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 TREnecNYP » Sun Jun 06, 2010 1:52 am

neroden wrote:
lvrr325 wrote:No, but only because after 1959 the Milwaukee was run by shortsighted fools playing games to keep the balance sheets looking good while only interested in merger with another road.


This is a fairly good description. The sequence of boneheaded moves is legendary. It wasn't just one, it was one after another after another.


I agree.

I really think closing the gap by itself would not have been a solution, however putting up wires from the eastern end of electrification, to all the branch line and main line end points in washington, montana & idaho would very much have made a difference. As far as double stacks go, any tunnels could have been wired to only give power to one short segment at a time, never giving the electricity a place to go aside down the pan, and the height of wire elsewhere didnt need to be an issue, there are locations in NJ & PA where the wires are higher for greater clearance. Replacing the track with CWR or even doing fishplate re-enforced thermite welds would have achieved the desired results. If they had invested in the physical plant, it would have paid off. I think merging with EL makes sense, i think EL + MILW = what this country could have used in the 70's. Imagine being able to ship something coming from asia/india from washington to the east coast sans panama canal.....

That said i also think that if more of the big 'roads had merged earlier on, we'd still have trains running where there used to be a ROW and now a housing subdivision sits there. MILW may not have had all of the shortest routes, but if it had combined with EL, that system would be alive today.

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

Postby mtuandrew » Mon Jun 07, 2010 8:29 pm

TREnecNYP wrote:I agree.

I really think closing the gap by itself would not have been a solution, however putting up wires from the eastern end of electrification, to all the branch line and main line end points in washington, montana & idaho would very much have made a difference. As far as double stacks go, any tunnels could have been wired to only give power to one short segment at a time, never giving the electricity a place to go aside down the pan, and the height of wire elsewhere didnt need to be an issue, there are locations in NJ & PA where the wires are higher for greater clearance. Replacing the track with CWR or even doing fishplate re-enforced thermite welds would have achieved the desired results. If they had invested in the physical plant, it would have paid off. I think merging with EL makes sense, i think EL + MILW = what this country could have used in the 70's. Imagine being able to ship something coming from asia/india from washington to the east coast sans panama canal.....

That said i also think that if more of the big 'roads had merged earlier on, we'd still have trains running where there used to be a ROW and now a housing subdivision sits there. MILW may not have had all of the shortest routes, but if it had combined with EL, that system would be alive today.

- A


The wire was the least of the Milwaukee's issues, unfortunately, though it was rough too. When General Electric offered to electrify the gap and renew the overhead, the track was already in terrible shape, and would only get worse. You're right - if the Milwaukee could have gotten a bank loan to invest in CWR and especially a full reballasting operation, it would have helped matters immensely. But, the Milwaukee might have been unable to find an underwriter for that loan. Lines East's branchlines were a terrible drain on the system, and to temporarily stem the tide, the previous management rebuilt, sold and leased back Milwaukee-built cars without being able to maintain the lease payments.

Essentially, on any number of occasions the MILW could have better secured its future, but management chose differently. It could have purchased the C&NW outright when Heinemann offered it to the CMStP&P management, it could have pursued merger with any number of roads that weren't named BN or UP, it could have tried to push a branch south from Terry, MT or west from Rapid City, SD into the Powder River Basin coalfields, or it simply could have adopted the "Milwaukee One and a Half" plan advocated by SORE in the late 1970s, keeping the Pacific Extension open and abandoning or selling most of the Eastern trackage. For that matter, a conservative plan to keep electrification open, abandon weak lines and sell land, and let the lease-back cars go in favor of second-hand cars would have probably allowed the Milwaukee to enter the post-Staggers deregulation intact. If that had happened, the entire line from Chicago through Milwaukee to Seattle would still be intact - I'd guess it would be a Union Pacific property by now though (whether directly or through the Southern Pacific.)
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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby vermontanan » Sun Jun 13, 2010 1:54 pm

mtuandrew wrote:
TREnecNYP wrote:I agree.

