Top 10 Most tragic railroad failures of North America?

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Top 10 Most tragic railroad failures of North America?
Posted by KBCpresident on Saturday, March 24, 2018 1:11 AM

I have tried posts like this in teh past, and all have failed. But this time, I am genuinely curious what everyone thinks. What should be on this list? I hav ea few ideas, but a top ten list needs ten entries, and I can't come up with ten. Any help is appreciated:

Inclusions on the list so far:

Penn Central: obvious reasons, internal competition, bad circumstances, bankruptsy so severe that the goverenment needed to step in.

Milwaukee Road: One of the most impressive transcons in North America with lots of unique equiptments and electric operations, until they took out the electificication and cut themselves in half.

NYO&W: Abandoned the entire system overnight if I'm not mistaken.

Rock Island: So impovershed the system couldn't afford to join Amtrak, and ultimately ceased operations all together.

What else should be on the list.

The Beaverton, Fanno Creek & Bull Mountain Railroad

"Ruby Line Service"

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Posted by Firelock76 on Saturday, March 24, 2018 9:24 AM

Eight of them that spring to mind, at least in my mind, are the old "Anthracite Roads."

The Jersey Central, the Lackawanna, the Erie, the Lehigh and Hudson River, the Lehigh and New England, the Lehigh Valley, the New York Ontario and Western, and the Reading.

When the anthracite trade began to die so did they, and there wasn't enough business in the area otherwise to support them all.  A slow death for all concerned that it seemed no-one knew how to stop. 

Then there was the poor old Rutland up in Vermont.

I could add the New Haven, it's absorption into Penn Central was something the NYC and the Pennsy didn't want, but had to take anyway.  Some wonder if the burning of the NH's Poughkeepsie Bridge was a deliberate act of sabotage to kill that 'road, but there's no concrete proof of that nor is there any likelyhood of being any, not at this late date anyway. 

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Posted by NorthWest on Saturday, March 24, 2018 4:00 PM

While not technically a railroad, I think that the Chigago, North Shore and Milwaukee has to be included.

Possibly also the Grand Trunk system.

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Posted by Firelock76 on Saturday, March 24, 2018 6:21 PM

NorthWest

While not technically a railroad, I think that the Chigago, North Shore and Milwaukee has to be included.

Possibly also the Grand Trunk system.

 

Nothing wrong with including the North Shore.  Technically it was an interurban line and not a "real" railroad, but when it died it broke an awful lot of hearts in that part of the country.  The Summer 2013 issue of "Classic Trains" had a superb article on the North Shore that almost turned me into a fan, and I'm not even from that part of the country!  I thinks it's still available as a back-issue, a good one to grab if you get the chance.

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Posted by MidlandMike on Saturday, March 24, 2018 9:27 PM

Colorado Midland was totally abandoned except what was retained by the Midland Terminal for a little while longer.

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Posted by Miningman on Saturday, March 24, 2018 10:48 PM

I would add the rapid demise and total loss of locomotive builders Baldwin, Lima, (and their futile attempt at staving off the end through a merger), and then unbelievably Alco. Montreal Locomotive Works continued on flying the Alco flag but is now consigned to dusty filing cabinets and boxes in a large room somewhere at Bombardier. To this I would add Fairbanks Morse locomotive production and long time builder CLC, the Canadian Locomotive Company in Kingston. To think that those enormous plants in Eddystone, Schenectady, Lima and Kingston are no more is beyond reason. 

The rapid demise of the newly crowned  "Standard of Railroading" the Southern Pacific. They had it all, diversified too, pipelines, oil and gas, telecommunications(Sprint), even a brothel!
Ended up being owned by D&RGW of all unbelievable things then swallowed up whole by UP.

Corporate raiders and crony capitalism, not interested in railroading or the future, only raiding the treasury and selling off assets asap but pretending to be something else. The Pennsy and Milwaukee are good examples. Of course the vandal of Pennsylvania Station, New York City, Stuart Sauders, demolishing it and dumping the remains in the swamps of New Jersey. For those that come to his defence I remind you he paid a $7 million settlement out of court for his shenanigans, and that was in the late '60's when you could retire for life with $100,000. 

