence:

The railroad also had a significant impact on the migration patterns and settlement of people in the western United States, contributing to the population growth and urbanization of regions along its route.

Decline and Absorption

Mid-20th Century:

As road transport became more prevalent and economical, railroads like the Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad saw a decline in passenger and freight services.

Final Years:

The railroad officially ceased to exist as a separate entity in 1988 when it was fully absorbed into the Union Pacific Railroad system.

The San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad remains a critical chapter in the history of rail transport in the United States, illustrating the transformative impact of railroads on regional development and economic integration in the American West.
Nevada, like many states, has railroads at the heart of its modern development, with Reno, Sparks, Las Vegas, Caliente, Winnemucca, and many other towns founded with the arrival of rail. While railroads are hardly top of mind in the 21st century, reconnecting with their value to a well-working, sustainable society is key to Nevada’s future.

When people in the United States are asked about railroads the almost universal response proceeds down a dual path. One is that people immediately think about passenger rail, not freight rail, wondering aloud why the U.S. doesn’t have beautiful trains like Europe or Asia. The second path is where they share their latent enthusiasm for trains in general. While the paucity of passenger train service in the U.S. provides one impression of rail in our country, people are usually surprised to learn that the U.S. freight rail system, unlike our passenger rail system, is a global leader.

Yet, despite this leadership, North America shares a dynamic with the rest of the world, wherein freight railroads’ market share of land transportation lags problematically behind truck transport. The early 20th century saw the U.S., which already benefited from a privately owned rail network of 254,000 miles, choose to make direct public investments toward a system of roads for both passengers and freight. While this road network has supported massive population and industrial growth, its public subsidization has been a major influence on the rail system’s contraction to 134,000 route miles.

The Nevada rail system has receded from its 1914 peak of 2,422 miles to its current 1,193 miles while the state’s population and industrial activity continue to expand. The Nevada State Rail Plan (NVSRP) has been created in support of Nevada’s commitment to creating a balanced transportation system that moves goods and people sustainably.

Below is a history of the railroad in Nevada.

Sometime around 1860, an application was made before the state's first legislature for a railroad franchise from Carson City to Virginia City.

In 1862, President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Bill into law – a law that provided federal aid to private entities to construct a transcontinental railroad.

The Pacific Railroad Bill provided that the Union Pacific would build westward and that the Central Pacific would build eastward. This was the beginning of what would be a race to construct rail across the country connecting the eastern U.S. and the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. That race concluded in 1869 when the two railroads met.

In 1868, Reno (previously Lake's Crossing, a camping place for passing travelers) became a city after a railway agent held an auction of real estate.

In 1890, Union Pacific Railroad began construction of the Salt Lake route across Nevada to connect Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. Legislation passed in 1901 allowed the railroad to build across southern Nevada. Railroad developers determined that the water-rich Las Vegas Valley would be a prime location for a stop facility and a town. The tracks reached Las Vegas in 1904.

In 1905 Southern Pacific Railroad established the town of Sparks, Nevada (first called East Reno) and later named Sparks in honor of then-Governor John Sparks.

In 1931, the Union Pacific constructed a rail line requiring the construction of five tunnels through the rock hills linking Las Vegas to Boulder City (for additional information Construction was completed in 1935. Shortly thereafter, the Six Companies, Inc. Railroad branch used to construct Hoover Dam was decommissioned and the rails removed.

Throughout the history of rail in Nevada and the country, miles upon miles of track were laid, many strikes paralyzed transcontinental rail operations, mergers and acquisitions occurred, rail touched some cities and created others, rail brought people and goods to the mines, the ocean and the rivers – it connected a country.


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