The Burlington Northern, An Operational Chronology – 1970-1995
Dr. John Strauss, Jr. Ph.D., author of several historical books on the Great Northern Railroad, has graciously donated this work to the Friends of the Burlington Northern Railroad. This soft-cover book is printed on high quality glossy paper to be a durable, long lasting addition to your BN reference shelf. It uses “wire-o” binding (wiki page) so it will lay flat on a desk for easy viewing. It contains no photos (except on the cover).
THE NAME OF THE GAME IS COMPETITION
The Frisco acquisition brought a new management team with a non-rail business philosophy to the Burlington Northern. In addition, the Burlington Northern was facing increasing competition from deregulation and escalating expenses. This new management saw the solution in eliminating excessive line duplication, paring the labor force, and cutting its tax burden.
— Railway Age
The 1979 Annual Report that was published and distributed during the Burlington Northern’s 10th year of operation stated that 1979 gross revenues reached $2.63 billion, and that gross ton miles reached an all-time high of 135 billion. Taconite tonnage carried to Superior’s Allouez Taconite Dock from the Mesabi Iron Range Taconite plants during 1979 reached 13.3 million tons. As the Burlington Northern celebrated its 10th Anniversary, it found itself in the position of being able to finally cope with the rapidly emerging traffic, particularly the growing coal and grain traffic. During its first 10 years business had grown at such a rapid pace that the Burlington Northern was forced to continually play catch-up. This first year of the Railroad’s second decade began the extensive housecleaning period during which obsolete and worn out locomotives and cars were sold and/or scrapped and unused facilities were sold and/or razed.
The Naperville Auto Reload Center was built to handle new automobiles and light trucks, increasing freight train traffic on the Burlington Northern. Chicago-Portland via Seattle Time Freights #33 and #34 were inaugurated in order to transport American-made automobiles and light trucks westbound and foreign imports eastbound in triple-deck autorack cars.
The Allouez Taconite Facility was upgraded in order to accommodate the new 100-ton Taconite hopper cars. The ore “jennies” were phased out of service, and only Taconite was handled at Allouez. The Taconite plants on the Burlington Northern shipped 11 million tons annually on average. In addition to the unit Taconite trains to and from Allouez, the Burlington Northern operated all-rail unit Taconite trains for National Steel between its Pellet Plant and its steel mill in Granite City, Illinois.
The all-new Alliance South Yard was placed in service early during the year in support of the existing, but completely remodeled, North Yard. Since there had been a dramatic increase in train traffic in the Alliance area, lineups for Burlington Northern unit coal trains were broadcast on KCOW, an Alliance local AM radio station. There were 528 locomotives assigned to the Alliance Locomotive Shops and the employment roster in the Shops had grown to over 700 employees. Also, the new East Yard at Guernsey was completed and placed in service with a designed capacity of between 20 and 25 unit coal trains daily. With these improvements in place the average Powder River Basin unit coal train cycle was reduced to an average of seven days from mine to generating power plant and back.
The first unit coal trains with a Pacific Northwest destination were originated from Gillette, Wyoming. These trains were operated over the Burlington Northern to Spokane where they were turned over to the Union Pacific for completion of the run to Castle, Oregon.
The Milwaukee Road discontinued all revenue train service February 29 west of Miles City, Montana, and embargoed its transcontinental main line between Miles City and Seattle/Tacoma. The Burlington Northern and the Union Pacific competed with each other, as they aggressively pursued the shippers that the Milwaukee Road had given up.
Mount Saint Helens in Southwest Washington erupted violently May 18 and propelled three cubic kilometers of ash over Eastern Washington, Northern Idaho, and Western Montana. This erupted ash was later identified as part of the Burlington Northern Incorporated lands that were inherited from the former Northern Pacific as part of its extensive, historic land grants. The westbound EMPIRE BUILDER, which had been held at Spokane until the next day, picked up over 140 stranded Interstate Highway 90 motorists at Cheney, Ritzville, Lind, and Sprague, Washington, and brought them to Seattle. Eastbound Time Freight #4 also carried emergency breathing equipment on May 21 to several law enforcement agencies in Eastern Washington. Everything northeast of the Cascade Mountains on the Burlington Northern was covered with up to six inches of ash as far east as the west side of the Rocky Mountains at Essex, the Burlington Northern’s Marias Pass helper station in Glacier National Park. The Railroad coped with this fallout by changing all locomotive filters daily, and was able to continue limited transcontinental main line operations with considerable delays involved. In addition, it was necessary to cancel all train operations for several days on the Portland-Seattle via Tacoma main line due to flood-threatened bridges over the Cowlitz and Toutle Rivers in the vicinity of Centralia and Kelso-Longview, Washington.
