Like all of today's Class Is, the current BNSF Railway system was formed through a series of mergers and acquisitions that actually began over 30 years ago in 1970. Today the railroad, like the two that came to form today’s system (the Santa Fe and Burlington Northern), is a highly respected and recognized transportation company that consistently ranks at the top of the industry in terms of both quality of service and revenues earned. Today's BNSF Railway was formed basically from two systems, the Burlington Northern and Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe. While the Santa Fe throughout the years was essentially the same railroad with no mergers, the Burlington Northern on the other hand has a long and interesting history.
For years the founder of the Great Northern Railroad, James J. Hill, had been trying to merge the GN with the Northern Pacific (NP), Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (CB&Q or simply the Burlington which was controlled by the GN) and Spokane, Portland & Seattle (SP&S) into a massive rail network (essentially what became today's BNSF Railway) that served nearly all of the country’s Northwestern markets stretching from Chicago and Minneapolis to Seattle and Portland. What's more, the CB&Q served other important gateway cities including Denver, Kansas City, St. Louis and Houston through its affiliate railroads the Fort Worth & Denver and Colorado & Southern.
However, Hill was denied each and every time, and the Interstate Commerce Commission shot down even future proposals after his death, the last one in 1961. Finally, in the late 1960s the railroads returned with another merger proposal and this time the ICC approved. In 1970 the merger was finalized to form the gigantic Burlington Northern Railroad, which dwarfed most other railroads in the west. The BN would grow even larger in 1980 with the acquisition of the Frisco, which gave it access to cities such as Memphis, Birmingham and Mobile.
It’s hard to go on, however, without mentioning a few words about the GN, NP, and CB&Q as all have played an important part in the rail industry’s history. Perhaps what they are best remembered for are their passenger trains as the CB&Q was one of the first railroads to kickoff the streamliner revolution with the Budd-built Zephyr 9900 project (with help from the Electro-Motive Corporation in providing the prime mover). This stainless-steel streamlined trainset (meaning the locomotive and cars were one, continuous, vehicle and all were permanently attached to one another) was an extremely lightweight, diesel-powered, passenger train that would run non-stop between Denver and Chicago in 1934 with the original Zephyr 9900. The train would prove so successful with the public that the Burlington would order a whole fleet of Zephyrs.
The Great Northern and Northern Pacific also had renowned passenger trains. The Northern Pacific’s North Coast Limited was its premier train running between the Midwest and Pacific Coast, and adorned in a beautiful two-tone green livery with white trim. The Great Northern’s Empire Builder would become a legend even in its own time, carrying passengers on overnight trips between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest and today is perhaps Amtrak’s best-known train, a testament to its fame throughout the ages.
The other half of today’s BNSF Railway is the legendary Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, commonly known as simply the Santa Fe. This railroad likely is not only our country’s, but also the world’s most recognized and famous railroad. It has had its own movie, song, and numerous model trains and other purchasable gifts created in its honor. The railroad’s renowned Warbonnet livery, made in several variations ranging from the more popular silver and red with yellow trim to the blue and yellow, is by far the most familiar of any railroad in the country, active or dissolved.
The Santa Fe, albeit no longer an operating company, is truly a railroad whose name is as common as that of Coca Cola or General Electric. The Santa Fe was also a class act in transportation service and was a highly respected company, which continues to be the case even today as part of the BNSF Railway. In the early 1990s the two railroad systems, the Santa Fe and Burlington Northern, began negotiations on a merger proposal to combine the two railroads. After bringing their case before the ICC it was approved and on September 22, 1995 the new Burlington Northern Santa Fe was born.
The above map gives a family tree of the largest railroads which have made up BNSF Railway. More information about each can be found in the below links:
Today the company has changed its name and is now known as simply
the BNSF Railway, a massive system that serves all of the major cities
and gateways in the western half of the United States, ranging from
Chicago and St. Louis to Los Angeles and Seattle, including the Deep
South and Gulf Coast regions.
For more reading on the BNSF Railway consider the book Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway
from author Brian Solomon. Given excellent reviews since it debuted in
late 2005 the book gives a general history of the railroad over its
last decade of operations and is filled with photographs.
If you have any interest in the BNSF and/or its past you should very
much enjoy this publication. If you're interested in perhaps purchasing
this book please visit the link below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.
Check out the website's digital book (E-book), An Atlas To Classic Short Lines, which features system maps and a brief background of 46 different historic railroads. To learn more please click on the image below.