Roadtrip 2017 - 1: Salt & Light Rail (50 p.)
The video for this series (please set to 1080p quality / full-screen mode):
By the end of summer, I contemplated my next dream destination - at the back of my mind for over a decade I had these wonderful pictures you see now and again of the Nevada Northern Railway winter steam photo shoot. By mid-September the decision was made: I booked the second weekend of the event in February. The price / donation to the organization was 490$ - comparable to similar photo events in Europe.
Of course, you don't fly half way around the world for just one weekend, so a larger tour was constructed around it, revised several times, flight schedules checked, revised again. Finally, Salt Lake City presented itself as perfect option for start and finish of the trip. Delta is connecting SLC to Amsterdam and Paris several times per week, so I booked the route Vienna - Amsterdam - Salt Lake City - Paris - Vienna with KLM for slightly over 700$.
Nothing seemed to be in the way of our road trip - and a road trip it had to be, as public transport is largely unknown in these sparsely populated areas. This proved to be a new challenge for me, as I never drove such distances before. Additionally, my travel companion did not have a driving license, so the whole responsibility was on me.
The shock came in November, I never would have thought to travel to the U.S. under such circumstances. The theater became more and more surreal each day - the only consolation was: probably it would be safer to meet angry Hillary-supporters than angry Trump-supporters - and we would mostly drive through empty landscapes anyway. ;-)
During the journey it became obvious how apolitical parts of the American society are nowadays. Nobody we met spoke of the current situation, only once you turn on the TV it is discussed around the clock. It is also worth to mention that everyone was extremely friendly and hospitable, we did not have a single negative encounter.
February 13 2017
Monday afternoon we took a Railjet from Vienna Meidling station to the airport. A KLM Boeing 737-800 took us as flight KL 1848 from Schwechat, 5:05 p.m., to Amsterdam Schiphol, 7 p.m. On the flight west we chased the setting sun, it was not quite dark yet when we landed. Once more we had booked a design-hotel at the airport, the citizenM is about 5 minutes’ walk away from the terminal.
February 14 2017
We ate breakfast together with some tired characters at the bar. The luggage already had been checked through to Salt Lake City, so we just passed security and answered a few extra questions to a friendly lady for the flight to America.
On a very frosty morning - for the Netherlands - our Delta 767-300ER stood ready. Boarding took place on time, the seats were fine - even a tall person like me could find enough leg room.
We left the snow-covered coast behind at 10 a.m., to Salt Lake City we only would fly over water, snow or ice. Above the Atlantic I took pictures of these nice cloud formations. Already after an hour the crew served lunch – overall, we were fattened during the 9:30 h flight, on three occasions we received desserts with caramel sauce, once even ice cream - in winter.
We crossed Iceland shrouded in clouds, then traversed Greenland - the west coast with icebergs can be seen here to the right.
We watched iced-over Hudson Bay go by, then spent most of the time over Canada before the U.S.-border was reached in Montana from where we mostly flew southwards. The snow cover persisted right until we started descending above the Great Salt Lake.
During final approach, I took the first railroad photo of the trip with Union Pacific engines and cars.
Planned arrival was 12:37, but we rolled to the gate already at 11:45 a.m. We enjoyed it only shortly, as a crew announcement followed soon: "we wanted to please you with an early arrival, but we just learnt that the customs office only opens at 12:30". - Welcome to U.S.-bureaucracy! We could choose between waiting on the plane or standing in the corridor until 12:30. In the end, everything worked quite fast, I was only asked a few short questions by the nice immigration officer, fingerprints and photo were taken.
I had a cold most of the time and was quite tired - but the sun and crisp air outside woke me up, we are finally here! :-)
What do you least expect at an American airport? Well, since 2013 you can take a tram into town! The first line of the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) TRAX system had been opened in 1999, with extensions following until the 2002 Winter Olympic Games and after. Green Line 704 is in service since 2011, two years later it had been finished to the current terminals airport and West Valley Central.
TRAX is operated purely with Siemens light rail vehicles - here the newest class S70, known as "Avanto" in Europe.