Richard M. Bressler, the first non-rail executive selected by the Board of Directors, became Vice Chairman of Burlington Northern Inc. as of June 1 when Mr. Menk announced that he planned to retire as Chairman of the Board during 1981.
The Staggers Act of 1980, passed by Congress October 1 and signed by President Jimmy Carter on October 14, provided regulatory reform of the Interstate Commerce Commission that increased deregulated competition by the nation’s railroads with other transportation modes. This Act was responsible for the rescue of the railroad industry from the brink of collapse, according to most analysts of the industry.
The Interstate Commerce Commission agreed to reconsider the Chicago and North Western’s application to enter into the Powder River Basin and operate its own unit coal trains. The significant change in the application was that the Union Pacific guaranteed funding to rebuild the Chicago and North Western’s proposed coal route lines and to purchase its share of the Orin Coal Line from the Burlington Northern. The Burlington Northern immediately objected to this revised application because of the Union Pacific’s entry into the project, basing the objection upon the Interstate Commerce Commission’s original approval of the application that involved the Burlington Northern and the Chicago and North Western only. However, the Interstate Commerce Commission accepted the revised application and stated during the hearings, in response to recommendations of the coal mine operators and the power generating companies, that it desired to establish competition for the transportation of Powder River Basin coal.
The Frisco was merged by the courts on November 8 into the Burlington Northern. The Interstate Commerce Commission had approved the merger application on April 17. However, it was delayed from May 19, the original merger date, until November 8 by several court appeals, principally by the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, also known at the Katy. The U. S. Circuit Court rejected all of these appeals on November 8 and permitted the merger to occur on November 21. The inaugural trains, after appropriate ceremonies were held in Springfield, Missouri, began to operate shortly thereafter. With this merger the Burlington Northern became a 29,322-mile railroad, not counting the mileage operated by its subsidiaries Colorado and Southern and the Fort Worth and Denver.
Shortly after the merger occurred, the Burlington Northern inaugurated Time Freights #75 and #76, the longest Time Freight schedules in the country. These Time Freights operated between Birmingham and Portland via Memphis, Springfield, Kansas City, Lincoln, Laurel, and Pasco, a distance of 3,076 miles, and made connections to and from Seattle at Spokane. They replaced the Burlington Northern’s Houston-Seattle Time Freights #77 and #78’s 2,670-mile runs via Fort Worth, Denver, Laurel, and Spokane as the longest scheduled Time Freights in the country.
The merger documents indicated that the Frisco had the following main lines: St. Louis (Lindenwood Yard)-Springfield, St. Louis-Memphis (Tennessee Yard), Kansas City-Springfield, Springfield-Birmingham/Mobile/Pensacola via Memphis, Springfield-Dallas/Fort Worth via Tulsa (Cherokee Yard), and Springfield-Wichita. The major hub of the railroad was located at Springfield, where its General Offices, primary yard, and shop facilities had been located. The significance of this merger to the Burlington Northern was that it presented a second Texas routing between St. Louis/Kansas City and Dallas/Fort Worth to complement the Colorado Southern-Fort Worth and Denver routing between Denver and Houston/Galveston via Fort Worth and Dallas. As part of the merger, the Burlington Northern inherited several additional “run-throughs” and locomotive pools with other railroads: 1) Hamlet, North Carolina-Los Angeles via Birmingham and Avard, Oklahoma, with the Seaboard Coast Line and the Santa Fe, 2) Birmingham-Los Angeles via Avard with the Santa Fe, 3) Miami-Kansas City via Birmingham with the Seaboard Coast Line, and 4) Memphis-North Platte via Kansas City with the Union Pacific.
The popular SD40-2 locomotives became the largest-in-number class on the Burlington Northern during the year with 837 units assigned to the active locomotive roster.
By the end of the year the Alco Locomotive Era on the former Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railway had come to an end. Of the 141 former Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railway locomotives in service prior to the merger, 118 of them were of Alco origin. They were a favorite of rail fans, but were regarded as operational and maintenance headaches by the Railway. Many of them had been inherited from its owners, the former Great Northern and the former Northern Pacific, which unloaded them onto the former Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railway as fast as they could. Most were grudgingly purchased originally in order to foster competition in the locomotive building industry with the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors and General Electric Locomotives Works. However, none of the various Alco models performed as expected. Rather then have them spread out over the Northern Lines, they were assigned to the former Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railway prior to the merger. Operational personnel were pleased to see them go when the new SD40-2s and C30-7s finally replaced them during the year.