The vast and quite sudden demise of passenger trains and the bill of goods we were sold. Politicians and we, the great unwashed, turned our backs on the passenger trains. Throw in any public transportation, streetcars, interurbans and the like. Big Oil, Big Auto, Big Rubber, Madison Avenue, grabbed our noses and lead us to the way it's gonna be.  This did not happen anywhere else in the world.
Compare the 20th Century Ltd. or the Broadway in 1950 to Japan,  Europe and China in 1950, to passenger rail service today in these places. What happened?  Truman said " What a paradise we could have if we don't make a mistake".  I still say we could have had both, an independent competitive vibrant modern passenger service and the family vehicle. The one side got very greedy, however, I will also state that we eagerly chose that path as a society and wrongly so. Perhaps to some extent it is slowly being realized today. 

The loss of mail, express, and the hometown railroad station went hand in hand with the above. This did not happen anywhere else in the world either.

The post war steam advances and look to the future with new and exciting and superbly engineered marvels were scrapped so fast we barely got a chance to even get over our excitement. T1's, Niagaras lead the way but there was much more. The post war rebuilt C&NW Zeppelins that we recently talked about and CPR's G5d Pacifics built in 1948 certainly are in this group. CPR had plans to order 600 of then, slightly over a hundred were made. Scrapped in 8 years. 
Now you could say this was due to the Diesel onslaught and superiority but it was an unnecessary rush to get out from being considered old fashioned and  again being sold a bill of goods.
As if the Diesels saved the railroads from the end, rather at least on the surface the opposite was true.
Once the romance of passenger service along with the steam loco and the whistle was destroyed it was no longer in the public mind.
Millions and millions wasted on perfectly fine and advanced modern steam, some 50-70 million on the T1's alone, and to be replaced by what? Baldwin Centipedes. Baby faces, Sharks, Alco PA's, Opposed Pistons and other assorted failures. A double whammy.

Of course absurd out of date government regulations, Management and Unions with an us vs them ridiculous divide contributed to many other failures. A failure of cooperation and leadership, an opportunity wasted. 

I've heard the counter arguments but make no mistake: These items were all failures and factored into the close call of destroying railroads in their entirety, certainly the way it was run for a hundred years and built nations, and in the end these failures lead to the society we have today. 

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Posted by Overmod on Saturday, March 24, 2018 10:54 PM

Hampden Railroad.

Note I don't mention CNE although technically you could.  Had the Titanic not sunk I think it would have succeeded, at least for a while and as long as its competitors in that general area succeeded; a well-connected (Canadian-controlled) CNE might have been the salutary wake up call to Morgan and Mellen those two so badly needed.  (Morgan's railroad expert died suddenly in 1906 and left the vision adrift...)

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Posted by Miningman on Sunday, March 25, 2018 12:17 AM

....and Charles Melville Hayes of the Grand Trunk. Imagine the change of the course of history just in railroading alone, not to mention everything else, because of the stuffy arrogance of a reckless Captain Smith. 

That kind of stuff can drive you batty thinking about the whys and the alternatives and the what could have been, what should have been, what would have been. Different world.

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Posted by Firelock76 on Sunday, March 25, 2018 11:16 AM

Well, as a "Titanic" junkie I have to step up and defend (somewhat) Captain E.J. Smith.  E.J. wasn't "stuffy," nor was he "arrogant,"  but what he WAS doing was what every captain of a crack liner back in those days was doing, i.e. keeping the speed up to meet the schedule and relying on the lookouts to spot any trouble coming over the horizon in time for the ship to avoid it.  It was what he'd always done, and in all his years at sea it had never gotten him in trouble, until...

