Gilbert B Norman wrote:But do allow me to point out that the possible acquisition of Lines West by Japanese maritime interests was, for real, 'on the table. The Chicago Tribune reported the story. During 1980, when this proposal moved forth, the ERIE was intact as a through route - and what if maritime interests acquired such from Conrail? There could have been the transcontinental Land Bridge owned by and dispatched for the convenience of coordinated dockings and sailings (96 hours Seattle Port Elizabeth could have been doable; just keep moving). Ports of Seattle and Tacoma would not be the comparative backwaters with LA and the Panama Canal would have simply become the domain of cruise ships.
Gilbert: Yes, I have heard this story, but it didn't happen, and the reason is that there was no economic justification. Just as the Milwaukee Pacific Extension had no use as a transcontinental route, neither did the Erie, and between Chicago and the East Coast, the Erie truncated in favor on the superior NYC and PRR routes.
When the MIlwaukee was largely abandoned west of Miles City in 1980, it was hardly a railroad that could have been part of a 96 hour schedule from the Northwest to Northeast. Not only was it in disrepair, but it was almost completely without CTC or double track (or many sidings long enough for such trains, especially in Washington State). The Milwaukee never even got around to putting ABS between Sorrento and Othello, or trackside detectors for enhanced safety like the competitors had by then. So, not only would such a proposal require fixing the railroad from years of neglect, but it would require additional investment just to bring it up to the standards or the competition, which, in the end, could move the traffic cheaper than the Milwaukee route anyway. Yes, anything is possible, but reason it didn't is obvious to all except those diehard Milwaukee fans.
And that the ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach "would have become the domain of cruise ships" is outrageously ridiculous. Much of the reason that this area is the primary port for inbound container traffic has little to do with the transportation infrastructure available once the boat docks; Rather, it is the proximity to market. Not every container is going to New York. California is the most-populous state and Texas is second. It makes sense for these ships to arrive at Los Angeles so they can not only have access to a railroad that will take the lading to places like Chicago and New York, but also to the huge market that is California, and the growing areas of Nevada and Arizona. And, it's much closer (and faster) to ship the containers to major population centers like Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston from Los Angeles than it would be from Seattle, not to mention to locations in the American Southeast. As I like to say, proponents of the Milwaukee Western Extension like to explain why things turned out the way they didn't. But reality explains why the Milwaukee "transcon" is not in the picture today.