The annual report stated the Burlington Northern had established a record with 1.07 billion bushels of grain, equivalent to 30.57 million tons, transported in its grain car fleet during the year. The railroad had a total of 15,000 covered hopper cars in grain service, and the traditional multi-purpose box car was on its way out as the primary freight tonnage hauling car on the railroad. Also reported was that the railroad handled over 100 million tons of coal. Coal shipments generated 29 percent of the railroad’s gross revenues and 53 percent of revenue ton miles. Coal traffic’s daily average was 27 unit coal trains of 100 cars, each having an average 100-ton capacity. However, due to the extensive capitalization costs for new locomotives, cars, improvements made on the coal main lines, and improvements in facilities at Alliance and Glendive, coal traffic did not generate significant profits for the Burlington Northern as yet.
The annual report also stated that the Burlington Northern transported 155.3 billion ton-miles of freight traffic during the year with 3,270 locomotives, several of which were rapidly approaching retirement from the roster. However, because of the dramatic increase in coal and grain traffic, the Railroad needed every locomotive it had on the roster. Despite the extensive capital expenditures and recessionary influences, the annual report stated that third quarter net income amounted to $40 million, up considerably when compared to 1979 third quarter’s net income of $16.6 million.
Mr. Grayson, the Chairman and President of the former Frisco, was appointed on January 1 as the Vice Chairman of Burlington Northern Inc. and President of “the BN Railroad”. He replaced Mr. Lamphier, who, as it turned out, was to be the last President of “the BN Railroad” (Transportation Division) who had any connection to its heritage tracing back to James J. Hill, “the Empire Builder”. It appeared to many analysts that Burlington Northern Inc. and “the BN Railroad”, in addition to the quest for greater profitability, desired to divorce itself from any relationship with the historic traditions and operational practices of its highly successful predecessor railroads.
Mr. Bressler became Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Burlington Northern Inc. in August when Mr. Menk retired, and he completely reorganized Burlington Northern Inc. as a holding company with control of seven “Centers” (subsidiaries): the BN Railroad, BN Forest Management, BN Forest Products Manufacturing, BN Energy, BN Air-Freight Forwarder, BN Trucking, and BN Real Estate. He immediately placed emphasis on the non-railroad assets, since, in his profit-oriented view, they had greater financial potential than did “the BN Railroad”. He also transferred the holding company’s corporate headquarters to Seattle from St. Paul in order to be closer to the non-rail “Centers” operations and emerging Pacific Rim activities. Mr. Grayson and “the BN Railroad’s” administrative and operations offices remained in St. Paul, however.
With all of the 1980-1981 corporate changes, an outside railroad analyst observed: “With the Burlington Northern Incorporated’s restructuring and management changes that have taken place, something has been lost. The Burlington Northern Railroad was simply a subsidiary of Burlington Northern Incorporated. Some of the spirit of its predecessor railways was gone. It just was not the same as when the primary business was railroading. This feeling was accentuated by several of the moves the new non-railroad oriented management made. Although the original Burlington Northern managers had been sensitive to pre-merger agreements and promises and were concerned with employee feelings, the new management was more bottom-line oriented that did nothing to build and foster employee morale. What was needed in the new management’s employee relations was a kinder, gentler Burlington Northern Railroad even though cuts in the number of its employees and in the duplication of its facilities were also warranted.”
The Interstate Commerce Commission ruled on July 24 that the Chicago and North Western could have access to the Powder River Basin over Burlington Northern trackage. As was indicated in the revised application, the Union Pacific loaned funds to the Chicago and North Western for the rebuilding of its own lines and for the purchase of joint ownership over portions of the Burlington Northern’s Powder River Basin main lines. Connections were set up by the Chicago and North Western with the Union Pacific at South Morrill, Nebraska, and with the Burlington Northern at Shawnee Junction, Wyoming. Even though the Burlington Northern aggressively opposed the Chicago and North Western’s revised application, the Interstate Commerce Commission approved it because of the operating coal mines’ desire to create competition in the Powder River Basin. Most of the coal mining companies believed that the Burlington Northern was charging higher than necessary rates for the transport of their coal to the contracting power generating plants.
The State of South Dakota raised nearly $60 million in order to purchase and upgrade 482 miles of main line and branch lines in the state that the Milwaukee Road had abandoned. It contracted, effective as of July 6, with the Burlington Northern to operate the main line between Ortonville, Minnesota, and Terry, Montana, via Aberdeen and Mobridge, South Dakota, and additional secondary lines between East Sioux City and Aberdeen and between Sioux Falls and Mitchell. The Burlington Northern also acquired the portions of this former Milwaukee Road main line between Ortonville and the Minnesota-South Dakota border and between the South Dakota-Montana border and Terry. In addition to the operation of unit coal and unit grain trains, the Burlington Northern inaugurated Willmar-Aberdeen Time Freights #801 and #802.
