Tribute to the

Burlington Northern

Railroad


 

A Photographic Tribute

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Back to the Front Door
The Burlington Northern Railroad was formed in 1970 out of a merger of railroads that had a long association-- the Great Northern (GN), the Northern Pacific (NP), the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy (CB&Q, or "Burlington"), and the Spokane, Portland, and Seattle (SP&S).  Three of these systems all had their origin as ventures of the early railroad tycoon, James J. Hill.  As such, they have often been known as Hill lines.  in 1980, the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway Co. (Frisco) was also acquired and merged into the  BN.  The combined BN system became one of the largest railroads in the country, with extensive routes throughout the plains states and the Northwest.  Agriculture and coal accounted for the majority of its traffic, with a burgeoning intermodal market on the transcontinental lines.

In 1995, in the new climate of mega-mergers, the BN merged with the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe, forming what is now the BNSF Railway.   Its system now serves essentially the entire western two-thirds of the US. 

From a railfan perspective, the BN offered an interesting variety of equipment to watch, particularly a large stable of GE diesels (the "U-boats") in an era when EMD was the dominant locomotive builder.  BN was one of the few railroads that continued to order cabless locomotives ("B" units), and it experimented with other innovations such as fuel tenders on long-distance routes.

Now that BN has merged into the BNSF, its equipment is disappearing, but one can still find it if one looks hard enough. Anytime I find a BN car in a consist, I try to get its portrait.  You will find some of those photos on the Equipment link at left.

So, here is my humble offering of BN photos.   I wish there were more; I'm glad for what there is.

Joint Line and Colorado Springs- 1994

The BN was the major user of the Joint Line between Denver and Pueblo, even though it was only a tenant, leasing trackage rights from the owners D&RGW (later SP and UP) and the AT&SF.  Here a southbound train is rolling along above I-25 in Castle Rock.  Two leased gray LMX Dash 8-40B units, No. 8525 leading, bracket a typical BN SD40-2 on the head end.  Date circa 1994.  Leased power was commonplace during the 1990's.
On a business trip to the Springs in September '94, I made a couple of side trips to photograph the busy railroad action.  Among other things, I bagged this selection of BN trains-- one at each end of the city, and one in the middle.
This southbound train was captured near Fountain at a grade crossing.  C30-7 No. 5051 is on the point.
Here's the going-away shot of the above train.  SD40-2 No. 8176 is sandwiched between two C30-7's.  (9/15/1994)
Now, this is what is called a "grab shot"...  You're out looking for trains when the gates come down and one rolls by, but you're too deep in traffic to do anything about it.  SD40-2 No. 6257 is rolling northbound past Nevada street.  And no, I didn't have a telephoto lens at the time.
That evening, I photographed a northbound manifest freight in the northern part of town.  SD40-2 No. 7090 leads the parade. It has ditch lights installed but they're not turned on. (9/15/1994)

The three matched EMD units are followed by a pair of GE's.  No. 5138 was rebuilt as a C33-7 in 1992.  The shadows wrought havoc with the exposure... (9/15/1994)

One more shot of this train as it roars by.  Note the masonry holding up the bridge. (9/15/1994)

More Action around Colorado Springs- 1995

The following September meant another trip to the Springs, and I made a few short excursions to catch the action. Many changes had taken place, and more were in the offing. BN's SD70MAC fleet was starting to make its presence felt on coal trains, displacing many older units. More importantly, the BNSF merger had been approved and would become official within two weeks. These photos were taken literally at the very end of the independent BN.
Several SD70MAC units lead this southbound coal train near Fountain.   That's Pike's Peak in the background, and Cheyenne Mountain in the near distance. (Sept 12, 1995)
The Joint Line is double-track south of Crews.  The BN(SF) train is southbound on the old D&RGW main-- the Southern Pacific main by this point in time.  One year later it would belong to Union Pacific.  Times do change...
One evening (9/13/1995) I drove out to the north end of Academy siding on the joint line.  There was a northbound BN(SF) coal empty sitting in the siding.  It was getting dim, but I decided to wait it out and see what happened.
Looking south toward the waiting train.  The north switch and signals are visible in the foreground.

The first train past was this unit grain train led by leased MPI SD45 No. 9025 and a brace of BN power.  Headlights are off to keep from blinding the crew of the train that's in the hole.

