Author Topic: Early MILW Electrification  (Read 566 times)

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aikorob

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Early MILW Electrification
« on: January 05, 2014, 08:15:11 PM »
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I ran across this video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ie5Ad3FLan0&feature=player_embedded

I had known about the electrification of the northeast, and around the great lakes, but I never realized that there was such coverage across the rockies.

This video brings up a few questions:
1. What happened? Why did electrics fall out of favor?
2. It's the turn of the century in lovely Elk Poop, MT---how likely is it that the railroad provided some of that new-fangled electric stuff to the city fathers---to keep the wheels greased---or someone tapped into the juice on their own?

jagged ben

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Re: Early MILW Electrification
« Reply #1 on: January 05, 2014, 09:31:26 PM »
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...
This video brings up a few questions:
1. What happened? Why did electrics fall out of favor?

Because the US became a major oil exporter and diesel was extremely cheap. 

Note that in other countries that never exported oil (most of Europe, and Japan), electrification never fell out of favor.  It propels the majority of trains in the world today.

It is also questionable that electrification had anything to do with the failure of the Milwaukee Road Pacific Extension.  Arguably that was due to the unfavorable route, which after all was built after the land for the the better routes (GN, NP) was already taken.


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2. It's the turn of the century in lovely Elk Poop, MT---how likely is it that the railroad provided some of that new-fangled electric stuff to the city fathers---to keep the wheels greased---or someone tapped into the juice on their own?

Given the impracticalities of using 3000 volt DC for ordinary household and business electrical needs...extremely unlikely. 

highway70

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Re: Early MILW Electrification
« Reply #2 on: January 09, 2014, 05:10:32 AM »
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Diesel electric locomotives provided many of the benefits of electric locomotives over steam, for both equipment operation and maintenance, without the need of expensive to build and maintain (overhead or third rail) electric infrastructure .

Many railroads that considered conversion from steam to electric did not find the cost benefits of electric over steam to be enough to justify the conversion.  The return on the investment was not high and would take too long.

Because of the lack of need/demand, few electric locos were made and their cost was higher than for roughly equilivent  diesel electrics.

Specifically when the Milwaukee dieselized their electric locos and electric  infrastructure were aging and major replacement/overhauls of both were needed.  The traffic levels on the railroad had never developed as projected.   Conversion to diesel electrics was much less expensive, but ultimately did not save the railroad.
« Last Edit: January 09, 2014, 05:14:11 AM by highway70 »

nkalanaga

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Re: Early MILW Electrification
« Reply #3 on: January 10, 2014, 12:51:15 AM »
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The MILW's Pacific Extension had financial problems from the beginning, as it was opened only a few years before the Panama Canal.  Also, while it would have been a great route for today's intermodal, coal, and oil trains, it had a serious lack of online business.  Most of the route was either sparsely populated or already served by the NP.  Some evidence of that is that very few of the MILW's lines were picked up by the BN.  It really was redundant.

Arguably, the electrification extended its useful life, as it drastically cut operating costs, compared with steam.  The MILW's steam locos weren't well suited to mountain operations, especially in the winter, while the motors actually ran better in cold weather.  Diesels could compete, but probably didn't have that big an advantage at first, simply because the motors were paid for and required little maintenance.

What really killed it was age and management hostility.  The bosses back in Milwaukee liked diesels, considered electrics "old-fashioned", and felt that any money spent should go to the diesels.  The electrification was worn out, and rather than replace the wires and buy new motors, they basically ran it until it fell apart, similar to many roads' attitudes towards steam in 1950s.

The original shutdown date was in 1973, but the oil embargo that year made diesel expensive, and in some areas, scarce, so the motors ran another year.  By then the only reliable motors left were the Little Joes, as the boxcabs were suffering from metal fatigue in the frames, and in some cases literally falling apart.  The entire system would have had to be replaced, and the railroad was broke.  The Pacific Extension only lasted a few years without the electrics.
N Kalanaga
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