Main North American RR Companies?

Discussion in 'Getting Started' started by RobertInOntario, Aug 9, 2006.

  1. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    I usually run British model trains but also have a few North American ones. I have a couple questions about the main North American railroad lines. I've also partly researched this but thought I'd quickly ask here!

    What were the main North American railroad companies or lines in the 1940s / 1950s and how did they merge or combine into today's lines? The lines that I'm familiar with are: CN, CPR, New York, Santa Fe, Burlington, Grand Trunk and Union Pacific, but what were/are the others?

    Also, could anyone please remind me which lines are running today and which older lines were merged into today's lines? For example, I believe that Santa Fe was taken over by Burlington. I seem to recall that there are 7 main lines running today.

    I'm also interested to learn which parts of the continent that the various lines served (or still serve). For example, I think the Santa Fe ran from NM through to the US midwest and into Canada.

    Thanks in advance for any info that you can offer!

  2. Herc Driver

    Herc Driver Active Member

    I'd check out the various company websites and link to their history sections.

    I know the Norfolk Southern that operates around my home was a combination of Norfolk Western and Southern Railway...which were both built from gaining smaller lines in their areas. But honestly, it's not unusual to see other railroads that you wouldn't think would traverse a specific geographic area of the country. I've seen BNSF, UP, TFM, and KCS running the rails here in North Carolina. Surprisingly, I've seen NS engines parked at yards in Seattle, Washington leading a string of BNSF and UP diesels. I guess with all the power sharing by the major companies's getting harder to say one particular railroad stays in one geographic area. But I am by no means an expert about real railroad operations. Check out the company websites and look at their route maps and history sections. Also, check out for some great shots. You can search by engine/year/location/railroad which will pull up some great shots that might give you exactly the era and location you're looking for.
  3. Triplex

    Triplex Active Member

    I'll try and list the major ones and what happened to them.

    Over a long time, the Union Pacific absorbed the Southern Pacific (which had itself bought the Denver & Rio Grande Western) along with its subsidiary St. Louis Southwestern ("Cotton Belt"), the Missouri Pacific (which had itself bought the Texas & Pacific), the Western Pacific, the Chicago & North Western (which had itself bought the Chicago Great Western) and the Missouri-Kansas-Texas.

    The Burlington Northern was formed by a merger of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (which owned the Colorado & Southern), the Northern Pacific, the Great Northern and the Spokane, Portland & Seattle. It later absorbed the St. Louis-San Francisco ("Frisco"). Eventually, it merged with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe to form Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

    The Norfolk & Western absorbed the New York, Chicago & St. Louis ("Nickel Plate Road"), Wabash, Virginian and the Akron, Canton & Youngstown. Then it merged with Southern Railway (which owned the Central Railroad of Georgia and had already bought the original Norfolk Southern) to form a new Norfolk Southern.

    The Chessie System was a merger of the Baltimore & Ohio, Chesapeake & Ohio (which had absorbed the Pere Marquette) and Western Maryland. Meanwhile, the Atlantic Coast Line and Seaboard Air Line merged into the Seaboard Coast Line. The SCL merged with the Louisville & Nashville (which had absorbed the Monon, formerly known as Chicago, Indianapolis & Louisville) to form the Family Lines. Later, the Family Lines absorbed the Clinchfield Railroad and became the Seaboard System. Seaboard System changed its name to CSX Transportation shortly before absorbing the Chessie System. CSX later absorbed the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac.

    The Erie Railroad and the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western merged into the Erie-Lackawanna. The Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central merged into Penn Central. Very shortly after, the PC absorbed the New York, New Haven & Hartford. PC and EL, along with the Reading Railroad, the Central Railroad of New Jersey, the Lehigh Valley, and the Lehigh & Hudson River, merged into Conrail. Eventually, Conrail broke up and was absorbed by CSX and NS.

    Kansas City Southern now owns Grupo Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana (TFM) and the Texas-Mexican Railway.

    Canadian Pacific absorbed the Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo, the Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie ("Soo Line", which had already bought the original Wisconsin Central and the Milwaukee Road) and the Delaware & Hudson (after Gulford cast it off; which see.)

    At various times, Canadian National absorbed the Illinois Central (which had merged with the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio and been known as Illinois Central Gulf for a while), Grand Trunk Western (which had absorbed the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton), the Northern Alberta Railway, the British Columbia Railway (formerly known as Pacific Great Eastern), the new Wisconsin Central, the Bessemer & Lake Erie, the Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range, the Duluth, Winnipeg & Pacific and the Central Vermont.

    The Maine Central, Boston & Maine and Delaware & Hudson became the Guilford System, but it cast off the D&H very soon. The D&H, as noted above, is now owned by CP.

    The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific went bankrupt, as did the Lehigh & New England. The Rutland broke up into shortlines.

    Some regionals from the steam era, such as the Florida East Coast, the New York, Susquehanna & Western, the Lake Superior & Ishpeming, the Chicago, South Shore & South Bend, and the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern, have survived.

    One of the most important modern regionals is Montana Rail Link.

    Most passenger service is no longer handled by the freight railroads. The main long-distance passenger companies are Amtrak in the US and VIA Rail in Canada.

    The last narrow-gauge common carrier in the US, the White Pass & Yukon, is now a tourist line. The last such railroad in North America, CN's subsidiary Newfoundland Railway (officially known as TerraTransport in its last years) was abandoned.