Captain Smith wasn't the only one doing so, they ALL did it, although as His Majesty's Wreck Commissioner, the fearsome Lord Mersey, said at the conclusion of the "Titanic" wreck inquiry, "Hopefully, this is the last we have heard of THAT practice!"

It certainly was. 

It's sad it happened to E.J.  Rated on the "Nicest Guy You'd Ever Want To Meet" scale, he was way up there.  Passengers and crew who'd sailed with him in the past all swore by the man.   

 

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Posted by Overmod on Sunday, March 25, 2018 1:24 PM

Miningman
....and Charles Melville Hayes of the Grand Trunk.

It is he, precisely, to whom I was referring.

I second Firelock in noting Smith was the antithesis of stuffiness ... a likelier source of the 'problem' was the wrong combination of actions taken to avoid the collision once the iceberg had been detected.  I am still reasonably convinced that the decision to back full with the Parsons-turbine screw freewheeling compromised rudder integrity just enough to prevent avoidance, even with the comparatively short recognition time; even had the ship hit the iceberg head-on, the partitions and probably the doors would have worked as designed, certainly long enough for sufficient shipping to reach the Titanic to take off most of the passengers.  (While not directly comparable, there is a WWi story about a ship, possibly a destroyer, which had its bow blown off by a torpedo or mine, and which successfully came into harbor 'backing' to reduce the sea loads on the exposed bulkheading.)

  It is easy to forget how crowded the North Atlantic route was at that time.  It's only the relatively slow speed of most of the liners, and the extraordinarily rapid filling of Titanic, that caused the heavy loss of life.  The nearest big liner, as I recall, was only about 60 miles distant.  By such slight margins is history often so radically influenced.

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Posted by Miningman on Sunday, March 25, 2018 1:53 PM

Well heck why didnt you just say so.

I have zero sympathy for Captain Smith...it was reckless and irresponsible to charge forward in a known ice field, and being warned of icebergs in the area, and in the darkness of night,,,and then go to bed!

The loss of life lies squarely with him. Guilty as charged!

Cannot elaborate...in a Bonspiel, last day of 4, exhausted and sore but pumped! 

Later Gators.

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Posted by Overmod on Sunday, March 25, 2018 2:11 PM

Miningman
Well heck why didnt you just say so.

Because the question was and is about RAILROADS, not people.  So I mentioned the CNE (about which we have in fact had some recent discussions) and presumed that it was pretty well known that the Titanic reference would be understood in context...

I confess to having my knowledge of Mr. Ismay distorted first by Walter Lord et al. and then by many of the discussions in the contemporary press when I first started looking at primary sources.  To this day I think I'd have looked at him as a villain and coward had I not known someone (Henry Forster) who knew him firsthand and understood him.

And I do think there was a certain amount of Ismay getting the ship to go along quickly, although it certainly wasn't for reasons of 'racing' or 'setting new records', and I don't think that would have been different, or that the outcome would have been any different at all (the same people being delegated in the same ways) had Captain Smith been on the bridge at the height of his powers when the berg was spotted.  I believe it has been confirmed from a variety of sources that steering the ship at 25kt would have amply avoided the iceberg, albeit at the cost of the equivalent of spilling a few drinks and perhaps dumping some of those on the upper decks out of bed.  But hindsight is 20/20, especially for historians and commentators like me without Master's licenses.

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Posted by wanswheel on Sunday, March 25, 2018 2:17 PM
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Posted by M636C on Sunday, March 25, 2018 7:54 PM

 I believe it has been confirmed from a variety of sources that steering the ship at 25kt would have amply avoided the iceberg, albeit at the cost of the equivalent of spilling a few drinks and perhaps dumping some of those on the upper decks out of bed.  But hindsight is 20/20, especially for historians and commentators without Master's licenses.

A few minutes ago I was asked what my qualifications were and I answered "Marine Engineer".... I've also worked for railways as a mechanical engineer.

However, the propulsion plant of the Titanic played a part in the collision.

