A Railroad Too Far: A Story of TF Fictionals into the 21st Century


Alco Spoken Here
So, Trainboi1, Benjaminw, and I have been having some fun deciding how our railroads evolved as the 20th century came to a close, leading into modern day. Pretty random and not really pertaining to much in reality, but we had fun writing this up so hopefully you guys will enjoy it too. This has been a few weeks in the making, and the three of us have been brainstorming and shooting different ideas around to create a pretty cool story. Not sure how many people will be interested, but as said before, we had fun making this, and decided to share it with the rest of you. Hopefully you will find some joy and inspiration from what we've created. We certainly had a blast coming up with a story like this, and at least for me it allowed for some creativity while my computer awaits fixing.

The mega-merger era in the 1970's put several systems on the east coast in a tough position. The formation of the Chessie System, Seaboard Coast Line, and Conrail, among others boxed in roads that once dominated their markets. The Lake Erie & Eastern took action in response as early as 1973, formally leasing the Charleston Asheville & Louisville railroad for 999 years. The CA&L had been indirectly owned by the LE&E since 1932, however until now the LE&E had not influenced the CA&L in any major way. The integration of systems began almost immediately, and in 1978, the formal merger of the two systems became a reality. The Lake Erie & Eastern Corporation was formed that year, taking control of both railroads and all affiliated assets. The LE&E and CA&L were operated under the LE&E name, with CA&L road power being repainted into LE&E paint with small CA&L sublettering under the numbers on the sides of the cab on locomotives. The reason for the odd merger arrangement was simple: CA&L management wanted some form of independence from the new system, and were allowed a limited form of autonomy as a result of being technically a "separate company within a larger company." The shops at Asheville were retained, as well as CA&L operating practices on the new lines. This arrangement lasted through the merger of the LE&E and Ohio River & Western railroads in 1982, however starting in the mid-1980's, LE&E management began increasingly operating the CA&L as another division of the LE&E, rather than a separate integrated subsidiary. To make matters worse, while CA&L officials were interested the preservation of the CA&L’s past, LE&E officials were more concerned with modernization of the new system, which often came at the expense of historical preservation. On the outside, however, the new railroad seemed to work extremely well. Access to new markets allowed the company to more effectively compete with its increasingly large competitors and elimination of redundant trackwork helped to streamline operations. Even through the split of Conrail in 1999, the future seemed bright for the large corporation.

The sudden split of the CA&L and LE&E systems in 2008 came as a big surprise to investors and railroad officials alike. The two roads had been operating as a single coherent system for just over 30 years, and had been successful competing with the larger players in eastern railroading. Even though operationally the two roads were successful, differences in management became apparent as early as 1985, due to the LE&E operating the CA&L as more of an extension of its own lines rather than a separate company. To make matters worse, large stretches of the CA&L were reduced to single track in a system wide rebuilding program that saw materials being shipped up north to help save on the cost of essentially rebuilding the LE&E’s mainlines, most of which had not seen proper maintenance since the late 1960’s. Major downsizing of the steam program in 1995 caused a major rift in company attitudes, as well. The LE&E’s new foray back into the passenger business in the mid-late 1990’s required passenger stock, which it pulled from the excursion pool for rebuilding starting in 1993. By 1998, demand warranted the rebuilding of more equipment, which it took from former CA&L business train pools, which had previously been left intact by LE&E officials. CA&L heads demanded that the LE&E explore the idea of inaugurating a passenger train over CA&L rails instead of creating a second section of the newly re-launched Midnight Limited. The response was essentially “we’ll get back to you on that,” as the Arrow (the second section of the Midnight Limited) was re-inaugurated that year.

An important component of this story revolved around a small, yet well-known Nevada shortline known as the Washoe Valley Railway. Originally a small mining railroad, the WVRR eventually became a small, yet crucial class I starting in the 1910’s, serving as an effective bridge route between the ATSF and Western Pacific, beating shipping times on the “Inside Gateway” lines operated by the WP and ATSF to compete with SP’s California stronghold. The WVRR’s affiliation with the LE&E dated back to 1901, when railroad magnate Robert House attempted to form a transcontinental system. Eventually he came to own the LE&E’s direct ancestor, the Boston Pittsburgh & Western railway, as well as the Ohio River & North Western Railway, and the Washoe Valley Railway among others. However, this transcontinental system was not to be: there was no connection between House’s western holdings and his eastern ones. Attempts to create a transcontinental route proved catastrophic when the OR&NW’s Omaha Extension bankrupted the railroad. The rest of his holdings soon followed, most properties owned in the system were leveraged on debt owned by the other railroads, and the failure of the OR&NW in 1908 caused a domino effect that rippled throughout the system. While the OR&NW and BP&W were reorganized into roads that would eventually become the OR&W and LE&E, the WVRR escaped the mess largely unscathed thanks to a group of Nevada and California investors who held personal interests in the road’s viability. The WVRR would again come into the LE&E’s crosshairs during its expansionary period beginning in the late 1970’s. With the 1982 acquisition of the OR&W, the LE&E began plotting to create the largest single rail system in the country. Stretching from Boston and Jacksonville at its northeastern and southeastern ends, and to Omaha (with an unused trackage rights option to Denver over the UP) at its west end, LE&E management once again began to have dreams of grandeur. The gap was closer now than ever before, and it seemed possible through political scheming to create the system that House had failed to do. In 1982, the LE&E began buying stock in the WVRR again, with plans to gain trackage rights over the D&RGW via the Utah Railway and the states of Colorado and Wyoming in order to further bridge their gap. With the WVRR under their control, this new LE&E system would have firm ground to stand on when making these advances, especially if money changed political hands in the process.

