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Thread: The Milwaukee Road and the Pacific Extension.

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    Default The Milwaukee Road and the Pacific Extension.

    During my travels last week, we went across the Dakotas into Montana. We followed the old Great Northern (BNSF) and portions of the CMStP&P along US12. Unfortunately we did this near dusk at one time and during the late hours another so I couldn't get any pictures. The old Milwaukee ended at Miles City in a fairly large yard and appeared to go on from there. Sadly the tracks ended just past the town. What's left of the old Pacific Extension is nothing more than a dirt path with occasional piles of old ties and a few telegraph poles. Most of the bridges were still in place, but many of them were taken out. Most of the ROW is still intact, so my wishful thinking set in to rebuild the line someday. Yeah right!

    I felt sad seeing the old ROW left abandoned. It didn't seem right that this great railroad just gave up the way it did. We stopped in Forsyth, MT for gas. This is a crew interchange on the busy BNSF. The Milw avoided this town completely on the opposite shore of the Yellowstone River. They thought they were being smart by avoiding the town as they raced north and west as fast as they could. Route 12 parallels the ROW for most of its length up to Roundup, MT. There are a few obvious yards and occasional old station spots in such places as Melstone and others. There is even a preserved station on what appears to be one of the few branch lines that came off the mainline. At Melstone, there are signs of the railroad still left here and there including an old hoop for handing off trainorders to the engineer. The stand and hoop sit in the middle of a grass-covered field with short greyish dirt and grass all over. There are other signs including the turntable site which is visible from the air, but other than that the other traces are long gone.

    Why did the Milw cut it off and why did they give up? I thought that perhaps because the line went through the middle of nowhere and how the Milw avoided the bigger towns in favor of the open country. This was one long ride, believe me, through nothing but high prarie country. There is nothing here; just ranches and cows! There was no revenue along this stretch of track, and this made me think this. After doing some research in various places, I found out that this section was somewhat profitable up until the end even with little online traffic. By this point, it turns out, the management wanted to sell off everything to someone else, and they were doing what they could to basically kill the company and take whatever they could from the infrastructure. The company tried for mergers with the CNW, but the ICC got in the way and took their time approving everything. Then once things were in place, the management fought over the merger. By the time this was going on, a lot had deteriorated even more. In the mean time, their longtime CEO quit and a newbie was appointed. The new guy had little experience and set out to gut what was left with his bad decisions and poor planning.

    One of the worse things they did was a big lease-back program with their rolling stock. They sold their aging rolling stock to the banks and in exchange leased back the freight cars. The lease payments were so high that there was little profit. They probably couldn't always afford the lease payments, so many cars were held out of service by the bank. Whatever cars they had not included in the lease program were in use constantly so they ended up with car shortages particularly as the cars started to wear out and many were bad-ordered. These cars were already old and getting older. This pissed off customers and drove business away because of the delays and shortages of equipment. On top of that no one bothered to work on the ROW so there were major speed restrictions all over the route. This too caused more loss of revenue as they couldn't run anything without the crews outlawing, causing more delays.

    The biggest snafu was killing the electric service which was considered fully operational. Experts even said not to cut the electric service or kill the Pacific Extension but they did this anyway. It was even suggested that they connect the two disperate sections together and unify the electric lines. Instead they thought they could make a big profit on the copper and scrapped the system. They killed the electric service instead. Copper prices tanked and instead of getting $36 million, they got only $5 million. General Electric even offered to help them connect the two sections together, and given their financial state, were even willing to finance the project out. The cost for this was only $39 million, or the same amount they spent on the new diesels they purchased at a time when diesel fuel was going up. Remember this was in the mid-1970s during the energy crisis. Foolishly they were dumping what could have kept them afloat for an anchor that was pulling them under. Killing off their most profitable line too was essentially like shooting one's self in the foot. This cut the cash from an already cash-strapped company.

    The more I read, the more I found out how foolish the management was. When they called it quits, their books were messed up. What was supposed to be a profit, was put into the debit column. The Pacific Extension was actually making the most money for the corporation, but instead showed a big red hole on the books. Someone made a costly accounting error which was taken literally and the management used this to shut everything down. The rest is sad history. They embargoed the line in 1980 and ripped the tracks up shortly afterwards. All that's left today is a grassy embankment that parallels US12 for a good portion of its life in Montana. The rest of the line became part of the Soo which is now CPRail.

    John
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    I just watched a few videos of the MILW before I read this. I wonder what if they survived and what would their electrics look like.
    It's good to be back here...

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    i liked reading your words.
    actually these days i am reading history of american railroads reading ups and downs they faced which railroad works and how they got bankrupt or merged .i am reading all this on a website that i found on facebook.there are also some very nice videos showing golden age of 1930 and 40's.and while reading this i also went through milwaukee road and found it a very intresing and historical railroad
    CORE I5 6500 >GIGABYTE G1 SNIPER B7>24GB VENGANCE LPX>EVGA GTX 1070 SC>COOLER MASTER COSMOS SE>KINGSTAON 240GB SSD*SEAGATE ITB>




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    qassaguyangli@

    I was wondering that too. I would think they would probably be similar to what other modern electrics look like today. Probably like those found in Australia or Europe because there are no domestic electric freight locos around.

    kamran@ The heyday was really one of the tougher times for the railroads because of the Great Depression then the war that followed. Sadly though I think the railroads never had a chance to fully recover because of the interstate highway system and the competition by trucks and private autos which got a free ride compared to the railroads. I agree the MILW was a very interesting railroad and quite old actually. The eastern half still survives today albeit part of the CPRail system.