For anybody who doesn't know, the Titanic had two large four cylinder triple expansion engines, among the largest of their type, driving the outer shafts. There was a an exhaust turbine on the centre shaft that took steam from the low pressure cylinders of each main engine and exhausted it to the condenser at below atmospheric pressure.

The exhaust turbine did not reverse.

So when the Titanic went astern, after waiting for the main engines to stop and restart, the centre shaft was stopped. The propeller on the centre shaft was in line with the single rudder and the turbulence from the stopped propeller would have reduced the effectiveness of the rudder.

My view is that if the ship had just steered away and not put the main engines astern it would have avoided the collision.

But of course that is all in hindsight. It is possible that the officers on the bridge had not a good understanding of this particular power plant. The Olympic was the same, but it was fairly new and may not have had to carry out any similar manouvre.

Incidentally, the recent movie "Titanic" shows an underwater sequence, presumably filmed using a reasonably large model, in which the centre shaft can be seen turning at about twice the speed of the outer shafts.

Peter

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Posted by MidlandMike on Sunday, March 25, 2018 9:13 PM

Missouri & North Arkansas was a 360 mile line from Helena, Ark. on the Misissippi River, to Joplin, Mo.  It was abandoned on the late 40s except for a short segment at the Helena end.  The Eureka Springs branch was rebuilt as a tourist rail line.

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Posted by Overmod on Sunday, March 25, 2018 10:16 PM

M636C
However, the propulsion plant of the Titanic played a part in the collision. For anybody who doesn't know, the Titanic had two large four cylinder triple expansion engines, among the largest of their type, driving the outer shafts. There was a an exhaust turbine on the centre shaft that took steam from the low pressure cylinders of each main engine and exhausted it to the condenser at below atmospheric pressure.

Funny, but I had a section about precisely this in the original post, and for some reason seem to have edited it out. 

Note that not only did the center shaft spin faster, it had a smaller prop -- this all being hydrodynamically optimized around anticipated cruising speed and conditions.

The Parsons exhaust turbine was more fun than that -- it took steam at below atmospheric pressure, so the entire contribution -- which was a considerable proportion of the ship's nominal shp -- took place in a relative vacuum.  (In part this is significant because it would put severe limits on the amount of gasdynamic resistance slowing the turbine blading after steam cutoff)

It also had considerable inertia when running full ahead, with some estimates being that it would take several minutes to spin down.  It would of course have been assisted in 'turning' by the continued motion of the hull, so I do not think that during the timeframe of collision avoidance it was ever 'stopped'.  That does not detract from the idea that some of the flow over the rudder was 'spoiled'; in fact I think the cutoff of turbine power was a meaningful part of the issue with rudder steering integrity.  Another was the relative ineffectiveness hydrodynamically of the rudder being 'hard over' as the steering engine promptly ran it.  I do not know if helmsmen were able to gauge rudder effectiveness by 'feedback' with conventional steering gear, but the servo system quite effectively removed any chance of recognition -- aside from the protracted emergent failure to come about -- that rudder integrity was compromised.  Meanwhile aside from the turbulence of the backing screws, probably cavitating like crazy, each knot of way off the ship would be removing some of the strength of rudder authority ... personally, I think the rudder was substantially flow-stalled as a result of its angle and would have been acting powerfully as a brake, but very little as a turning aid, and this would have continued for perhaps a considerable extent of deceleration.

If there were a failure to appreciate some of the characteristics of the powerplant, I think it would be not so much ignorance of the nonreversing characteristics of the turbine as a misapprehension that backing was far less effective than forward acceleration.  (As with much Victorian railway practice, I suspect very little importance was given to how quickly expensively-achieved momentum could be scrubbed off and wasted.)

Those like me who are not marine engineers (but have associated with them) have to wonder why the engines were not ordered as I'd have expected a twin-screw steamer to be: one engine back and the other forward to assist in yawing the ship in the anticipated direction of turn. 

