Because of the cost and the wide variety of difficulties involved with it, electrified operation has decreased steadily in recent years. Advances in diesel locomotives have negated many of the onetime advantages of electrified operation.
Use of electric locomotives on the Rocky Mountain Division has for several years been limited to helper, booster and yard service. No electrically powered trains have moved on the Coast Division since 1971.
Electric operations on the Rocky Mountain Division accounted for about 19 per cent of the locomotive miles operated on that division in 1972. Only three per cent of the total locomotive miles operated on the entire Milwaukee Road system in 1972 were electrically operated.
Viewed in this context, the announcement of the decision to phase-out the electrification was not a major change in policy, but was rather official acknowledgement of the inevitability of existing operational realities.
No hard date for the end of the electrification has yet been set. The exact date will depend on several factors, including the availability of diesel motive power to replace the electrics. But Milwaukee Road crews are at work on the Coast Division taking down overhead wires. The scrap value of the metal in the wires is sizeable, and the wires are being kept “hot” to discourage vandalism and theft on sections the salvage crews have not yet reached.
Ironically, the Milwaukee Road’s announcement of the end of its electrification came close in time to announcements by several other railroads that they were seriously considering electrifying portions of their lines.
Superficially this seems to put the Milwaukee in the role of bucking the trend of the future. But realistically, the Milwaukee’s phase-out is simply the closing chapter in a different era of railroading. The other electrified operations which existed when the Milwaukee’s was built, except for the commuter-oriented Long Island Railroad and the Penn Central’s high-density passenger corridors, have been long since dismantled because of difficulties similar to those now facing the Milwaukee Road electrification.
New electrifications with highly advanced technology and sophisticated new equipment may well lie ahead for some railroads whose economics and traffic patterns justify the enormous investment.
But for the Milwaukee Road, its electrification is part of the past for which economic justification can no longer be made.
The Milwaukee’s electrification, beloved by generations of railroaders, railfans and travelers, will be missed. It has long been a proud part of the railroad’s heritage, and its demise will leave a void. But the stories, the lore and the memories will live on long after the last trolley wire is carted off for scrap and the last boxcab shell is broken up.
The electrification has done its job and done it well, and now the job is over. The concession to progress is being made quietly and with dignity.
Those who have been concerned about the fate of the Milwaukee Road electrification in recent years can rest easy.
Its niche in history is secure.
The Milwaukee’s phase-out is simply the closing chapter in a different era of railroading
...the stories, the lore and the memories have lived on long after the last trolley wire was carted off for scrap and the last boxcab shell was broken up.