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What if the Milwaukee Road didn't de-energize the Pacific Extension

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Willbridge

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That is interesting. I know you mentioned on another thread a long time ago how American railroad culture ended up in Russia to a degree. I wonder which railroads those "consultants" came from. It could be possible they came from the Milwaukee Road.
My limited understanding of the Milwaukee Road link is that the first 5-year plan (1928) really highlighted weaknesses of the Soviet rail system and at the same time they were going big into hydroelectric projects. They sent a delegation to visit the U.S. and the Milwaukee Road and GE made an impression.

Recently I learned that in the early 30's war with Japan the capacity of the Trans-Siberian line was 12 trains a day, same as during the 1905 Russo-Japanese War. In 1937 a study showed that they could only get about 436 carloads a day to a hypothetical western front. In 1917 they were delivering 560 carloads a day. Lazar Kaganovich was assigned to take over the transport ministry in 1935. His reputation from his role in the Ukrainian famine preceded him and there were reforms (and removals and/or disappearances of managers). Prior to his posting the job was considered a political dead-end. So through that era they were desperate for new ideas.

GE delivered the first electric locomotives for Russia in 1932. Oddly enough subsequent Soviet-built models of those 40 mph heavy-haul engines were very similar. Italian engines were also tried but they were not as reliable as the GE's.
 
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MilwaukeeRoadLover

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That's likely because the Russians were in love with the Milwaukee Road from the late 1920's on. One reason I rode Moscow <> Tomsk in 2010 was to see their 3000V DC electrification copied from the Milwaukee before they finished replacing it. Some COMECON member states also ended up with 3000V DC networks.
Didn't Milwaukee produce the Little Joe's for Russia? Why did they never take possession?
 

dlagrua

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An enjoyable post. As a railfan that has followed and seen some of the Milwauke roads Western routes, they run though areas that are not served by any current railroads. Their former route through South Dakota's South end is slowly being rebuilt by Dakota Southern but the plans are to end the route at Kadoka and not continue all the way across the railbanked section in the badlands to Rapid City. As for the Pacific extention, unbeknownst to many that route was the shortest, most scenic and most direct route from CHI to SEA. Most of the ROW remains now as a rail trail. If Amtrak ever desired to have their own route West, there would be no obstacles with the freight railroads but that is a long shot.
 

Devil's Advocate

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Has any rail trail ever been turned back into a rail route again? Obviously it sounds great PR-wise to donate a route for trail use but turning them into trails also removes the rails and ballast and clogs whatever is left with sand, crushed rock, or pavement. This vastly increases the cost of rebuilding them back into rail routes and probably gives the previous host plenty of confidence they'll never be used to introduce another competitor.
 
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Willbridge

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Seaboard92

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My limited understanding of the Milwaukee Road link is that the first 5-year plan (1928) really highlighted weaknesses of the Soviet rail system and at the same time they were going big into hydroelectric projects. They sent a delegation to visit the U.S. and the Milwaukee Road and GE made an impression.

Recently I learned that in the early 30's war with Japan the capacity of the Trans-Siberian line was 12 trains a day, same as during the 1905 Russo-Japanese War. In 1937 a study showed that they could only get about 436 carloads a day to a hypothetical western front. In 1917 they were delivering 560 carloads a day. Lazar Kaganovich was assigned to take over the transport ministry in 1935. His reputation from his role in the Ukrainian famine preceded him and there were reforms (and removals and/or disappearances of managers). Prior to his posting the job was considered a political dead-end. So through that era they were desperate for new ideas.

GE delivered the first electric locomotives for Russia in 1932. Oddly enough subsequent Soviet-built models of those 40 mph heavy-haul engines were very similar. Italian engines were also tried but they were not as reliable as the GE's.
That makes a lot of sense actually. The Milwaukee Road Pacific Extension and the Trans Sib do share a lot of similarities. The electrics were powered by hydroelectric power, a long line over an area with limited population, and harsh winters. There is a reason I call the upper midwest (Both Dakotas, Minnesota, Saskatchewan, Manitoba) North America's Siberia. I would even add that the Milwaukee Road looks a lot like a smaller version of Soviet Railways. If you indulge this side note. But most of the Russian Rail network is east of the Ural's, just like most of the Milwaukee Road is east of the Rockies. With one maybe two lines that are extending further beyond that.

So I could see where the Milwaukee Road would be the railroad the Russians would have studied them. A very similar network scope, similar climates, similar environment as far as population distribution.

Didn't Milwaukee produce the Little Joe's for Russia? Why did they never take possession?
The United States Department of State banned the sale of any item to the Soviet Union that was deemed "Strategic Goods" which the locomotives were. They were designed to operate in Ural Mountains. This was about the same time frame as the Red Scare, McCarthyism, and a general decline of relations between both super powers.