Single and all day-tickets can be purchased cheaply at machines set up on every platform, they are valid for the extensive bus system as well. We took the next train to Courthouse stop, first on the overland section from the airport (see start of video), then through downtown.
In the city center several lines operate on the same tracks. A train consisting of two 2001-built Siemens SD-160 is leaving Courthouse station on the original Blue Line 701 towards Draper.
I had reserved all hotels for the trip on booking.com, but still possible to cancel until shortly before arrival. This first night we checked into the fancy Little America Hotel, even a (fake) fireplace could be found in the lobby.
However, our room was situated less glamorously in the motel courtyard. Although only few things could be criticized about the room, we chose another hotel for the stay two weeks later before the return flight.
After a short refreshment, we started the first exploration of the city - opposite ours was the Grand America Hotel.
We took the TRAX to Arena stop next to the first mansion of Salt Lake City, Devereaux House. Construction of the first building started in 1855, since 1880 it is largely preserved in its current form, after 1979 it was renovated.
In front of the former Union Pacific depot dating from 1908-09 - today part of "The Gateway" mall - the junction of line 701 to the current Salt Lake Central station and 704 towards the airport can be found.
Arena station in front of the Utah Jazz home arena, sadly no games while we were there.
An overview of downtown Salt Lake City, to the left some Mormon institutions, for example the tabernacle (round building). To the right the Plaza Hotel which I had booked for our return. I can only recommend it for a stay in the city, it is not as noble, but the rooms are good, it is not expensive, a relatively cheap restaurant is included and a parking garage is situated right next to the hotel.
Despite jetlag I did not want the first afternoon to pass without a short visit to the big railroad. On Google Street View I had scouted a level crossing north of the yard which can be reached by bus within about ten minutes. Sadly, we got off one stop early, but after a fifteen-minute-walk through an industrial area I caught my first ground-level glimpse of a Union Pacific train. The tracks along the right edge of the picture next to the dwarf signal are used by UTA FrontRunner commuter trains.
The view from Warm Springs Road next to Interstate 15 was a bit more hidden behind reeds than expected, even in winter. Still, I found a gap to capture this pair of EMD GP38-2 switchers lead by UP 847, in the background the city skyline and Wasatch Range. This sight is even more miraculous as the weather had been horrible during previous weeks, so bad that a local newspaper even had to assure readers: "no worry, the mountains are still standing"...
UP 2614, a brand-new GE ET44AC (Evolution Series Tier 4 (emission standard), 4400 HP, AC traction) at the rear of a westbound freight hid behind the reeds.
At 3:36 p.m. a scheduled passenger train passed by: a northbound FrontRunner service of line 750 Provo - Salt Lake City - Ogden. Units consist of a MPXpress MP36PH-3C locomotive, one refurbished New Jersey Transit Comet I car from the 1970s and Bombardier BiLevel coaches including cab car. All vehicles apart from the second-hand car have been built 2006-2007. We will ride on a train at the end of the journey.
More about FrontRunner:
Nothing else moved during our stay.
We returned to Beck Street, one of the dustiest places I got to know outside of India. In the background the Utah State Capitol, in front of it a run-down strip club and the bus stop with a broken bench.
The ideal spot to walk your chubby dogs...
Busses on the lines to Ogden were running frequently, but not regularly. We watched three busses go by into the other direction and had to wait for fifteen minutes until a bus of line 470 driven by a cool lady in shades and UTA-skicap picked us up. Outside bikes can be attached to front of the bus.
One more highlight of this excursion into a not-so-nice area: I have been to "Dexter Street" ;-)
Within minutes we returned to downtown Salt Lake City.
We walked to Temple Square, in the background you can spot a TRAX.
Everyone can inform him/herself about controversial Mormonism. I can only say this much: all the homeless people at every corner in the center of this comparatively small, rich city and all the empty magnificent buildings - this does not add up for me.
Also, once and again some of these friendly ladies and gentlemen are trying to convert you - well, thanks to us maybe one or another more atheist is living in Salt Lake City now... ;-)
Salt-Lake-Temple, the biggest Mormon temple, in neo-Gothic style - construction took from 1853 to 1893.
