• 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.
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.

Moderator: Komachi

  by brokenrail
Perhaps you misunderstood my comment about the 70 mile double to single track project. It came about because of a CTC project either late 50's or early 60's (I've heard both from people that were there.) that left an excellent single track line with generous sidings. One of the motivations might have been the 3 double track tunnels that had the new single track somewhat centered (MRL later centered them more) allowing for greater clearances. Garrison to DeSmet (Missoula) had been double tracked as part of a system where NP had two mains between Livingston and Paradise with the short exception of Bozeman tunnel. This line was about 300 miles (depending on which track was used) where NP had either double track or separate mainlines. I think the benefits of CTC more than the Milwaukee caused this section to be single tracked. Today it handles about 25 trains a day with ease. The bottlenecks are the helper districts and terminals.

As Mr. Meyer pointed out the SP did send traffic via the Milwaukee after NP became BN but I think NP had more online sources of traffic than the Milwaukee. GN had more traffic than NP before the merger and after but I don't think the NP was ever a weak railroad. In fact the western MT NP benefited from the merger with the CB&Q where former GN traffic traveled over the shorter NP between Spokane and Laurel. And I think the NP in eastern Washington benefited from the merger when more traffic was diverted to Pasco and Vancouver instead of GN.
  by vermontanan
mtuandrew wrote:
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.)
Not the case....at all. As "Brokenrail" is suggesting, the NP modernized its right of way through the years. Indeed, in Western Montana, it was an early user of CTC, starting right after World War II. The NP route was CTC all the way from Laurel, Montana to the Idaho border, except for between Missoula and Paradise where it had two routes. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee continued on to the end pretty much without any improvement in its infrastructure: No CTC, shorter sidings, no power switches, no trackside warning detectors, all of which are precursors of a modern railroad which the NP became, but the Milwaukee never did.

The oft-touted (by Western Extension proponents given that history is not on their side) quote by the less-than-age-30, scheduled, BN employee who in no way had access to the actual costs involved in operating the MILW vs. BN was purely anecdotal and meaningless as well as one of many. Another "BN veteran" was known to say, "We don't even consider the Milwaukee as competition; it's difficult to not feel sorry for them given all the challenges they face." In either event, perceptions do not always equate to reality.

Given the higher operating costs of the Milwaukee due to its circuitous branchline network, heavy grades, and poor and inadequate infrastructure, even with some new business as a result of the BN merger, the logical conclusion was that the physical plant was just not there to handle increased business, and this same physical plant historically did not allow enough profit to allow upgrade to handle increased traffic as was the case with the Northern Pacific (and Great Northern).
  by CPF363
If CP decided to gain full control of the Spokane International Railroad in the mid 1950s (see link below) instead of the UP, could the Soo Line, being controlled by CP, consider trying to gain at least a 50% share in the SP&S during the BN merger proceedings to create a through route to Portland from Eastport, ID? If this were true, following bankruptcy of the MILW, could the Soo see value in using more of the western end of the MILW to access the Spokane International over an all U.S. route verses going through Canada via Moose Jaw?

http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/dis ... 8/1371961/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
  by vermontanan
Had the CP gained control of the SI (instead of the UP), there would be no reason for CP to gain Portland access via the SP&S as a result of the BN merger because none of its connections would have been changed. And remember, even the Milwaukee didn't get Portland access on the BN via the ex-SP&S; it only got trackage rights from Longview, and still ended up with a very circuitous, steep, and costly route to/from Portland.

As for the "what if" scenario of the Soo LIne buying the Milwaukee Pacific Extension instead of using the Soo Line-CP route via Canada: Not a chance. Between Minneapolis/St. Paul and Spokane, the Milwaukee was only 3 miles shorter than the Soo Line-CP-SI routing through Canada with the Soo/CP/SI route having a far superior operating profile (only one major hill - Crowsnest Pass - as opposed to the numerous steep climbs on the Milwaukee Road at Milbank, Loweth, Pipestone Pass, and St. Paul Pass). Just another example of the Milwaukee Pacific Extension being the "high cost" route no matter what.
  by gokeefe
Mr. Norman,

I've had cause to re-read a fair amount of the MILW's history recently and as such return to the original question of this topic.

I have seen a fair number of indications that most (if not all) of the "Lines West" Right of Way that was abandoned has in fact been railbanked. There has been a fair amount of trail conversion as well (still railbanked).