The last active F Series road freight locomotive on the Burlington Northern, No. 732, made its final revenue run on July 29 from Argo Yard (Seattle) to Auburn Yard on the Seattle to Kalama local freight #675. At Auburn it was withdrawn from the local as the lead locomotive, and it was retired with a brief ceremony by the Auburn Yard officials and employees. Also, 10 of the retired F Series locomotives had been converted during the year as power units, and they were assigned to rotary snowplow service.
Effective on December 31, the Colorado and Southern Railway, which had been a major subsidiary of the former Burlington Route, was merged into the Burlington Northern Railroad, and the Burlington Northern’s Omaha Operating Region was transferred to Denver. This relocated operating region continued to include the Lincoln and Alliance Divisions and added the Colorado and Southern Railway and the Fort Worth and Denver Railroad’s operating divisions. Since the merger in 1970, however, the Colorado and Southern along with its subsidiary Fort Worth and Denver had played an intrinsic role in the Burlington Northern’s operations with their Denver-Texas freight train service.
Planning was initiated during the year by the Burlington Northern to upgrade the Laurel-Shelby via Great Falls line to main line status. The plan also included provision for the transfer of all South and Gulf Coast-Pacific Northwest traffic to this upgraded main line. Between Shelby and the Pacific Northwest this traffic would have passed through the Rocky Mountains’ Marias Pass and the Cascade Mountains’ Stevens Pass on the transcontinental main line. However, by the end of the year it was determined that the cost projections for such an upgrading project were excessive, and this project was terminated.
The United Transportation Union, the national trainmen’s union, and the Burlington Northern along with the nation’s other railroads agreed during the year to the phase out of cabooses in most train operations. However, several state legislatures continued to require occupied cabooses on all freight trains traveling through their states.
The Burlington Northern added business car Glacier View to its fleet during October after it was completely refurbished by the car shops. This car was the former Great Northern EMPIRE BUILDER’s Great Dome Lounge Car No. 1390, also named Glacier View. The Burlington Northern traded three of its former Northern Pacific baggage cars to Amtrak that had owned this car since Amtrak Day in 1971. In addition to retaining its beautiful full dome area, this business car now had rear-view theater seating. It immediately presented a striking appearance as the last car on the Directors’ Specials and other Executive Fleet trains.
The Missouri Pacific and Western Pacific Railways were merged into the Union Pacific on December 22. The Missouri Pacific had been in direct competition with the former Frisco, and this merger placed the Burlington Northern and the Union Pacific in another competitive situation. The Burlington Northern was also opposed to the Western Pacific merger, since it played a key role in the Inside Gateway’s California freight service operated with the Burlington Northern and the Santa Fe. After this merger was implemented, the Burlington Northern began to interchange most California traffic with the Southern Pacific Railway in Portland, and de-emphasized the Inside Gateway via Klamath Falls and Bieber. This was done in retaliation for the Union Pacific’s entry under the Chicago and North Western’s disguise into the Powder River Basin coal traffic competition and for the takeover of the Western Pacific.
The Burlington Northern began experiments with a liquified natural gas-fueled locomotive in limited testing service. The locomotive that was modified was GP9 No.1961, and most of the testing occurred in the Midwest. The Railroad was interested in the results because natural gas was considerably cheaper in cost, was an abundant domestic fuel, and burned cleaner than diesel fuel oil.
As a cost-cutting move, the Burlington Northern purchased its first new cabless locomotives, the B30-7As, and these unique units were placed in service during the year. The Railroad already had a few cabless locomotives, which had been rebuilt by the locomotive shops from locomotives involved in derailments, in service prior to this purchase.
For the 12th consecutive year the Burlington Northern set another coal hauling record. It handled over 124 million tons of coal that represented continued growth of this traffic when compared to 1981’s 117.7 million tons. This tonnage represented 12,400 unit coal trains of 100 cars and 10,000 tons each for an average of 34 loaded unit coal trains handled daily. The average ton-mile haul was 1,273 miles, and the tonnage generated 37 percent of the gross revenues and 58 percent of the ton miles. The Burlington Northern on August 5 had a record number of 185 loaded and empty unit coal trains in operation systemwide, and a record number of 46 unit coal trains were loaded on August 14 at various mine facilities. Also, during August the Kerr-McGee Mine near Gillette set a record for the loading of a Burlington Northern unit coal train, filling 111 cars in 32 minutes, which amounted to 17.3 seconds per car with 101 tons of coal each.
The $13.6 million, 37-mile Crawford Hill Project, begun during 1976 and located in the Pine Ridge Mountains of Northwest Nebraska about 50 miles northwest of Alliance, was completed during the year in order to facilitate Central Coal Corridor unit coal train operation. This major project involved the installation of a sophisticated Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) System, double track, welded-rail, and curvature reduction. Belmont Tunnel, located at the summit 4,493 feet in altitude, was also bypassed by this relocated double-tracked main line. Even with these massive Crawford Hill improvements, the unit coal trains and other Time Freights still needed helpers. The Crawford Hill Helper District was stabilized with the helpers assigned to westbound trains from Marsland to Belmont, a distance of nine miles, and to eastbound trains from Crawford to Belmont, a challenging run of 13 miles including the Horseshoe Curve that became a popular location for photographing the unit coal trains.
