Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

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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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby RocketJet » Sun Oct 07, 2012 1:20 pm

Perhaps it is opinion but I have read that it was America's best-deisgned transcontinental line considering its corridor layout and consistent grade, not maintenance. Is the corridor's layout not something that invites potential investment or is it simply TOO far away from everything? Wikipedia said the Montana/Idaho corridor was "rail banked" by the state of Montana so that another rail line could pick it up in the future if they wanted it. Is that true, I have looked around and not read that anywhere else?
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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby Desertdweller » Mon Oct 08, 2012 7:46 pm

Rocketjet,

I don't know about Montana, but South Dakota has a similar law.

The Milwaukee Road PCE main line across northern South Dakota is operated by the BN.
There is another line across the southern part of South Dakota, Sioux Falls to Rapid City. This also has been "rail banked".
Part of it is operated by Dakota Southern.

I think railbanking is an excellent idea.

Les
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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby RocketJet » Tue Oct 09, 2012 8:59 am

Desertdweller wrote:Rocketjet,

I don't know about Montana, but South Dakota has a similar law.

The Milwaukee Road PCE main line across northern South Dakota is operated by the BN.
There is another line across the southern part of South Dakota, Sioux Falls to Rapid City. This also has been "rail banked".
Part of it is operated by Dakota Southern.

I think railbanking is an excellent idea.

Les


That's really interesting. So does railbanking entail the preservation of the tracks, (I know in Montana the tracks were removed) but can it also mean the corridor itself?
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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby CPF363 » Thu Oct 11, 2012 9:10 pm

When GN, NP and CB&Q proposed their merger to become Burlington Northern, Milwaukee Road's management should have asked for something tangible from it in the form of the Northern Pacific in addition to working on a merger with the C&NW. What did they have to lose? The NP-MILW would have created a much more of a competitive railroad to compete directly with BN (CB&Q-GN) in the Chicago-Seattle corridor verses just MILW (or MILW-C&NW) competing with the GN-NP-CB&Q merged system. The MILW & NP fit well with each other, as traffic from the NP could have flowed right down the MILW to Chicago. The NP-MILW could have even created a new main line to Seattle with traffic form both railroads using MILW's Lind-Seattle line and asked for 50% ownership in the SP&S providing alternative connections SP in Oregon. Even the Chicago-to Miles City line could have also been integrated into the new system. If MILW merged with C&NW without NP, the MILW-C&NW system would have had years of catch-up track repair projects to complete, so closing the gap probably would not have saved the MILW. In the grand scheme of things though, the BN made out the best: they were able to get the merger that they wanted and by the end of the 1970s, their major MILW "competition" was gone and BN even ended up with some of MILW's routes to boot. Wonder what the ICC must of said to themselves when MILW announced that they were giving up on the PCT? Maybe they should have looked more seriously at MILW's ability to compete with the proposed BN system and mandated more concessions from BN to MILW during the BN merger deliberations.
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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby JayBee » Sat Oct 13, 2012 12:25 am

A couple of people in MILW middle management have said that the PCE (Pacific Coast Extension) was a money maker for the Milwaukee. They contend that the MILW problems that lead to the final bankruptcy were two fold, first the branchline network in the Midwest was not cut back soon enough, and second MILW top management expended too much effort and money on a merger scheme, first with C&NW, and later trying to be included in the BN merger. For example money spent on maintenance of Iowa lines would have been better spent on the Chicago to PNW line. They also said that the Louisville line was a profitable part until the NS merger in 1982.
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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby Station Aficionado » Sun Oct 14, 2012 9:50 pm

JayBee wrote:A couple of people in MILW middle management have said that the PCE (Pacific Coast Extension) was a money maker for the Milwaukee. They contend that the MILW problems that lead to the final bankruptcy were two fold, first the branchline network in the Midwest was not cut back soon enough, and second MILW top management expended too much effort and money on a merger scheme, first with C&NW, and later trying to be included in the BN merger. For example money spent on maintenance of Iowa lines would have been better spent on the Chicago to PNW line. They also said that the Louisville line was a profitable part until the NS merger in 1982.

