MILW Lines West: WHY, WHY, WHY!!!

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: MILW Lines West: WHY, WHY, WHY!!!

Postby vermontanan » Mon Sep 29, 2014 8:25 pm

Mr. Norman,
I accept that you don’t believe the Milwaukee Road Pacific Extension should be revived, but with regard to your statement about railbanking, even IF it was allowed to remain in its “Natural State” (no, not Arkansas), it is illogical to assume it could still be functioning today. Even if no entity had to pay taxes on the property or the like, it would have continued to deteriorate, and it’s important to remember that the deterioration of Lines West began in the early 1970s, so if someone wanted to start using it, they would not only have to overcome 40 years of deterioration, but also would be stuck with a property that had no working signal system, lineside detectors and inadequate sidings. And then there’s the recurring reason that the Milwaukee Road Pacific Extension isn’t around: It was the high-cost route, and therefore short of someone magically making it a railroad with the infrastructure comparable to BNSF or UP, its horrible operating characteristics would make it all the more unpalatable for revival.

I also accept that you are not willing to elaborate one why you believe “tonnage isn’t the issue with containers.”

--Mark Meyer
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Re: MILW Lines West: WHY, WHY, WHY!!!

Postby vermontanan » Mon Sep 29, 2014 8:53 pm

Gokeefe:

Actually, velocity has increased dramatically on BNSF’s “Northern Trancontinental” since an additional 45 or so miles of second main track has been added and the route through Grand Forks has been made into an alternate main. BNSF was detouring Chicago-West Coast traffic via Lincoln and Helena, a route that was significantly longer, and could cost up to $30,000 more per train. But they no longer need to do so.

The big chokepoint for all Western Railroads is interchanging to Eastern roads at Chicago. Of the three Western Roads – BNSF, UP, and CP, CP (ex-MILW) by far has the most cumbersome route across Chicago for interchange. But regardless of how traffic gets to Chicago, things will not improve dramatically until CSX and NS increase capacity east of Chicago.

BNSF has a huge capital plan for 2015 and 2016 and by 2016 will have two main tracks all the way from Savanna, IL to the Montana-North Dakota border west of Williston, as well as additional upgrades west of there. Given the improvements in velocity since the existing upgrades have been put in place, it is only logical that velocity will increase all the more. Spending money in this way is infinitely more cost effective than reviving the Milwaukee Pacific Extension. Not only is it the highest cost route to move traffic, but would require billions and billions of capital just to get the thing in place on par with the competition. Clearly this money could be better spent adding capacity on existing routes, all of which are cheaper to operate, and therefore more cost effective in creating more money for capital enhancements.

As the article in the Fargo (ND) Forum newspaper reported with regard to an STB hearing held in Fargo in September, the are several Ag companies are going to locate new facilities (in places like Pillsbury and Spiritwood in North Dakota) along BNSF rather than CP because BNSF is being proactive in increasing capacity and therefore will eventually be able to handle their business as they expect. In other words, go with the railroad that is doing something about the problem.

The Milwaukee made very few changes to its infrastructure during its short existence as a “transcontinental.” It never could afford to place ABS over its entire length, when it electrified, it did so in fragmented sections, and it never lengthened sidings to any degree or installed power switches or hot box detectors. Mostly, because it couldn’t afford to because it cost more to move traffic than the competition. Therefore, it’s perplexing when people suggest reviving a route that we know couldn’t compete, much less earn a sufficient return to upgrade physical plant rather than continuing investment in known successful routes. And, since the North Dakota oil boom is pretty much unprecedented with regard to a sudden spike in traffic and no route can handle an infinite amount of traffic, it would be logical to wait and see what happens when the enhancements are made, rather than touting a route history has proven didn’t work.

--Mark Meyer
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Re: MILW Lines West: WHY, WHY, WHY!!!

Postby gokeefe » Tue Sep 30, 2014 9:55 pm

The above brings to mind the Alphabet Soup route in the east which was composed of some of the anthracite roads and some other secondary Class Is (in those times) as an alternative to either the NYC or the PRR. Although the MILW did in fact build the entire route themselves it certainly does sound as if it was in effect a series of local granger branch lines strung together.
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Re: MILW Lines West: WHY, WHY, WHY!!!

Postby mtuandrew » Thu Oct 02, 2014 9:34 am

gokeefe wrote:The above brings to mind the Alphabet Soup route in the east which was composed of some of the anthracite roads and some other secondary Class Is (in those times) as an alternative to either the NYC or the PRR. Although the MILW did in fact build the entire route themselves it certainly does sound as if it was in effect a series of local granger branch lines strung together.

In terms of routing, sure - the Milwaukee did absorb the Montana Central and jump off from its own agricultural branches in South Dakota. More so though, from descriptions by Messrs. Norman and Meyer, it was a 1925 mainline railroad in 1975.

