John Speller's Web Pages Great Northern Railway (USA)

John Speller's Web Pages - US Railroads
Great Northern Railway (USA)
The Great Northern Railway came about in 1889 as a merger of the St. Paul & Pacific Railroad, the St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway and the Montana Central Railroad. The main line ran from St. Paul, Minnesota to Seattle, Washington, and there were branches to Lake Superior, to Billings and Butte in Montana, and north of the Canadian border to Nelson, British Columbia, as well as a network of lines south of Minneapolis and stretching to Sioux City, Iowa. The trackage at its height was more than 8,000 miles. The main line did not include as many large cities as the Northern Pacific Railroad, which ran south and roughly parallel to its, forming its main competition. Nevertheless, the Great Northern was in many ways the more successful of the two. Projected privately by James Jerome Hill (1838-1916), the Great Northern Railway was the only transcontinental railroad not to receive handsome Federal subsidies, and yet handily beat its competitors by surviving the crash of 1893 without declaring bankruptcy. It was particularly famous for its named express, "The Empire Builder," put on in 1929 and named in honor of James J. Hill. In 1909 the Great Northern Railway began the nation's first main line electrification by electrifying part of its route for 73 miles between Wenatchee and Skykomish where there were particularly heavy grades that taxed steam locomotives and also provided unpleasant conditions in the Cascade Tunnel. The electric locomotives were the first in North America to use regenerative braking. The electricity for the locomotives was on the 6,600V AC three-phase system and was hydro-electrically generated. Sadly, after the arrival of diesel locomotives, the electric equipment was removed in 1956. The Great Northern merged in 1970 with the Northern Pacific, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad and the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway to form the Burlington Northern Railroad, and is now part of the BNSF Railway. For a classic Great Northern publicity film featuring the "Empire Builder" see here. The present-day Amtrak "Empire Builder" operates over the former Northern Pacific Railroad line from St. Paul/Minneapolis to Fargo, North Dakota, then north on a former Great Northern link line to Grand Forks, North Dakota, and thence to Seattle and Portland via the Great Northern main line. A splendid 7th. Grade History Project on the Great Northern by Sarah may be seen here.
Map of the Great Northern Railway
GNR "N" Class 2-8-8-0 compound, built by Baldwin in 1912, with a freight train at Hibbing, Minnesota in 1916
James J. Hill driving the last spike in the Cascade Mountains to complete the Great Northern's main line, the nation's fifth transcontinental railroad, in 1893
The "Empire Builder" at Summit, Montana on 5 August 1938, behind a "P-2" Class 4-8-2 locomotive. Image courtesy of Denver Public Library
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