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Monday, March 26, 2018 10:12 AM

MidlandMike

Missouri & North Arkansas was a 360 mile line from Helena, Ark. on the Misissippi River, to Joplin, Mo.  It was abandoned on the late 40s except for a short segment at the Helena end.  The Eureka Springs branch was rebuilt as a tourist rail line.

 
Missouri & North Arkansas was doomed from the start.  As was mentioned in a book review in TRAINS, its route presented Kansas City Southern with an unsurpassed opportunity to shorthaul itself.
The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
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Posted by Miningman on Monday, March 26, 2018 9:15 PM

Thanks to Overmod and M636C for providing the technical information regarding the mechanisms behind the ability of the Titanic to manoeuvre as it faced the looming iceberg. So here comes the 'But"..and something that must have become obvious to others reading the posts.  Overmod stated we have the advantage of hindsight in considering and analyzing what happened. 

But...I'm not so sure about that hindsight claim. 

On board were Thomas Andrews, the designer and engineer who built it and Joseph Bell, the ships own Chief Engineer. These two chaps would certainly have known your information and could have provided the necessary advice at the crucial moment. 

That was the responsibility of the well experienced and respected Captain Smith, who probably also would have known. 

So my friend Firelock coming to the defense of the old salt is also wearing rose coloured glasses. 

Entering a well known iceberg field, having been warned beforehand of icebergs being spotted in the area, a deep dark moonless night, a maiden voyage, the responsibility of all those thousands on board and not one of these geniuses are on the bridge during this passage. Captain Smith should have, based on all that experience alone, that at least one of them, better even two of them, be on the bridge, at the ready with the correct knowledge as to what to do in case of an emergency until daybreak. 

I would have instinctively, not in hindsight, and I'm not a Mariner, but I would insist. 

Those were likely the only 3 people who knew exactly how the ship responds and what order to give to avert the disaster and they are all in bed during this dangerous passage...that is ridiculous. 

That falls on Smith, and to an extent the other two who should have taken the interest out of concern alone and been there.  Instead they all assured themselves a date with Davey Jones Locker and in the process took all those men, women and children with them. 

Sorry Firelock, Smiths a bum, and Overmod, those 3 had the knowledge, hindsight not required.

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Posted by jeffhergert on Monday, March 26, 2018 10:11 PM

Gee, Miningman, you probably think Casey Jones was a bum, too.  Even though Newberry probably had his "guns" set for the south switch and in any case, was out beyond them with his lantern.

Jeff

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Posted by Miningman on Monday, March 26, 2018 11:06 PM

No Caseys no bum. A folk hero and a decent fellow. I was a speedster in my day..its understandable. Gotta luv Casey Jones.

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Posted by SD70Dude on Tuesday, March 27, 2018 12:37 AM

Miningman

Gotta luv Casey Jones.

A short documentary on his last trip, although it may not be entirely accurate:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=UbTBk4pDIHA

I'd hate to be the Operator or Dispatcher in charge of such complex trackage!

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Posted by rcdrye on Tuesday, March 27, 2018 7:18 AM

The fluid dynamics around the Titanic's hull were on display early on.  The sister ship Olympic sucked at least one ship from its berth on its maiden voyage, as did the Titanic during its sea trials before its maiden voyage.

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Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, March 27, 2018 11:00 AM

SD70Dude
 
Miningman

Gotta luv Casey Jones. 

A short documentary on his last trip, although it may not be entirely accurate:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=UbTBk4pDIHA

I'd hate to be the Operator or Dispatcher in charge of such complex trackage!

Notice cabooses were changed in route - 53 at the start and 55 later on.

         

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Posted by jeffhergert on Tuesday, March 27, 2018 11:10 AM

rcdrye

The fluid dynamics around the Titanic's hull were on display early on.  The sister ship Olympic sucked at least one ship from its berth on its maiden voyage, as did the Titanic during its sea trials before its maiden voyage.