Out of all the proposals to reactivate the MILW, Snoqualmie Pass and the Lind-Ellensburg cutoff seem to hbe the most economic benefit (for the BNSF.)
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Re: MILW Lines West: WHY, WHY, WHY!!!

Postby CPF363 » Sun Oct 12, 2014 8:18 pm

There probably would not be a Milwaukee Road Pacific Extension if E.H. Harriman had been able to acquire control of the Northern Pacific in 1901 during his stock raid. He was after it to gain influence in the Burlington. If Harriman had been successful, it is anyone's guess as to how everything would have played out. The Burlington could have been broken up between the two. More interesting would have been where the Milwaukee and the C&NW east of the St. Paul and Omaha would have gone.
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Re: MILW Lines West: WHY, WHY, WHY!!!

Postby vermontanan » Sat Dec 06, 2014 8:51 am

For more information about the "WHY" check out:

http://www.trainweb.org/milwaukeemyths/
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Re: MILW Lines West: WHY, WHY, WHY!!!

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Sat Dec 06, 2014 10:58 am

Mr. Meyer, indeed a well researched work that I have every intent to give it the justice it deserves.

I of course cannot help but note that the book by Thomas Ploss is not cited in your work.

Finally, allow me to reiterate my positions regarding Lines West; it should have never been built to begin with, but that it was, and had somehow the ROW been abandoned in place with no real estate taxes or tort liability inuring to any party, i.e. the abandoned railroad is deemed "the natural state", it would be providing railroad transportation today.
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Re: MILW Lines West: WHY, WHY, WHY!!!

Postby vermontanan » Sat Dec 06, 2014 1:08 pm

Mr. Norman,

Mr. Ploss's book is not citied because it did not make claims, one way or the other about the operational efficiency or inefficiency of the railroad.

You may think a railroad that left dormant for 30+ years could be "providing transportation today," but you have to first explain how the funding to have it completely renovated and have the infrastructure expanded (new and longer sidings, wayside detectors, CTC, etc.) would appear, who would provide it, and who would do so on a route inherently inferior to the competition, and how this inferior route could pay for itself in perpetuity. I await your response.

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Re: MILW Lines West: WHY, WHY, WHY!!!

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Sat Dec 06, 2014 2:55 pm

Mr. Meyer, at this time, the point of whether or not the MILW-LW would be restored to service; if somehow "abandoned in place", is quite moot, and I wholly agree that the line would not simply be waiting there in any state that could be called operable for a train to roll again.

The Olympian Hi was of course before my time; but I have traversed much of LW on a Hy-Rail, track car, or engine.

GBN
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Re: MILW Lines West: WHY, WHY, WHY!!!

Postby gokeefe » Sun Dec 07, 2014 8:38 am

vermontanan wrote:Mr. Norman,

Mr. Ploss's book is not citied because it did not make claims, one way or the other about the operational efficiency or inefficiency of the railroad.

You may think a railroad that left dormant for 30+ years could be "providing transportation today," but you have to first explain how the funding to have it completely renovated and have the infrastructure expanded (new and longer sidings, wayside detectors, CTC, etc.) would appear, who would provide it, and who would do so on a route inherently inferior to the competition, and how this inferior route could pay for itself in perpetuity. I await your response.

Mark Meyer


I can imagine circumstances, similar to those we are dealing with right now where are surge of traffic combined with strengthening economic conditions would provide economic justification for reactivation. I think your standard is artifically high. As a retired CPA well known to these parts might note Return on Investment, depending on the accepted standard, does not have to be perpetual it simply has to provide return of a % acceptable to investors over a specified period of time.

In fact in the most recent issue of TRAINS there was an opinion piece by one of the senior members of the editorial staff calling for consideration of not just double main line track but parallel routes. While "lines West" might be inferior and problematic in many ways it would certainly be a cheaper option than building a Right of Way from scratch. Depending on the pricing structure it could either be operated as a "relief" or as a line for "priority" trains.
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Re: MILW Lines West: WHY, WHY, WHY!!!

Postby vermontanan » Sun Dec 07, 2014 8:37 pm

gokeefe wrote:In fact in the most recent issue of TRAINS there was an opinion piece by one of the senior members of the editorial staff calling for consideration of not just double main line track but parallel routes. While "lines West" might be inferior and problematic in many ways it would certainly be a cheaper option than building a Right of Way from scratch. Depending on the pricing structure it could either be operated as a "relief" or as a line for "priority" trains.


Interesting. I have the most recent issue of TRAINS (January 2015 issue) and I don't see that editorial. All I see is one from the editor, Jim Wrinn, wondering if double track is sufficient, and whether a third main might be necessary (but on the same route, not a parallel one).

