The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad: Way of the Zephyrs
The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, better remembered as The Burlington Route, is best remembered for its Zephyr
lightweight streamlined trainsets which were revolutionary and very
successful when they debuted in 1934. Perhaps less recognized is the
company itself, which because of sound business practices throughout its
history was never in financial
distress. The Burlington was also quite close with the communities it
served making it beloved like few other railroads.
During the road's height it spanned across most of the Midwest and thanks to acquisitions like the Colorado & Southern and Fort Worth & Denver was able to reach into Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado. Its legend continues to live on today through its Zephyr trains and Chicago main line which sees hundreds of freight trains daily operated by successor BNSF Railway. Like most now-famous fallen flags, the Burlington
can trace its existence to a predecessor railroad, which was chartered
in 1849 to connect Aurora, Illinois with another railroad at Turner
Junction, Illinois, the Aurora Branch Railroad. After an earlier name change
in 1855 the railroad was renamed the final time as the Chicago,
Burlington and Quincy.
Western Star: Operated between Chicago and Seattle via allying roads Great Northern and Spokane, Portland & Seattle.
Zephyr Rocket: Operated between Minneapolis and St. Louis in conjunction with the Rock Island.
After this the railroad began rapidly expanding across the Midwest through construction and outright takeover of other small or startup railroads. By 1864 the CB&Q had reached Chicago, the very same line that today sees hundreds of BNSF Railway freights daily. Throughout the rest of the 19th century the railroad continued building and growing, reaching cities like St. Louis (1894), Omaha (1871), Kansas City (1869), Denver (1882), Minneapolis/St. Paul (1886), and by the early 20th century it reached its final length when it had extended to the states of Wyoming, Montana, Texas, and New Mexico.
It was during this time that the railroad was sold to legendary
tycoon James J. Hill. The Burlington already
connected with Hill’s Great Northern and Northern Pacific at several
locations allowing for increased traffic to flow along all three lines,
not mention a boost in profits. It was also under Hill’s reign that the
Burlington increased its reach into states such as Wyoming, Kentucky,
Colorado, and Texas. Perhaps, though, the railroad’s most influential president was
Ralph Budd. Under his direction the railroad would become an efficient,
lean operation that earned substantial revenues while also remembering
its roots. Budd, unlike most railroad presidents and management,
did not hold onto outdated and ignorant practices (which, even today
continues, albeit to a much lesser extent). He realized as early as the
1930s that railroads would need to continually come up with innovative
ways to retain traffic, including passengers.
It was during this time that, in conjunction with the then Electro-Motive Corporation the Zephyr was born, which would revolutionize train travel. These articulated trainsets were streamlined, lightweight designs that would be powered by the new diesel engine,
which allowed for efficiencies far beyond what steam could provide.
The first of these trainsets, cast in all stainless steel, was the Zephyr #9900
and after touring across the country made its famous nonstop trip
between Denver and Chicago in mere hours, an unheard of accomplishment
for its day. Not surprisingly this alone coupled with the trains high
speeds made the Zephyr an instant hit with the public and the
Burlington would go on to order several of these trainsets. Of course,
the Burlington loved the streamliners as well due to their extremely
inexpensive costs to both build and maintain.
While the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy operated a number of Zephyrs including the Twin Cities Zephyr, Mark Twain Zephyr, Denver Zephyr, and Ozark State Zephyr perhaps the railroad’s most famous was the California Zephyr which was jointly run with the Rio Grande and Western Pacific. The train traveled through some of the most spectacular scenery in the country and it was not surprising that it continued to do well even when train travel by the 1960s and 1970s was waning with the public. The train would eventually be operated only by the Rio Grande (which was then renamed as the Rio Grande Zephyr) and after it relinquished the train to Amtrak in the 1980s it was not only retained but also returned to its original name.
While Budd retired from the CB&Q in 1949 his legacy was far reaching.
Always looking for ways to cut costs and improve service he oversaw the
beginnings of switching the railroad to diesel power and the Burlington
had nearly 2,000 miles of track under Centralized Traffic Control (CTC)
by the mid-1960s! The railroad, however, was destined to be merged with
its allying roads the Great Northern (which controlled the CB&Q);
Spokane, Portland & Seattle; and Northern Pacific. It was simply a
matter of when, as many speculated.
Diesel Locomotive Roster
The American Locomotive Company
The Baldwin Locomotive Works
The Electro-Motive Corporation/Electro-Motive Division
While trying for years this did not
come to fruition until 1970 when the ICC finally granted permission to
do so forming the then Burlington Northern. The BN, however, would last
only 25 years before merging with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe
to become the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, today known as simply the
BNSF Railway. Even though the Burlington is no
more today it continues to live on as almost all of its main lines are
still important routes for its successor. Forever recognized as one of
the best managed railroads of all time perhaps it is best remembered by
the communities it served as a down home company who deeply cared about
its roots, something all but lost in today’s Class I systems.
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