When the Soviet Union couldn't get the Little Joes they were forced to design their own locomotives similar which turned out to be the VL10 and the VL80. Of those 2,881 VL10s were built up until 2005 and are still in daily operation, and VL80 were built until 1995 and still in daily operation. Of those 4,921 examples were built. It could be argued that if the Little Joe's had gotten to Russia that they very well could still have been in service today.

Don't forget the Milwaukee didn't produce or design the Little Joe. They are General Electric engines that were designed by GE and the Soviet Ministry of Railways. The Milwaukee wasn't even the first operator in the USA that was the South Shore Line. The Milwaukee offered to buy them first but the board of directors refused to pay for all 20 locomotives, and by the time of an oil and coal crisis in the 50s 8 of those engines and parts either went to South Shore or to Brazil.

The Milwaukee was not a healthy railroad in the 1950s, or really any other point of it's existence.
 

DCAKen

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Has any rail trail ever been turned back into a rail route again? Obviously it sounds great PR-wise to donate a route for trail use but turning them into trails also removes the rails and ballast and clogs whatever is left with sand, crushed rock, or pavement. This vastly increases the cost of rebuilding them back into rail routes and probably gives the previous host plenty of confidence they'll never be used to introduce another competitor.
Wikipedia has one example of a railbanked line getting re-railed.

Though rare, there are several cases in which trails convert back to active railroads. One example occurred in 2012 in Clarence, Pennsylvania, where the R.J. Corman Railroad Company received permission to rebuild 20 miles (32 km) of railbanked line to serve new industries.[38] Conrail had ceased operating over the line in 1990, and 10 miles (16 km) was converted to the Snow Shoe Rails to Trails.[39]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rail_trail#cite_note-39

More recently, a section of the Capital Crescent Trail between Silver Spring and Bethesda in suburban Washington DC is being turned into part of the Purple Line light rail, with the bike trail will be restored once the ROW is built. Unfortunately, project mismanagement and long delays from NIMBY lawsuits have turned this project into a quagmire.
 
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That makes a lot of sense actually. The Milwaukee Road Pacific Extension and the Trans Sib do share a lot of similarities. The electrics were powered by hydroelectric power, a long line over an area with limited population, and harsh winters. There is a reason I call the upper midwest (Both Dakotas, Minnesota, Saskatchewan, Manitoba) North America's Siberia. I would even add that the Milwaukee Road looks a lot like a smaller version of Soviet Railways. If you indulge this side note. But most of the Russian Rail network is east of the Ural's, just like most of the Milwaukee Road is east of the Rockies. With one maybe two lines that are extending further beyond that.

So I could see where the Milwaukee Road would be the railroad the Russians would have studied them. A very similar network scope, similar climates, similar environment as far as population distribution.



The United States Department of State banned the sale of any item to the Soviet Union that was deemed "Strategic Goods" which the locomotives were. They were designed to operate in Ural Mountains. This was about the same time frame as the Red Scare, McCarthyism, and a general decline of relations between both super powers.

When the Soviet Union couldn't get the Little Joes they were forced to design their own locomotives similar which turned out to be the VL10 and the VL80. Of those 2,881 VL10s were built up until 2005 and are still in daily operation, and VL80 were built until 1995 and still in daily operation. Of those 4,921 examples were built. It could be argued that if the Little Joe's had gotten to Russia that they very well could still have been in service today.

Don't forget the Milwaukee didn't produce or design the Little Joe. They are General Electric engines that were designed by GE and the Soviet Ministry of Railways. The Milwaukee wasn't even the first operator in the USA that was the South Shore Line. The Milwaukee offered to buy them first but the board of directors refused to pay for all 20 locomotives, and by the time of an oil and coal crisis in the 50s 8 of those engines and parts either went to South Shore or to Brazil.

The Milwaukee was not a healthy railroad in the 1950s, or really any other point of it's existence.
Seaboard, couldn’t it be argued that one of the other reasons that the Russians were as enamored with the Milwaukee Road as they were be that Milwaukee was one of the few railroads still manufacturing a majority of their passenger cars in-house, instead of contracting out to other manufacturers like Pullman, AC&F, and SLCC (among others), in a period where many other railroads were either winding down the manufacture of their passenger cars in house, or had abandoned the prospect entirely? Russia, with a centralized economy, had a relatively similar setup, with most everything being in house.

Bearing that in mind, wouldn’t the Russians appreciate being able to observe a railroad with some similarities to the setup they had, instead of hopping from company to company trying to figure out what would work best for them? I’d argue that Milwaukee provided a “one-stop shop” for the Russians to base many of their observations off of, in addition to the various factors you mentioned.
 