Essentially, on any number of occasions the MILW could have better secured its future, but management chose differently. It could have purchased the C&NW outright when Heinemann offered it to the CMStP&P management, it could have pursued merger with any number of roads that weren't named BN or UP, it could have tried to push a branch south from Terry, MT or west from Rapid City, SD into the Powder River Basin coalfields, or it simply could have adopted the "Milwaukee One and a Half" plan advocated by SORE in the late 1970s, keeping the Pacific Extension open and abandoning or selling most of the Eastern trackage. For that matter, a conservative plan to keep electrification open, abandon weak lines and sell land, and let the lease-back cars go in favor of second-hand cars would have probably allowed the Milwaukee to enter the post-Staggers deregulation intact. If that had happened, the entire line from Chicago through Milwaukee to Seattle would still be intact - I'd guess it would be a Union Pacific property by now though (whether directly or through the Southern Pacific.)


Whether the Milwaukee would have lasted into the post-Staggers era is one of those "Chicken-or-Egg" scenarios, because there's a reason the it didn't last, and if it did, it was not positioned to compete in more recent times. It's also hard to agree with the suggestion that "Lines East" were a real drain on the Milwaukee when a surprising amount of them are still around today. In the 30 years since 1980, no one has made any serious attempt to revive any of the abandoned MILW main line west of Miles City, yet much of the ex-MILW branch to Ontonagon in Michigan is only now threatened with abandonment (as an example).

There are many theories as to why the west end of the MILW went under, mostly having to do with bad management practices. Such things were easy to find during this time on many railroads, so this would be a commonplace suggestion as to why the MILW went away. Less discussed, and probably the major reason it's not around is that a.)there were too many railroads in the area, and b.)it had by far the inferior route not only on its main line, but nearly to everywhere else on the west end of the railroad.

In January 1970, the states of Washington and Oregon combined had about one-fourth the population of California, but were served by "transcontinental" railroads GN, NP, MILW, and UP. Soo Line-CP-UP created another way to get from the Upper Midwest to the Pacific Northwest via the Spokane International Railroad, and of course, CP and CN were just across the border in British Columbia. Clearly, the American Pacific Northwest and Canadian Pacific Southwest had more links from that area to the American Midwest than did California. Not only did California have a greater population, but he intermediate markets to/from California were much larger. In other words, Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, Denver, and Salt Lake City dwarf the likes of Fargo and Billings, and even Spokane. So, obviously, one such railroad to the Pacific Northwest could be spared, and it would be logically the weakest one.

"Weakest" is subjective, but in this case, pretty much everything points to the MILW. While there were no really big cities between Minneapolis and Seattle, the MILW managed to serve places like Fargo, Great Falls, and Spokane on the ends of long branch lines, which added costs. And unlike the Great Northern that served Vancouver, BC and Portland, OR directly and had its own route to and from California, MILW didn't go to Vancouver, BC, and couldn't even interchange with Southern Pacific because it didn't reach Portland (until 1970). In other words, there was a lot of territory the MILW missed, and where it did go, it often relied on circuitous branch lines or even carferries.

The Milwaukee's profile is probably the least-accepted reason for its demise, but could be the primary reason. It's important to remember that back in the days before deregulation, railroads had to charge the same rate between the same two points. For many shipments, that meant that the MILW needed to expend more resources to move the same car.

The MILW had these major grades over 1 percent on its Western Extension:
Westbound:
1.4 percent at Loweth, between Harlowton and Ringling
2.0 percent over Pipestone Pass (Continental Divide, east of Butte)
1.7 percent over St. Paul Pass (Montana/Idaho border)
2.2 percent over the Saddle Mountains (west of Beverly, WA)
And when it got access to Portland as conditions as part of the BN merger:
3.0 percent departing Tacoma (Tacoma Hill).