In front of the assembly hall finished in 1882.
An iPhone-image of the interior.
Glint on the streets with mountain view and TRAX.
We walked through the shopping mall and visited the food court.
City Center station under the walkway of the mall.
"Deseret" is a Mormon term signifying "honeybee". Originally the new state to be established here (larger than nowadays) was supposed to be called after it, but this scheme had to be abandoned due to confusion with the English word "desert". Instead, the name was "borrowed" from the Native Americans, so today the state is called "Utah".
Shortly before sunset we returned to the Little America Hotel.
The Grand America Hotel in last evening light.
February 15 2017
I did not sleep too well, thanks to jetlag I was awake in bed from midnight. Next morning, we took the breakfast buffet at a restaurant inside the main building. Europeans have to get used to American service culture including tipping. Afterwards we rolled our suitcases to the TRAX station. The display showed "Green Line - delay", without any further information. We needed to return to the airport, but it was unclear whether the line was currently operating at all. We took a Blue Line train to Temple Square, where we hoped to catch a cab in the worst case. The steep steps at the entrance of the old Siemens units are not ideal for transporting heavy suitcases - new trains could only be found on the airport line. At Temple Square it became clear that our trains was just a few minutes late, soon a new unit approached watched by artificial seagulls on the platform roof.
Confusing? The train showed up as "Blue Line", the driver had to announce at each stop that it actually was a Green Line service.
We arrived at the airport and walked to the rental car counter. I had booked an SUV via rentalcars.com with Alamo – a cheaper option for tourists from Europe. A trainee served me together with a manager. At first my reservation was not found, but she explained to him that there may be several foreign driver's licenses with identical numbers on file. Then the date format was a problem, but she mentioned that the Americans were the only ones in the world doing it differently, with the month as first digits.
Finally, I received the key, and we walked to our 2016 Chevrolet Equinox in the parking garage. I had to return to the counter once more, as they forgot the ordered satnav. It came in a separate bag with the provision that it would cost 250$ if not returned.
The only feature I did not need on this car were the tinted windows in the rear (and the ski-rack on the roof), but at least the view when reversing was fine thanks to a backup camera. A potential problem could be the lack of winter equipment - only all-weather tires were fitted, no snow tires, and snow chains were not available. Some passes on our route required chains or snow tires under certain weather conditions, just the Utah plates featuring a skier definitely would not help. ;-)
That day it was sunny, and our route mostly dead level. From the airport, we took Interstate 80 west. As I already knew from reports the week before the Lucin Cutoff railroad line across the Great Salt Lake further north was blocked due to a dam breaking near the Nevada border. This meant: freight trains were queueing on this side of the lake!
As my hands had to stick to the steering wheel, all photos while driving have been taken by the "third hand" with Canon EOS 450D.
Near Magna the current UP-lines split up into the former Western Pacific line west across the Salt Flats to Wendover - which we will follow next - and the line south to Las Vegas - which we were about to join again a few days later. Some switching action was going on in the distance, after that nothing moved at all.
Kennecott Utah Copper LLC’s Garfield smelter stack in the background is the fourth tallest in the world at 1215 feet (370 meters) and the tallest free standing building in the U.S. west of the Mississippi.
We drove off the freeway at the Great Saltair concert hall, I immediately came across another railroad vehicle.
These Canada geese also seemed interested...
... in UP-trains in front of the Wasatch Range at the shore of the Great Salt Lake.
iPhone-panorama with Saltair - people are walking across the lake as many visible footprints indicate.
Next time we continue our road trip into the Wild West! :-)
GREAT JOB! Thanks for sharing your hard work. Made a nice Sunday afternoon "armchair trip" to a great place.
Watch out for those "hombres" when you get into the Wild West.
Ronik, Welcome to the USofA! Thanks for taking the time to post your outstanding photos and story. I will be interested in seeing the rest of your trip.
Great set of photos and narrative!
Thanks a lot, guys!