Seaboard92

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Seaboard, couldn’t it be argued that one of the other reasons that the Russians were as enamored with the Milwaukee Road as they were be that Milwaukee was one of the few railroads still manufacturing a majority of their passenger cars in-house, instead of contracting out to other manufacturers like Pullman, AC&F, and SLCC (among others), in a period where many other railroads were either winding down the manufacture of their passenger cars in house, or had abandoned the prospect entirely? Russia, with a centralized economy, had a relatively similar setup, with most everything being in house.

Bearing that in mind, wouldn’t the Russians appreciate being able to observe a railroad with some similarities to the setup they had, instead of hopping from company to company trying to figure out what would work best for them? I’d argue that Milwaukee provided a “one-stop shop” for the Russians to base many of their observations off of, in addition to the various factors you mentioned.

I agree with you on that. However as we have talked about on the phone. If you consult the guide of surviving Pullman-Standard cars (does anyone have any interest in that?) you'll note that once you got into the period of the 1940s they started going from home built cars to a significant number of Pullman-Standard cars. However the Milwaukee is the only one who really built a large amount of cars in general over history.

I do think you are right that the Milwaukee Road was a one stop shop for the Russians. The Milwaukee also had one really fast competitive market between Chicago, and St. Paul which is similar but not the same as Moscow-St. Petersburg.
 

toddinde

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The Milwaukee Road's electrification - and really the entire Milwaukee Road Pacific Extension - was/is considered a novelty. Hence the enduring interest and "what if" speculation even though such scenarios are contrary to reality. How a railroad which could not even install CTC, power switches, lineside detectors, adequate sidings, or even continuous ABS on its main line could spring for new locomotives (and likely a whole new electrical distribution system) boggles the mind - even for the 650 or so miles under wire - which was not even continuous (that is, the "Gap" from Avery to Othello was never electrified). Of course those who fantasize about this will tell you they have crunched the numbers and it was totally doable.

Figures lie, and liars figure, of course, but there are constants in all the pro-electrification proposals: Ignoring the greatest costs, which are train delay, locomotive dwell, and restricting a large number of assets to a limited area of trackage. For electrification to work, the electrified network needs to be expansive and cover just about all the possible routes, or be a fixed single route usually with a single commodity. In the original posting by D.S. Lewith, he/she gives a link to a map of proposed electrification in the 1970s. Using the BN Powder River Basin to Lincoln, NE route as an example: During the height of coal movement it was not unusual to see 60 or more coal trains (loads and empties) on the route from Alliance to Lincoln. Today, most of these trains are 125 cars or more, and operate with distributed power. Just the thought of having to modify the entire locomotive consist of ALL the trains at Lincoln (from electric to diesel electric and vice versa) again boggles the mind. The amount of yard capacity to accommodate all the trains in the terminal would be huge, as would the locomotive fleet (of both types) to be kept on hand to be available to maintain fluidity. Plus, of course, the personnel to make all these power modifications. The cost is simply overwhelming. Same for the UP proposal with the electrification starting and ending at North Platte. 100 trains a day changing power? NOT. The Milwaukee Road would not have this volume of trains, but electrification still stranded a lot of locomotive assets on a very limited amount of track (Harlowton to Avery; Othello to Seattle/Tacoma). That meant power modifications for the "Gap" (or running the electric power through dead), and at the end or beginning of the electrification.
An additional explanation is here: Milwaukee Road Pacific Extension: The myth of superiority
Here's another take on the costs of electrification proponents don't mention: http://energyskeptic.com/2016/electrifi ... ight-rail/

With regard to NeueAmtrakCalifornia's statement, "then they could have sold the northern transcon (including the Pacific Extension) to Union Pacific, thus giving them a competing northern transcon to compete against BNSF": I'm sure UP would argue that they compete quite well with BNSF in this corridor right now, thank you. Not only that, compared to "transcontinental" routes to and from California, BNSF's route from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest has much more competition. Not only UP via Nampa, Green River, and North Platte, but also UP/CP via Eastport/Kingsgate. The port of Vancouver, BC handles more container traffic (and more tonnage overall) than does Seattle and Tacoma combined, and both CN and CP offer intermodal service from Vancouver to the Upper Midwest of the U.S. In addition, CN has service to middle of America from the burgeoning port at Prince Rupert, BC. But none of this matters, really, because even if there were not all those alternatives to BNSF, the Milwaukee wouldn't be around because the primary reason it's not around is that it was the high-cost route. The Milwaukee didn't electrify for no reason; it did so because its operating profile had horrendous grades. It also had a very poor and usually exceptionally circuitous branch line/feeder "network."
Milwaukee Road Pacific Extension: The myth of superiority

