The entire electrification project, consisting of the trolley and feeder system, poles, transmission lines, electrical substations and locomotives represented an investment of approximately $23 million, a huge amount of private capital in pre-World War I America.

Its cost today would be several times the original figure, a prohibitively large sum given the present traffic density of the line. But the Milwaukee Road’s electrification has long since paid for itself, and has rewarded the railroad many times over for the original investment through years of economical, dependable and almost trouble-free service.

Specifically, the Milwaukee Road’s electrification crosses five mountain ranges and covers 656 route miles of main line in two separate divisions: 440 miles between Harlowton, Mont., and Avery, Ida., and 216 miles between Othello, Wash., Seattle and Tacoma.

When these sections were placed in full electrical operation (Harlowton to Avery in 1917 and Othello to Tacoma in 1920) they represented the first long-distance electrification in North America and were the longest electrified lines in the world.

Importantly, they also represented the first electrification for solely economic reasons. Other railroads had electrified to eliminate smoke in tunnels and terminals, to increase track capacity or to help conventional trains over difficult grades. But in these cases, electrification was merely an adjunct to the then-prevailing steam power.

When the Milwaukee electrified, it abandoned steam entirely on the electrified sections with the intention of saving money and improving both passenger and freight service.




$23 million investment...


...rewarded the railroad many times over



656 electrified

route miles !


Other historical US rail electrifications:

- Baltimore &


- Butte, Anaconda & 


- Great Northern

- New Haven

- New York Central

- Pennsylvania

- Virginian


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Last Updated: March 03, 2009