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October 2008



Rail News: Rail Industry

Book Review: "James J. Hill's Legacy to Railway Operations"



By Frank J. Richter

Earl J. Currie’s recently published book “James J. Hill’s Legacy to Railway Operations” delves deeper even than the title suggests — it sets forth clearly and in detail how the railroads of the western United States and western Canada continue to make their rail corridors more efficient and effective for freight and passenger operations.

In addition to characterizing Hill’s career, which spanned the railroad industry’s early years up until his passing in 1916, Currie rightly covers the similar “legacy” exposures of the Union Pacific’s E.H. Harriman.

“It is interesting to note that in the years E.H. Harriman led the Union Pacific, he followed many of the same principles that Hill had initiated a few years earlier,” notes Robert W. Downing, who retired as vice president and chief operating officer of the Burlington Northern — before it became “BNSF” — in the 501-page book’s foreward. “During the Harriman years, the Union Pacific moved from bankruptcy in the 1890s to the very successful road it became in the early 1900s. Harriman’s results were much the same as those achieved by Hill. Perhaps that is why the two surviving Class I roads in the West are the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and the Union Pacific.”

Facts and Figures

The book features insights and detailed information on the advances railroads — including Canadian National and Canadian Pacific — made in western North America.

For good statistical measure, Currie provides railroad operating ratios, gross tons per freight train hour, empty car miles to total car miles, maintenance of equipment rates, average locomotive tractive efforts, average capacities of freight cars, as well as dividends and earnings — 62 tables in all.

There’s also a chronology of major railway companies that operated in the northwestern United States and western Canada, including 17 railroad identification chapters that include important events.

To order a copy or obtain more information, send Currie an email or fax (218-492-1762). You also can write to him: Earl J. Currie, P.O. Box 2877, Warba, MN 55793.

— Former Progressive Railroading owner and publisher Frank J. Richter remains a highly interested observer of the rail industry.



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