CNW and abandonments

Discussion relating to The Chicago & North Western, the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad (Milwaukee Road), including mergers, acquisitions, and abandonments.

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CNW and abandonments

Postby MILW261 » Tue Oct 23, 2012 7:19 pm

Why was the CNW so abandonment-happy in the 1970s-80s? I'm astonished they did not try to spin-off more of their system the way the Illinois Central Gulf did in order to "rationalize" their system.
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Re: CNW and abandonments

Postby SlowFreight » Thu Oct 25, 2012 10:35 pm

If you could bring up specific lines, I might be able to give more detail, but in general two things were at work. First, a lot of the system produced very little revenue and had limited potential, so would not have been terribly viable at the time. Second, the road wanted to consolidate traffic, so spinning off things like ex-CGW mainlines would have achieved the exact opposite effect on its bottom line by diverting traffic to newly-created competitors.

IC was spinning off large, fairly integrated markets with CCP, CMW, MSRC, P&L, and G&M (I probably missed a few), and it was driven by the parent corp's desire to exit the railroad business. C&NW had no interest in exiting regional markets, and would therefore not parcel out individual lines, up until it decided to sell of FRVR and DME. But first it rationalized the branch network, particularly on the DME. You'll note that DME also continued to pare down things like the Oakes line and the Watertown line because they really weren't great sources of revenue. All the ex-CGW track had its traffic rolled into existing C&NW lines--sale was out of the question because the CGW was (except for originating traffic) largely redundant. Even the KC line was a no-brainer...crappy track, terrible trackage rights situations, a fast neighboring line (the Spine Line), and no on-line traffic.

You can second-guess a lot of the branch mileage by citing WSOR and other such success stories, but when the road was desperate for any kind of cash to pour into the viable pieces of the network and many branches looked like they'd never come back, it's hard to say that the road used poor judgement.

So, not sure which line segments astonish you, but name a few if they interest you.
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Re: CNW and abandonments

Postby MILW261 » Fri Oct 26, 2012 12:14 pm

The CGW and M&St.L routes were the ones on my mind.
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Re: CNW and abandonments

Postby SlowFreight » Tue Oct 30, 2012 9:06 pm

M&StL and CGW were both redundant roads, so unless they represented significant online business there wasn't a reason to retain them. Those were mergers geared towards traffic consolidation. Except for the KC line, the Great Western was almost completely redundant to the North Western's core routes. Don't forget, Iowa alone had a massive problem with overbuilding, where no town was more than 12 miles from a railroad. After the Rock shut down, the state actually encouraged route rationalization to make sure that what was left would be viable. And as I mentioned before, the CGW line to KC was no winner in terms of physical condition, transit time, or online customer access (it had multiple stretches of trackage rights, too). So with the Spine Line available out of the Rock estate, it was a no-brainer because the North Western had been pushing its freights up the much-faster Spine Line for ages as often as it could.

I'm not as knowledgeable about the Louie, but it didn't connect its namesake cities and instead tied into the North Western (and everyone else) in Peoria. If you look at the system map, everything in Iowa was by definition redundant (see above paragraph), and the Illinois part didn't connect anything critical. The major remaining piece was its east-west line in Minnesota, which still exists under TC&W auspices.

Any one line segment could be discussed from the standpoint of remaining a shortline or otherwise being grown, but in total the Louie and the Great Western represented non-critical corridors that duplicated other lines. And the traffic was easily consolidated, allowing for a stronger C&NW. Just to emphasize the point about over-capacity and redundancy, even after the elimination the CGW as a Chicago-Omaha competitor, the Milwaukee Road's route between the same two points couldn't find enough traffic to survive.

Now, in other discussions, the same guy that worked hard to divert all KC traffic from the CGW line to the Spine Line (Ed Burkhardt) claimed that at the time abandoning the CGW line across Illinois was a mistake...but that was only because at that time in the early 70s, the CGW was in good shape while the C&NW main was a wreck. But since then with all of the upgrades poured into the Chicago-Council Bluffs mainline, it's a moot point.
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Re: CNW and abandonments

Postby Engineer Spike » Mon Nov 19, 2012 9:03 pm

In WI CNW and MILW had tons of redundant lines. In northern IL, you could throw in Burlington too. IA was heavy with RI lines in addition to the companies already listed.

