Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Northern Pacific "Ritzville Branch"

Of great interest is the “Ritzville Branch” which was to run between the Connell Northern at Bassett Jct to Ritzville. Rails were laid to Schrag, with a bare grade the remainder of the way to Ritzville. Nearly all of it can still be seen along Interstate 90, A letter that was sent to the president of the Northern Pacific in 1951 that explains the intent:

“The construction of this line was first considered more than fifty years ago, and it was under active consideration in 1909, 1910 and 1911. The first link in this line was what was known as the Ritzville Branch, which was a cutoff from our main line at Ritzville to Bassett Junction on the Connell Northern, which was under construction at that time.

“The Connell Northern was completed in November, 1910, and we constructed a portion of the Ritzville Branch from Bassett Junction easterly to Schrag between August, 1909, and July, 1910. It was decided to construct this branch to main line standard so that it could become a part of the Ritzville-Ellensburg Cutoff and when the line from Bassett Junction to Ellensburg was completed.

“During the next couple of years, consideration was given to various locations for the cutoff and the question of whether or not we should try and obtain trackage rights over the Milwaukee for all or part of the distance was under active consideration. By May, 1910, a definite location had been agreed upon and authority was given to start the acquisition of right-of-way. By July, 1910, business conditions did not have a very satisfactory outlook, and work was stopped on the Ritzville-Ellensburg line, as well as a number of other branch lines which were then under construction.

“There was a fairly wide difference of opinion between Northern Pacific officers as to whether we should build our own line for the entire distance or use part of the Milwaukee line from the crossing of the Columbia River west to a point a short distance east of Ellensburg, but no conclusion was reached and our Operating officers were not greatly favorable to making a change from our existing main line because it would have necessitated the construction of additional freight terminals, and the net savings in dollars and cents for trains over the short line would have been relatively small, considering the fact that it would have required nearly $5,000,000 to construct the new line.

“This discussion ran into the year 1913 and then, of course, the First World War came along and it would have been out of the question to build a new line during that period. In 1920, the Transportation Act was passed, and while the files do not indicate that any consideration was given at that time to the construction of the proposed cut-off, I assume it would have been probably not have been possible to secure authority to build a new line in that territory closely paralleling the Milwaukee tacks. Since that time no consideration has been given to building a new line. Although I believe at different times consideration has been given to approaching the Milwaukee for trackage rights. We have never done so, however, and so far as I know, we have never secured anything from the Milwaukee as to whether or not they would look favorably on such a proposition.”

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