The Spokane International Railroad
The Spokane International Railroad was a small, Class I, system that
served its namesake town as well as most of Idaho's northern panhandle
before terminating in extreme southern British Columbia along a route
that was roughly 150 miles in length. Due to its remote nature in the
upper Pacific Northwest it is often forgotten among the ranks of the
classic fallen flag systems. The SI was funded and built (although not
owned) thanks to the Canadian Pacific, which had an interest in the
route itself as a means of tapping into the growing Puget Sound traffic
base, then controlled by the Northern Pacific and soon after, Great
Northern. Eventually, the system was wrestled away from CP by Union
Pacific in the late 1950s. Officially, the SI remained on paper for
roughly another 30 years before being dissolved. Today, the entire
SI main line remains in use by UP as a strategic
connection with CP.
The Spokane International Railroad (SI) was the idea of Daniel Chase (DC) Corbin in the late 1880s with financial assistance
from Canadian Pacific. The CP was already established across most of
Canada from Ontario to British Columbia. Additionally, it had recently
taken control of the Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie
Railway (the Soo Line) to access the Midwest. Since 1883 the Northern
Pacific had been operating from Portland, Oregon to the Twin Cities of
Minnesota and with the prospect of two more lines building
transcontinental extensions to the Puget Sound (Great Northern, which
was already under construction, and the Chicago, Milwaukee & St.
Paul) CP wanted in on the traffic potential the region offered. In sort
of a roundabout fashion, it planned to use its Soo subsidiary to funnel
traffic from Chicago and onto its main line at Manitoba and then
transfer freight onto the SI.
From this point it could interchange traffic with what would turn out to be four different major Class Is at five different locations; Spokane (Milwaukee Road after 1909, Great Northern, Northern Pacific, and Union Pacific), Sand Point (CMStP&P and NP), Bonners Ferry (GN), and Coeur D'Alene (CMStP&P/GN). The Spokane International Railway was chartered as early as 1887. However, actual construction did not begin until a few years later. Officially, the SI was opened on November 1, 1906 connecting with the CP at the international border of Eastport, Idaho/Kingsgate, British Columbia with Spokane, Washington to the south, a distance of 140.8 miles according to the railroad's timetable (it later used CP trackage rights to reach Yahk, B.C. just north of the border). With its own U.S.-transcontinental route now opened CP not only moved to derive the freight benefits but also the passenger potential as well.
Even subsidiary Soo Line was anticipating this potential decrying the
SI as "The New Scenic Short Line" by the summer of
1907. That same year the SI, Soo, and CP launched the Soo-Spokane Train DeLuxe which offered passengers first-class accommodations including day coaches,
tourist sleeping cars, diners, Pullman sleepers, compartment cars, and
buffet-library observations. While the train ran a longer schedule and
only connected the Twin Cities to Spokane its level of comfort and
luxuriousness was nearly unmatched (for the early 1900s it even boasted
full electric lighting and
all-vestibuled cars). Traffic on the SI continued to grow through the
first two decades of the 20th century and by 1918 it had gained Class I
status by earning more than $1 million annually. A year earlier the CP exercised its option to purchase 50% controlling interest in the line.
It likely would have acquired more of the SI if it was not for Union Pacific's move to acquire the other half at the same time, which it would never relinquish. The railroad continued to hum along through the World War I conflict and the "Roarin' 20s." However, it was hit hard by the Great Depression of 1929 and its lingering effects on the U.S. economy. By 1933 things were looking dire and that year the SI filed for bankruptcy. In 1941 the company was finally able to exit receivership as the Spokane International Railroad, which eliminated the CP's ownership and resulted in the line being a wholly-U.S. route only. Traffic for the railroad continued to grow through the 1940s, particularly during the second World War, so much so that by late that decade its 2-8-0 Consolidations and 4-6-0 Ten Wheelers could no longer keep up with demand.
While WWII traffic recovered allowed the SI to regain Class I status it
was still not being operated efficiently. In 1949 this changed under
new leadership by Fred Rummel, as the SI purchased 12 new American
Locomotive Company (Alco) RS1 road-switchers, sticking with the same
company which had built its steam locomotives. Rummel was able to
accomplish several other tasks at the helm, which turned the railroad
into an incredibly well-run operation that lured Union Pacific into
purchasing full ownership of the line. Starting at the same time he
purchased the new Alcos, the railroad was upgraded with new creosote
ties (before this it was still using untreated ties that dated to the
route's construction) and 90-pound rail (up from 72-pound).
Diesel Locomotive Roster
|Alco||RS1||200-211||Acquired new: 1949-1951||12|
(Thanks to Trains Magazine's "Union Pacific To Canada?" from the June, 1956 issue as a primary reference for this article.)
Additionally, a new bridge was constructed over the Pend Oreille River
near Sandpoint and the railroad dropped all passenger services after
1954. As a result of these efforts the company's operating ratio
dropped from 87.25% in 1949 to a staggering 52.55% by 1955! In 1958
Union Pacific purchased the rest of
the SI ending the 82-year history of the
company. By the early 1960s its classic red and gold RS1s were
repainted into UP Armour yellow, although sub-lettered for the SI.
Officially the company ceased to exist on December 31, 1987 when UP
formally dissolved the SI. Today, its route remains an important part
of the Union Pacific system that still connects with the Canadian
Pacific at Sand Point/Kingsgate.
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