Simon Bamberger had a dream to build a railroad line that would connect the city of Ogden to Salt Lake City. Simon was a local railroad entrepreneur and one day would be the fourth governor of Utah. He could see the advantages of having a railroad line that would tie the two major cities together along with the smaller cities in between.
The idea of the railroad was first projected as early as 1891 and it was to be a steam line. The dream came true in 1908 when the railroad line officially connected Ogden to Salt Lake City and opened for business. Five daily trains ran both directions, giving the public a variety of schedules to choose from. The Ogden Depot was located on Lincoln Avenue just north of 24th street. On May 28, 1910, the trains were converted from a steam operation to an electric operation. Since Simon Bamberger owned the Bamberger Corporation which managed the building and funding of the railroad, the railroad adopted the name Bamberger Electric Railway. It was mainly a passenger railway but it did provide freight services too.
The Union Pacific also had a train line that ran from Ogden to Salt Lake City, but it didn’t make stops to the small towns along the way. The Bamberger Railroad train did, which gave it an advantage over its competitor. Residents from Clinton, West Point, Syracuse and Clearfield took advantage of these stops and used the rail for work transportation as well as entertainment transportation to the larger cities. In 1914, the railway connected Ogden to Preston, Idaho.
When Pat Schneiter was seven or eight, she rode the railway from Ogden to Preston to see her grandparents. “I enjoyed the train ride, it was comfortable and fun. I did have an odd experience when I used the train’s restroom though, when I flushed the toilet, the bottom opened up and everything went onto the train tracks below as we rushed by,” she recalled. Decades later she still thinks about this often and how it wasn’t a good system.
Simon Bamberger was also a part owner of the Lagoon Amusement Park. To attract riders and increase business for Lagoon and the railway, he had a midway constructed close to the amusement park.
Clark Olsen of Syracuse remembers riding on the train as a young boy in the 1950’s to the Lagoon Amusement Park. “It cost me twenty-five or fifty cents to ride the train to Lagoon. Back then that seemed like a million dollars but it was worth it. The train was fun to ride on but it didn’t have any glass in the windows.”
The Bamberger Railroad like any other business had its challenges. It suffered from two devastating fires that caused great damage to the infrastructure both times. Materials for the repairs were costly and hard to come by. The Great Depression also impacted business. People were out of work and businesses closed; therefore fewer people were riding on the railway and the freight part of the business wasn’t being used to capacity. World War II also affected business when many people quit riding the railway. The growing use of personal automobiles and the new state highways began to decrease the number of riders too.
To keep up with the competition of personal cars, in 1938, the Bamberger Company purchased what was known as bullet cars. The cars were built to accommodate the passengers better and improve the railways schedules. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough to encourage riders so the Bamberger stopped its operations in 1955.
There are still some visible signs of the railway in existence. The Union Pacific Railroad still uses a portion of the line while old unused sections can be seen around the old Hill Air Force Base west entrance. Parts of Interstate 15 between Layton and Woods Cross are built on the railways old path. Although the Bamberger Electric Railway isn’t here anymore, it left an impression in the unique history of Utah.
Christy Frazier is an author. You can learn more about her books at pocketcheerleader.com