Railfan.net Home Railfan Photos ABPR Archives Staff Safari Photos Railfan Links

Railfan.net Forums Railfan.net Forums Railfan.net Forums
Welcome, Guest. Please Sign In or Register. Sep 22nd, 2017, 8:07pm
Categories •  FastIndex •  LongIndex •  Help •  Search •  Members  •  Sign In •  Register


Why did MILW drop electric power?
   Railfan.net Web Forums
   Locomotives and Rolling Stock
   Electric Locomotives
(Moderators: Henry, ctempleton3)
   Why did MILW drop electric power?
« Previous topic | Next topic »
Pages: 1  ReplyReply     EMail TopicEMail Topic   PrintPrint
   Author  Topic: Why did MILW drop electric power?  (Read 501 times)
Transcon
Historian
Posts: 359
Why did MILW drop electric power?
 
« on: Jun 20th, 2006, 2:13pm »
Quick-Jump   Reply w/Quote   Modify

Probably this was posted already, i don´t know, but I still cannot imagine why Milwaukee Road ended electric service in 1974. Everybody knows that oil was so much more expensive  in the 70ies than before, and that we had the first oil crisis and so on...??
No wonder that this step was the deadly one for the MILW!


Logged
PW_bullet_train
Former Member
Re: Why did MILW drop electric power?
 
« Reply #1 on: Jun 20th, 2006, 9:40pm »
Quick-Jump   Reply w/Quote   Modify   Remove

The electrification was in such deteriorated shape that they didn't have the money to maintain it, so they junked it.
 
BTW:  Imagine if the "Gap" between Avery and Othello was electrified like it was supposed to have been.  You would have had a 915 mile long electric line from Seattle/Tacoma all the way to Harlowton, MT!!!!  That's about the same distance as Philadelphia to Chicago!!!!


Logged
George_Harris
Historian
Posts: 3820
Re: Why did MILW drop electric power?
 
« Reply #2 on: Jun 21st, 2006, 6:05am »
Quick-Jump   Reply w/Quote   Modify

on Jun 20th, 2006, 9:40pm, PW_bullet_train wrote:       (Click here for original message)
The electrification was in such deteriorated shape that they didn't have the money to maintain it, so they junked it.

This was the reason given at the time, yet it may not be altogether true.  By this time the entire Milwaukee system was falling apart from lack of the most basic of maintenance.  It did not have to be that way.  There were studies done that showed the western extension to be profitable even after teh management in Chicago was trying to shed it.  There were a number of things happening that left you wondering what was going on in these people's heads.    
 
From a paper by Todd Jones:
 
Quote:
Of interest is the fact that both the Milwaukee and an independent group called the “Northwest Rail Improvement Committee” compiled studies that showed for the cost of $39 million the system could be renewed with new locomotives, power supplies, and also close the “Gap” between Avery ID and Othello WA, improving efficiency.  Full electrification would have allowed $21 million dollars worth of diesel locomotives to be transferred to the eastern lines of the road, reducing the net cost to $18 million dollars.  GE even formally proposed financing the project, understanding the Milwaukee’s precarious position, but Chairman Quinn declined, stating that the company had “more immediate needs”.  He did admit however that at current traffic levels and fuel prices, the “re” electrification would have paid for itself in 11 years.  Instead the company would end up spending $39 million, yes, an equal amount, to completely dieselize Lines West while receiving only about $5 million dollars for the copper scrap as prices had dramatically fallen.  What is most incredible is that the system was shut down during the Arab oil embargo, which had caused the costs of operations of diesel locomotives to skyrocket while the costs for electricity stayed relatively stable.  
 
On June 15, 1974 when the last electric run was made, diesels cost twice as much to operate as the electrics.  In a study done by Michael Sol it was found that if the electrification, as it existed in 1972, operating at maximum capacity, with no additional locomotives, the savings would have amounted to $32.6 million at the end of 1977 and $67.8 million by 1980 factoring in the increases in diesel fuel costs.  Renewing the system would have paid for itself in 4 years.

 
In othere words, regardless of the face put on it for the public, removal of the electrification was probably one of the worst business decisions of all time.  
 
The Milw. catenary was for the most part strung on wood poles, quite a few of which probably were nearing the end of their useful life, but I would suspect that would be mostly on the wetter west of the Cascades portions which would have been a relatively small percentage of the total.  A good wood pole will last a long time.  During my brief period of US railroad employment, the wood trestles that were being replaced were for the most part in the range of 50 to 60 years old, and that was in the warm high rot climate of the southeast.   A lineside pole should last longer.
 
There was a claim that the system was obsolete.  That may have been true in the sense that if built in the 1970's much would have been done differently, but there was never enough specificity to that claim to indicate whether this was a funcitonal obsolence that meant it was inordiatlely expensive to operate.  For example, a highway with 10 foot wide lanes is regarded as obsolete, but that does not render it non-functional, or even more expensive to drive on or maintain.  
 