Once again the Burlington Northern had an exceptionally good year hauling grain when it transported 959 million bushels, equivalent to 27.4 million tons, in its unit grain trains. Most of them traveled westbound for transfer to seagoing ships for shipment to the Far East and Russia. When interviewed regarding this record, a Montana Division regional manager remarked: “More grain moves on the BN than on any other railroad on this continent.”
Walter A. Drexel became the newly elected President and Chief Operating Officer of “the BN Railroad” as of February 1, replacing Mr. Grayson who retired. Mr. Drexel immediately initiated several operational changes during the year.  The Operations Department was transferred from St. Paul to Overland Park, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City.  The Chicago Division’s headquarters were moved from Chicago to Galesburg into a new office building that also provided for the operational upgrading of the Galesburg Hump-Retarder Classification Yard, the division dispatchers’ offices, and the shop facilities.  Gavin Yard, located in Minot, and the Fort Smith (Arkansas) Yard were downgraded to local switching service. The hump and retarders were removed from Gavin Yard as part of this downgrading project.  The operational direction on the former Northern Pacific (westbound) and the former Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railway (eastbound) Spokane-Pasco main lines was reversed in order to accommodate the loaded westbound unit grain trains. Most of the grain carried by these trains was destined to Pacific Northwest grain terminals for overseas foreign shipment.  Hillyard Freight Yard and Locomotive Shops, located just north of Spokane, were closed with its operations transferred to Parkwater-Yardley, which was the former Northern Pacific freight yard and shops in Spokane. The former Great Northern main line between Sandpoint and Spokane via Hillyard was also reduced to disconnected branch lines.  The railroad postponed indefinitely the rebuilding of the Snoqualmie Pass main line through the Cascade Mountains that the Burlington Northern had purchased from the Milwaukee Road after it had abandoned its transcontinental main line. Shortly thereafter, this main line was sold to the State of Washington.  Finally, there were indications (rumors) throughout the railroad industry that the Burlington Northern was going to abandon its former Northern Pacific Montana-Idaho main line between Laurel and Spokane through Bozeman and Mullan Passes, and would reroute all Gulf Coast, Southeast, and Texas traffic to and from the Pacific Northwest over the former Great Northern main line via Great Falls and Marias Pass.
Effective on December 31, the Fort Worth and Denver Railway was absorbed into the Burlington Northern Railroad. This railway had been a subsidiary of the Colorado and Southern, which had been a subsidiary of the former Burlington Route prior to the merger in 1970. Even though it took awhile to formalize this transaction, the Fort Worth and Denver had played a significant role in the operation of Texas freight train service with the Burlington Northern since the merger took place in 1970.
Due to extreme inflationary factors, the Railroad’s diesel fuel expenditures during the year reached over $600 million, a totally unacceptable and alarming increase of 266 percent when compared to 1978’s expenditures of $164 million. In order to take advantage of lower prices in various parts of the country and to reduce the number of fueling stops, the Burlington Northern began experiments with fuel tenders during October. The first fuel tender BNFT 1, which was inserted between two compatible locomotives, began to make trial runs between Chicago and Seattle on through transcontinental freight trains. These trial runs resulted in a fuel savings of $3,000.00 per round trip.
All road locomotive assignments were made by the Overland Park Operations Department Office using Computer Aided Power Management and Control (CAPMAC) and Complete Operations Movement Processing and Service System (COMPASS), two highly sophisticated computer programs installed when the Operations Department was transferred from St. Paul to this new facility located in Overland Park.
The Metropolitan Rail Authority (METRA) was created by the State of Illinois to coordinate and control the operation of the Chicago area suburban commuter train service and to provide funding that subsidized the railroads operating these commuter trains for the difference between their operating costs and the revenues generated through fares charged the commuters. Illinois politicians finally realized that it was impossible to operate an excellent commuter train service at a cost-plus level based solely on the revenues generated from commuter fares. The Burlington Northern immediately negotiated a Purchase-of-Service Agreement with METRA for the operation of the Chicago-Aurora Commuter District that, at long last, permanently relieved the Burlington Northern of its Commuter District operating losses.
Based upon the positive experimental results, the Railroad committed to the construction of additional fuel tenders from various tank cars. The first scheduled revenue run with Fuel Tender BNFT 1 in between four SD40-2 locomotives occurred during April from Northtown to Seattle. By late fall over 30 successful transcontinental trips with fuel tenders had been completed, and successful use with Crawford Hill helper locomotives had been achieved. Within a few years the Burlington Northern had a fleet of 78 fuel tenders in service in transcontinental freight train service and on the three coal corridors.