While proponents of the Milwaukee Road electrification and the Milwaukee Road Pacific Extension in general go to great lengths to explain why things turned out the way they didn't, it's easier to just focus on the operational deficiencies to easily grasp why things happened as they did.
You are far too pessimistic about the actual competitive position of the Milwaukee Road. Again, GE offered to finance the re-electrification of the Milwaukee and bridging the gap. Not an issue. In the late ‘60s, the Pacific Extension was not in bad shape. You ignore the fact that the Pacific Extension was very profitable once the BN gateways were opened. The reason the Milwaukee failed was because the management deferred maintenance to present a rosier balance sheet to get BN to absorb them. It was a dumb strategy and a poor management decision. While you make some reasonable points, your analysis is seriously flawed in that you misevaluate the actual competitive position of the Milwaukee in the ‘60s and early ‘70s. An early merger with C&NW and the Rock Island would have been a game changer.
 

sttom

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An early merger with C&NW and the Rock Island would have been a game changer.
Going into the 60s, the Rock Island knew its days were numbered, so it merging with the Milwaukee Road would have been a bit of a stretch. Two companies in a similar situation wouldn't make for a good marriage. If Burlington Northern can be called the Western Conrail, a Milwaukee Road/Rock Island merger could be seen as the Western Penn Central. The Rock Island pinned its entire existence on it merging with the Union Pacific, which the Chicago and Northwestern and Milwaukee Road fought until the Rock Island went belly up. If any railway was going to be the Rock Island's saving grace beyond the UP, it would have been the Southern Pacific who bought some of their spare parts at a bankruptcy sale. The only thing that surprises me is the the SP didn't try to buy more of the Rock Island, specifically its route into Chicago, but I know the SP was starting to experience its own issues at the time.
 

Mark Meyer

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Toddinde: I think you are missing my point about electrification. Yes, I have heard the story about the GE’s electrification and “closing the gap” in doing so. It’s not about whether or not to electrify the gap or upgrading the system. It’s all about dedicating a large amount of resources (locomotives) to a very limited amount of trackage – only 867 miles if one includes “the gap.” Captive power is very inefficient, and more so considering that none of the Milwaukee’s branch lines were electrified (not to mention the whole railroad east of Harlowton). And, considering that just about all the Milwaukee branch lines had even more horrible operating profiles than the main line (to Spokane, Portland, and Sumas as examples), this would be a lot of diesel-electric power which would still need to be kept in the area, and include costly power modifications as a result.

I don’t accept that the Milwaukee Pacific Extension “was very profitable” following the opening of the BN “gateways.” Sure, I’ve heard this claim, but it is placed against the fact that between just about any two point you care to name, it cost the Milwaukee more to move a car than was the case with Burlington Northern. It’s all about sustainability, and the Milwaukee had none due to its insufficient infrastructure, and the likelihood that it cost them more resources to move a car for the same amount of money dictated by the tariff. Clearly by the time the Staggers Act had been fully realized in the 1980s – had the Pacific Extension held on – its inferior profile and route structure would certainly have doomed it then.

And nothing happens in a bubble. Post-merger at BN was a tumultuous time – not only dealing with merging operating philosophies, but also the expense of building new connections and routes (Spokane and the coalfield, as examples) and yard facilities that temporarily diminished dependability on the BN.

One of the main new sources of “profitable traffic” on the Pacific Extension as a result of the BN merger was Milwaukee Road trackage rights into Portland and interchange with the SP. One of the more notable shipments were cars of copper concentrate destined for interchange to the BA&P at Silver Bow, Montana for the smelter at Anaconda. Normally, these cars were interchanged to SP&S/NP at Portland and handled on a route (via Pasco, Spokane, and St. Regis) that never exceeded a 1 percent grade. NP and SP interchanged a lot in Portland, but following the merger, much California traffic off the “new” Burlington Northern started using the ex-GN/WP/ATSF “Inside Gateway,” much to the displeasure of the SP. As a result, when the Milwaukee finally got access to Portland in 1971, SP started interchanging traffic to the MILW instead of the BN where possible. The copper concentrate was one such commodity that switched to the Milwaukee. Though touted as “new traffic” the heavy cars were not kind to the former logging railroad which was the Milwaukee from Chehalis to Tacoma; also, the Milwaukee route to Silver Bow was 47 miles further than BN with THREE 1.7 percent grades to deal with – and all for the same cut the BN and/or NP/SP&S received. Again, over the course of time – especially into deregulation where BN could have simply undercut the Milwaukee in price had it lasted this long – the Milwaukee’s situation was untenable. I will reiterate, you don’t get to claim being “very profitable” if you’re not able to compete in the long term.

