While the Great Northern is no longer in operation it certainly
continues to live on in many ways aside from being an important
Northwestern gateway for successor BNSF Railway (the BNSF also continues
to employ a version of the GN’s famous dark green, orange, and yellow
paint scheme), a testament to the mark the railroad left on the
industry. For instance, the Great Northern can still be seen in today’s Empire Builder operated by Amtrak and its famous Cascade Tunnel in Washington.
The third component of the BN was the Northern Pacific
Railway, famous for its logo and its most important contribution,
helping to fuel the growth of
the western states it served when few communities were settled in the
West during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The NP was the
first of the three major northwestern railroads to begin construction.
Unlike many other lines the Northern Pacific did not change names
numerous times throughout its existence and would likewise never acquire
numerous other smaller roads to form its system. The NP is also
remembered for its distinguished flagship passenger train, the North Coast Limited, which used a beautiful two-tone green livery.
The fourth and final piece of the BN system was the little
Spokane, Portland & Seattle. It may have been a small railroad in
terms of its actual size but it served as an important link for its
parents into the gateways of Portland and northwestern Oregon. The
little bridge line also was well liked in the many communities it
served, one reason for it obtaining its slogan, “The Northwest’s Own
Railway.” The SP&S was never an independent company and was
expressly created to ferry traffic back and forth for its owners, which
it did quite well for over 60 years. While the railroad did have its own
identity and played an important role it never operated any of its own
passenger trains and its parents always determined its direction.
|A set of early second-generation power, SD24s, and a U28B lead a freight through Evansville, Indiana on July 27, 1980.|
In 1980 BN added an additional railroad to its
sprawling system, the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway, better known as
the Frisco. For much of its history the Frisco was a financially
unstable company, which included a number of bankruptcies. However,
after its final bankruptcy in the late 1940s the railroad actually prospered quite well, particularly after the lucrative chemicals market sprang up in the deep south, which as a deciding factor in Burlington Northern's interest in the Frisco.
For the railroad's entire 25-year tenure it is often
referred to in the likes of an oak; strong, powerful, and well rooted.
After the Milwaukee Road bowed out of the Pacific Northwest market in 1980 BN took over the intermodal market from Seattle and Puget Sound and began earning
handsome profits to complement the other traffic it already moved.
However, it is interesting to note that the railroad had the chance to
purchase the Milwaukee's better engineered Pacific Extension
but ultimately chose not too (while BN did purchase the line over
Snoqualmie Pass it never used the route and sold it to the state of
Washington). Had the railroad done so, today the railroad could shave
hours off transit times between Chicago and Seattle.
|During the late BN era two SD60Ms, #9248 and #9259 (some of the newest power the road ever owned), are on the move with a unit coal train as they zip past an aging grain elevator at Spiritwood, North Dakota on August 19, 1994.|
In any event, when the mega-merger movement began again in the
1990s and realizing that the Union Pacific was poised to grow
substantially by taking over the large Southern Pacific, the BN began
talking with the Santa Fe to see about forming their own giant Western
railroad. Approved by the ICC the new Burlington Northern Santa Fe
Railway (now known as the BNSF Railway) became reality on December 31,
1996 from the September 22, 1995 merger of the two railroads, comprising
a system that served every major market west of Alabama. Today the
system earns nearly the highest profits in the industry, has one of the
lowest operating ratios, and of all Class Is derives the most earnings
from COFC (Container On FlatCar) shipments.