    John
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    Well, that explains your absence John, I was about to go "all milk carton" on you!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Euphod View Post
    Well, that explains your absence John, I was about to go "all milk carton" on you!

    LOL, Ed. I felt really lost not being here. I tried logging in to the forums, but my network connections were quite spotty. The big hotels with there so-called high-speed internet are awful. In one hotel I had a better connection across the street from the local Starbucks, from my hotel room, than I did from the hotel its self! We had better service at the smaller hotels, but we usually got in so late I could barely think about doing anything other than sleeping.

    John
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    Hi John and everybody.
    Thank you for a great insight into the history of the railroads in that part of America John. It is wonderful to see someone posting quality content from which forum users of all countries can learn and appreciate Railway development and in many cases decline in countries throughout the world. However,it is clear that the re-juvenation of railways is now underway in many countries as the value of rail transport in moving large numbers of people and freight is recognised. With any luck you may see many of those defunct tracks you so adequately described brought back to life again and hopefully well within your lifetime.

    As for hotel rooms as you know I spend far too many nights in them and so I am in entire sympathy with your feelings about them following your holiday. One thing that I have learned in my travels is that it is not the price you pay that decides the quality of the room you get. You can pay top dollar and find that in midwinter the heating does not work or in high summer the air conditioning you paid extra for only blows warm air and you lay their sweltering all night. My rule of thumb is whatever time of day it is trying to make it home and your own bed it is always the best decision, there is nowhere like it.

    Thanks again John for that great posting, lets hope we get more like it
    Bill
    Last edited by wholbr; July 22nd, 2012 at 04:05 PM.

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    Default Miwaukee Pacific Coast Extension

    Quote Originally Posted by JCitron View Post
    During my travels last week, we went across the Dakotas into Montana. We followed the old Great Northern (BNSF) and portions of the CMStP&P along US12. Unfortunately we did this near dusk at one time and during the late hours another so I couldn't get any pictures. The old Milwaukee ended at Miles City in a fairly large yard and appeared to go on from there. Sadly the tracks ended just past the town. What's left of the old Pacific Extension is nothing more than a dirt path with occasional piles of old ties and a few telegraph poles. Most of the bridges were still in place, but many of them were taken out. Most of the ROW is still intact, so my wishful thinking set in to rebuild the line someday. Yeah right!

    <SNIP>

    John
    John

    I realize this is an old thread for about 7 years ago, but if you're still watching this, I hope you chime back in. I, too, am interested in seeing the old Milwaukee Road rebuilt. In spite of many naysayers, I believe that it IS possible.

    Regards,
    Fred M.Cain

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    Quote Originally Posted by fredmcain View Post
    John

    I realize this is an old thread for about 7 years ago, but if you're still watching this, I hope you chime back in. I, too, am interested in seeing the old Milwaukee Road rebuilt. In spite of many naysayers, I believe that it IS possible.

    Regards,
    Fred M.Cain
    Still hanging in here, Fred.

    Welcome to the forums!

    I really would like to see this line rebuilt and not as a rail trail. Sadly parts of the western portion in Washington state have become trails, and even though the line could be brought back from a trail it seems that never happens or happens very rarely.
    John
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    The main Problem I see with re-railing the MILW isn't the trails, its the tunnels, bridges, and the fact that half the line over the continental divide is now a road, because the old road though there was, well, awful. Sooo much would have to be rebuilt, removed, relocated, and redone! I to would love to see it done, it was one of the best crossings of the Rockies ever built. Once more if it was I would hope that it would be electrified, just to future proof it and benchmark true US scale railroad electrification, but.

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    This is indeed a sad topic. My Mom's Dad was a trainman on the Milwaukee and was conductor on the Hiawathas between Seattle and Deer Lodge. When I was sevenish he took me along on a turn out of Spokane to Deer Lodge where we laid over overnight and returned next day. Tume's Avery-Drexel Trainz route is a great evocation of that segment and brings back the memories when I run it.

    Some say building the Pacific Extension is what did the Milwaukee in. There are discussions about that and lots of historical info at the Milwaukee Railroad Historical Society, https://www.mrha.com that you might want to look at.

    The original PNW link from the Twin Cities was the Northern Pacific. It was Federally chartered as a "land-grant" railroad - that is, the Feds gave alternate sections along the route to the railroad, which attracted the settlers necessary to provide the revenue. The later Great Northern did not have that advantage, but avoided conflict by building much farther North, which opened a new region for settlement. Both those railroads built on the cheap and gradually upgraded their facilities as revenue increased.

    The Milwaukee lusted after the maritime trade of Seattle and Tacoma and was afraid of being locked out of the transcontinental revenue stream. So as you note, they built rapidly. In my view they made two basic mistakes at the time: 1. Building first-class all the way to begin with, and 2. Closely paralleling the Northern Pacific to expedite shipment of building material. That locked them into direct competition with the established senior road.

    #1 can perhaps be excused by the vision of high-speed service between Puget Sound and the Eastern Markets, which they very nearly pulled off. I think #2 was more deadly in the long run.

    The fiscal ups and downs of the US economy during that era were ruinous. The final bankruptcy was the Milwaukee's fourth. The Court placed management of the Milwaukee Road in the hands of its competitors, whose interests were in direct conflict with preserving the Milwaukee. Along the way there were repeated stupidities, some of which you refer to. Eventually the Road was swallowed in the whirlpool resulting from DEFERRED MAINTENANCE, which is a tool financiers use to extract the last pennies from something they intend to throw away.

    Incidentally, Boeing Aircraft is now entering that phase, with the bankers pretending they can build aircraft, which they can do as well as they can run railroads.

    >:B~(

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