Not doubting that someone may have told you that, but it cannot possibly be true--at least with respect to the latter years of operation. As noted above, they often had only one train a day in each direction. No way they made money on that.
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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby Desertdweller » Wed Oct 17, 2012 12:39 am

Rocketjet,

I don't know about Montana, but in South Dakota the rail bank included the track. The right of way is more important than the track, as new railroad construction costs are weighted toward grading, cuts and fills, etc. The track structure itself is only a small part.

It would also be very expensive to have to purchase real estate to re-establish a rail line. People have a habit of building structures on old railroad right-of-way. In St. Paul, Nebraska, for example, a whole neighborhood was constructed on property once occupied by a CB&Q secondary main line.

Another major cost is bridges. Wooden bridges will deteriorate even if they are not being used.

Les
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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby vermontanan » Thu Oct 18, 2012 9:35 pm

RocketJet wrote:Perhaps it is opinion but I have read that it was America's best-deisgned transcontinental line considering its corridor layout and consistent grade, not maintenance. Is the corridor's layout not something that invites potential investment or is it simply TOO far away from everything? Wikipedia said the Montana/Idaho corridor was "rail banked" by the state of Montana so that another rail line could pick it up in the future if they wanted it. Is that true, I have looked around and not read that anywhere else?

.
Best designed? That's pretty vague, but even still not the case. Its profile was probably sightly better than the NP, but inferior to that of UP and Soo Line-CP-Spokane International-UP, and vastly inferior to GN. "Corridor layout" is also another vague term, but suffice it to say that the MILW had a poor branch line network (to places like Great Falls and Spokane), and unlike the other railroads (until BN merger in 1970) didn't serve Portland, or as in the case of the GN, didn't go to Vancouver, BC. As for "potential investment," what better indication of the route's worthiness could there be than that almost the entire main line west of Terry, Montana could be abandoned in one fell swoop? Clearly, it went away with minimal impact, and no entity saw sufficient value to rescue it.
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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby vermontanan » Sat Oct 20, 2012 10:57 am

CPF363 wrote:The NP-MILW could have even created a new main line to Seattle with traffic form both railroads using MILW's Lind-Seattle line


Unlikely. The traffic off such a "merged" system would continue through to Pasco where much of the traffic would use the already-in-place hump yard. The only part of the Milwaukee that would have been used would be Easton to Black River, to take advantage of the Milwaukee's good (at least westbound) crossing of the Cascades at Snoqualmie Pass versus NP's crossing of Stampede. In spite of the longer mileage, using the NP from Lind through Pasco to Easton would be highly preferable to the Milwaukee's 2.2 westbound and 1.6 eastbound grades crossing the Saddle Mountains betweeen Beverly and Kittitas. In other words, at least west of Terry, Montana, NP+MILW would look pretty much like it does now except for the Snoqualmie Pass route. NP's route through Billings would certainly have been kept in preference to the traffic desert of Roundup and Harlowton; NP via Helena or MILW via Butte is pretty much a tossup, but the NP line was already CTC, and no way anyone would want the MILW's curvy 1.7 percent climb of the Bitteroots (St. Paul Pass) when the NP had a route from Missoula to Spokane with a grade of less than 1 percent.
.

CPF363 wrote:In the grand scheme of things though, the BN made out the best: they were able to get the merger that they wanted and by the end of the 1970s, their major MILW "competition" was gone and BN even ended up with some of MILW's routes to boot. Wonder what the ICC must of said to themselves when MILW announced that they were giving up on the PCT? Maybe they should have looked more seriously at MILW's ability to compete with the proposed BN system and mandated more concessions from BN to MILW during the BN merger deliberations.


