But in the 1920s, results from the two sections which were electrified were no less than astounding. Immediately, the railroad experienced drastic cost savings and the electrification rapidly began to pay for itself.
At the time of the electrification, fully 14 per cent of the railroad’s equipment was doing nothing but hauling coal for steam engines in the West. Most of this equipment was immediately released for revenue service.
Also, the expense of maintaining coaling and watering facilities for steam engines was eliminated on these sections.
Since the Milwaukee did not have extensive coal resources in the West, the burdensome expense of hauling coal from the Midwest to points in Washington, Idaho and Montana was also greatly reduced.
Following a large forest fire in Idaho, laws were passed prohibiting the use of coal or wood-burning locomotives through National Forest lands. Although a number of locomotives had already been converted to oil burning operation, under electrification the railroad was freed from dependence on oil, the price of which rose sharply during and after World War I. To a large extent it was also spared the expense of storing and hauling fuel oil in this area.
The overall cost of fuel, comparing the cost of coal burned per ton-mile to the cost of electricity used per ton-mile, was cut by two-thirds. Maintenance costs, always sizeable with steam engines, were cut 75 per cent. In addition, because of the rapid turn-around time of the electric locomotives, their 24-hour-a-day availability for service, and their higher speeds and hauling capacity, locomotive and train crew productivity rose sharply.
These operational economies allowed the Milwaukee to quickly recoup its investment and have provided ongoing savings that have helped cushion the railroad during some financially difficult times.
Benefits from electrification:
- Coal hauling steam equipment released for revenue service
- Freedom from dependence on oil
- Maintenance costs were cut 75%