Your claim that “the (Milwaukee Road) management deferred maintenance to present a rosier balance sheet to get BN to absorb them” is again something I have heard before. I doubt that this can be proven one way or the other, but it is relatively logical. Since the end of WWII, the Milwaukee considered its Pacific Extension as a marginal operation at best with management preferring to be consolidated (somehow) into a larger system. But whether the Milwaukee realized it or not, there was zero chance of being included in Burlington Northern. Had that happened, there is little reason to believe the portions remaining of the Milwaukee Road would much different than they turned out to be after 1980 (probably less trackage, actually). But BN knew all the Milwaukee routes (at least east of Miles City) were inferior and had little reason to want to be bothered with them. For the Milwaukee, it could also be true that they recognized the Pacific Extension’s inferiorities that would eventually doom it and decided it was in their best interest into not investing in an operation which could not compete. And, of course, there is also the very possible likelihood that they simply didn’t have the money to upgrade. Take your pick, but even if you believe in the “very profitable” and “deferred maintenance on purpose” scenarios, then the next question is why another railroad (BN or UP, most likely, of course) did not rush to obtain the Milwaukee. Around BN merger time (even before the decay of the Milwaukee in earnest), UP officials inspected the Milwaukee line, and did BN later on. Bottom line: If there was really “high profitability” (or anything otherwise worthwhile), someone would have saved it, as was the case with many of the Rock Island’s main routes, which were as bad or worse than the Milwaukee’s at the end.

The Milwaukee had little “competitive position.” Not every shipment in the Pacific Northwest originated or terminated in the Seattle or Tacoma areas, and the Milwaukee was fantastically uncompetitive cost-wise everywhere else. It’s easy to look at Milwaukee so-called accomplishments, such as the schedule of the Olympian Hiawatha matching that of the Empire Builder, the XL Special having the fastest freight train schedule from Chicago to Seattle, and the increase in traffic after the BN merger. But they all have one thing in common: Unsustainability. But looking ahead to today we know that a Milwaukee Road Pacific Extension (if amazingly still in place) would be virtually shut out of unit wheat trains to the Pacific Northwest and limited on other ag trains, have no coal business, and would need about 25% more assets for stack train compared to BNSF. Just to name a few.

So, instead of basing the worthiness of the Pacific Extension on anecdotal successes despite the overwhelming failures, I prefer to give people who were some of the primary decision makers at the time the benefit of any doubt that they just might have understood the Milwaukee’s myriad shortcomings and had the prescience to know how they would play out in the future.
 

Seaboard92

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I think that the Milwaukee right of way has some utility but not a whole lot. I think in Washington state it would have provided some general aid to the railroad system in general. Currently Stevens Pass is limited to 2 trains an hour, Stampede Pass is only eastbound trains, and the Gorge is incredibly busy. I could see a scenario in which having that fourth route over the Cascades could have been a net positive a few years ago.

There are only so many trains you can run a day over these lines, and at some point you will reach that max. Now will we ever meet that max that I don't know. A service disruption on the Gorge line would be a severe disruption to the entire PNW.

So the Milwaukee routing could have potentially been used for that rainy day eventuality. But that may or may not happen.

You could fix Stevens Pass if you electrified it Seattle-Spokane then you can run significantly more than two trains over the mountain an hour. I say Seattle-Spokane because you ideally want the electric district to be long enough to make it worth while. Unlike the original GN which was Skykomish to Wenatchee.
 

neroden

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I'm not indulging Mark Meyer's Just World fantasies.

It's clear that the Milwaukee route from Seattle to Spokane was, and still is, superior on all counts. I don't think this is particularly controversial; the lack of system unification is what lead to the demonstrably inferior Stevens Pass being used.

With a network broken up among private companies, you can have one good route (like the Lackawanna Cutoff) and it can die because the rest of the lines owned by the same company are terrible. Same thing happened with the Milwaukee, but with the added bonus that the management didn't even know which routes were good and which weren't.
 

Mark Meyer

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Seaboard92: The Milwaukee line over Snoqualmie Pass was indeed worth keeping, but BN (which actually acquired it after the Milwaukee shut down) was in the getting-rid-of-as-much-as-possible mode in the 1980s (hence, the gift that keeps on giving in the form of Montana Rail Link…). The 20/20 hindsight issue is that after the Milwaukee got trackage rights from Black River to Bellingham on BN following the BN merger, they abandoned their Everett branch from Cedar Falls to Monroe. This would have been ideal for today’s unit coal trains for Roberts Bank and crude trains for Fidalgo (Anacortes), Arco, and Cherry Point in that they would bypass downtown Seattle.

Again, electrification would not “fix” the Stevens Pass line because – like a Milwaukee Road electrification scenario – there would be a large number of assets necessary for use only on about 330 miles of main line track. And since your stated goal is to increase the number of trains operating on the route, this would create an epic bottleneck at Spokane modifying power – especially for those trains requiring distributed power (locomotives on each end of the train). It would also be awkward and expensive for trains not destined for Seattle, such as Tacoma or Vancouver, BC.