 

RMS Olympic/HMS Hawke collision.

https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/community/threads/rms-olympic-hms-hawke-collision-20-september-1911.3540/page-2 

Jeff

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Posted by Miningman on Tuesday, March 27, 2018 12:04 PM

Jeff-- Fascinating account. Quite a considerable expense for White Star to accommodate thousands for ten days, unload all that cargo and repair the damage. Do you or anyone know if White Star was eventually compensated for this by the Government or was it determined that the Olympic was the cause because of the turbulence? What a mess and a gigantic headache. 

SD70- Caboose 53 replaced by caboose 55...Casey must have crossed over a crew change division but because of his exalted status he was immune to surrending the cab. 

Right at the end it kind of morphs into a commercial for railroads but as we know Walt was a railfan.

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Posted by jeffhergert on Tuesday, March 27, 2018 11:58 PM

The Olympic was held responsible.

http://www.williammurdoch.net/articles_29_to_the_bitter_end_09.html 

The Hawke was sunk by a U-boat in WW 1.

https://uboat.net/wwi/ships_hit/2760.html 

Olympic sank a U-boat (by ramming it) in WW 1.

https://uboat.net/wwi/boats/?boat=103 

http://www.thevintagenews.com/2016/02/02/51089/ 

Jeff 

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Posted by Miningman on Wednesday, March 28, 2018 1:20 AM

Thank you for that Jeff...terrific account. Seems you can't fight the government. That had to have been a substantial finacial hit for White Star. The continuing tale is also a great read. 

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Posted by daveklepper on Wednesday, March 28, 2018 4:14 AM

Firelock76

 All three Insull interurbans reported to the ICC, and the CNS&M, at the time, had enough revenue to be classed a Class I Railroad.  It sold interline tickets both with connecting steam railroads and with bus lines.  And did an interchange freight-car business.

It was both an interuran line and a railroad.

 
NorthWest

While not technically a railroad, I think that the Chigago, North Shore and Milwaukee has to be included.

Possibly also the Grand Trunk system.

 

 

 

Nothing wrong with including the North Shore.  Technically it was an interurban line and not a "real" railroad, but when it died it broke an awful lot of hearts in that part of the country.  The Summer 2013 issue of "Classic Trains" had a superb article on the North Shore that almost turned me into a fan, and I'm not even from that part of the country!  I thinks it's still available as a back-issue, a good one to grab if you get the chance.

 

Firelock76

 

 
NorthWest

While not technically a railroad, I think that the Chigago, North Shore and Milwaukee has to be included.

Possibly also the Grand Trunk system.

 

 

 

Nothing wrong with including the North Shore.  Technically it was an interurban line and not a "real" railroad, but when it died it broke an awful lot of hearts in that part of the country.  The Summer 2013 issue of "Classic Trains" had a superb article on the North Shore that almost turned me into a fan, and I'm not even from that part of the country!  I thinks it's still available as a back-issue, a good one to grab if you get the chance.

 

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Posted by Firelock76 on Wednesday, March 28, 2018 5:42 PM

Well thanks for that information David!  So, the North Shore was a "real" railroad after all.  It was certainly real enough to it's patrons, and more so.

After all, according to Norman Carlson who wrote that North Shore article I mentioned, "The Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee was not just a railroad; it was an integral part of life."

PS:  I was going to sound off some more on our "Titanic" controversy but I decided to "hold fire."  This IS supposed to be a dead railroad thread and not a dead ship thread, after all.

Of course, if anyone wants me to...

PPS:  If you really want to see "Titanic" buffs go nuclear, bring up the SS Californian, then stand back!

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Posted by MidlandMike on Wednesday, March 28, 2018 8:54 PM

All three railroads (T&G, T&T, and T&LV) to the Tonopah, Nev. area were abandoned, representing a few hundred miles of track. 

Also in the Nev./Cal. area was the Carson & Colorado.  About 2/3 of its 300 miles was abandoned.

In Colorado, the Rio Grande Southern with about 170 miles of NG was totally abandoned.

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