In contrast, Great Northern had west of Havre:
1.3 percent at Bison, Montana (east of the Continental Divide)
2.2 percent over Stevens Pass (between Wenatchee and Everett)

As information, NP had west of Livingston:
1.8 percent over Bozeman Pass
2.2 percent over Mullan Pass (Continental Divide west of Helena)
2.2 percent over Stampede Pass (between Ellensburg and Auburn)


Eastbound, the MILW:
1.7 percent over Snoqualmie Pass (east of Cedar Falls, WA)
1.6 percent to Boylston, WA (east of Kittitas, WA)
1.7 percent over St. Paul Pass (Idaho/Montana border)
1.7 percent over Pipestone Pass (Continental Divide east of Butte)

Eastbound, GN:
2.2 percent over Stevens Pass (between Everett and Wenatchee)
1.8 percent over Marias Pass (east of Essex, Montana).

Eastbound, NP:
2.2 percent over Stampede Pass (between Auburn and Ellensburg)
1.4 percent over Mullan Pass (Continental Divide west of Helena)
1.9 percent over Bozeman Pass

While the GN route (most of which became the main freight route for Burlington Northern after the 1970 merger) is clearly superior, other things need to be considered. For instance, the 2.2 percent grade is only for traffic to and from the Seattle area. Great Northern routed traffic for Portland and Longview via Pasco and Vancouver, WA and its SP&S subsidiary, which was a water level route (along the Columbia River) through the Cascades. The MILW had no such option, it had to tackle each and every hill, as it had no alternate routes.

In the 1970s, grain produced in places like Montana began being shipped for export at Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA in great quantities. In fact, today, nearly 100 percent of grain that goes west grown in Montana is destined to places like the Portland/Vancouver area, or Kalama/Longview, and not Seattle. This is was and would be a huge disadvantage for the MILW. In 1968, the MILW made much of its "Golden Grain Train" which was about 40 cars from its Northern Montana Branch destined to Longview, WA. Given that a similar trip from Great Falls to Longview via GN would only encounter one grade over 1 percent en route (Bison), compared to 6 such grades (and the GN grade over 1 percent was only nominally so, the Milwaukee's were much in excess of 1 percent in most cases, and included a 1.5 percent grade between Great Falls and Harlowton not indicated earlier) on the MILW, one has to wonder if this was a paying proposition for the MILW, especially considering the MILW route was also about 300 miles further.

There are two ways to deal with steep grades; helper power can be staged where needed or the train must be powered sufficiently over the entire route to pull the steepest grade. Either way is expensive. Helpers require helper power and manpower. Running extra road power increases locomotive power demand. So, the more locations where such additional power is required, the more cost that is involved.

While it is true that Union Pacific and Northern Pacific also encountered steep grades on their route, they also had some offsetting advantages. UP's route through Southern Idaho and Wyoming tapped an area where there was no other railroad, so the online business was theirs exclusively. NP had the best routes to places like Bismarck, Billings, Helena, and Yakima where other railroads were secondary. NP, like GN, had the option to route the heaviest shipments on subsidiary SP&S and interchanged with SP in Portland directly.

So, it's pretty obvious that most cars shipped on the MILW required more people and locomotive power than if it was handled on GN (later BN) or even NP. An important point to consider would also be how, if the MILW had survived, could it have competed in today's environment? Today, railroads compete by the rates they charge, which is different than before 1980. But today's trains are also much bigger.

A generic 110-car grain train operated today runs with pretty standard power on BNSF, usually C44s. Trains routed via the ex-GN route across Marias Pass depart Havre with 4 locomotives, 2 on the head end, and 2 on the rear, operating in distributed power mode. Helpers are not required, and can go through to destination with this power. Trains bound for Seattle and Tacoma usually route via the ex-SP&S so no additional power is needed (though some are being sent via Wenatchee during this maintenance of way season, requiring more power), and if necessary, 25% of the power can be cut at Spokane and operated west of there with 3 locomotives.