    The "7 main lines" today are CN and CP in Canada, BNSF and UP in the western US, CSX and NS in the eastern US, and KCS in the central US.
  4. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Canadian National's web site at gives an excellent overview. Canadian Pacific ( has a similar section. Virtually all the major and minor roads in Canada were absorbed at one point by either CPR or CN. There were a few exceptions like BCRail and Ontario Northland, but BCR now belongs to CN, and I am not sure about ON. Interesting to note the rise of some small operators who have taken over parts or CN or CPR - some were originally short lines to begin with - back in the 1800s! Ottawa Central, Orangeville-Brampton, etc.

    CN and CPR both have holdings and rights into the US, with CN being one of the biggest players - I think second in North America only to UP. I am not sure how much trackage or rights American lines have in Canada.

  5. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    Thanks, Andrew. Interesting with regards to the new, smaller lines starting. I'd like to find out more about this. I think a similar thing has happened in Britain.

    There used to be dozens of small lines in Britain until 1923. Then, from 1923 to 1948, it was reduced to the "Big Four." And after 1948 until the mid-1990s the railways were nationalized as one (British Railways at first, and then British Rail). And now, since the mid-1990s, it seems more like the "old days" as the railways have become privitized. There is no longer a British Rail but scores of smaller lines. History really does repeat itself!

  6. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    Triplex: Wow -- thanks for your response! I think I'll print this off and read it later. It will sink in better that way too :) ! Thanks again, I really appreciate this info. Rob
  7. Triplex

    Triplex Active Member

    Ontario Northland is still independent.
  8. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    I often see ON passenger trains coming into Toronto on a CPR line (as I drive to work). Thanks again, Rob
  9. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    The latest Canadian Railway Modeller has a review of a book Atlas of North American Railroads which is comprised of system maps of many North American railroads. I have a copy and will recommend it to you. It doesn't have all of them but the large ones all seem to be theri. It also describes some of the amalgamations. (I bought mine at A Different Drummer in Burlington.
    For Canada, the resource is called Lines of Country. Shows all the deatil of railways, where they ran, dates built, abandoned and change of ownership. Also shows them by the original dummy company that built them. Includes canals. Costs like the deuce, and I don't know if it's still in print.
    In the last year or so, Trains did a survey of the big 7 North American roads.
  10. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    One major railroad in the '40s that was not mentioned previously is the Milwaukee Road. It went bankrupt I think about the time that the Burlington Northern was formed. I have one other minor correction. Southern Pacific did not buy the D&RGW, it was the other way around, and then U.P. bought the D&RGW. The S.P. was set up to fail when the ICC turned down the Santa Fe/ Southern Pacific merger and demanded that Santa Fe divest themselves of the S.P. Santa Fe divested the S.P., but kept the money.
  11. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    Triplex, nice work on the capsule histories.:thumb: :thumb:
    Rob, if you go to the Trains website, they have a section on railroad history, which might offer further insights.

    After you use the above link, which takes you to the Trains Forum, click on the large, red, TRAINS logo, and on the next screen, click on "Railroad Reference"

  12. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    Thanks, David. That's just what I need -- I'm fascinated by atlases. Maybe Chapters or various hobby shops would also have this book? (I live in East York so ideally I'd like to find something closer.) At any rate, that atlas sounds great and I'll look into it. Cheers, Rob
  13. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    Thanks, Wayne! I'll try to check out that website tomorrow or on the weekend. This sounds helpful. Rob
  14. LoudMusic

    LoudMusic Member

  15. Dave Flinn

    Dave Flinn Member

    Thanks to Triplex for posting such a nice, concise review of the situation. I was going to chastise for not mentioning my favorite, the New Haven; but, on a closer look, I found it. This is a good review for lots of us old timers, and a good primer for the newbies.
  16. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery


    If you are interested in atlases and maps, I have a few things you might like to see:

    1) A 1911 Ontario school atlas. The maps don't have many roads, but boy are there a lot of tracks!

    2) A copy of the 1931/32 Report of the Royal Commission on the State of Railways and Transportation in Canada. Two incredible (and huge!) maps that show all the Canadian railways and the amount of traffic they handle.

    Both of these are a little early for your timeframe (1940s and 50s) , but if you are interested, I can (maybe) get you some copies (I don't know who would photocopy the large map - it is about 6 feet long). Unfortunately, it will have to wait until we move - at least the end of September.

  17. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    Thanks. Yes, very cool! That website looks really interesting and I REALLY like the map. I think "visually" so seeing something as a map or in diagram form is very helpful. Rob
  18. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    Thanks, this does sound interesting. A scan or photocopy would be good to see (thanks for offering this), but please only do so when you have time, after your move. Thanks again. Rob
  19. Triplex

    Triplex Active Member

    This isn't 100% accurate. You're confusing railroads with holding companies. ATSF didn't own SP; the holding company, SFSP (note order), owned both ATSF and SP and intended to merge them into SPSF. It was SFSP that was ordered to sell SP. Then Rio Grande Industries (the company that owned DRGW) - not the railroad - bought SP. However, they started to operate both SP and DRGW under the SP name. SP locomotives received a new lettering style, like that on DRGW locomotives.
  20. jetrock

    jetrock Member

    What you really need is an ORER (Official Railway Equipment Register) for the year you model. They not only list every railroad in the United States during that year, but also list rolling stock and motive power. Helpful things to have. Sometimes they come up on eBay, and I think there are CD-ROM versions floating around as well.

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