The limitation on the Stevens Pass route is not Cascade Tunnel, it is the grade, especially eastbound where it is 31 miles from Skykomish to Berne with generally a maximum speed of 25 MPH with one intermediate siding and a continuous grade of 1.6 to 2.2 percent. The heaviest trains are often not even powered to achieve track speed, so a two-hour trek from Sky to Berne is commonplace. Things are more fluid westbound, as the 2.2 percent is much less and it’s downhill through the tunnel. Cascade tunnel is limited to about 28 trains per day – not even the “two per hour” you state. But it is about the same number Montana Rail Link can handle west of Helena to Elliston on its single-track climb over the Continental Divide.

Tunnel flushes can be an issue for eastward trains close together, but BNSF is working on ways to mitigate the flush time with things like diesel exhaust monitors that provide air quality readings throughout the tunnel allowing input on when a following train can enter rather than just waiting for a fixed amount of time. More costly mitigation would include drilling additional tunnels for ventilation. It remains to be seen what could be done to reduce flush time, but the salient point is that the a single track railroad with steep grades on each side of the summit is a significant limitation. Plus – if need be – drilling a second Cascade Tunnel would be cheaper than electrifying the railroad from Spokane to Seattle, acquiring the locomotives to operate it, and absorbing the huge costs of locomotive consist modifications in perpetuity.

The beauty of the Stevens Pass route is that it’s pretty much a one-off for major grades on single track on BNSF’s Chicago-Seattle route. Westward trains can operate with minimal power from Chicago or the Twin Cities to Wenatchee, and then add power for the climb to Cascade Tunnel. This add-on power comes from eastward trains which cut it at Wenatchee and continue east with minimal power. Therefore, the part of the route that requires this very high horsepower-per-ton (HPT) ratio is limited to the 200 or so miles between Wenatchee, Seattle, and Tacoma. This is in contrast to the Milwaukee Road route, which is about an 850-mile district requiring nearly a similar HPT ratio due to the numerous steep grades at Snoqualmie (eastward), Boylston, St. Paul Pass, Pipestone Pass, and Loweth, which makes it the high-cost route.
 

sttom

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I'm not indulging Mark Meyer's Just World fantasies.

It's clear that the Milwaukee route from Seattle to Spokane was, and still is, superior on all counts. I don't think this is particularly controversial; the lack of system unification is what lead to the demonstrably inferior Stevens Pass being used.

With a network broken up among private companies, you can have one good route (like the Lackawanna Cutoff) and it can die because the rest of the lines owned by the same company are terrible. Same thing happened with the Milwaukee, but with the added bonus that the management didn't even know which routes were good and which weren't.
What you call a fantasy, others would call business. The Milwaukee Road's route may have been a good option for BN between Puget Sound and Spokane, but that doesn't mean that it would have been seen as a wise thing to buy in the late 1970s. Most railways back then were lucky to be living a few steps above hand to mouth. Humans aren't perfect and we don't live in a perfect world, but we have the ability to look back and say it would have been a smart move for BN to buy part of the Pacific Extension, they wouldn't have had that knowledge.

As the Milwaukee Road was coming apart, most other railroads were just pulling out of fairly bad times and putting money towards undoing years of poor maintenance, which would have been seen as a better use of money than future proofing their network for 40 years down the line. The world we live in would have been seen as fantastical to them given that the railroads as an industry were seen as through as some people say malls are today.

If I were running a business that had just survived a rough few years, my first impulse in a good year wouldn't be to buy my competition a couple blocks down the road, I would choose to use the money to shore up my own position. Then snipe business from said competitor after they go under. You or anyone else may not like that decision, but its the decision people in business will choose most of the time. And at the time, BN's options were to shed itself of less profitable routes and focus on the core that made the most money with the business they knew they would have or risk over extending themselves by absorbing bits of a dying competitor in a world where the conventional wisdom was that they had one foot in the grave.
 

neroden

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Well, I have to agree with you, sttom, because that's actually my *point*. The short-term decisions of private companies, while individually rational at the time, did not and do not lead to the societally desirable outcome. (Well, mostly rational; the Milwaukee Road's bad accounting is documented.)
 
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Willbridge

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What you call a fantasy, others would call business. The Milwaukee Road's route may have been a good option for BN between Puget Sound and Spokane, but that doesn't mean that it would have been seen as a wise thing to buy in the late 1970s. Most railways back then were lucky to be living a few steps above hand to mouth. Humans aren't perfect and we don't live in a perfect world, but we have the ability to look back and say it would have been a smart move for BN to buy part of the Pacific Extension, they wouldn't have had that knowledge.

As the Milwaukee Road was coming apart, most other railroads were just pulling out of fairly bad times and putting money towards undoing years of poor maintenance, which would have been seen as a better use of money than future proofing their network for 40 years down the line. The world we live in would have been seen as fantastical to them given that the railroads as an industry were seen as through as some people say malls are today.