In contrast, these same trains operating via the ex-NP Montana Rail Link route depart Laurel with 3 C44s in 2 by 1 distributed power configuration. At Livingston, MRL adds three SD70AC units midtrain for use to Bozeman, where they're cut out. At Helena, five SD70AC units are added midtrain for use to Elliston. The additional costs here as opposed to the Marias Pass route are obvious: Helper crews, helper power, and one that is not so obvious: the cost in cycle time for equipment waiting for such helper power and crews to be available for subsequent helps. The capacity of any helper operation is always limited to the amount of time it takes to cycle the power back to help another train and the number of helper crews available to maintain the helper operation.

A current-day scenario on the MILW (IF still around) would require additional through power for hill at Loweth (steeper than Marias, and likely not to warrant a helper, as the MILW never used helpers here), helpers to be cut in at Pipestone Pass (similar to NP's Mullan Pass in grade), St. Paul Pass (similar to NP's Bozeman Pass in grade), Boylston/Saddle Mountains (similar to NP's Mullan Pass in grade), and Tacoma Hill (if a train bound for Aberdeen, Longview, Kalama, Vancouver, or Portland; would require double the power of Loweth).

That's why I say the scenario of What-if-the-MILW-was-still-around is one that is "Chicken-or-Egg." Was the MILW Pacific Extension abandoned because it was simply more expensive than the competition or would it have later folded anyway because it would be fantastically inefficient for the heavier trains to come? It never made it past 1980, so I think history answers that one, but regardless, it really doesn't matter, because in either scenario, there is no reason to consider the MILW as something worth keeping. And that's really the important thing to remember: No one saw value in keeping the MILW. If they had, it would still be here.

The Rock Island failed the same year that the MILW Western Extension was abandoned. Like the MILW, the CRI&P was in horrible shape just about everyplace, but much of it survives today. Kansas City to Santa Rosa, NM, Twin Cities to Kansas City, and Herington, KS to Fort Worth are important routes for UP. Iowa Interstate still operates the CRI&P all the way across Iowa. As bad as the Rock was, much of it was purchased and upgraded, because its route still had value. If the MILW Western Extension really could have been competitive with the other railroads in the area, or had served an area where others didn't, like the Rock, it would have been saved, but most of it wasn't. That speaks for itself.
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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby mtuandrew » Sun Sep 25, 2011 10:20 pm

Old topic, but the recent posts in the UP Overhead Traffic thread reminded me of a question.

Did the Milwaukee have enough substation and catenary capacity to run all of its mainline freights with only electric power? Obviously the gap and non-electrified branch lines complicated things, as did the lack of motors nearer 1974. Still, there are enough pictures of combined electric and diesel-powered trains that it makes me wonder whether the MILW ever could run a full-length freight without pushers.
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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby vermontanan » Fri Oct 28, 2011 5:02 pm

If you can find one, I recommend Noel Holley's book "The Milwaukee Electrics" (first published in 1987). In it he chronicles the operation of the electrified territory, and how the system could not provide sufficient power when there were multiple heavy trains in the area. And, in the case of the Avery-Harlowton portion, it's important to remember that there were only 12 "Little Joes" (ever), so one can only imagine if newer locomotives had been obtained, and how this would have overrun the existing system.
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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby Desertdweller » Sun Oct 30, 2011 9:57 pm

As I have said earlier, in relation to the attempted UP-RI merger, at least a fair share of the blame belongs to the ICC.

The BN merger was allowed by the ICC, in part, because it would not result in a monopoly in the Northwest. The Milwaukee Road's existence provided an alternate to BN. Yet, the abandonment of the PCE was allowed by the ICC.

I think the dissolution of the ICC was a good thing for the railroad industry. But, if the purpose of the ICC was to serve the public interest, it failed badly in this case.

Montana Rail Link does not provide a competitive balance to BNSF because it is only a segment of NP, not a through route like Milwaukee Road was. Same for short surviving segments of the Pacific Coast Extension (St Marie's Railroad). UP, while providing a transcon connection to Puget Sound, does so without the penetration of the territory that BN and Milwaukee had.

What could have happened if the Staggers Act happened ten years sooner than it did? Would Montana Rail Link been based on the Milwaukee Road coast extension?
Would the line be sold to GE, or a shipping company? What about a consortium of on-line shippers?