A rationalization was needed, just like what produced Conrail in the east. Northwestern rationalized on its own, plus they were the most logical connection to UP. At least they did it before the went bankrupt, unlike RI and MILW.
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Re: CNW and abandonments

Postby JayBee » Tue Nov 20, 2012 3:52 pm

SlowFreight wrote:I'm not as knowledgeable about the Louie, but it didn't connect its namesake cities and instead tied into the North Western (and everyone else) in Peoria. If you look at the system map, everything in Iowa was by definition redundant (see above paragraph), and the Illinois part didn't connect anything critical. The major remaining piece was its east-west line in Minnesota, which still exists under TC&W auspices.


The TC&W operates the former MILW mainline from Minneapolis to Appleton, MN and then has trackage rights over the BNSF to Sisseton, SD. This is not the former Louie.

The former M&StL line is operated irregularly by the Minnesota Prairie Line from a connection with the TC&W at Norwood, MN to Hanley Falls, MN. West of Hanley Falls the BNSF operates the line to Madison, MN. The BNSF mainline from Willmar, MN to Souix City, IA crosses the Louie at Hanley Falls, MN.
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Re: CNW and abandonments

Postby mtuandrew » Wed Nov 21, 2012 12:03 am

JayBee wrote:
SlowFreight wrote:I'm not as knowledgeable about the Louie, but it didn't connect its namesake cities and instead tied into the North Western (and everyone else) in Peoria. If you look at the system map, everything in Iowa was by definition redundant (see above paragraph), and the Illinois part didn't connect anything critical. The major remaining piece was its east-west line in Minnesota, which still exists under TC&W auspices.


The TC&W operates the former MILW mainline from Minneapolis to Appleton, MN and then has trackage rights over the BNSF to Sisseton, SD. This is not the former Louie.

The former M&StL line is operated irregularly by the Minnesota Prairie Line from a connection with the TC&W at Norwood, MN to Hanley Falls, MN. West of Hanley Falls the BNSF operates the line to Madison, MN. The BNSF mainline from Willmar, MN to Souix City, IA crosses the Louie at Hanley Falls, MN.

TC&W is the operator of the Minnesota Prairie Line, and landed that position after a revolving door of operators attempted to drag the M&StL line out of the mud (literally, many miles of the line had nothing more than dirt for ballast.)
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Re: CNW and abandonments

Postby wjstix » Wed Dec 12, 2012 10:43 am

Redundant is probably the right word. What is it they said about Iowa, that at one time (around 1900) no place in Iowa was more than 8 miles or 10 miles from a railroad line?? Once trucks came in, you just didn't need that intricate cobweb of rail lines.

IIRC the CGW and CNW BOTH served the big Hormel plant in Austin MN.
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Re: CNW and abandonments

Postby mtuandrew » Fri Dec 14, 2012 12:24 am

wjstix wrote:Redundant is probably the right word. What is it they said about Iowa, that at one time (around 1900) no place in Iowa was more than 8 miles or 10 miles from a railroad line?? Once trucks came in, you just didn't need that intricate cobweb of rail lines.

IIRC the CGW and CNW BOTH served the big Hormel plant in Austin MN.

No, the CNW never served Austin until they bought CGW. Otherwise, it was a Milwaukee Road town. The Northwestern didn't serve any north-south main lines between the Omaha line and the Western Wisconsin - that was all Rock, Louie, MILW and CGW, with a couple CNW branches in and east of Rochester.
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Re: CNW and abandonments

Postby Desertdweller » Fri Dec 14, 2012 10:34 am

When I worked for the DM&E, it appeared to me that the C&NW business plan was to go out of business.

I heard on the local radio station last week that the CP is planning to sell the ex-DM&E line west of Tracey, MN. They were looking for bids. I have not been able to confirm this.

