In January 1978, G.A. Kellow offered this report on the Milwaukee's plant rationalization efforts as it moved into its final bankruptcy :
Traffic patterns over the past 30 years, and probably longer, show that the total transcontinental rail market is not a strong growth market; that the Milwaukee Road's share has always been small; and that the share of the market is in fact diminishing.
Given the small present market share, the strong rail competition and the apparent limited total market, the Milwaukee Road cannot expect to increase its share of the traffic enough in the future to justify maintaining transcontinental service.
On the basis of this study and analysis, the following conclusions are drawn:
- The railroad probably should not have extended its line to the Pacific Northwest at the time it was done.
- There is no economic justification in continuing transcontinental service to the West Coast.
- A long-range objective should be to phase out most, if not all, operations west of Miles City (a difficult assignment).
Now with the advantage of hindsight, it's interesting to note that though the long range objective was achieved and the track removed, some of the predictions were not [2 with data from AAR]:
Many have noted that the line planted by the Milwaukee Road over 100 years ago avoided many of the population centers of the day. Perhaps, in some final irony, that reduced congestion would play even better with the long haul intermodal traffic that has sprung to life so distinctly in the decades since the railroad's departure.
In the image above, the Milwaukee's mainline is taking dead aim at Vendome, MT and the pass over the Rocky Mountains. In the rain shadow of this high desert area, an impending storm gives the promise of rain for these barren heights. But as the years accumulate and the memories of what was slide faithfully away like a mist in the morning sun, this high desert becomes one that no one can cross. And as with all great mysteries, who can explain this?
1)Kellow, "Rationalization of the Plant: Study of the Line between Miles City, MT and Portland, OR" 1978. https://www.milwaukeeroadarchives.com/EconomicStudies/EconomicStudies.htm
2)"Freight Railroad Traffic & Intermodal Volumes (1890 - Present)