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

Postby vermontanan » Sat Nov 05, 2011 10:02 am

If you believe that the public service the ICC should have protected was to preserve competition, then the only way to do this would have been force open access to all rail lines for two or more carriers. In other words, something like allowing CP or UP access to BN routes in Montana. The Milwaukee could not be competitive unless the government (because no private entity was willing to) pumped a lot of money into it to make it viable. This would have required ongoing subsidy due to the Milwaukee's inferior route structure and profile.

I believe if the Staggers Act would have occurred ten years earlier, and everything else was about the same, the Milwaukee Pacific Extension would have folded that much sooner. The BN, with its greater capacity and better profile, could have easily undercut the Milwaukee in price siphoning off even more traffic.

Again, I have always been fascinated with constant drumbeat of how the demise of the MILW created a monopoly in Montana, whereas this apparently wasn't that great of a concern in most of Florida after the SCL merger or Southern Idaho or Las Vegas (all places with populations equal to or much greater than Montana) with their one railroad. And the size of the area "with only one railroad" matters, too. If by some change in reality that the Milwaukee was still around and could haul a unit grain train from Miles City, Montana to Portland, Oregon at the same rate as the BN, it's highly unlikely that farmers in Wolf Point, over 100 miles away and exclusively served by BN, would see this an an alternative.

Saying that Montana has only one major railroad is kind of like saying the same about Rhode Island. Both are "states," but it doesn't address the other characteristics of them or the whys.

In the end, the end of the Milwaukee happened just like it should have.
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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby Desertdweller » Sat Nov 05, 2011 12:06 pm

If the ICC, as a government regulatory agency, did not have an obligation to act in the public's interest, it would have been just another industry association like the AAR. It makes no sense to me to allow the BN merger because, in part, of the existence of the Milwaukee Road in the Northwest. Then, to allow that railroad to withdraw from the area.

One of the reasons for Milwaukee Road's problem competing in that area was the existence of the government-administered Western Grain Tariff. Milwaukee Road's vote on this tariff was offset by votes from NP, GN, and SP&S. Score: Milwaukee 1; BN 3. Why allow BN three votes to Milwaukee's one and UP's one? Source: "The Nation Pays Again".

The concept of allowing competing carriers access to each others lines does not allow free competition between them. Each line remains the property of its owner for taxes and maintenance. Would it be right to expect BNSF to maintain right of way for its competitors CP and CN to use to access BNSF customers?

It is rather strained to compare Montana with Florida, Southern Idaho, Nevada, or Rhode Island. None of them share the dominant economic/geographical profile of Montana: immense plains used in production of grain crops. This type of country needs not only trunk lines, but branch lines to serve the grain elevators to provide an economical way of getting the crops out. Each jumbo covered hopper equals three grain trailer-hauling semi trucks. And this is an area served exclusively by light-duty, blacktop roads that are subject to frost heaves and severe damage by those heavy trucks.

If the Staggers Act had come ten years sooner, I think the coast extension could have been saved, or at least kept in operation by a new owner. It would have been a natural acquisition for Montana Rail Link (I have heard this company referred to by its employees as "Milwaukee Road Lives").

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

Postby vermontanan » Sun Nov 06, 2011 8:05 pm

Desertdweller: "If the ICC, as a government regulatory agency, did not have an obligation to act in the public's interest, it would have been just another industry association like the AAR. It makes no sense to me to allow the BN merger because, in part, of the existence of the Milwaukee Road in the Northwest. Then, to allow that railroad to withdraw from the area."

Had the ICC not allowed the Milwaukee to withdraw, the government would simply have had to go into the railroad business to upgrade the line to make it competitive. But given the railroad's circuity and horrible profile, this probably wouldn't have been possible. Had the BN merger not been allowed, the MILW would still the disadvantage as its profile would still be horrible, and would continue to service places like Great Falls, Spokane, and Bozeman on branch lines. But it would have no access to Portland, or to the SP to California to gain any of that traffic.

