Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad

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Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad
Burlington Route System Map.png
CB&Q system map
Reporting mark CBQ
Locale Colorado
New Mexico
South Dakota
Dates of operation 1849–1970
Successor Burlington Northern Railroad (later Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway)
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Length 9,367 miles (15,075 kilometres)
Headquarters Chicago, Illinois

The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (reporting mark CBQ) was a Class I railroad that operated in the Midwestern United States. Commonly referred to as the Burlington or Q, the Burlington Route served a large area, including the states of Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Wyoming, and New Mexico and Texas via subsidiary railroads. Its primary connections included Chicago, Minneapolis–Saint Paul, St. Louis, Kansas City and Denver. Because of this extensive trackage in the midwestern and mountain states, the railroad used the advertising slogans "Everywhere West", "Way of the Zephyrs", and "The Way West". It merged with three other railroads to become the Burlington Northern Railroad in 1970.



Chicago Special, c, 1900. Photo by William Henry Jackson.

The earliest predecessor of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy was the Aurora Branch Railroad, chartered on February 12, 1849 to build a line from Aurora, Illinois, to a connection with the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad (G&CU) (forerunner of the Chicago & North Western Railroad) at Turner Junction (West Chicago).[1] Service began with the G&CU's first locomotive, the Pioneer. In 1852, the railroad was renamed the Chicago & Aurora Railroad and received authority to build to Mendota, Illinois, where it would connect with the Illinois Central Railroad.[2] On February 14, 1855, it was again renamed, becoming the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad (CB&Q).[1]

That same year, a railroad was opened between Galesburg and the east bank of the Mississippi River, opposite Burlington, Iowa; a year later, a string of railroads, including the CB&Q, linked Chicago with Quincy, Illinois, via Galesburg. A Galesburg-Peoria line was opened in 1857. By 1865, the CB&Q had acquired all these lines, built its own line from Aurora to Chicago, and had undergone several consolidations to become the corporation that would endure until the Burlington Northern Railroad merger in 1970.[1]

West of the Mississippi, expansion proceeded on two fronts. The Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad (H&StJ), chartered in 1857, began operation between its namesake cities in 1859. A short spur to a point opposite Quincy and a steamboat across the Mississippi created the first railroad from Chicago to the Missouri River. The Burlington & Missouri River Railroad (B&MR) began construction in 1855 at Burlington, Iowa, and followed an old Indian trail (later U.S. Route 34) straight across Iowa — very slowly. Not until November 26, 1869, did it reach the east bank of the Missouri River opposite Plattsmouth, Nebraska (Chicago & North Western reached Council Bluffs in 1867 and the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific got there on May 11, 1869). By then, CB&Q had bridged the Mississippi at Burlington and Quincy, both in 1868, and the Missouri in 1869 at Kansas City, Missouri, as part of a line from Cameron, on the H&StJ, to Kansas City.[1]

The Burlington, in the form of the Burlington & Missouri River Rail Road In Nebraska (B&MRinN), pushed beyond the Missouri River to Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1870. It acquired the Omaha & South Western Railroad for access to Omaha and built west from Lincoln to a junction with the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) at Kearney. The railroad began a colonization program to increase the population along its lines and to sell off the lands it had been granted. CB&Q provided financial backing for the two B&MR (Iowa and Nebraska) companies and directors for the boards. Meanwhile, the CB&Q was acquiring branch lines in Illinois and upgrading its plant: double track, steel rail to replace iron, and iron bridges to replace wood.[1]

Jay Gould acquired control of the H&StJ in 1871, and friction began to develop among the railroads in the CB&Q family over such matters as routing of connecting traffic to and from the UP. To begin unifying the system, CB&Q leased the B&MR in 1872 and merged it in 1875. Gould gained control of UP in 1875 and then in quick succession got the Kansas Pacific Railway (Kansas City-Denver), the Wabash (and extended it to Council Bluffs), and the Missouri Pacific. CB&Q's Nebraska's lines were surrounded by Gould lines, and the Wabash would be likely to get the largest share of eastbound traffic from the UP. In the summer of 1880, the CB&Q consolidated with B&MRinN, acquired the Kansas City, St. Joseph & Council Bluffs, opened a bridge over the Missouri at Plattsmouth, and began an extension west to Denver, completed in 1882.[1]

