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1905 (San Pedro) Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad

Roach Lake, Jean, Nv.

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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