Desertdweller: "One of the reasons for Milwaukee Road's problem competing in that area was the existence of the government-administered Western Grain Tariff. Milwaukee Road's vote on this tariff was offset by votes from NP, GN, and SP&S. Score: Milwaukee 1; BN 3. Why allow BN three votes to Milwaukee's one and UP's one? Source: "The Nation Pays Again"."

I have Ploss's book. What page is topic of a grain tariff discussed? Regardless, it doesn't matter. When you consider that by the late 1960s and 1970s, most grain in Montana was shipped through the ports of Vancouver, WA and Portland, OR, and the primary grain growing area in Montana is the Golden Triangle area around Great Falls, and that the MILW route was 350 miles further with many more steep grades than the BN, the MILW couldn't be competitive no matter what. Had the BN merger not been allowed, the MILW would have had to hand any business to UP, GN, or NP to get it to these destinations.

Desertdweller: "The concept of allowing competing carriers access to each others lines does not allow free competition between them. Each line remains the property of its owner for taxes and maintenance. Would it be right to expect BNSF to maintain right of way for its competitors CP and CN to use to access BNSF customers?"

I totally agree. I merely pointed out that since the MILW was so weak, and had no chance (short of a huge influx of cash by the government to upgrade the route, and ongoing subsidies to keep the inferior route "competitive") to remain in existence, that if the goal really was to maintain competition, an open access option, which would have been equally unpopular, would have been the only option.

Desertdweller: "It is rather strained to compare Montana with Florida, Southern Idaho, Nevada, or Rhode Island. None of them share the dominant economic/geographical profile of Montana: immense plains used in production of grain crops. This type of country needs not only trunk lines, but branch lines to serve the grain elevators to provide an economical way of getting the crops out. Each jumbo covered hopper equals three grain trailer-hauling semi trucks. And this is an area served exclusively by light-duty, blacktop roads that are subject to frost heaves and severe damage by those heavy trucks."

I don't think so. My Rhode Island comment was only to point out that the concept of a "state" is basically worthless when comparing the number of railroads serving same. But the other areas, including some others, have long had one railroad, and easily create as much traffic and more as grain traffic in Montana. Check out the October issue of TRAINS magazine which includes a tonnage map for CSX, which handles a huge amount of traffic in and out of Florida, but very little of it is from/destined to the West Palm Beach/Miami area, which has competition from FEC/NS. Most is from Central Florida (the Bone Valley, and Tampa/St. Petersburg area) with is one railroad. The coal mines of NW and Central Colorado clearly produce more tonnage than the whole state of Montana ships in grain every year, but there's only been one railroad...used to be D&RGW, now UP. Same for Southern Idaho, the potash mines of Southwestern Wyoming, and going back a ways, the copper producing areas of Southern Arizona. Nope, nothing unusual about Montana; it just happened to have more railroads at one time than the rest.

Desertdweller: "If the Staggers Act had come ten years sooner, I think the coast extension could have been saved, or at least kept in operation by a new owner. It would have been a natural acquisition for Montana Rail Link (I have heard this company referred to by its employees as "Milwaukee Road Lives")."

Again, nothing short of massive line relocations and new railroad construction could have offset the Milwaukee's circuity and adverse profile, and that's why I think if the Staggers act would have been around sooner, the MILW would have folded sooner when the lower cost BN could have cut rates. Montana Rail Link was created by BN to rid itself of having to operate the ex-NP line across Western Montana, but retain all the traffic. In the unlikely event that the MILW was still around in 1987, I'm sure there would have been some kind of stipulation prohibiting MRL from doing this, or that MRL's traffic guarantee from BN would be voided. The fact that the MRL would not benefit from the MILW's inferior route notwithstanding, there would be no advantage of their acquiring it.
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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby Desertdweller » Sun Nov 06, 2011 8:35 pm

VT,

I do not have Plosser's book. It has been many years since I read it, but I do recall Milwaukee being out voted on a western tariff because BN was allowed individual votes for its components in the area involved.