In 1882, the growth of the Pacific Northwest and the construction of the Northern Pacific Railway (NP) and the Great Northern Railway (GN) prompted the CB&Q to consider building a line up the east bank of the Mississippi River to Saint Paul, Minnesota. It would be 25 miles (40 kilometres) longer than the Milwaukee Road and the Chicago & North Western (C&NW) lines between Chicago and the St. Paul, but the grades would be easier. The CB&Q extended its Chicago & Iowa line west to Savanna; the Chicago, Burlington & Northern [CB&N] (the CB&Q owned one-third of its stock) built the line along the river. It was opened in 1886. Considerable friction ensued between parent and child: the CB&N knew that retaliation by the Milwaukee Road and C&NW would be directed at CB&Q systemwide, not just at the CB&N. The matter was eventually settled when CB&Q increased its CB&N holdings in 1890 and absorbed the railroad in 1899.[1]

In May 1883, the CB&Q regained control of the H&StJ and soon found itself with increased competition in the Chicago-Kansas City market: Milwaukee Road in 1887 and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway (AT&SF) in 1888.[1]

Over the years, the CB&Q considered extension to the Pacific coast and merger with nearly every other railroad. Between 1883 and 1886, it made surveys west of Denver but did no construction. The arrival at Pueblo, Colorado of the Missouri Pacific in 1887 and the Rock Island in 1888 (on trackage rights from Colorado Springs) put the CB&Q at a competitive disadvantage. The Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad (D&RGW) received the same amount for moving freight from Salt Lake City to Pueblo as it did from Salt Lake City through Pueblo to Denver (the Dotsero Cutoff was still nearly five decades in the future). Naturally, the D&RGW preferred to interchange at Pueblo — it received nothing additional for the 119-mile (192 km) haul from Pueblo to Denver. There was thought of the CB&Q's acquiring James J. Hill's St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway and vice versa. CB&Q considered merger with the Pennsylvania Railroad; the two railroads purchased interests in the Toledo, Peoria & Western Railway. In 1896, the CB&Q looked eagerly at the Oregon Short Line Railroad and Oregon Railroad & Navigation Company when their parent, UP, was in receivership. Other merger partners considered were the following:

With one exception, the CB&Q was content for a while to stay within its boundaries, marked by corner stakes at Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver, Omaha, Galesburg, and St. Paul. That exception was a line opened in 1894 from Alliance, Nebraska, northwest through the coalfields of eastern Wyoming to Billings, Montana.[1]


Perhaps the most important event in the CB&Q's history was the purchase, effective July 1, 1901, of nearly 98 percent of its stock jointly by GN and NP. James J. Hill, builder of the GN, saw in the CB&Q the connection he needed from St. Paul to Chicago — the C&NW was largely held by the New York Central Railroad, and the Milwaukee Road refused to consider the matter. At the same time, E. H. Harriman realized that the CB&Q could bring his UP to Chicago from Omaha. CB&Q realized it would be better off with the northern lines because of their on-line resources of coal and lumber, both lacking on the UP-SP route to San Francisco. The battle for control was brief and intense. Control of the CB&Q essentially moved from Boston to St. Paul. That same year Hill, with the backing of J. P. Morgan, his banker, acquired control of NP. The next logical step was merger of the three railroads — a process that took 69 years of off-and-on petitioning, protesting, and arguing.[1]

The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad was leased to the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railway for 99 years on September 30, 1901; that leased lasted until June 30, 1907, when the railroad resumed its own management. The Railroad and Railway companies had a number of officers and directors in common. Of the railway company during those years, Moody's railroad manual simply said "The company has decided not to issue a report."[1]

In January, 1909, the CB&Q,through Edwin Hawley and associates, acquired control of the Colorado & Southern Railway (C&S),[3] gaining a route from Denver to the Gulf of Mexico at Galveston, Texas, and a route from Denver north into Wyoming. CB&Q extended a line down from Billings, Montana, to meet the C&S in 1914. Other extensions were to the coalfields of southern Illinois and on across the Ohio River to Paducah, Kentucky, and a line from Ashland, Nebraska, north to a connection with the GN at Sioux City, Iowa, in 1916. It was during this period that the railroad was at its largest, exceeding just over 12,000 miles (19,000 kilometres) in 14 states.[4]

The CB&Q's growth leveled off during the 1920s. In 1929, CB&Q created a subsidiary, the Burlington Transportation Company, to operate intercity buses in tandem with its railway network. In 1936, the company would become one of the founding members of the Trailways Transportation System, and still provides intercity service as Burlington Trailways.[5][6] In the 1930s, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) authorized merger of GN and NP on the condition that they relinquish control of the CB&Q. GN and NP withdrew their merger application in 1931 in favor of retaining joint control of the CB&Q.[1]


Zephyr arriving at East Dubuque, Illinois in 1940

The year 1932 saw the beginning of two significant projects: the D&RGW Dotsero Cutoff, which would give Denver a direct rail line west via the Denver & Salt Lake Railway, and the ordering of a stainless-steel streamline train from the Budd Company.[1]