That being said the conventional wisdom (mostly here) also seems to hold that the grades and line geometry in Washington State were not favorable at all when compared with the other lines serving Seattle. I have no basis for knowing if such was true or not but it would provide a sensible economic argument against acquisition at the time you were there and since then.
  by Gilbert B Norman
I trust by now, all who subscribe to TRAINS, have read the article on the MILW Lines West "Too Little, or Too Late" written by former Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Machalaba. It includes quotations by our "Ver Montanan", Mr. Mark Meyer, as well as "higher ups" with whom I was contemporary.

The one point not addressed within that I wish had been was a proposal by Japanese maritime interests made during 1980, and reported in the Chicago Tribune, to acquire Lines West. Earlier in the topic, I discussed this proposal at length.

I still hold that "it should have never been built, but since it was, it should have been kept" in service, and operated by someone (UP?). Much as this sounds disloyal, my MILW did not deserve that opportunity.
  by Gilbert B Norman
This material has yet to be referenced here.

It's well produced, and is shown from the railfan, Agreement employee, perspective.

Neo-PANAMAX is here, and I guess the economics of ocean vs. land shipping remain simply overwhelming. It has been reported elsewhere at the site how JD Irving Co, a holder of many materials businesses with operations revolving around Saint Johns, NB chooses to have Alberta crude consigned to their NB refinery routed by pipeline to Vancouver, thence ocean shipping, trans-Canal, to St Johns rather than using rail (yes, we did have the little matter known as Megantic, but time passes and there are alternate routes through Canada on both CN and CP).

Meanwhile to high value container traffic, look at the massive vessels the Danish concern Maersk has built. Other lines have also followed suit. Lest we forget, "last time I checked" God does not impose user fees on His ROW's (albeit the Panama Canal certainly does).

I'm starting to come to Mr. Meyer's point of view; the "land bridge" concept only had a short term chance; i.e. from '79 when I first learned of it, to '16 when the neo-PANAMAX era began. While I would think that, given both the Surf Board's, as well as its predecessor ICC, long standing views on competitive rail, some kind of Northern tier competition was maintained, such was not the case, although of course there is such at the West Coast Ports (Canada different story with Prince Rupert; but that's Canada).

Finally, "I was there" in Harlowton Nov '79 when Lines West "breathed it last". They "sent a bunch of us Non-Agreement Office Boys" to be there for nothing more to let those running the road to "let 'em know Chicago's watching". I was not comfortable, but I thought the guys and gals were "pros right to the end".
  by gokeefe
Mr. Norman,

Did you make any trios out west while the wires were still live?

Curious what you may have heard at the office when that all came down ...

Sent from my Pixel 2 XL using Tapatalk

  by Gilbert B Norman
I did indeed, Mr. O'Keefe. I've been over Pipestone Pass on an engine, through the Sixteenmile Canyon on a Hy-Rail, was in Harlowtown during Nov 79 "when they shut 'er down."

The employees, Agreement and otherwise, "were a road unto themselves", but I really think they were a dedicated gang that wanted to "do their part".

Lines West should have never been built, but it was. I often heard the comment from Traffic friends "all we need is fifteen more cars a day to the Coast, and the entire Road would be profitable".
  by gokeefe
Were there any specific companies or products that the MILW "had an angle" on for "Lines West" loads over other roads?

The more I learn the more I struggle to understand how the railroad was able to hang on for as long as it did.

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  by Gilbert B Norman
That was the problem, Mr. O'Keefe.

The NP never opened any of their on-line industries for a MILW Line Haul. Some relief was obtained as a condition of the BN merger. but it was just that - some.

The BN also was required to afford trackage on the NP Longview-Portland enabling MILW to make rates with both SP and UP at Portland. But again "too little too late".

I have never contended here that MILW Lines West could have been viable as part of a MILW remaining an independent road. I have contended, as readily as Mr. Meyer has stated essentially "why bother; you have all the road needed", that if someone, such as the UP wanted to rebuild the MILW from the ballast on up with clearance restricted tunnels "dug out", signals and now PTC installed, there could have been competitive balance through the Northern tier.
  by gokeefe
Did UP ever consider making an offer for Lines West? Having rechecked the maps I have to agree that this could have been a very interesting opportunity for UP.

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  by vermontanan
Gilbert B Norman wrote: Fri Nov 13, 2020 9:43 pm
The BN also was required to afford trackage on the NP Longview-Portland enabling MILW to make rates with both SP and UP at Portland. But again "too little too late".
That and that not all traffic is worthwhile. The traffic needs to cover all the costs, not only the current cost of moving the cars, but investment in the future to keep the routes viable. This was always suspect with the Pacific Extension due to its not being upgraded like the competition: Longer sidings, CTC, power switches, welded rail, hot box detectors, etc.