George


Logged
Transcon
Historian
Posts: 359
Re: Why did MILW drop electric power?
 
« Reply #3 on: Jun 21st, 2006, 3:19pm »
Quick-Jump   Reply w/Quote   Modify

Yes, that´s absolutely right! The removal of electrification on the MILW was the worst thing to do.
And why hasn´t the gap between Avery and Othello never been closed? Was money the problem again?


Logged
George_Harris
Historian
Posts: 3820
Re: Why did MILW drop electric power?
 
« Reply #4 on: Jun 22nd, 2006, 2:37am »
Quick-Jump   Reply w/Quote   Modify

Hid away in the stuff I quoted from Mr. Jones,  
Quote:
for $39 million the system could be renewed with new locomotives, power supplies, and also close the “Gap” between Avery ID and Othello WA.  
 
GE even formally proposed financing the project, understanding the Milwaukee’s precarious position, but Chairman Quinn declined, stating that the company had “more immediate needs”.

They could have done this WITH NO CAPITAL OUTLAY and THEY TURNED IT DOWN.  Excuse me for shouting, but this decision was so incredibly stupid it is hard to stay calm about it.  
 
General Electric would have sold them ON CREDIT everything the needed to modernize the electrification, including new electric locos, which would have given them an unbroken 900 mile run.
 
George


Logged
George_Harris
Historian
Posts: 3820
Re: Why did MILW drop electric power?
 
« Reply #5 on: Jul 15th, 2006, 9:37am »
Quick-Jump   Reply w/Quote   Modify

The "gap" is frequently referred to as being 227 miles.  This was based on the passenger route through Spokane.  (From Avery at 1773 miles from Chicago to Othello at 2000 miles from Chicago.)  However, once passenger service ended, it is for sure that the wires would not have been strung this way.  In fact, even if the gap had been filled much earlier, particularly after dieselization, it is highly unlikely that the wires would have ever seen Spokane.  The freight route was shorter, being 89 miles Plummer Jct. to Morengo rather than 103 miles via the passenger route, so the gap was actually only 213 miles.  This would have eliminated two engine changes, and freed up a number of diesels to go east.

Logged
GP72ACe

View Profile  

Posts: 849
Re: Why did MILW drop electric power?
 
« Reply #6 on: Jul 20th, 2006, 1:03am »
Quick-Jump   Reply w/Quote   Modify

Quote:
Excuse me for shouting, but this decision was so incredibly stupid it is hard to stay calm about it
Shout all you want.  The fact that there's no more MILW to hear is more than vindication of your position...but BNSF and UP better start listening...


« Last Edit: Jul 20th, 2006, 1:04am by GP72ACe » Logged
atlpete
Historian
View Profile  

Posts: 408
Re: Why did MILW drop electric power?
 
« Reply #7 on: Aug 9th, 2006, 1:06am »
Quick-Jump   Reply w/Quote   Modify

My understanding is the Milw. was out of money, the electrification and the route trackage was completely worn out suffering from deferred maintenance, traffic didn't justify the continued investment/overhead required to maintain the equipment and infrastructure was out of line with the projected ROI based on that declining volume. Shortsighted? yeah, but a lot of railroaders will tell you that it was remarkable they fought on as long as they did, it's no coincidence Noel Holley's book cites derailment frequencies one would associate with Penn Central; Milw. was into the same death  spiral of bad track-slower speeds-loss of traffic-no dough for maintenance-worse track etc. just like "Big Black." The BN merger didn't help either, allowing the former Hill lines to compete as a single line-rate connection in Chicago to the Pacific Northwest.  
I do think the demise of the electrification and later the Milwaukee itself indeed was a national tragedy especially now with the explosion in building and Pacific Rim trade, BUT the Pacific Extension regardless lacked  the volumes, running times, interline traffic  etc. that the NP and especially the GN routes did. One only wishes they had held on long enough to reap the fruits of deregulation and labor rules relief, though they likely would have wound up in a merger with another major western trunk, (a post BN merger with UP would have been interesting.) In short I believe it would have taken a lot more than GE's sweet deal to have preserved the electrification and Pacific Extension.


Logged
George_Harris
Historian
Posts: 3820
Re: Why did MILW drop electric power?
 
« Reply #8 on: Aug 9th, 2006, 10:49am »
Quick-Jump   Reply w/Quote   Modify

A lot of railroads have survived on lower traffic densities than Milwaukee's.  They seemed to have make a series of unbroken wrong managment decisions in the 60's and 70's, maybe even starting earlier.  Yes their track was getting in bad conditions, but they were not even doing the cheap solutions to fix things.  
 
