BNSF Railway Biography

Biography of The BNSF Railway (1996-Present)

Click the Photo Above to See All Photos of This Bridge!
Name BNSF Railway (BNSF)
Preceded By (Southern Lines) Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway
Preceded By (Northern Lines) Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway
Formed December 31st, 1996
ATSF Route Miles (1996) About 6,000
BN Route Miles (1996) About 27,000
Current Route Miles (2016) About 32,500
Headquarters Fort Worth, Texas

BNSF Railway Company
The railroad that is now known as BNSF Railway traces its history back to 7 main railroad companies, which either ended up in the Burlington Northern or the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe family. Both of these railroads merged in 1996 to form Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, the second largest railroad in North America. Second only to Union Pacific, the railroad has a diverse history. As of 2009, the railroad is now owned by Berkshire Hathaway. Along with Union Pacific, all transcontinental mainlines are in a duopoly. The railroad was reorganized as BNSF Railway in 2005. As of present, the railroad operates 32,500 miles of track in 13 divisions across 28 states. As of 2017, the railroad is a leader in transporting goods across the United States, and is a key piece of keeping the North American economy running.
In addition to the 7 main railroads which have made up the core of the BNSF system, there also are several track segments which have come from other railroads, such as the Chicago, Milwaukee St. Paul & Pacific.

Burlington Northern Railroad
Formed from the merger of two rivals and a friendly connection in 1970, Burlington Northern quickly became the main carrier of freight across the Northern United States. The merger of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad; Northern Pacific Railway; Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway and Great Northern Railway created the largest freight system North America had ever seen in 1970. The original four railroads included in the merger were all at one time owned by James J Hill; but later failed to merge in the early 1900s. In 1980, the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway was acquired, giving trackage further south. Another expansion happened in 1972, when the BN expanded into the Powder River Basin to serve coal mines and bring the product back east.
The railroad was originally headquarted in St. Paul, Minnesota; but moved to Fort Worth, Texas in 1988. The main routes extended from Chicago, west towards the West Coast. After the Frisco merger, the route operated 27,374 miles of track. It was a direct predecessor to BNSF Railway. The Northern Transcontinental Route operated by BNSF uses a combination of CB&Q, NP and GN lines to get from Chicago to Seattle.

Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway
The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway traced its roots to 1859, when it was formed as the Atchison & Topeka Railway. The first railroad to extend across Kansas, it was completed to the Colorado State Line by the end of 1862. After numerous expansions, the railroad officially connected Los Angeles to Chicago by 1897. Extensive trackage was constructed through Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. The route featured heavily constructed routes, which were built to the most modern standards. After a failed merger with the Southern Pacific Railroad, the Santa Fe became desperate to shed excessive route miles. By 1995, the plans to form Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway were well underway, and the Santa Fe was a direct predecessor to the BNSF. The final route miles of the ATSF are unknown, as the railroad was in a time of shedding excessive property. The author estimates that the final route miles were approximately 6,000.

Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad
The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad was a large route which traces its history back to 1848. The Aurora Branch Railroad was the first route which would become part of the CB&Q. It was built in response to citizens of Auroura, Illinois having fears of the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad bypassing their town. By 1882, the route had exploded and numerous charter railroads were constructing all manner of trackage across the central United States. The rapid expansion can be contributed to a sound financial management. Despite building several mainlines crossing the Midwest, the railroad never reached past Denver. In the 1920s, the Zephyr passenger train was introduced, which instantly became a success. The 15 original routes provided the railroad with a solid traffic base, alongside the freight which was wildly successful.
Post World War II, the route spend much time working on modernizing the locomotive fleet. As early as 1960, the Great Northern Railway and Northern Pacific Railroad planned on merging with the CB&Q. Due to past relations, including similar management; the CB&Q worked extensively with the arch-rival Northern Railroads. The merger to form Burlington Northern was approved on March 2nd, 1970. This merger was a goal of James J Hill, a Minnesota Railroad Magnate from the 19th century.