The American Presidents Line (APL) sponsored the first experimental doublestack container train in the United States from Los Angeles to Chicago via the Southern Pacific and the St. Louis and Southwestern Railroads from Los Angeles to Kansas City and the Burlington Northern from Kansas City to Chicago. This experimental doublestack container train had 20 experimental five-platform doublestack cars loaded with 200 containers, and it initiated the Doublestack Revolution with its departure from Los Angeles on July 20. Until this date the Burlington Northern and the other railroads hauled containers on its Container-on-Flat Cars. This change in operation was sponsored by the steamship companies, which had become disenchanted with the slow operation and costs of their ships passing through the Panama Canal. In order to reduce the shipping costs of this priority freight over long distances in a land bridge concept between the Far East and Europe, the American Presidents Line took the lead in this Doublestack Revolution by having the 20 experimental five-platform cars built and by sponsoring this first doublestack container train. However, within a very short time following the success of this inaugural doublestack container train, Sea-Land became the overall leader in this innovative container market.
The first eastbound transcontinental doublestack container train, inaugurated with the Sea-Land Container Line, travelled from Seattle to New York City during the fall. Within a short time the Burlington Northern began to operate designated doublestack container trains for Sea-Land and assigned them as Time Freights #7 and #8 between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest and Time Freights #9 and #10 between New York City and the Pacific Northwest via connecting Eastern railroads and Chicago.
The average loaded unit coal train haul during the year was 1,273 miles, and the Burlington Northern transported a total of 124 million tons of coal for the 12th consecutive annual tonnage record.
The Burlington Northern also hauled a record 1.2 billion bushels of grain weighing 34.3 million tons during the year, thereby retaining its reputation as the largest grain hauler in the Western Hemisphere. In operational terms this resulted in over 342,900 covered hopper grain car loads of 100 tons each. However, since the number of cars assigned to each train had been increased, the number of “grainers” (unit grain trains) operated by the Burlington Northern had decreased to 3,175 when compared to 1973’s 4,980 trains. This greater efficiency was made possible by the higher horsepower locomotives assigned in multiple sets, by expanded use of 100-ton jumbo covered hopper grain cars, and by competitive rates that encouraged shippers to form blocks of 17-26-27-52-54 cars for hauling to a single destination. Turn-around time from load to empty to reload had also been reduced to an average of 18 days per grain car.
A grain industry analyst commented on the success achieved by the Burlington Northern. “Looking back upon the grain industry over the past 100 years, times have certainly changed from the first sod-busting efforts on 160-320 acre prairie family farms to the 3,000-4,000 acre conglomerate farms, from yields of just a few bushels per acre to yields of four or five fold, from thousands of farms producing a crop designed to feed the nation’s cities to a few thousand farms feeding millions of people around the world, and from smaller railroads moving sacked grain in box cars to the nation’s cities to a super railroad hauling 100-ton bulk grain hopper cars in massive 100-car grain trains to export terminals for shipment around the world. Burlington Northern links the nation’s grain producing areas to more domestic grain consumption markets and export ports on the Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico and in the Pacific Northwest than any other carrier. It continues to fine tune its grain hauling performance in order to meet the ever-growing demand of its customers and to maintain its stature as the largest grain hauler in the Western Hemisphere. Full appreciation of Burlington Northern’s efforts and performance is gained when observing and feeling a massive 100-car, 14,000-ton unit grain train, pulled by several huge, roaring locomotives, rumble steadily along the trackage to its destination.”
With completion of the purchase of the 119 new B30-7A cabless booster locomotives during the year, the Burlington Northern owned the largest number of this type of locomotive in the nation.
The Chicago and North Western, using Union Pacific funding, completed payment of $76.2 million to the Burlington Northern during the year for joint ownership of the Orin Coal Line in the Powder River Basin.
The former Northern Pacific Whitehall-Butte main line via Homestake Pass was embargoed and abandoned during the year. The Montana Western Railroad purchased the Butte-Garrison portion of this main line, and the Burlington Northern retained the Logan-Whitehall portion plus the Twin Bridges Branch Line.
The 75th Anniversary of the driving of the last spike on the former Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railway at Sheridan’s Point, located near Stevenson in the Columbia River Gorge, was celebrated on March 12 with the installation of a permanent marker. Burlington Northern operated a special train that carried the dignitaries, railroad officials, and other invited guests between Vancouver, Washington, and Sheridan’s Point for the ceremonies.