The LE&E’s first attempt to acquire the WVRR was met with congressman from Nevada blocking the attempt, pulling up state regulations from the late 1800’s pertaining to the railroad’s charter, blocking the company from being operated directly by an entity based outside the state of Nevada. Begrudgingly, after three months of fighting the legislation, the LE&E created the Lake Erie Valley Company based out of Reno, Nevada to act as an intermediary for the transaction. Essentially, the holding company would operate the railroad at arm’s length, bypassing the state regulations. However, the three months gave the WVRR time to prepare. The next two years became a battle for control of the small Nevada road, with obscure laws and regulations being pulled up seemingly out of the blue. The LE&E eventually gave up the fight in mid-1985, as the company turned its attention to the massive rebuilding program it was undertaking of its own lines.

The second attempt of the LE&E to take over the WVRR began two years later in 1987, when the Lake Erie Valley Company began buying stock in the WVRR once more. The LE&E’s lawyers had prepared over the past two years and cut through the regulation quickly enough to facilitate purchase of stock, however the WVRR began fighting back by forming a coalition of investors to drive up the price. By 1990, the LE&E owned 40% of the WVRR, and was on the verge of a takeover. However, in May of that year, the WVRR board, still majority independent, voted to take the WVRR off of the stock market and into private hands, acting on a provision in the railroad’s charter allowing it to do so every 50 years. The coalition of investors bankrolled the transition, and the LE&E received over 3 million for its share of the stock. This time, the LE&E finally accepted defeat, spinning off the ex-OR&W’s western extensions and concentrating on its extensive network east of the Mississippi.
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While the LE&E quickly forgot about its attempts to acquire the WVRR, the small western carrier did not. WVRR management began looking for ways to neutralize the LE&E before another attempt could be made: they still retained unused trackage rights from St Louis to Denver, and they definitely had the resources to make another pass at the small system if they desired. In April, 1998, as the nation celebrated the new re-introduction of private LE&E passenger service, members of CA&L and WVRR management met to devise a solution to both of their problems. CA&L managers were having second thoughts about the merger: differing company attitudes and the treatment of the CA&L like a less-important extension of the LE&E had left a bad feeling in the ranks of the CA&L. The WVRR needed to limit the ability of the LE&E to extend out west again. After three days of deliberation and plotting, a stipulation was found in the LE&E’s 999-year lease of the CA&L. In the fine print, it was outlined that the CA&L would have the ability to maintain a steam program if they so desired, and that the LE&E would provide cars from its roster of excursion equipment to assist. In the early 1980’s this was a simple and easy catch, however the inauguration of new service meant that excursion cars were rapidly disappearing from the roster in order to provide bases to rebuild cars for the new trains. Since 1995, the LE&E had leased cars from the WVRR to accommodate this clause, however it did not itself have the cars necessary to cover such a large pool. When efforts to inaugurate a new CA&L passenger service died in the pipeline in early 2000, the last of the necessary CA&L management came onboard with the new plan.

In 2001, the FRA deemed the cars the LE&E was leasing from the WVRR to be unsafe to use, due to their lack of roller bearings. Initially unwilling to rebuild the cars themselves, the LE&E asked the WVRR to provide funding to change out the bearings, however the two roads could not reach an agreement as to where the cars should be rebuilt. After five months of deliberation, the lease on the cars expired, and the LE&E shipped the cars back to the WVRR on flatcars. With most other excursion cars being tethered to other steam programs and events, the LE&E attempted to renew the lease on the cars with the added deal-sweetener of providing the funds to bring the cars back up to FRA standards. The WVRR responded by rebuilding the cars themselves and declining the lease renewal. By 2002, the LE&E was able to scrape together 15 cars for an excursion consist, but three years later, when attempting to renew the leases on those cars, the WVRR beat them to the punch by outright purchasing them, and the cars were sent west. With no cars to run on an excursion service, the LE&E was forced to suspend CA&L excursions for the 2006, 2007, and 2008 seasons. In 2008, the CA&L, backed by a coalition of Nevada investors, sued the LE&E for violation of their contract binding them to provide excursion services if the CA&L company so desired to run them. The lawsuit droned on for nine months, when the court eventually voided the lease and split up the companies. The court case extended into 2009, when finally, an agreement on the separation of lines was reached. As part of this agreement, the CA&L and LE&E would jointly own the Lake Erie & Louisville Joint Railroad, a shared assets line allowing both the new CA&L and the LE&E to access key markets that had either been streamlined as part of the merger, or were important in the financial viability of both companies. The two new spinoff corporations were officially created in June, 2009. The effect on the LE&E’s ambitions had the intended outcome, with any potential plans to expand westward vanishing with the split. Ownership of the CA&L changed hands again, falling under control of the WVRR, who operated the company as an independent subsidiary.
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Awesome story, guys! I have DL'd all of the WVRR stock from your site (which is amazing, by the way!) and have added my own part/alternate part to the story. I live in the Northeast, and your WVRR #72 looks like something out of 1970s Steamtown in Bellows Falls. I have made (on paper, not yet ingame) the Washoe Valley Line, a railroad that acquired all of the stock of a Nevada shortline at dirt cheap price during a sellout. Now, the Washoe Valley Line operates from Martyr Yards, VT. to Washoe Valley, NH, with a branchline coming off of the middle to Cochrin Landing, NH.

Thanks for the awesome content and story,