If I were running a business that had just survived a rough few years, my first impulse in a good year wouldn't be to buy my competition a couple blocks down the road, I would choose to use the money to shore up my own position. Then snipe business from said competitor after they go under. You or anyone else may not like that decision, but its the decision people in business will choose most of the time. And at the time, BN's options were to shed itself of less profitable routes and focus on the core that made the most money with the business they knew they would have or risk over extending themselves by absorbing bits of a dying competitor in a world where the conventional wisdom was that they had one foot in the grave.
At the risk of thread drift, I'll add a footnote to this: the way that Denver Union Station ended up a stub and almost ended trackless is that the railway real estate people were on a roll into the early days of the Staggers Act. When the Act started to take hold it dawned on railways that they might make money by running trains. City planners did not read Railway Age and so it took some time for everyone to realize that railway operating issues now had to be addressed.
 

toddinde

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At the risk of thread drift, I'll add a footnote to this: the way that Denver Union Station ended up a stub and almost ended trackless is that the railway real estate people were on a roll into the early days of the Staggers Act. When the Act started to take hold it dawned on railways that they might make money by running trains. City planners did not read Railway Age and so it took some time for everyone to realize that railway operating issues now had to be addressed.
The Staggers Act was not a success. Currently, the railways’ share of the freight business in the US is roughly the same as the share of freight transported by water. In percentages, about 17%. Post deregulation, the railroads decided they wanted to focus on hauling commodities, and little that required specialized service. While perhaps a logical, short term decision, it hasn’t set the railroads up for just in time delivery, the focus on rapid delivery of consumer goods, and the inevitable clean energy future. The railroads absolutely must carry more passengers to support a growing country and relieve a strained and inefficient transportation system that is over reliant on highways and aviation. The country needs to demand more from rail. Whether rail management is able to adapt is questionable.
 

Willbridge

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Mar 30, 2019
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The Staggers Act was not a success. Currently, the railways’ share of the freight business in the US is roughly the same as the share of freight transported by water. In percentages, about 17%. Post deregulation, the railroads decided they wanted to focus on hauling commodities, and little that required specialized service. While perhaps a logical, short term decision, it hasn’t set the railroads up for just in time delivery, the focus on rapid delivery of consumer goods, and the inevitable clean energy future. The railroads absolutely must carry more passengers to support a growing country and relieve a strained and inefficient transportation system that is over reliant on highways and aviation. The country needs to demand more from rail. Whether rail management is able to adapt is questionable.
Neither was the Staggers Act a failure. One of the state rail planners in the attached 1975 late night photo was from Rhode Island. He had just stopped a Penn Central crew from lifting rail from a branch line in his state that still had customers on it. They needed rail for another branch! The grim consequences of the 1920's Progressive Era rail regulations -- intended to punish railways for how they had behaved in the previous generation -- were still doing that into the 1980's.

When waiting for the Southwest Chief in Kingman and watching the BNSF intermodal trains rolling through on double track I think about value, not just tonnage. I also think about what things were headed to prior to the Staggers Act, imperfect though it may be.

If these state guys looked stressed out it's because a doomsday scenario for U.S. railroads seemed a real possibility.

IMG0025 Madison - 4R Draft.jpg
 
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I’ve sometime wondered what if the ICC had said “not ever” rather than “not yet” to the BN merger in 1968. Would the NP and MILW have merged? Assuming they could have resolved the issues that stymied a MILW-CNW merger, An NP-MILW merger would certainly have hastened the demise of the electrics rather than extend it.
As has been stated by others, railroads in 1970 were in consolidation and survival mode, not looking to expand and grow for the future.
How would they have consolidated the MILW and NP west of N. Dakota?
Miles City to Lombard MT is 21 miles shorter via the MILW, and has easier grades, but it was not faster for trains with the same HP/T, and does not serve the CBQ interchange at Laurel. I suspect it would have become a long branchline with the merged road angling for trackage rights over the GN to reach Laurel so they could 200 miles or so of track.
Three Forks to Garrison would remain a branchline with perhaps some segments of the MILW replacing the NP, and the rest abandoned.
Garrison, MT to Lind, WA would be abandoned, with only short segments retained to reach valuable shippers, such as St Maries to Plummer ID. The NP via Spokane was longer, but just as fast, served Spokane directly, and had much easier grades.
Lind to Thorp (Ellensburg) is a question. It is 81 miles shorter via the MILW and a couple of hours faster for an intermodal train, but it had a 2.2% grade westbound and 1.6% eastbound verses 1% or less via the NP. The merged road would later regret not having it for intermodal and eastbound empty grain trains.
Snoqualmie Pass is the most likely candidate to have survived. Its’ 0.8% westbound grade was far superior to the NP’s 2.2%, and its’ 1.74% was better than the NP’s 2.2% eastbound. Perhaps the 3-mile Ravensdale connection could be justified by the locomotive savings.
 

