In the Shadows of the NP
With the exception of just a little rail left within the limits of Miles City, the journey west has been marked with dirt. Often simply a rise in the ground, or a brace of tire tracks like those here on the north shore of Yellowstone River. Across the river is Forsyth, MT, but it is here on the relatively quiet north shore the remnants of the Milwaukee have left the now recognizable and sprawling signature.
The linked map reveals the situation well: Forsyth. The city is nestled nicely south of the river with I-94 running in close proximity. Also present are the significant yards of the old NP, still in use today. The Milwaukee's travels west were never far removed from the NP, at least through the western states. From the current end of track at Terry to Forsyth, they are particularly close, often within earshot of one another. Forsyth, however, marks the beginning of the Milwaukee's more northerly trip into central Montana while the NP remains to the south. US12 joins the old right of way here at Forsyth as well and will be a constant companion until the Resourceful Railroad again turns slightly south toward Three Forks and the crossing of the Rocky Mountains.
The comparison between the Milwaukee and NP (later BN) is an interesting one. The NP was first to achieve a link to the Northwest and its route reflects that. The largest cities are typically located along its right of way. The later entries to the Northwest (the GN and Milwaukee) hit notably fewer population centers compared to the NP. Forsyth is just one example of many. From its inception to its execution, the Milwaukee Road was engineered to be a fast, direct line to the west. In some cases this meant a more isolated route, however, the Milwaukee proved capable of generating profit. It is a common misconception that this design and the operation of Lines West was the anchor that sank the company. As has been previously reported here as well as other places, the ICC found alarming accounting errors that attributed losses to the western lines . In fact, these lines were profitable in the final years of the railroad. Following recalculation by the ICC, Lines West contributed $12.7, $11, and $2.9M in profits to the company through the years of 1976-78. Notably well into the traffic decline and bankruptcy of 1977 .
To pursue that history and line of thought is to open an investigation into a murky past and poor management. Conspiracy theories abound in those waters. Regardless, on the north shore of the Yellowstone River those old decisions seem incredible and sad. Now US12 is beckoning to push west where the shadows of the NP will be left behind, at least for a few miles.
1) Jones, T. Milwaukee Road in the 70's: What really happened?