UP + Rock Island, MP + ATSF or Southern? BN + SP?
In the current September 2015 issue of TRAINS magazine, writer Dan Machalaba lists his top 13 railroad blunders of all time. Sitting at number 6 is Union Pacific’s failed bid to acquire the Rock Island. UP wanted to solidify its reach in to Chicago, and also St Louis, and in the early 1960s, filed a merger application with the ICC. With the recent happenings regarding the old Rock Island STL-KC line, particularly the proposed conversion of the west end of the unused line to a trail west of Windsor, reading this article got me to thinking “what would the Missouri railroad scene look like today if that merger happened?” It would have had a huge impact, or “butterfly effect” if you will, on the entire western railroad scene.
– above: westbound Rock Island train @ Belle, MO October 6, 1972. Photo by Paul Dalman and can be found on page 178 of Rails Around Missouri.
Let’s start with the Rock’s STL line. Had the UP-RI merger gone through, would we see heavy freights rumbling through Eldon, St Albans (gasp!) Chesterfield and on past Creve Coeur Lake into Lackland? Where would they have gone from there? Belt line into downtown? How much traffic could that line have handled, even if rebuilt to modern, Class 1 standards? Would trackage rights been negotiated over the MP at Labadie to St Louis? IF Union Pacific had funneled as much traffic over the RI STL line as it does the former MP today, major upgrades and even double tracking would have been required. It would be fun to see. Alas, this merger failed, as did the Rock Island, of course, and as we all know, the RI STL line is dead west of Chesterfield (essentially).
If the UP-RI merger had gone through, what impact would that have had on the Missouri Pacific? Also in the early 1960s, according to Craig Miner’s book, “Rebirth of the Missouri Pacific”, the MP was actively seeking a merger with 2 major railroads: the ATSF, and the Southern Railway. The MP definitely felt threatened by the UP-RI talks, and began talking with the Santa Fe in 1963. MP began acquiring ATSF stock. ATSF was at first receptive, but talks ended in late 1964. Then the MP again went after the ATSF, buying more stock, in what could be viewed as a hostile take-over. The ATSF rebuffed this effort, drove up the stock price, and the MP eventually gave up in 1966. What would that have looked like had it gone through? Who’s image would have survived? Some sort of combination of red, blue, yellow? MP Blue carbodies with yellow chevrons? Screaming Eagles on Cajon Pass?
-above: ATSF, RI, UP & KCT meet in Kansas City, May 5, 1979. Dale Hearn, photo, found on page 69 of Rails Around Missouri
I honestly believe that BN would have still merged with the Frisco, regardless. That merger made sense from end to end. SP wanted access to Chicago, as well as another route to STL. Would a merger with BN made sense for both roads? BN would have realized all of the same rewards as it gained from its eventual merger with ATSF: access to SoCal & the Texas Gulf coast, and Chicago-LA direct route, though double-tracking the Brookfield line would have been necessary.
It’s very interesting to think about how different things would be today if even one of these mergers had happened. Who would be the superpower? Would it still be UP? Would STL has survived as more of a gateway than it is today? Thanks for reading.
“Rails Around Missouri” was published as a hard-cover book in 2013 and quickly sold out. Print-on-demand versions can be found on amazon.com, split into a volume 1 and a volume 2. Volume 1 covers Chapters 1-4 of the original, and Volume 2 covers Chapters 5-8.