Mark Meyer

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The NP/MILW merger is an oft-touted scenario. But it never would have happened. For one thing, NP owned half of the CB&Q (along with GN) and they would hardly give up their half of the CB&Q to merge with the MILW which had a route structure which was highly inferior to the CB&Q. This unlikely "what if" would have logically resulted in the GN purchasing the NP's half of the CB&Q and merging with the CB&Q. GN already had the superior route between the Twin Cities and Pacific Northwest, and other than Snoqualmie Pass, the MILW had nothing that would have benefited the NP. And a combined GN/CB&Q would likely result in NP/MILW losing a lot of interchange traffic to/from the Pacific Northwest to/from the CB&Q at Laurel, which would move instead via the GN route through Great Falls to the main at Shelby.
 

Ziv

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Messages
664
On a tangential note, the town of Harlowton still has not recovered from losing the Milwaukee Road jobs. The roundhouse is still there as is one locomotive on display in the center of town, but the tracks and jobs are long gone and the town is still really hurting. There has been very little in the way of updates, houses are pretty shabby, with a few fairly spectacular abandoned buildings. Median household income is just $23,600, which is hurting even for Montana. Jobs in Wheatland County started to disappear in the 1960's as mechanization of agriculture really started to take off, but the county was crippled by the loss of those Milwaukee jobs in the 1970's.
My Mom bought a small cattle ranch outside of Harlowton and I go there fairly frequently. It is sad to see a small town that has never gotten its mojo back. The Milwaukee Road's failure is still affecting families in Montana.
 

sttom

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Jan 23, 2019
Messages
585
The same can be said for many towns along now abandoned rail lines. I lived in Humboldt County, California for a year and that county was in decline until Marijuana legalization a couple years ago and the railroad was shut down by the FRA in 1998. The logging industry is all but gone now and manufacturing anywhere along the old NWP is sparse compared to what it used to be when the trains were still running. I know the demise of the railroad wasn't that only factor that hurt the economies of the counties that the NWP used to serve, but the loss of rail hasn't helped. Of those that have survived, they have been the biggest advocates for getting the trains back so they could have a cheaper and more environmentally friendly way of shipping their goods. The irony, is that some environmentalists have been trying to hold up the project for years and couple that with state level ambivalence and you get a mess. I know this is a bit of a tangent, but the Staggers Act was imperfect and frankly any law coming out of Congress is usually long on mandates and short on details. I understand that times were tough in the 70s, but Congress could have better dealt with the abandonment of lines than it did. But that is something for my generation to solve.
 

toddinde

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Apr 23, 2015
Messages
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Sierra Vista, AZ
I’ve sometime wondered what if the ICC had said “not ever” rather than “not yet” to the BN merger in 1968. Would the NP and MILW have merged? Assuming they could have resolved the issues that stymied a MILW-CNW merger, An NP-MILW merger would certainly have hastened the demise of the electrics rather than extend it.
As has been stated by others, railroads in 1970 were in consolidation and survival mode, not looking to expand and grow for the future.
How would they have consolidated the MILW and NP west of N. Dakota?
Miles City to Lombard MT is 21 miles shorter via the MILW, and has easier grades, but it was not faster for trains with the same HP/T, and does not serve the CBQ interchange at Laurel. I suspect it would have become a long branchline with the merged road angling for trackage rights over the GN to reach Laurel so they could 200 miles or so of track.
Three Forks to Garrison would remain a branchline with perhaps some segments of the MILW replacing the NP, and the rest abandoned.
Garrison, MT to Lind, WA would be abandoned, with only short segments retained to reach valuable shippers, such as St Maries to Plummer ID. The NP via Spokane was longer, but just as fast, served Spokane directly, and had much easier grades.
Lind to Thorp (Ellensburg) is a question. It is 81 miles shorter via the MILW and a couple of hours faster for an intermodal train, but it had a 2.2% grade westbound and 1.6% eastbound verses 1% or less via the NP. The merged road would later regret not having it for intermodal and eastbound empty grain trains.
Snoqualmie Pass is the most likely candidate to have survived. Its’ 0.8% westbound grade was far superior to the NP’s 2.2%, and its’ 1.74% was better than the NP’s 2.2% eastbound. Perhaps the 3-mile Ravensdale connection could be justified by the locomotive savings.
Since we’re in fantasy scenarios, which are lots of fun, how about the ICC really preserving competition and having the GN merge with the Milwaukee and NP merge with the CB&Q. Then Rock Island and North Western find a home within those. To preserve competition, North Western goes to NP/CB&Q and Rock Island goes to Milw/GN. I think GN management would have whipped Milw and the Rock into shape. Or the whole crazy house of cards would have collapsed. But these combinations would have kept the maximum competition going to the maximum number of places. SP&S could have remained jointly owned.
 
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