The Zephyr, the country's first diesel-powered streamliner, was delivered in 1934 and was soon followed by a family of Zephyrs. In 1939, the CB&Q teamed up with the DRG&W and Western Pacific Railroad (WP) to operate a through passenger train between Chicago and San Francisco via the Dotsero Cutoff — the Exposition Flyer. In 1945, CB&Q built the first Vista-Dome coach. These elements achieved their ultimate synthesis in 1949 with the inauguration of the Vista-Dome-equipped California Zephyr, operated between Chicago and San Francisco by the CB&Q, DRG&W and WP. The route was longer and slower than that of the competition, but the schedule took advantage of the breathtaking scenery through the Rocky Mountains. The train was an immediate success and remains so under Amtrak.[1]

Otto Perry's photograph of the Denver Zephyr, 1938

The Zephyr fleet included:

Although the distinctive, articulated stainless steel trains were well known, and the railroad adopted the "Way of the Zephyrs" advertising slogan, they did not attract passengers back to the rails en masse, and the last one was retired from revenue service with the advent of Amtrak in 1971.

Later years[edit]

CB&Q Nebraska Zephyr & Kansas City Zephyr at Riverside, IL 1967

The CB&Q was still aware of the shortcomings of its Chicago-Kansas City route across northern Missouri (the 1902 purchase of the Quincy, Omaha & Kansas City Railroad, a circuitous secondary local line between Quincy and Kansas City, largely abandoned in 1939, appears to have been an act of mercy on the CB&Q's part.) It first proposed a four-way deal that would give AT&SF a route to St. Louis; the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio Railroad (GM&O) a route of its own to Chicago (CB&Q president Ralph Budd had been a member of the board of directors of GM&O predecessor, Gulf, Mobile & Northern); and the foundering Alton Railroad a good home. GM&O would buy the Alton, less its St. Louis-Kansas City line, which did not fit into GM&O's north-south pattern; CB&Q would take that line and swap trackage rights into St. Louis to the AT&SF for a shortcut across Missouri on AT&SF's main line. The other railroads serving St. Louis protested. GM&O merged the Alton, but the rest of the plan did not come to fruition. In the early 1950s, CB&Q built a new line across Missouri and coupled it with Wabash Railroad trackage rights to shorten its Chicago-Kansas City route by 22 miles (35 kilometres). The line was further improved in 1960 with a new bridge at Quincy.[1]


A merger of the GN, NP and the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway (jointly owned by GN and NP) was proposed once again in 1960 and finally became reality on March 2, 1970, with the creation of the Burlington Northern Railroad, one of the two major predecessors of the future Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway.[1]


CB&Q was a leader in innovation; among its firsts were use of the printing telegraph (1910), train radio communications (1915), streamlined passenger diesel power (1934) and vista-dome coaches (1945). In 1927, the railroad was one of the first to use Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) and by the end of 1957, it had equipped 1,500 miles (2,400 km) of its line.

The railroad had one of the first hump classification yards at its Cicero Avenue Yard in Chicago, allowing an operator in a tower to line switches remotely and allowing around-the-clock classification.

As early as 1897, the railroad had been interested in alternatives to steam power, namely, internal-combustion engines. The railroad's shops in Aurora had built an unreliable three-horsepower distillate engine in that year, but it was hugely impractical (requiring a massive 6,000-pound flywheel) and had issues with overheating (even with the best metals of the day, its cylinder heads and liners would warp and melt in a matter of minutes) and was therefore impractical. Diesel engines of that era were oversized, and were best suited for low-speed, continuous operation. None of that would do in a railroad locomotive; however, there was no diesel engine suitable for that purpose then.

Always innovating, the railroad both purchased "doodlebug" gas-electric combine cars from Electro-Motive Corporation and built their own, sending them out to do the jobs of a steam locomotive and a single car. With good success in that field, and after having purchased and tried a pair of General Electric steeple-cab switchers powered by distillate engines, Burlington president Ralph Budd requested of the Winton Engine Company a light, powerful diesel engine that could stand the rigors of continuous, unattended daily service.

