Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Today's Train of Thought- The Forestry for the Trees; April 5, 2010

Today's train of thought takes us to Idaho along the remnants of one of the last transcontinental railroads- the Milwaukee Road's Pacific extension between Minneapolis, MN and Seattle, WA.

Construction began on the pacific extension in 1906 and was completed just over three years later with a Golden Spike ceremony at Garrison, MT. Because the line was built so late, the Miwaukee Road had to expand westward by acquiring smaller railroads and purchasing individual parcels of land. However, thanks to abundant hydroelectric energy and available copper from western Montana, the Milwaukee Road became a pioneer in electrification- with much of the line between Harlowtown, MT and Tacoma, WA featuring overhead wire.

But the fact that the line bypassed populated areas out west proved to be its undoing and by 1974, it had removed all signs of electrification [just in time for the OPEC-induced oil crisis! -NANESB!] and in 1979, with much of the Pacific extension suffering from deferred maintenance and 10 MPH slow orders, the Milwaukee Road decided to abandon all lines west of Terry, MT- more than 1100 miles total.

A few remnants of the Milwaukee Road Pacific extension and the branches that fed into it are in use today. Notable examples include Washington State's Pend Oreille Valley Railroad, the appropriately named Tacoma Rail, Montana's Central Montana out of Lewistown, MT and the 71-mile St Maries River Railroad in Idaho. The St. Marie's started up in 1980 on a stretch of former Milwaukee Road Pacific extension between Plummer, ID and Avery, ID (although the line to Avery was eventually condemned and shut down by the federal government).

For the first 30 years, the line was owned and operated by the Potlatch Corporation. However, in 2010 the line was sold to the Williams Group out of Missouri- which operates another railway (the Bountiful Grain and Craig Mountain) further South. Like many other railways, the Saint Maries River found themselves a reliable workhorse in EMD's GP9, which had been with them since the beginning- albeit in a chopped hood variation.

Here, railpictures.net contributor Matt Adams catches GP9s #102 and #101 trundling across the spindly trestle at Lake Benewah, ID with 9 cars bound for the Union Pacific itnerchange at Plummer in July 2008. Not surprisingly, the primary source of traffic for the line is lumber and forestry products. Interestingly, both the track and locomotives come from the Milwaukee Road.

The St Maries also occasionally uses a couple of former MILW cabooses to assist in lengthy backup moves.

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