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Macfarlane Transportation Collection Guide

Legal, historical and biographical collection information

The Birth of the Burlington Northern Railroad

With three of four predecessor railroad locomotives in tow, GE U33C #5738 departs Livingston, MT in August 1971.

Perhaps one of Mr. Macfarlane's greatest achievements was the decades-long work he did in negotiating the merger between the Northern Pacific, Great Northern and Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroads. By the 1950's, it was clear that the growth of the automobile industry and the creation of a national highway system was negatively impacting American travel and shipping by rail. As early as 1956, Mr. Macfarlane, along with his Great Northern counterpart, John M. Budd, and Harry C. Murphy, president of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, brought the issue of merging Northern Pacific with Great Northern and their respective affiliates to the attention of their boards of directors. (A merger of this significance was not a new concept: fifty years earlier, James Jerome Hill, then president of Great Northern, had envisioned such a merger but it was out of reach at that time.)

Although the four railroads shared both common ownership and the same headquarters building in Saint Paul, Minnesota, from the days of the James J. Hill era,  four previous attempts at a merger between the Hill Lines (1896, 1901, 1927 and 1955) had failed. A preliminary study was approved and this began a fourteen-year-long detailed and complicated discussion between all parties and the United States government.In 1962 then-Presidents Macfarlane, Budd and Murphy addressed the Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly of the Senate Judiciary Committee and put forth their reasoning for merger, stating that:

"The competitive situation that has enabled trucks to secure an increasing share of intercity freight tonnage will be accentuated upon completion of the Interstate Highway network. Rather than weakening or removing competition, the creation [through merger or consolidation] of the stronger more efficient railroad system to preserve and heighten competition." (Railroad Mergers, 124)

The merger plan was denied by the Interstate Commerce Commission repeatedly during the 1960s, and in 1966 Mr. Macfarlane left the presidency to become Chairman of the Board for Northern Pacific. He continued to work for the merger with his successor, Louis W. Menk, and finally on March 2, 1970, with Northern Pacific, Chicago, Burlington and Quincy, and Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railroads to form the Burlington Northern Railroad.

The NW2 510 at Aurora, Illinois

For more information, please see Burlington Northern Railroad (Wikipedia).


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