Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Building the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe

The main components of what we know today as the BNSF Railway began with the mega-merger in 1970 of three major railroads: The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, The Northern Pacific and The Great Northern.


Known as the Burlington Route or The Q, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad was founded in 1849 with the primary connections from Chicago (headquarters), Minneapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City and Denver.

Trackage ran as far west as Wyoming and Montana. The most famous trains on The Q were the Zephyrs, known for their efficient passenger service betweeen the major cities on the route. This name is continued
today by one of the Amtrak passenger trains.


Headquartered in St. Paul, MN, the Northern Pacific line was founded in 1864 and ran from Chicago, IL to Seattle, WA. The line itself was built along the trail first explored by Lewis and Clark.

The North Coast Limited was the flagship passenger service train, beginning in 1900 and ceasing operation in 1971, when Amtrak took the name. Running from Chicago to Seattle, this train was best known for introducing not only the popular Vista Domes for viewing, but also the rare Vista Dome sleepers.

GN (The Goat)

Founded in 1890 by James J. Hill, the Great Northern Railway ran from Chicago to Seattle and parts of Canada, with its headquarters located in St. Paul, MN.

One of the most famous and best-loved passenger trains ever to serve the United States, Great Northern's Empire Builder streamed from Chicago to Seattle, dazzling riders with stunning scenery through parts of Yellowstone.

While smaller buyouts and mergers had taken place during the 1950's and 60's, the 1970 merger of these three giants resulted in the formation of the Burlington Northern Railway.

This union created one of the biggest players of all western railroads (Chicago to the Pacific Coast) and as passenger service was slowly phased out across the western United States, the Burlington Northern dominated the northern half of the western and midwestern freight traffic, especially coal and grains.

During the 1970's & 80's, only the Santa Fe, Union Pacific (which merged with Missouri Pacific and Western Pacific in 1981), Chicago Northwestern and Southern Pacific remained as major competition for the BN.

Many smaller lines were being bought out, while some were abandoned through bankruptcy (most notably the Rock Island.) As for the BN, they made a bold move. A 1980 merger with a smaller railroad gave the BN reach to the Gulf Coast.

SL-SF (The Frisco)

The St. Louis-San Francisco Railway never made it to California. Begun in 1876, it soon adopted the nickname Frisco. Both the name and markings disappeared with the merger, as Burlington Northern maintained its own moniker and colors.

The Meteor was one of the heavily-used passenger trains, closely following the famous Route 66 path from St. Louis to Tulsa, Oklahoma.


From the Big Four to the Big Two

By the mid 1990's, only four major railroad names remained to service the midwestern and western United States: Southern Pacific, ATSF (Santa Fe), Union Pacific and Burlington Northern. In 1994, both the UP and BN were making offers to acquire the Santa Fe, but in 1995 the UP abandoned their attempt and the Burlington Northern announced plans to merge with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe. Subsequently, the UP merged with the Southern Pacific and both these unions were completed in 1996.


The storied history of the Santa Fe Railway could (and does) comprise an entire web site.

Headquartered in Chicago, the company was founded in 1859. The main line never made it to Santa Fe, New Mexico, because the terrain proved too difficult to lay the necessary track, but the Chicago to Los Angeles route became very profitable, especially for passenger service and selling adjacent plots of land to homesteaders.

The Santa Fe Chief was one of the most cherished passenger trains ever to traverse the United States. There were many Chiefs, but the Los Angeles to Chicago run was used by countless Hollywood celebrities and therefore, the service and efficiency were second to none.

In later years, blue and gold schemes appeared along with the red, silver and gold War Bonnets. Like so many railroads now gone, the logos and colors of the Santa Fe are sorely missed. They were a part of our
culture, and citizens who lived along these rail lines were and still are nostalgic for the railroads that served their particular communities.

Count me among them.

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