While rebuilding the Milwaukee Pacific Extension would certainly be cheaper than building one from scratch, it would also be infinitely more expensive than simply adding a second or third main track on the existing route. In other words, for all the money (and it would be a huge amount) required to revive the Pacific Extension, adding capacity on the low-cost route instead would pay off the investment much more quickly and generate capital for even more expansion if necessary.

As for operating an inferior route as an relief valve, this, too, is horrendously expensive. Ask anyone in railroad operations when there is a service interruption on a major route and the desire is to detour numerous trains on detour route, that is usually longer, steeper, or slower. Positioning additional crews and power and the resulting loss of velocity (car and locomotive cycle time) is costly and time consuming. It's not something that should be done except when absolutely necessary (like the other route being blocked completely). In the case of the railroads today, they're congested, but they're still using the best routes, and the best choice to receive dollars to make them all the more efficient.
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Re: MILW Lines West: WHY, WHY, WHY!!!

Postby mtuandrew » Mon Dec 08, 2014 8:18 pm

I tend to agree with Mr. Wrinn - double and triple tracks are efficient. Pushing some through freights over the NP might be worthwhile in the short term, but BNSF loses more money by using the less-suitable railroad. At that point, they might lose less money by taking advantage of haulage over the prairie, then forwarding traffic to another transcon over the mountains. The only place where I see a MILW Lines West reactivation being preferable to no reactivation would be the Lind - Ellensburg cutoff, because of the extreme cost of improving Cascade Pass and the underused state of Stampede Pass.

If the Milwaukee had merged with the C&NW, if the property had ended up in the hands of the Union Pacific... that's another matter. Lines West would have served as an originating line as well as a through line, in a territory which the UP doesn't serve. Note that the BNSF kept the segments (in South Dakota) which originate traffic and which serve as cutoffs not otherwise duplicating their own system.
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Re: MILW Lines West: WHY, WHY, WHY!!!

Postby gokeefe » Mon Dec 08, 2014 10:06 pm

vermontanan wrote:Interesting. I have the most recent issue of TRAINS (January 2015 issue) and I don't see that editorial. All I see is one from the editor, Jim Wrinn, wondering if double track is sufficient, and whether a third main might be necessary (but on the same route, not a parallel one).


I took another look at Jim Wrinn's editorial (which was the piece referenced). I agree that he is not directly advocating for reopening old main lines. It certainly appears to be the case that he is in fact advocating for triple tracking and/or other modifications to currently existing Rights of Way. The piece is somewhat ambiguous on this point but I think we have to believe this to be the case by default as the more radical position by far would be to advocate for reopening an old Right of Way.

That being said I think BNSF and others are reaching a point right now were alternate routes are being not only considered but used. See some of the recent changes by railroads being done to avoid going through Chicago. In effect we are seeing a reconfiguration of the traditional railroad mainlines in order to improve velocity and avoid bottlenecks. Alternate routes may not be ideal but anything is better than 0 MPH.
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Re: MILW Lines West: WHY, WHY, WHY!!!

Postby brokenrail » Sun Mar 15, 2015 11:22 pm

Great argument for why the Milwaukee Pacific extension was doomed, Mark, but you forget one thing. All the things that made it difficult to operate made it attractive to railfans. Mountains, grades, partial electrification and the underdog status. You're confusing the issue with facts.

To add to your argument the fact that the NP, parallel to the MILW, Garrison to Missoula, ripped up its second main before the MILW was abandoned. Clearly there was not the traffic to justify the MILW. Also if the BN gave up on Homestake how could the MILW be needed over Pipestone? Need we mention the excess capacity of the SP&S at the time it was abandoned east of Pasco? In fact that proves your point that double tracking an existing route may be more economical than retaining two separate mains (with sidings).
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Re: MILW Lines West: WHY, WHY, WHY!!!

Postby mtuandrew » Mon Mar 16, 2015 11:12 am

brokenrail wrote:Great argument for why the Milwaukee Pacific extension was doomed, Mark, but you forget one thing. All the things that made it difficult to operate made it attractive to railfans. Mountains, grades, partial electrification and the underdog status. You're confusing the issue with facts.

To add to your argument the fact that the NP, parallel to the MILW, Garrison to Missoula, ripped up its second main before the MILW was abandoned. Clearly there was not the traffic to justify the MILW. Also if the BN gave up on Homestake how could the MILW be needed over Pipestone? Need we mention the excess capacity of the SP&S at the time it was abandoned east of Pasco? In fact that proves your point that double tracking an existing route may be more economical than retaining two separate mains (with sidings).

Sounds like the NP fell victim to the MILW's success with traffic out of Seattle - I've read that "The Milwaukee was having our traffic for lunch," from a BN veteran. That, and the ex-GN probably got most of the through traffic with its lower grades. (And did the NP upgrade its signals during the 1970s? That could have been enough to allow for similar traffic levels with only one track.)
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