KCS is the height of railroad prosperity now, but 25 to 30 years ago, they were equally approaching disaster, primarily because of extremely bad track due to quite a few years of lack of maintenance.  They bit the bullet and bought ties and started welding up rail as fast as they could do it.  After they got the used rail they had welded up and began to be able to keep their trains on the track, they got their costs under control enough to be able to start buying new rail.  
 
This scenario would have worked just as well for Milwaukee, but they probably did not have the bad tie problem that KCS did because of their much dryer climate.  
 
George


Logged
brokenrail
Chaser
Posts: 76
Re: Why did MILW drop electric power?
 
« Reply #9 on: Aug 9th, 2006, 3:33pm »
Quick-Jump   Reply w/Quote   Modify

on Aug 9th, 2006, 10:49am, George_Harris wrote:       (Click here for original message)
KCS is the height of railroad prosperity now, but 25 to 30 years ago, they were equally approaching disaster, primarily because of extremely bad track due to quite a few years of lack of maintenance.  They bit the bullet and bought ties and started welding up rail as fast as they could do it.  After they got the used rail they had welded up and began to be able to keep their trains on the track, they got their costs under control enough to be able to start buying new rail.  
 
This scenario would have worked just as well for Milwaukee, but they probably did not have the bad tie problem that KCS did because of their much dryer climate.  
 
George

 
George,   I was there when the MILW went down and generally speaking much of the rail was in good shape.   115lb RE with little wear.  The ties were terrible even in dry Montana.  Many were cut so deep the rail looked like it was sunken.  The ballast was all round river rock and dirt.  An aggressive tie, ballast and surface program would have done wonders for the Milwaukee.  I think most of the mainline rail would have fared well until traffic levels increased to the point where it would have started to wear out.    
 
As far as the electrification goes there are some other factors that may have entered into their decision.  The Milwaukee must have known the pacific extension was in trouble, especially after 1970 when BN shut MILW out of many gateways and they began to lose traffic.  They probably realized that the diesels could be moved east in case of a shut down whereas electrics would have been surplus.  They would have needed a captive fleet of diesels in Seattle to operate to Portland as well as having a large supply of diesels and electrics cooling their heels in Harlowton waiting for trains.  There would have been times when a train sat in Harlowton waiting for diesels when the roundhouse had electrics with no place to go and vice-versa.  The locomotive changes required would have been costly and time consuming.  Imagine breaking the air on a 6000' freight at 20 below.  
 
These MAY have been things Milwaukee management was considering when deciding whether to upgrade the electrical system and fill in the gap.    
 
But my opinion is that the SD40 and SD40-2 were electrification's worst enemy.  The electrification installations (for freight) were designed to eliminate steam from mountain grades and long tunnels.  That was their best advantage and the reason the Milwaukee didn't electrify the Othello-Avery gap.  Steam worked well enough on the light grade lines and electrics were fantastic on mountain grades.  Diesels were close to electrics in the mountains and roads like the GN (and N&W and VGN) were quick to take down the wires when they'd dieselised.  By the time the Milwaukee had to chose the SD40-2 was a huge improvement over the first generation diesels the had brought down the GN's wires.  The advantage of electrics was minimal compared to SD40-2's.  
 
And it is this stiff competition that modern electrification projects will have to overcome.  The modern AC locomotives are much better than even the SD40-2 and it will take a lot to justify electrification.  I think, baring a huge increase in oil prices or shortages, that we won't see much electrification on heavy freight lines.  It would be appropriate for the federal government to work with the railways to electrify in the national interest of conserving oil.  It would likely be in conjunction with putting more trucks on rails and increasing generating capacity as well as track capacity.  If we were far-sighted we'd be doing this yesterday but as politics goes we'll likely do it when we're in mid-crisis.  
 
Additionally we are seeing problems in tunnels due to diesel smoke and heat.  BNSF is limited by Cascade tunnel's exhaust time between trains.  MRL is having trouble with filters on the new SD70Ace's.  The cost of filter replacement is negating fuel efficiency.  Fueling facilities are controversial (BNSF in north Idaho) for fear of leaks into aquifers.  Fueling locomotives requires time and facilities.   The amount of oil we could save, coupled with solving the above problems would be an important national asset if we electrified major rail lines.  I think modern technology would allow us to use a large amount of regenerated electricity that is now wasted.  
 
I defer to the experts but I've been wondering if we could build diesel-electric-electrics similar to the NH FL9.  Would AC traction be an advantage?  Could we simply add pantographs to SD70Ace and GEVO's with some electrical gear under the hood or would this be far too costly?  It could allow short segments of electrification such as mountain grades and tunnels without engine changes.      


Logged
atlpete
Historian
View Profile  

Posts: 408
Re: Why did MILW drop electric power?
 
