The Lucin Cutoff was built to provide a better route for recent railroad developments that made the route through the Sierra Nevada Mountains too steep and long at the turn of the century.
Though the joining of the rails at Promontory, Utah was an iconic moment, the resulting route from the Sierra Nevada Mountains through Promontory was too steep and long for trains that were longer, faster, and carrying increasing numbers of passengers and freight. Both the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific companies wanted a better route. Collis Potter Huntington, the president of Southern Pacific, ordered William Hood, his chief engineer, to plan alternate routes. These plans were put on hold due a financial crash and Huntington’s own death in 1900. However, when, after his death, his shares were sold to Edward Harriman, an official of the Union Pacific, plans were made for a new route that would save over forty miles off the Promontory route and be far more level. The route would lead from the small town of Lucin on the Nevada border, through a trestle on the Great Salt Lake, and ultimately to the town of Ogden, Utah.
Though most of the Ogden-Lucin Cutoff was built quickly, construction of the trestle itself took over a year. Large loads of gravel and fill were poured into the lake for months, and many places in the lake were virtual sinkholes. Piles were driven into this fill to support the trestle, but many simply sank into the lake or had to be driven on top of each other. Massive amounts of piles, wood, rails, and supplies for the workers had to be shipped in. During the building of the Lucin Cutoff, forty-four workers were killed in train crashes, explosions, and drownings, including many Greek and Austrian immigrants. When construction was complete, the cutoff totaled over eight million dollars, over double its original estimate.
After over fifty years of service, rising levels in the Great Salt Lake threatened the trestle and a parallel track supported by a causeway was built in 1959. The trestle was still occasionally used until the 1970s. In 1986-1987, the cutoff was severely damaged by lake waters. Despite the trestle’s importance in railroad history and its documentation on the National Register of Historic Places, it was sold for a dollar and the wood was hauled off for salvage. Many local homes and businesses took wood from the trestle, which was described as “pickled” and very strong due to its long existence in saltwater. Thus marked the end of the Lucin Cutoff.