Burlington Northern ceased all operations during August on the former Northern Pacific’s Cascade Mountains Stampede Pass main line between Cle Elum and Ravensdale because of clearance limitations in Stampede Tunnel. The 16 miles between Ravensdale and Auburn remained in service in order to reach the coal mines on the west side of the Cascade Mountains. The last scheduled train travelled over the Pass on August 13. At this time the former Northern Pacific Auburn Freight Yard and Shops were closed, and all Seattle Terminal activity was centered at Interbay’s Balmer Yard and Locomotive Shops, located in northwest Seattle, and in the South Seattle TOFC/COFC Yard. All train operations west of Spokane were over the transcontinental main line via Wenatchee and Stevens Pass or via Pasco and the Columbia River Gorge main line with the closure of the Stampede Pass main line.
Following the approval by some state legislatures of the United Transportation Union’s national agreement, the nation’s railroads began the phase out of cabooses on most main line trains. A Burlington Northern train’s caboose was replaced by a small silver box named the Flashing Rear End Device that conveyed air brake pressure and other operational information to the locomotive engineer and projected a flashing red light to the rear of the train. This device was quickly nicknamed “FRED” by railroad employees. Each state’s legislation, however, also spelled out the specific instances of train operation where an occupied caboose was still required.
The annual report indicated that the Burlington Northern was the largest railroad in the country with 30,240 route miles and 17,392 miles of main line. The railroad carried 95 percent of its ton-miles on its main lines, and originated 89 percent of tonnage handled during the year. Over 80 percent of its tonnage was in the farm, forest, and mine products categories. Unit trains carried over 50 percent of all grain movements and over 95 percent of its coal movements. This annual report was unique since it contained no photographs of its railroad operations. This oddity was pointed out throughout the country by the financial media that hypothesized that Burlington Northern Inc. must be in financial trouble if it could not afford to illustrate its annual report. However, Mr. Bressler, the camera-shy Burlington Northern Inc.’s Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, was overheard to remark during a press conference, “The stockholders of this corporation would rather save $50,000 than have pictures in their annual report.”
At the beginning of the year, the Burlington Northern operated the following principal Time Freights (“Hotshots”) in addition to the high-priority “Sea-Land Doublestacks”, Time Freights #7 and #8 and Time Freights #9 and #10.
The Overland Mail, Time Freights #1 and #2, Chicago-Oakland via Denver (U. S. Mail) These two mail trains were operated in conjunction with the UP and SP.
The Pacific Zip, Time Freight #3, Chicago to Seattle (U. S. Mail)
The Fast Mail, Time Freight #4, Seattle to Chicago (U. S. Mail)
The Red Rooster, Time Freight #23, Chicago to Seattle (TOFC/COFC)
This “Piggyback” was operated five times a week in support of the West Coaster. Third morning delivery in Seattle and Portland was guaranteed.
The New Orient Express, Time Freight #24, Portland to Chicago (COFC)
This “Piggyback” carried foreign import containers received from China and transferred most of them to connecting railroads in the Twin Cities and Chicago.
Time Freights #33 and #34, Chicago-Portland via Seattle (Triple Deck Autoracks)
The Bullet, Time Freights #61 and #62, Chicago-Denver via Omaha (TOFC/COFC)
These two “Piggybacks” were in competition with the Chicago and North Western’s new Falcons.
Time Freights #63 and #64, Chicago-Denver
Time Freights #67 and #68, Chicago-Kansas City
Time Freights #75 and #76, Birmingham-Seattle
Although not officially named, these two Time Freights were nicknamed “the Birmingham Special”.
The Forwarder, Time Freight #82, Seattle to Chicago
This Time Freight’s entire “wheel report” (consist) was transferred in Chicago to connecting railroads.
The West Coaster, Time Freight #97, Chicago to Seattle
Time Freight #182, Pasco to Northtown
Time Freight #197, Northtown to Portland
The Burlington Northern suspended all train operations on the former Northern Pacific’s Evaro Hill main line between DeSmet and Paradise, Montana, when the rehabilitation and upgrading of the former Northern Pacific’s DeSmet-Paradise via St. Regis freight main line was completed during the year.
The Chicago and North Western began to construct its Powder River Basin coal main line on February 2 between Joyce, Nebraska, located on the Union Pacific main line, and Shawnee Junction, Wyoming, on the jointly-owned Burlington Northern-Chicago and North Western Orin Coal Line. The Chicago and North Western was using Union Pacific funding to rehabilitate existing trackage and to build the new trackage. Also, the Chicago and North Western had completed the purchase of joint ownership of the Orin Coal Line between Shawnee Junction and East Caballo Junction via Bill, a distance of 93 miles. The first Chicago North Western unit coal train departed the Powder River Basin on August 16 via the Orin Coal Line and its new 107-mile Shawnee Junction-Joyce connecting line to the Union Pacific. Competition to haul Powder River Basin coal immediately intensified, and the Burlington Northern was forced to reduce its unit coal train rates significantly in order to retain most of its contracts with the Powder River Basin mines and the nation’s power generating plants.