The BN units include this B30-7A No. 4054, and a pair of SD40-2's.
After a while, I decided to go visit with the crew, since they were still sitting there.  The conductor was a nice guy, very talkative.  He had been with BN for several years, and was enthused about the new paint schemes coming with the merger; he viewed the whole situation as a positive development.  Here he's posing in the cab of his lead steed, an Oakway Leasing SD60.
Another look at the Oakway SD60.  BN leased one hundred of these Oakway units, and they were frequently seen on the Joint Line. The EMD paint is distinctive.
The next train to come down was a coal train behind three of the new SD70MAC's.  It was starting to get a bit dim for my film speed.  The crew of the northbound train got down and gave rollbys to each southbound train.
Two more trains passed-- one with ATSF warbonnets, and one that was too dark to even bother with photos.  Finally, the northbound was cleared, the switch threw, and they throttled up.  Actually, they floored it.  By the time they got to my position at the switch, they were already going at least 30 mph!  Not bad for a mile-long train, I thought, even if it was empty.

The next day I tried again, south of the city.  I ended up at a grade crossing about halfway to Pueblo, south of the Nixon powerplant.  For a line that hosts 40 trains per day, you sure can go a long time without seeing anything...

The only train I saw was a northbound coal empty, behind five SD70MAC's.  These guys were the future; the older SD40-2's and C30's were rapidly disappearing-- especially on coal trains.  Of course, within just a few years, the SD70MAC was sharing the limelight with the new GE C44-9W's and AC4400's.  Not yet, though.

Post-Merger: BNSF Days

BNSF has a mindset that pays much respect to its corporate ancestors.  Its company website's history section was in stark contrast with that of Union Pacific, for example (UP is belatedly remembering where it came from).  Additionally, for one reason or another, BNSF hasn't been in much hurry to repaint its existing fleet of locomotives.  Often, in fact, the new initials were simply worked into the old paint scheme, be it from BN or ATSF (both schemes).  This has made it possible to easily see many locomotives of the parent roads, a full decade after the merger.

In February 1996, a half-year after the BNSF merger, I photographed this train in Fountain, CO.  It's mostly BN, with one Illinois Central locomotive working off mileage.

It was a manifest freight.  Behind the black IC unit are two cabless boosters-- evidently both versions of the  B30-7A.
Here's the IC unit, SD40 No. 6056.  You can clearly see the snow falling...
A few minutes later, we intercepted this northbound train with ATSF No 5044 and  BN GP50 No. 3110.  She's wearing one of the later BN schemes, in which the logo and the number have traded places, and the words "BURLINGTON NORTHERN" are spelled out on the hood.  Now it's becoming a little more clear that a merger has taken place.
Barely a year after the creation of BNSF, Union Pacific purchased Southern Pacific Lines.  As one of the conditions allowing the merger, BNSF was granted trackage rights over several UP routes, including the line between Denver and Salt Lake City via the Moffat tunnel.

In December 1997, we were in Fraser, CO, on a Ski Train trip.  While there, an eastbound BNSF trackage rights train passed through.  I recorded these images at the point where the train started onto the 2% grade up to the Moffat tunnel.

The train had seven units, of highly mixed background.  Three were BN (a pair of SD40-2's and what appeared to be a C30-7).
Our lead unit today is another LMX B40-8, followed by a Santa Fe cowl unit (F45u No. 5970).  Two of the BN SD40-2's are next in line.
The real shocker was this Soo SD60!  The only one I've ever seen in the mountains, No. 6020 is evidently working off mileage for her new owner (the SOO having been merged into CN prior to this).  To the left is SD40-2 No. 7935 and to the right is C30-7 No. 5587.
ATSF SD75I No. 223 is trailing today.  If not for the Soo unit, this one would be stealing the show.   BNSF trains on this line are nearly all manifests such as this one.
 
November 11, 2001, finds this local power arrangement next to the depot in Grand Junction, Colorado.  The BN GP50 is paired with an AT&SF GP30, and have BN caboose No. 12517 for company.  Both locomotives are now marked BNSF, of course.  BNSF, as an agent of the Utah Railway, was allowed local trackage rights in this area after the UP/SP merger.
   

The main focus of this page is not the BNSF era, although there are still many active BN units (most or all of these have been lettered BNSF by now).  See my pages here, here and here for more BNSF-era shots.


 

 

?  James R. Griffin.  All rights reserved.