The experiences of developing these engines can be summed up shortly by General Motors Research vice-president Charles Kettering: "I do not recall any trouble with the dip stick." Ralph Budd, accused of gambling on diesel power, chirped that "I knew that the GM people were going to see the program through to the very end. Actually, I wasn't taking a gamble at all." The manifestation of this gamble was the eight-cylinder Winton 8-201A diesel, a creature no larger than a small Dumpster, that powered the Burlington Zephyr (built 1934) on its record run and opened the door for developing the long line of diesel engines that has powered Electro-Motive locomotives for the past seventy years.[7]

Named trains[edit]

Named passenger trains operated by the CB&Q included:[8]

  • Aristocrat (Chicago–Denver): replaced the Colorado Limited.[9][10]
  • Ak-Sar-Ben (Chicago–Lincoln): replaced Nebraska Limited and replaced by Ak-Sar-Ben Zephyr.
  • American Royal (Chicago–Kansas City): replaced by the American Royal Zephyr.
  • Atlantic Express (Seattle-Tacoma-Chicago): jointly with Northern Pacific Railway.
  • Black Hawk (Chicago–Twin Cities overnight).
  • Chicago Limited (Chicago-Denver).
  • Coloradoan (Chicago–Denver): replaced by the Aristocrat.
  • Denver Limited (Denver-Chicago).
  • Exposition Flyer (Chicago–Oakland) in conjunction with D&RGW and WP prior to the launching of the California Zephyr.[11]
  • Empire Builder: handled Great Northern Railway's flagship between Chicago and Minneapolis.
  • Fast Mail (Chicago–Lincoln).
  • Mainstreeter: handled the Northern Pacific Railway's secondary transcontinental between Chicago and Minneapolis.
  • Nebraska Limited (Chicago–Lincoln): replaced by the Ak-Sar-Ben.
  • North Coast Limited: handled Northern Pacific Railway's flagship between Chicago and Minneapolis.
  • North Pacific Express (Chicago-Seattle-Tacoma): jointly with Northern Pacific Railway.
  • Overland Express (Chicago-Denver). This train, along with The Aristocrat and the Colorado Limited, were promoted as companion trains to the streamlined Denver Zephyr.[9]
  • Western Star: handled by Great Northern's secondary transcontinental between Chicago-Minneapolis.
  • Zephyr Connection: (Denver-Cheyenne) offered daytime service along Colorado's Front Range between Denver and Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The California Zephyr is still operated daily by Amtrak as trains 5 (westbound) and 6 (eastbound). Another Amtrak train, the Illinois Zephyr, is a modern descendant of the Kansas City Zephyr and the American Royal Zephyr services.

Cities platted by CB&Q[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Drury, George H. (1994). The Historical Guide to North American Railroads: Histories, Figures, and Features of more than 160 Railroads Abandoned or Merged since 1930. Waukesha, Wisconsin: Kalmbach Publishing. pp. 71–74. ISBN 0-89024-072-8. 
  2. ^ Dorin, Patrick C. (1976). p. 9
  3. ^, 1905-1914
  4. ^ Dorin, Patrick C. (1976). p. 10
  5. ^ Schwantes (2003), p. 187.
  6. ^ Yago (1984), p. 172.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Dorin, Patrick C. (1976). Chapters 2, 4, 5. pp. 14–29, 36–77, 78–90.
  9. ^ a b A Marvelous Vacation in Cool Colorado (ad for the Denver Zephyr). Life Magazine. 19 April 1937. p. 79. Retrieved 26 February 2012. 
  10. ^ Mann, Charles F.A. (17 September 1935). "Most Powerful Diesel Ready for Rail Service". The Meriden Daily Journal. Retrieved 28 March 2012. 
  11. ^ The Scenic Way to California. LIFE. 21 April 1941. Retrieved 26 February 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bryant, Keith L., Jr., Editor. Encyclopedia of American Business History and Biography, Railroads in the Twentieth Century. New York: Facts on File, 1990.
  • Frey, Robert L., Editor. Encyclopedia of American Business History and Biography, Railroads in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Facts on File, 1988.
  • Hidy, Ralph W., et al. The Great Northern Railway, A History. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1988.
  • Klein, Maury. The Life and Legend of E.H. Harriman. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.
  • Larson, John L. Bonds of Enterprise: John Murray Forbes and Western Development in America's Railway Age, expanded edition. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2001
  • Martin, Albro. James J. Hill and the Opening of the Northwest. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.
  • Overton, Richard C. Burlington Route, a History of the Burlington Lines. New York: Knopf, 1965
  • Dorin, Patrick C. (1976). Everywhere West. Seattle, Wash.: Superior Publishing Company. ISBN 0-87564-523-2. LCCN 76017317. 
  • Schwantes, Carlos A. (2003). Going Places: transportation Redefines the Twentieth-century West. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-34202-3. 
  • Yago, Glenn (1984). The Decline of Transit: Urban Transportation in German and U.S. Cities, 1900–1970. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-25633-X. 

External links[edit]