During the summer the new St. Croix River Lift Bridge and St. Paul-North La Crosse main line relocation near Prescott, Wisconsin, was placed in service. This new bridge replaced the old swing bridge and sharp curvature at Prescott on the former Burlington Route’s “Upper Mississippi River Scenic Line”.
The $80 million modernization of the Galesburg Yard was completed in October. It was changed from a two hump, manually operated retarder classification yard to a modernized electronic one hump-retarder classification yard that included locomotive servicing shops, a TOFC/COFC Service hub center, and the division offices building. Its primary function became the blocking of eastbound cars arriving from several directions for transfer to railroad connections in Chicago for delivery to various east and southeast destinations. The Galesburg Yard terminal superintendent described its operations as follows: “The primary duty of the yard remains to take the freight moving through on BN’s five different routes, yard it, sort it, block it, and blend it into trains that will exit on those same five routes. One example: Galesburg takes eastbound loads that have arrived in freights from Denver, Houston, Memphis, Kansas City, or Paducah, humps them, and blocks them into new cuts for Grand Trunk, Conrail, CSX, and Belt Railway connections, and then dispatches them east on the proper Chicago-bound trains, such as Time Freight #160 for CSX cars and Time Freight #162 for BRC cars. We try to push as much traffic as possible through here, to take advantage of what this place can do. Typically, we handle 1,500 to l,600 cars a day.”
With the assistance of Rockwell International, the Burlington Northern installed the Advanced Railroad Electronics System (ARES) and the Advanced Train Control System (ATCS) on the former Great Northern’s Mesabi Iron Range main line between Superior and Grand Rapids, Minnesota, via Kelly Lake during the year. ARES included Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) and Track Warrant Control (TWC) through utilization of Navstar Global Positioning Satellites (GPS). ARES also included the Locomotive Analysis and Reporting System (LARS), the Energy Management System (EMS), and the Rail Operations Control System (ROCS). The Burlington Northern was rapidly becoming a computerized railroad with sophisticated technological systems supporting the overall operation of its trains. Through the use of satellites, ARES also has the capability of determining more precisely the location of trains within CTC and TWC territory. Based upon the anticipated successful operation of ARES on the Mesabi Iron Range, the Burlington Northern projected that the next installation was planned for installation on the former Burlington Route main line between Hastings, Nebraska, and Denver. Seattle became the second largest container port in the nation, just behind New York City, when over 1.1 million containers crossed the Port of Seattle’s docks during the year between container ships and Burlington Northern unit doublestack container trains in Stacy Street Yard (officially named the Seattle International Gateway on August 1, 1985). In addition, the Burlington Northern handled several thousand Sea-Land and Maersk Lines containers in its Tacoma Intermodal Yard.
The Burlington Northern transported an incredible 146 million tons of Powder River Basin coal during the year to 42 utilities in 21 states. This was the record year to date since the merger in 1970 and represented a staggering increase when compared to the tonnage carried during 1970. This tremendous tonnage averaged out to 40 loaded unit coal trains, each carrying over 10,000 tons of coal, traveling over the Northern, Central, and Southern Coal Corridors every day of the year. However, in order for the Burlington Northern to even maintain this coal tonnage in future years required increasing aggressiveness and quality performance on its part as its response to the emerging competitive Chicago and North Western-Union Pacific Powder River Basin operations.
The interlocking plants located on the Burlington Northern-Milwaukee Road’s St. Croix-Division Street (St. Paul) Joint Line and within the Twin City Terminals were converted to Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) under the control of the Northtown dispatchers. The Joint Line’s towers at St. Croix (Hastings), Newport, and St. Paul’s Oakland, Hoffman Avenue, and Division Street, and the Twin Cities Terminal’s towers at St. Paul’s Westminster and Southeast Minneapolis’ St. Anthony were closed on the 19th of November. Also included in this conversion to CTC and closure was the Coon Creek Junction station, located north of the Northtown Terminal on the transcontinental main line. Trains operated to and from Superior departed from or entered on to the transcontinental main line at Coon Creek.
Gross revenue for the year, including that generated by Burlington Northern Inc.’s non-rail operations, reached $9.16 billion with a net income of $608 million. However, considerable concern was being expressed, since the Railroad’s operating ratio exceeded 90 percent, considerably higher than those of most of the nation’s other railroads.
The Burlington Northern along with the Milwaukee Road sold their interests in Chicago Union Station to Amtrak. The Commuter District’s “Dinkies”, operated in conjunction with METRA, continued to use Union Station to and from Aurora, however.
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