John Speller's Web Pages Milwaukee Electrics

John Speller's Web Pages - US Railroads
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The difficulties of dealing with extreme low temperatures in the mountains and the ready availability of cheap hydro-electric power led to the early decision to electrify much of the main line, and between 1914 and 1927 a total of 649 miles of the 2,300 mile main line had been electrified, using a 3,000V DC overhead system. The electrification began between Harlowton, Montana and Avery, Idaho. and electric train service began in 1915 between Three Forks and Deer Lodge, Montana. In 1917, the board approved the construction of a separate electrified district between Othello and Tacoma, Washington. This was completed in 1925 and extended to Seattle in 1927. The electrification was budgeted to cost $45,000,000, but cost overruns inflated the cost to a staggering $257,000,000, resulting in the bankruptcy of the company and putting the electrification of the intervening section permanently on hold. The first freight and passenger locomotives were 42 boxcab locomotives of the built by Alco in 1915 and classified as Classes "EF-1" and "EP-1." They comprised single-ended locomotives permanently coupled together in pairs. Another noteworthy class was the "EP-2" express passenger class equiped with bipolar motors, twelve of which were built by General Electric in 1919. They were known as the "Bipolars" and were said to have had a top speed of 90 mph. They were substantially rebuilt in 1953, and one of them, No. E-2, survives in the St. Louis Museum of Transportation. They were never particularly reliable. Their successors proved to be extremely reliable, but came to the Milwaukee Road almost by chance. They were the twelve "Little Joe" "EF-4" and "EP-4" Classes, part of a batch of twenty originally built in 1946 for export to the Soviet Union. Owing to the Cold War, however, their export was prohibited, and they were converted from the Russian 5 ft. broad gauge to 4 ft. 8 in. and sold to the Milwaukee Road.

By the early 1970s traffic was sufficiently light that the railroad's management decided that though diesel-electric locomotives were less efficient than electrics, money would be saved overall by eliminating the cost of upkeep of the overhead power equipment. Accordingly the last electric trains ran in June 1974. This proved to be a disastrous mistake. The decision to abandon electric power coincided with the Arab Oil Embargo and the cost of running a locomotive rose almost overnight from 2 or 3 cents a mile to 8 dollars. This quickly led to the demise and abandonment of the route. Sic transit gloria mundi. Footage of the "Little Joes" and "Boxcabs" at work may be seen here, here, and here.
Map of the electrified sections of the Milwaukee Road
"Little Joe" locomotive No. 803 preserved in the Illinois Railroad Museum. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Postcard view of the"Olympian" in the Cascade Mountains behind a pair "EP-1"s in around 1930
Rebuilt "Bipolar" locomotive No. E-2 preserved at the St. Louis Museum of Transportation. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
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