Portland interchange traffic is an example. Prior to the 1970 BN merger, the NP and SP were major interchange partners at Portland. BN still interchanged a significant amount after the merger, but much of the California traffic (where able to do so) changed to a BN/WP/ATSF routing via the “Inside Gateway” through Bend and Bieber. Needless to say, this didn’t please the SP, so when the Milwaukee finally started running into Portland in 1971, some of the SP-BN traffic began being delivered to the Milwaukee in Portland. The problem (for the Milwaukee) was that any of its routings were all more costly than the BN.

Case in point: Copper concentrate shipments from Southeast Arizona to the smelter in Anaconda, Montana. The shortest, quickest, most cost-effective routing would have been SP to Colton, CA and then UP to Silver Bow, MT to interchange to the Butte, Anaconda, and Pacific. But the SP wanted the long haul, so the cars moved via Portland. On a routing from Portland to Silver Bow via BN or SP&S/NP, the maximum ruling grade one percent (and these cars were heavy, about 100 tons). When SP interchanged the cars to the Milwaukee instead at Portland, the Milwaukee still got the same cut of the tariff as the BN, but they had to haul the car 47 miles further and over three 1.7 percent grades. More crews, more power, longer equipment cycle time. More cost. And whatever they made on the move to plow back into their infrastructure, it was less than the BN would have received. And this just one example.

After gaining trackage rights into Portland, the Milwaukee actually advertised service between Portland and Sumas in the Official Guide of the Railways. The route was over BN from Portland to Chehalis, then the Milwaukee’s rickety ex-logging railroad branch to Tacoma, its main line to Black River, and then “new” trackage rights on BN’s ex-NP line on the east side of Lake Washington through Bellevue and the 1.7 percent grade of Maltby Hill to Snohomish, and then ex-GN track to Everett to Bellingham, where Milwaukee rails would again be accessed. The route to Sumas from Bellingham featured a 2 percent grade. At Sumas/Huntingdon, the Milwaukee interchanged with CP directly, and the British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority which could take cars to Vancouver, BC or CN interchange at Chilliwack. Southbound, there was no significant grade from Sumas to Bellingham, but Maltby Hill was just as steep, and leaving Tacoma for Chehalis was the infamous 3.6 percent grade up Tacoma Hill. Contrast this with BN’s route from Portland directly to Vancouver, BC which was double track most of the way from Portland to Everett with a ruling grade of only 1 percent each way. Suffice it to say, much less costly on the BN routing, and likely not necessary to share a cut of the rate for cars for Vancouver, or PGE or CN interchange. And this was really nothing new for the Milwaukee when one considers moving cars out of major (by Northwest standards) traffic centers such as Bozeman, Great Falls and Spokane: all located on branch lines with significant grades compared to the competition.

It could be said – with some degree of validity – that the Milwaukee got the short end of the stick with some of its trackage rights obtained after the BN merger, such as operating via Maltby instead of Seattle, and getting on BN right at Tacoma instead of Chehalis for Portland. But when one considers the handicaps already in place for Milwaukee accessing places like Great Falls, Bozeman, and Spokane, as well as the headache of St. Paul Pass and the Saddle Mountains, about the only way the Milwaukee could have truly been competitive after the BN merger would have been to give it trackage rights on ALL BN track west of Miles City!

--Mark Meyer
  by Gilbert B Norman
vermontanan wrote: Tue Nov 17, 2020 4:09 pm ......, about the only way the Milwaukee could have truly been competitive after the BN merger would have been to give it trackage rights on ALL BN track west of Miles City!

--Mark Meyer
Mr. Meyer, I have to agree with you that the trackage rights granted the MILW were of the "all right, we have to give you this, but here's what you get" varietal. It would have too simple to allow the MILW to operate on the NP Tacoma-Portland.

Related, did the GN have their own rails Sea-Portland? If not, could they track on the NP and make rates with the SP there? I know GN had a passenger train over the route; anything else I know not.
  by vermontanan
Gilbert: Starting in 1910, GN received trackage rights on the NP from Seattle to Vancouver, on SP&S from Vancouver to Portland, and on the Northern Pacific Portland Terminal at Portland, which handled switching and making up GN trains as well as interchange to other railroads like SP. (1910 is the same year UP began operating on NP from Tacoma/Reservation to Portland/North Portland Jct.). GN not only ran through freight trains, but locals between Seattle and Portland (as did UP and NP), and even had its own yard in Tacoma. In addition, GN handed off (or received) trains to/from California to SP&S at Vancouver which handled them (via subsidiary OT) to Bend, where GN again took them south.
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