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Wyoming Amtrak service stops today after 115 years

By PAUL LLOYD-DAVIES

CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- In 1867, the first passenger rail service - heralded by noisy, dirty steam engines -- reached this spot on the prairie and for more than 115 years served Cheyenne.

But today, the last passenger train -- pulled by sleek, quiet, powerful diesel engines -- was to roll past what now is a city of about 58,000 and the capital of Wyoming.

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The choice of Cheyenne as a stop along the Union Pacific line catapulted what was a small outpost on the prairie into a major city of the late 19th century.

The Union Pacific chose Cheyenne over Denver on the main line of the railroad. Denver paid the UP to lay a spur line to the city; Cheyenne paid nothing. Grenville Dodge, UP's chief engineer, helped survey the townsite for Cheyenne, which for a time was larger than Denver and hoped to become a major trade center in the West.

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The Army decided to locate Fort Russell on the outskirts of town. The fort later became F.E. Warren Air Force Base, control center for the first intercontinental ballistic missiles and President Reagan's choice as the control center for the first 100 MX missiles.

The Union Pacific, ruINE:B westward from Omaha, Neb., to meet the Central Pacific railroad building eastward from Sacramento, Calif., reached Cheyenne on Nov. 11, 1867. Within three months, a city government was established.

A year later, the railroad had crossed several mountain passes, including two on the Continental Divide, the deserts of western Wyoming and reached Evanston, now the last Wyoming stop of the passenger trains.

Residents in Evanston organized a farewell celebration and planned to watch Amtrak's San Francisco Zephyr glide by en route to the nearby Utah border and Salt Lake City.

'It'll be festive and very positive,' said organizer Leta Rae Haas.

Amtrak is abandoning the Union Pacific route through southern Wyoming for the Denver & Rio Grande Western route through central Colorado. After 115 years, Denver is getting revenge.

Amtrak says it will generate more passengers on the more scenic route through Colorado.

The state of Wyoming tried to stop the move, but failed twice in federal court. One challenge remains, with oral arguments to be heard in the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver in early August -- two weeks after Amtrak's departure.

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Nature briefly did what Wyoming could not. In April, just a few weeks before the last Amtrak train was supposed to roll through Wyoming, a mudslide at Thistle Junction, Utah, buried the D&RGW tracks Amtrak planned to use.

But now a tunnel has been bored through a mountain, around the mudslide, allowing Amtrak to proceed with its plans.

Rawlins, a city of about 12,000 at the eastern foot of the Continental Divide, also is holding a party to mark Amtrak's departure from the state. Organizer Terry Spencer said the Hole-in-The-Wall Gang, the Veteran's of Foreign Wars 'F' Troop and other local desperadoes would stage a mock holdup of both the eastbound and westbound Amtrak trains today.

The last stop in Wyoming for the eastbound Amtrak train is Cheyenne - or, at least near Cheyenne. The Amtrak service actually stops at Borie, an old station about 10 miles southwest of Cheyenne. No celebration is planned there.

For Wyoming, it is the end of an era.

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