That the BN "even ended up with some of the MILW's routes" is irrelevent. The only part of the MILW main line BN got west of Terry worth keeping - the line over Snoqualmie Pass - they foolishly never used and eventually abandoned. The line east of Terry (basically the trackage throughout South Dakota) is used primarily, some three decades later, for traffic generated locally and rarely for through trains to and from elsewhere on the system.
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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby CPF363 » Mon Dec 03, 2012 10:31 pm

In the 1960s, management at the Milwaukee Road should have been looking out for the best interests of the company. Their ideas for merger with the C&NW were good ones, however, there was the possibility that the MILW-C&NW merger could possibly not happen. The MILW should have had a Plan B in the works to protect the company's interests. It would have been completely reasonable for MILW to ask for something decent from BN as a condition of their merger. Getting the NP and possibly the Laurel, MT to Omaha from the CB&Q would have created two competitive railroad systems serving the northern tier states verses one very strong one against a weak one. It is reasonable to assume that if MILW ended up with the conditions, much of MILW's line west of Terry, MT would have been deemed redundant.
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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby westcoastrails » Sat Mar 02, 2013 3:20 am

Closing the gap likely would have helped the MILW survived, but the gap was the least of MILWs worries. It was only running one train a day because all of their customers had been driven off by the horrendous service and slow speeds resulting from years of mismanagement and under investment. I don't think closing the gap could have ever dealt with that. On the other hand, it appears that if money had been available to rebuild the dilapidated lines before all of the customers were driven off, the MILW could likely have made a go of it with the gap or even without electrification. Whether or not a perfectly smooth running pacific extension would have ever been able to prop up the old Eastern grainger lines is hard to say. Likely not, but it may have given them the wiggle room to do a smooth restructuring.

It would be interesting to see how an electrified line would do in current railroading. Studies have shown electrified trolley buses to be incredibly efficient in Vancouver due to their long life, low maintenance, and regenerative abilities. The easily pay for themselves over the diesels they operate beside, while producing far far less emissions (even if coal is used as the electricity source). Even more impressively they do this while running on the busiest routes with the most stop and go traffic and higher passenger loads. One would expect railways to be much the same.
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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby mtuandrew » Tue Mar 05, 2013 6:46 pm

Remember too that GE offered to finance the $40 million rehabilitation of the wires and filling the gap in 1973 or thereabouts, as well as financing new equipment. I wonder what their motors would have looked like - probably E60-like, but I suppose they could have resembled a U-boat hood unit too.

A few posters have noted that the wire wasn't really bad, and despite being no more than twigs in some areas the poles weren't in danger of collapse. The ties were the main issue, and GE's proposal didn't cover the roadbed where the deferred maintenance was really showing.
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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby Desertdweller » Thu Mar 14, 2013 7:41 pm

What a shame that we never got to see black-and-orange E-60's.

I don't know if it would have made a difference from an economic standpoint. But the railfan world is definitely poorer for the way things turned out.

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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby vermontanan » Fri Mar 15, 2013 5:19 pm

The Milwaukee's horrible profile - requiring more locomotive power than the competition - would have doomed the Western Extension regardless. But getting rid of the electrification was the right move, whether the gap would have been "filled" or not.

The efficiency of an electrified operation cannot be denied if one only looks at the cost of an electric vs. diesel from point A to point B. It's interesting that the many disadvantages and inefficiencies of electrification are usually overlooked.

The chief disadvantage of an electrified railroad is its geographic limitations. In a day when railroads are touting the advantage or hauling crude oil by train over a pipeline because railroads go most everywhere and the pipeline network is limited, much the same comparison can be made between diesel and electrified railroad operations. Except for rare instances such as the tunnels entering Penn Station in New York as an example, diesel-electric locomotives can run on any track, anywhere. Electric locomotives can only run where there is an existing power source (catenary, third rail). On the Milwaukee, this was only from Harlowton to Seattle and Tacoma, excluding the gap. None of the branch lines, or any east of Harlowon was electrified.