I don't think you can make a fair comparison between Montana and the other places you named, because of the basic nature of grain production, especially dry-land crops like wheat. Wheat production requires literally thousands of acres to produce, as you noted, the monetary output of the central Colorado coal mines. You can concentrate the terminal elevators, but you still have to get the grain to them somehow. That grain comes from a huge area, and it can either move by rail or highway.. There is no third option.

We did not need a "Conrail of the Northwest". Earlier implementation of the Staggers Act could have resulted in shortlines that could have acted as feeders to move that grain. Witness the Camas Prairie RR, a Rio Grande Pacific short line operating the former joint NP-MILW railroad in Idaho.

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

Postby vermontanan » Sat Nov 12, 2011 11:43 am

Les,

The Camas Prairie was jointly owned by NP and UP, not the MILW.

We will have to disagree about the uniqueness of grain production. I just happen to think that all customers should receive equal consideration as clearly, they would all benefit from competition.

BN was not a "Conrail" in that it was not created out of necessity as was Conrail. But what we did see with Conrail was the abandonment or downgrading of lines that were inefficient to operate. That's why, for instance, the Erie-Lackawanna route from the New York area to Chicago didn't survive as a through route.

Again, it boils down subsidizing or forcing competition, because clearly the Milwaukee couldn't compete with its horrible profile without help. And then you'd just have everyone else paying for using a more inefficient route to benefit the few. Either way, someone has to make up the difference.
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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby RocketJet » Thu Oct 04, 2012 3:10 pm

I have read that much of the old Ohio and Montana segments of the line have been turned into nature and bicycle trails, is there any reason that the tracks were torn up and the grades left to nature? Was this because the grades were too steep for non-electrified locomotives? Even if the Milwaukee Road did not want to continue with this line, why did no other railroad buy it off of them? I mean, I have heard most of the bridges and tunnels are in good shape, is there any possibility that BNSF or UP will by the old line and retrack the area in the future? How many electrical substation structures are still in place?
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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby mtuandrew » Fri Oct 05, 2012 1:28 am

RocketJet wrote:I have read that much of the old Idaho and Montana segments of the line have been turned into nature and bicycle trails, is there any reason that the tracks were torn up and the grades left to nature? Was this because the grades were too steep for non-electrified locomotives? Even if the Milwaukee Road did not want to continue with this line, why did no other railroad buy it off of them? I mean, I have heard most of the bridges and tunnels are in good shape, is there any possibility that BNSF or UP will by the old line and retrack the area in the future? How many electrical substation structures are still in place?

Fixed your state reference. :wink:

You can find your answer in many other threads and on several sites, but long story short: the MILW management had no interest in running a transcontinental railroad, or even a railroad, and wanted to make the most money from the company in an era when railroading was seen as a dead end. Instead of investing in tie replacement, roadbed maintenance, and the GE offer to close the Gap, the Board of Directors opted to use land sales to continue dividend payments and essentially raid the company's savings.

On the ground, deferred maintenance was causing the line to fall into disrepair, and the ties had deteriorated so much that much of the line had 15 mph slow orders. As for purchasing the line, Montana, Idaho, the Dakotas, and Washington all considered offers, but none were able to purchase the entire extension. For whatever reason, the Milwaukee felt it could get more money in bankruptcy court from the land sale than from keeping the right-of-way intact, and the Staggers Act (allowing railbanking) had yet to take effect. As far as I know, no railroad seriously offered to purchase the entire line.

Don't expect to see either BNSF or UP rebuild the entire line. However, BNSF now owns and uses the MILW from Appleton, MN to Terry, MT, after a stint as South Dakota-owned track after MILW abandonment. Also, BNSF has suggested it might rebuilt a segment between Lind and Ellensburg, WA to create a second direct Spokane-Seattle route (bookended on either side by ex-NP track.) As for the UP, they feed quite a bit of traffic into CP Rail at Kingsgate/Eastport, and that route essentially parallels the old MILW route - just a bit further north. The only new traffic generators for them would be any remaining shippers in Montana.

