by Louise R. SHAW
Most days, you probably don’t even notice them.
Unless they’re blocking your route from one side of town to the other, or sounding their horns at an otherwise quiet moment, the trains that cut Davis County in half don’t draw much attention to themselves.
They’ve just always been there, chugging alongside I-15 sometimes faster, sometimes slower than traffic, taking who-knows-what to who-knows-where in tank cars or flat-bed cars or container cars often covered in graffiti.
But every once in a while, someone does stop and look – and wonder.
Kaysville resident Kerry Robinson has watched the trains pass by sometimes, or stop dead in their tracks other times.
He has seen trains pulling dozens of car carriers and others full of wood products, and he contacted the Clipper about learning more.
Here are a few facts from Justin Jacobs, director of media relations for Union Pacific Railroad, the line that most often can be seen running through Davis County.
“Anything that’s delivered to us and packaged according to U.S. Department of Transportation standards we’re obligated to transport,” said Jacobs, who is based in California and represents Union Pacific in seven western states.
It might be televisions or it might be USB drives. It might be fresh and frozen food, lumber, cement or minerals. It might be “just about anything,” he said. “Anything that American families use in their households daily.”
Jacobs estimated that between 25 and 30 trains per day run through Davis County between Ogden and Salt Lake City.
One train can move what it would take 275 to 300 trucks to carry, he said.
“We can move one ton of freight 465 miles on a single gallon of diesel,” said Jacobs, “and we’re always working to improve that.”
“Railroads provide the safest, most fuel efficient and most environmentally responsible mode of ground freight transportation,” he said. “They’re four times more fuel efficient than trucks and they keep the goods and services American families use every day on the move.”
Engines and cars often bear the company motto: Building America.
There are 1,248 miles of track in Utah, according to information provided by Union Pacific. Employees number 1,248 with an annual payroll of $119.5 million.
In 2017 alone, 234,341 rail cars originated in Utah and 188,687 terminated here.
“Utah is a vital crossroads for Union Pacific,” reads a fact sheet produced by UP. “Main lines radiate in every direction from Salt Lake City-Ogden, moving metals, minerals, manufactured products, coal, automobiles and other commodities across the country … This hub is pivotal to connecting customers across Union Pacific’s network and ensuring the efficient, flexible and safe transport of international commerce.”
The top five commodities shipped through Utah in 2016 were intermodal-wholesale such as electronics, toys, furniture and clothing, followed by coal, non-metallic minerals, hazardous waste and sulfur.
The top five commodities received in the state during the same year, also by volume, were intermodal-wholesale, coal, hazardous waste, assembled autos and liquid petroleum gas.
The rail that transports the materials through Davis County is alongside the FrontRunner track so it does not share the same track with public transport. It is maintained by UP, but trackage rights might also be offered to other railroad lines such as BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe).
Schedules for train runs are not available to the public. Utah train runs are scheduled – much like an air traffic control tower coordinates flights – through the Harriman Dispatching Center in Omaha, Neb., according to Jacobs.
If a train stops mid-run, it could be due to a variety of factors, said Jacobs. There could be an accident, it could be it is taking time for a customer to receive and unload a shipment, it could be it is waiting on one track for a train to pass on another in a different direction, it could be the engineers stopped the train due to a concern or for safety reasons.
Union Pacific Railroad recently announced a $59.3 million commitment to Utah rails. One of three major projects is the replacement of 28 miles of rail west of the Great Salt Lake.
“We have a responsibility to safely and efficiently move the products required by our customers – the businesses serving American consumers and supporting our country’s way of life,” said Jacobs.