A Chicago Train Connecting Railroad - 1930's - 1940's
Great Northern Railway


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The Great Northern Railway was one of James J. Hill's railroads. The main line extended from Minneapolis-St. Paul to the Pacific Coast at Everett, Washington and then to Seattle. It traversed the most northerly route west in the United States, passing near Glacier National Park and connected to Canadian roads, primarily the Canadian Pacific. Its famous Chicago to the Pacific train, the Empire Builder was named after Mr. Hill who was known by the nickname "Empire Builder". The GN was very successful in gaining trade with the orient, and named its other luxury west coast train, the "Oriental Limited". The GN found connections into Chicago on the Burlington which was another Hill line. They eventually merged in 1970 as the Burlington Northern. The Empire Builder ran in competition with it's more southerly parallel running North Coast Limited, on the Northern Pacific, as well as the Olympian later the Olympian Hiawatha on the Milwaukee Road, and the City of Portland and Portland Rose on the CNW/UP. In 1947 the GN introduced it's lightweight diesel powered Empire Builder cutting the Chicago-Seattle time from 60 to 45 hours.(rp)
The name Great Northern Railway replaced the names of many predecessor railways in 1889. The GN served many customers in states from Wisconsin in the east, through Washington in the west(gn), and Canada, California and the Orient through rail and steamship connections. It was a very profitable operation.(rp)

Great Northern
Great Northern
April 1, 1942
GN F7 Locomotive
EMD built F7 Locomotive
GN Observation Car Signs
Observation Car Signs
GN herald
GN herald

Short History of the Great Northern Railway
The Great Northern was built through the efforts of James J. Hill, know as the "Empire Builder", thus the name of GNs luxury train, the Empire Builder.
1866 - Hill, working for St. Paul & Pacific Railroad, goes into business to sell the railroad coal in place of wood.
1873 - SP&P goes into bankruptcy, and Hill, with help from Hudson's Bay Company, banks and other supporters buys the SP&P to expand it westward.
1879 - Rails extended to meet Canadian Pacific Fort Garry branch at St. Vincent, Minnesota and capture CP east west traffic.
1879 - Name changed to St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba, and land grants provided for sale to immigrants.
post 1879 - Hill assists CP in achieving route to Pacific Coast, but plans to build competitive line in the states.
1886 - Minot North Dakota reached. Hill had chosen an easier route through more productive land north of the Northern Pacific.
1887 - Line completed to Great Falls Montana with connections to Montana Central to Helena.
1893 - Pacific reached at Puget Sound Washington. Great Northern Railway formed and absorbed SPM&M.
1893 - Depression hit competitors UP and Santa Fe very hard and also the parallel line, the Northern Pacific.
1896- Hill manages to get possession of the Northern Pacific.
1901 - Hill acquires almost 100% of stock in Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad to attain trackage to Chicago and increase traffic to and from the east and south to the orient.
1905 - Spokane Portland & Seattle Railway started by Hill interests providing a presence in Oregon.
1909 - Hill and Harriman (SP/UP) duke it out for control of west coast north south rail lines. Hill tries to build Oregon Trunk south. After much strife Hill agrees not to build south of Bend Oregon in exchange for trackage rights.
1931 - The GN also finally obtained an "Inside Gateway," east of the SP and rivaling it. The route between Oregon and California ran south from the Columbia River in Oregon. The GN connected with the Western Pacific at Bieber, California; the Western Pacific connected with the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe in Stockton, California and together the three railroads competed with SP for traffic between California and the Pacific Northwest.
1947 - New lightweight diesel-electric powered Empire Builder cuts time to Seattle from 60 hours to 45 hours. Empire Builder old train moves to the Oriental Limited.
1951 - New diesel powered streamliner, Western Star introduced, Chicago to Seattle, with respectable time of 56:15.
1970 - Until 1970 the GN, NP, CB&Q and the SP&S operated as separate entities, and then were merged as the Burlington Northern.
1996 - BN merges with Santa Fe to become Burlington Northern/Santa Fe (BN/SF).

GN 1920 map
Great Northern 1920 Map
The line from Chicago to St. Paul, Minnesota is the Burlington,
The line from Spokane to Portland is the Spokane Portland and Seattle
The line south to California is the GNs connection to the Western Pacific and the Santa Fe to capture some California traffic.
Note the line going SE in Montana to connect with the Q., and the line to Sioux City, with connections to the south and east to draw traffic bypassing Chicago.


GN 1942 map
Great Northern 1942 Timetable Map
Note the Burlington connection in Montana


Our Sources
Private Collection of Richard R. Parks(rp)
Wikipedia the free Encyclopedia [web](wik)
Official Guide- April 1940
www.greatnorthernempire.net(gn) JAMES J. HILL By Christopher Muller(cm)
www.RailServe.com
The Trains We Rode-Lucius Beebe & Charles Clegg(bc)
Classic Trains - Kalmbach Publishing Co.-fall 2004

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Web Page Written and Maintained by Richard Parks
Copyright Richard Parks, April 27, 2009, revised June 1, 2011