« Reply #10 on: Aug 19th, 2006, 2:23am »
Quick-Jump   Reply w/Quote   Modify

A modern dual power FREIGHT combination locomotive/motor is an interesting proposition, and one that I'm not aware has been attempted anywhere in the past fifties years, certainly back in the fifties this was a problematic concept as virtually all of NH's lightweight train "experiments" as well as the FL-9's suffered serious problems, though at least the FL-9's eventually proved manageable. More recently the LI's DM30's have been issue plagued though I don't recall reading that the P32AC's have had a lot of gremlins(please set me straight if otherwise) or that the DM30's were specific to the dual power feature.    
 Still a modern dual powered freight locomotive, might be a pretty complex recipe especially from a controls standpoint, likely perhaps moreso then the P32AC due to the difference in tractive effort required and consist weights. Current diesel AC motor technology is already pretty "out there" in terms of software, propulsion control, power regulation etc, I wonder how the P32AC power and control design compares to, say the AC4400 for example.  I also wonder if such a design has been attempted by a foreign builder like Alstholm, Hitachi or Seimens?
Anyone?


Logged
silver_champion
Historian
Posts: 888
Re: Why did MILW drop electric power?
 
« Reply #11 on: Aug 19th, 2006, 2:24pm »
Quick-Jump   Reply w/Quote   Modify

Thanks everyone, I did not know that the MILW was in that bad of shape. See what you find into on this formus.

Logged
George_Harris
Historian
Posts: 3820
Re: Why did MILW drop electric power?
 
« Reply #12 on: Jan 10th, 2007, 10:42pm »
Quick-Jump   Reply w/Quote   Modify

on Aug 9th, 2006, 3:33pm, brokenrail wrote:       (Click here for original message)
George,   I was there when the MILW went down and generally speaking much of the rail was in good shape.   115lb RE with little wear.  The ties were terrible even in dry Montana.  Many were cut so deep the rail looked like it was sunken.  The ballast was all round river rock and dirt.  An aggressive tie, ballast and surface program would have done wonders for the Milwaukee.  I think most of the mainline rail would have fared well until traffic levels increased to the point where it would have started to wear out.  

OK, it has been a long time and this is not on the electrification, as such.
 
As bad track conditions go, new ties and ballast with some cleaning is the cheap fix.  The serious money comes when you have to buy rail.  However, 115lb jointed rail with very little wear would be a good foundation to build on.  They could have done something like what RF&P did when they decided to go to CWR:  They bought something like 5 miles of new rail, welded it up and put it in track.  Took the released rail, cut off the joint areas, welded it up and put it in track.  Repeated this cycle, buying a little more new rail as needed to recover the length lost in cutting off joints.  RF&P was doing this with 140 lb PS rail.
 
It just seemed that by the early to mid 70's Milwaukee all but had a death wish and quit trying.


Logged
Triplex
Railfan
View Profile  

Posts: 150
Re: Why did MILW drop electric power?
 
« Reply #13 on: Jan 11th, 2007, 2:52pm »
Quick-Jump   Reply w/Quote   Modify

Quote:
Diesels were close to electrics in the mountains and roads like the GN (and N&W and VGN) were quick to take down the wires when they'd dieselised.
That was the reason on GN. On N&W, the wires came down in 1950 - I don't know if they had any diesels then! The VGN electrification was shut down only after N&W took it over. The reason? N&W wanted to use the electrified ex-VGN single-track main and its own mostly parallel single-track line as one double-track line. This made the VGN line one-way, so the only way to continue using the electrics would be to electrify the other main, which they didn't want to bother doing.


« Last Edit: Jan 11th, 2007, 2:55pm by Triplex » Logged

Fan of late and early Conrail... also transition-era PRR, 70s Santa Fe, BN and SP, 70s-80s eastern CN, pre-merger-era UP, heavy electric operations in general, dieselized narrow gauge, modern EFVM and Brazilian railroads in general, transition-era DB and DR... why bother trying to list them all?
George_Harris
Historian
Posts: 3820
Re: Why did MILW drop electric power?
 
« Reply #14 on: Jan 11th, 2007, 10:38pm »
Quick-Jump   Reply w/Quote   Modify

on Jan 11th, 2007, 2:52pm, Triplex wrote:       (Click here for original message)
On N&W, the wires came down in 1950 - I don't know if they had any diesels then!

They did not.  In 1950 the N&W was still fully committed to Steam Forever.  The wire was taken down due to a line relocation and new tunnel that bypassed the steeply graded section that had been the reason for the electrification in the first place.  
 
In information on electrification this is given as the world's only case of electrification being retired in favor of steam.
 
George


Logged
Pages: 1  ReplyReply     EMail TopicEMail Topic   PrintPrint

« Previous topic | Next topic »