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Re: CNW and abandonments

Postby SlowFreight » Sun Dec 16, 2012 1:55 pm

http://www.progressiverailroading.com/c ... tio--33547

Not much question about it at all. CP's done a good job of losing the business it had, and the new management team will not be putting a strong emphasis on marketing at this point in the turnaround. I suspect the west end is viable, but not sure how a shortline partner can compete with BNSF if CP doesn't become a willing partner.
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Re: CNW and abandonments

Postby Desertdweller » Wed Dec 19, 2012 3:02 pm

It baffles me why CP would buy DM&E, only to sell it a few years later. This might be a case of "keep the good parts and dump the rest".

When we started the DM&E, the the West River Shippers' Association had just won a challenge to the C&NW's attempted abandonment of the PRC (Pierre-Rapid City) line. The C&NW attempted to terminate the railroad at Pierre. The shippers' association members were able to present a convincing case by recording car numbers that the C&NW was diverting traffic that normally would have moved over the PRC to the "Cowboy Line" across Northern Nebraska. This line gave access to Rapid City. The route was Norfolk-Chadron (NE), then Chadron-Rapid City. DM&E was later to buy the line from Chadron to Rapid City, and thence to Belle Fourche (NE) and Colony (WY).

The C&NW line west of Chadron continued into Wyoming on its way to Casper and Lander. This provided DM&E an interchange with C&NW at Chadron. The Cowboy Line east of Chadron in mostly abandoned.

The C&NW, when building across Wyoming, was attempting to become a transcontinental. Lander WY was as far west as it got.
Another few miles would have put it on the western slope. I don't know if this was the result of poor planning, or if they simply ran out of money for the the grading work that would have been needed. They came very close to the route that was later used by the US Steel Wyoming route.

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Re: CNW and abandonments

Postby SlowFreight » Wed Dec 19, 2012 8:35 pm

Desertdweller wrote:It baffles me why CP would buy DM&E, only to sell it a few years later. This might be a case of "keep the good parts and dump the rest".



Very simple, really. Fred Green ran the railroad when it bought DM&E/IC&E. Fred and his management team were fired because they failed. The shareholders replaced them with Hunter Harrison's team. Harrison's team looked at the system and said that the line is viable, but not worth CP's time. When you have limited dollars and a mandate to produce, it's often better to focus than try to maximize traffic everywhere. Fortunately, we live in an era when lines get sold instead of abandoned.
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Re: CNW and abandonments

Postby Desertdweller » Thu Dec 20, 2012 1:14 am

Well, thank God for that at least. And thank South Dakota for having a railbank program.

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Re: CNW and abandonments

Postby Minneapolitan » Sun Jun 23, 2013 2:46 pm

SlowFreight wrote:Now, in other discussions, the same guy that worked hard to divert all KC traffic from the CGW line to the Spine Line (Ed Burkhardt) claimed that at the time abandoning the CGW line across Illinois was a mistake...but that was only because at that time in the early 70s, the CGW was in good shape while the C&NW main was a wreck.


This indicates the tragedy of the Chicago Great Western, so it must be emphasized: The CGW wasn't a redundant railroad. Rather, it was redundant to the C&NW. In fact, I can't think of a worse railroad to have taken it over. It should have been clear to everyone at Oelwein that the C&NW would leave little of it intact.

Although a granger road, no doubt, Chicago Great Western functioned much like an eastern railroad in that it didn't have a sprawled-out network of low-volume, low-value branch lines. CGW's only real network of track was in southeastern Minnesota. The system was primarily just main lines connecting large cities, which meant higher density routes with minimal maintenance costs and better track condition. And these routes were as competitive as any other railroad's. For example, the Burlington Route's main line from Chicago to St. Paul was approximately 434.8 miles. By comparison, Chicago Great Western's main was approximately 425.1 miles. But this route went through some pretty hilly terrain down around Dubuque, so CGW's competitive routes didn't mean dick without good motive power to climb those grades - and CGW certainly kept good motive power. Again, we see a general characteristic of an eastern railroad.

C&NW butchered CGW. It was an incredible waste. C&NW only really had two objectives: reaching Kansas City and eliminating competition. And by the time C&NW's only remaining CGW track was the line to Kansas City, that track had gone to hell as well.

Chicago Great Western wasn't redundant. It just got taken over by the wrong railroad.
Nickel Plate Road should have merged with ERIE.

Duh.
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