Today, locomotives run from coast to coast on numerous carriers with changing power, and the most efficient train is one that travels from origin to destination with the least number of power modifications. The limited scope of the Milwaukee electrification made this type of operation (especially considering how railroading has evolved since the demise of the Western Extension) inherently costly and inefficient.

As an example, say that both the BN and MILW were handling a unit grain train between two points common to both railroads, Great Falls, Montana and Portland, Oregon. BN would assign power in Great Falls and it would be used to take the train to Portland with the only modification likely cutting power, if needed, at Whitefish, Spokane, or Pasco. The MILW would need actually more diesel power to get the train to Harlowton than BN assigned (the grade on the MILW between Great Falls and Harlowton was actually greater than on BN from Great Falls to Portland). At Harlowton, the diesel power would come off and be replaced by electric power which would handle the train to Tacoma (receiving helpers, as necessary, at three locations, and assuming the Avery-Othello electrification gap to be filled). At Tacoma, the electric power would come off and be replaced with diesel power (again) for Portland (and a lot of it, given the three percent grade of Tacoma Hill).

In addition to the cost of physically changing power en route, a bigger expense is "locomotive dwell" and train delay. When power has to be changed, it often waits at a location for the next assignment, or if the train is delayed inbound, the planned outbound train is delayed for its arrival. There is a cost for both of these cases, and the Milwaukee would incur these costs once or more for any relatively long-haul movement. Diesel power just runs through.

Of course, the Milwaukee could have "simply" electrified every route to fix this problem, but that's another huge cost to do that. Also not considered by electrification proponents is that the Milwaukee really didn't have a lot of electric power. Their newest electrics - the "Little Joes" - were over a quarter-century old when electrification was discontinued, and there were only 12 of them. Considering the size of today's trains, if would take 8 of the 12 Little Joes (each one would pull about as much as a C44 does today) to move a standard "shuttle" grain train west of Harlowton to the West Coast (assuming no auxiliary helper power), or 75% of the existing locomotives. To completely handle the number of trains that would be necessary to made the Pacific Extension viable (relatively speaking) would take literally hundreds more locomotives, which would be a huge expense for locomotives that would be limited to electrified lines on the Milwaukee alone, because no other railroads could accommodate this power.

The Milwaukee did mix their electric and diesel power, with the diesel power running through (again because that is most efficient, but also because of the "gap"), but the electric power was basically extra power for use over the steepest grades. In this scenario, you lose the primary benefit of electrification, and there are still the dwell and connection costs between assignments.

The potential scenarios on "what if" are numerous, but in the end you get the same result. Too much cost for additional electrification, too much cost for additional electric locomotives, too much cost for electric and diesel locomotives dwelling at the power change location awaiting the next assignment, too much cost for trains dwelling at the power change location awaiting a delayed inbound train, or as it really was, too much cost needing more power than the competition, and a route structure that created a lot of circuity.
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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby fredmcain » Wed Jun 25, 2014 10:47 am

Let's bring this thread a little more up to date to the summer of 2014

Just look at what's been happening all over North America. Rail freight traffic is booming while our Interstate Highways are deteriorating, saturated in places with heavy truck traffic. Our great leaders in Washington D.C. don't seem to be able to agree on a highway funding plan so they just kick the can down the road. Could some of our interstates lie at the threshold of a "death spiral" like the Milwaukee Road's track did in the 1970's? Well, O.K., maybe that's a bit of a stretch but we are in real trouble. And just when rail traffic congestion couldn't get any worse, the "crude-by-rail" boom occurs! The ex-GN line is so saturated that Amtrak is unable to get over the road. Grain farmers are screaming that they can't get their product moved.

So, by taking all these facts into consideration, I have arrived at the conclusion that the time has come to take a second and very hard look at the abandoment of the Milwaukee Road.

Regards,
Fred M. Cain
Fred M. Cain,
New Haven Railroad fan
Not afraid to use my own name
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