No idea about the substations, but any electrical work would need to be rebuilt from the ground up.
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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby Station Aficionado » Sat Oct 06, 2012 10:31 pm

mtuandrew wrote:
RocketJet wrote:I have read that much of the old Idaho and Montana segments of the line have been turned into nature and bicycle trails, is there any reason that the tracks were torn up and the grades left to nature? Was this because the grades were too steep for non-electrified locomotives? Even if the Milwaukee Road did not want to continue with this line, why did no other railroad buy it off of them? I mean, I have heard most of the bridges and tunnels are in good shape, is there any possibility that BNSF or UP will by the old line and retrack the area in the future? How many electrical substation structures are still in place?

Fixed your state reference. :wink:

You can find your answer in many other threads and on several sites, but long story short: the MILW management had no interest in running a transcontinental railroad, or even a railroad, and wanted to make the most money from the company in an era when railroading was seen as a dead end. Instead of investing in tie replacement, roadbed maintenance, and the GE offer to close the Gap, the Board of Directors opted to use land sales to continue dividend payments and essentially raid the company's savings.

On the ground, deferred maintenance was causing the line to fall into disrepair, and the ties had deteriorated so much that much of the line had 15 mph slow orders. As for purchasing the line, Montana, Idaho, the Dakotas, and Washington all considered offers, but none were able to purchase the entire extension. For whatever reason, the Milwaukee felt it could get more money in bankruptcy court from the land sale than from keeping the right-of-way intact, and the Staggers Act (allowing railbanking) had yet to take effect. As far as I know, no railroad seriously offered to purchase the entire line.

Don't expect to see either BNSF or UP rebuild the entire line. However, BNSF now owns and uses the MILW from Appleton, MN to Terry, MT, after a stint as South Dakota-owned track after MILW abandonment. Also, BNSF has suggested it might rebuilt a segment between Lind and Ellensburg, WA to create a second direct Spokane-Seattle route (bookended on either side by ex-NP track.) As for the UP, they feed quite a bit of traffic into CP Rail at Kingsgate/Eastport, and that route essentially parallels the old MILW route - just a bit further north. The only new traffic generators for them would be any remaining shippers in Montana.

No idea about the substations, but any electrical work would need to be rebuilt from the ground up.

There's a school of thought that MILW's Pacific Extension was always doomed. It was the last built (early 20th Century). While this allowed it some engineering advances, it was always playing catch-up to NP and GN. The latter two locked up most of the prized business between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest. I think by the '70's, MILW was often running only one through train in each direction per day on the Pacific Extension. And by the time MILW was abandoned, its infrastructure was deteriorating. Yes, some of the bridges and tunnels are in good shape, particularly because they are now part of bike/hiking trails mentioned by Rocket Jet. Several of the substation buildings still stand (you can see a couple just off the interstate in southern Montana), but they're basically just shells. The wires are long gone.
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Re: Could closing the Gap have saved the Milwaukee Road?

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Sun Oct 07, 2012 9:04 am

Mr. Google has come up with quite a collection of Substation photos for our review. I had "line of duty" occasion to be at several on the Eastern end during my eleven year career with MILW.

Otherwise, I have to concur with Mr. Afficiando's thoughts; Lines West was doomed the day it opened, and building it represented a management blunder (but as I noted above, it could be "fun" for someone young and who wanted to "get away" for a while - or at least if you had an assignment to go out there away from Winter - never mind being out there during January as I had occasion to do so). Northern Pacific simply was not about to open any of its on-line industries for MILW line hauls - even when shippers clearly wanted to have a competitive routing. It was only after the BN merger that industries along the NP were opened (and the GN along the Great Falls branch) ostensibly enabling the MILW to make rates through Billings. Only problem, according to Traffic/Marketing Dept colleagues, MILW was often required to physically interchange cars to BN at Twin Cities; leaving an awful lot of road over which "strange things" could happen to those cars - and not too much MILW could do about those "happenings".
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