Great Northern Railway
Another of the three primary components of what would later become the Burlington Northern, the Great Northern began as a Minnesota railroad in 1857, originally named the St. Paul & Pacific Railroad. The route was the first railroad in Minnesota, and colonized towns every 8 miles along the track. The StP&P had little success with the small mainline track it had. This mainline stretched from St. Paul to the Canadian border north of Hallock. The southern half of this line paralleled what is now Interstate 94, while the northern half paralleled what are now Minnesota Highway 9 and US Highway 75. As a result, the route was bought by James J Hill in 1879 and renamed the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway. This railroad built numerous lines stretching to every corner of Minnesota. In 1889, the development of the Great Northern Railway was approved. The only transcontinental mainline not built using land grants, the route traversed the Rocky Mountains and reached Seattle by 1893. At the height of the railroad, the route saw over 8,000 route miles located in 10 states and 2 Canadian Provinces. Along with rival Northern Pacific and friend Chicago, Burlington & Quincy; the railroad formed Burlington Northern in 1970. The Page, ND to Seattle segment continues to be instrumental as part of the BNSF Northern Transcontinental Mainline.

Northern Pacific Railway
In July of 1864, the final main component of Burlington Northern was charted as the Northern Pacific Railway. The goal of the route was to connect Lake Superior to Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast. In addition, the railroad intended to link Washington State and Oregon to the midwestern United States. The first ground was overturned in 1870, starting in Duluth, Minnesota. The route traversed across Central Minnesota, eventually crossing into North Dakota at Fargo. The route reached the Missouri River in 1873, and ceased to move any further. The railroad had issues with Native American bands attacking surveyors, and the company received protection of the United States Army. Another small section of track was built in Washington by the end of 1873, creating several disconnected segments.
After panics and bankruptcies, the company came out with a new owner in 1878, who finished the route. The lines met together in September of 1883 in Montana. This new transcontinental route opened up numerous branch lines and allowed a direct route from Duluth to Seattle; until the Great Northern completed their line in 1893. Throughout the construction phases, the ownership was known to be hostile to the Great Northern and other routes attempting to mimic the Northern Pacific route. Despite peace offerings, the railroad continued to frustrate companies attempting to work with them. Along with Great Northern and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy; the Northern Pacific merged to form Burlington Northern in 1970. At the time of the merger, the route stretched from Seattle and Portland to Ashland, Wisconsin and to Saint Paul. The St. Paul to Cassleton, ND segment continues to be the BNSF Northern Transcontinental line.
BNSF Map 2016
Map above credit of the BNSF Foundation.

Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway
The Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway was charted in 1905 to connect the two Transcontinental railroads owned by Great Northern Railway and Northern Pacific Railway. The two railroads owned the SP&S. Organized by James J Hill, the route mainly connected Spokane to Oregon, serving as a bridge railroad. Only operating 922 miles, the railroad had significance for connecting the two owner railroads. The route was merged as part of the Burlington Northern merger in 1970.

St. Louis-San Francisco Railway
Incorporated in the State of Missouri in September of 1876, the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway (commonly known as Frisco) was formed to take over the Missouri and Central Divisions of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. This route had been built in 1849 as part of the Missouri Pacific Railroad. The road never reached past Floydada, Texas due to harsh resistance from other western railroads, particularly the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific. At the peak, the route reached 5,000 miles with a pair of main lines, including a St. Louis-Tulsa-Oklahoma City route and a Kansas City-Memphis-Birmingham Route. Headquartered in Springfield, Missouri; the route was an oddity to the Burlington Northern. It opened up connections to eastern railroads at Birmingham and St. Louis; while expanding the BN lines further west and south. While rather financially volatile, the railroad had righted the ship by the time Burlington Northern purchased it in November of 1980. In 2017, the core routes are continued to be operated by BNSF with a high density.

A number of bridges owned by BNSF can be seen in the photos below. The photo above is a railroad bridge near Dahinda, Illinois. This bridge was built in 1910 for the ATSF Railway.

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