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The Balance of Power
A Look Back at Pooled Power in the Early 80s

The Need for Power Pooling
     The rapid increase in demand for Wyoming's Powder River Basin (PRB), low-sulfur coal in the late 1970s and early ' 80s posed a critical motive power problem for railroads. The need to haul large volumes of PRB coal over far greater distances, and with greater logistical complexity, materialized practically overnight. At the time, it was virtually impossible for one or even two railroads to meet the motive power requirements and manage the logistics of hauling the volume of coal needed to satisfy demand. A workable solution was needed quickly.
     That solution was the pooling or sharing of motive power. It simply did not make economic or logistical sense for a southern railroad, for example, to haul a long string of empty hoppers from Missouri to Wyoming with three or four locomotives when two would do the job. On the return trip with a full load, however, more horsepower would be needed. With power pooling, the railroad could pick up the additional horsepower along the way as required. The power pool agreements made more locomotives available and helped match and balance horsepower availability with requirements for more efficient use of power.
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BN Unit Coal Train in the Powder River Basin 1984
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 Kansas City Southern      In the 1980s, there were still a lot of independent railroads operating around the country. Many of them, with customers demanding PRB coal, were running coal trains that linked-up with the BN at Kansas City and Omaha. This meant a lot of pooled power operating into and out of the Powder River Basin. As empties entered and loads left, motive power was added or subtracted as needed, usually at the BN's facility in Alliance, NE.

 CNW SD40-2  No. 6881 at Alliance, NE  July 1984      Back then, the typical horsepower complement for coal trains was 15,000hp west of Alliance, with helper service for loaded trains on the tougher grades, and 9,000hp east of Alliance. The standard locomotive for coal service at the time was the 3000hp six-axle variety, i.e., EMD SD40s, SD40-2s, SD40-2 'Snoots' and a few SDP-40s along with GE U30Cs and C30-7s. With hundreds of locomotives from different railroads rotating through Alliance, it was a busy place. And, in fact, it still is. Although there are far fewer roads operating in the PRB today, the coal volume has steadily increased over the years.
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Powder River Division Map
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Butte & Black Hills Subdivision Map
     Track capacity was also a major concern. Although the south entrance to the Orin Cut-Off, via Bridger and Shawnee Junctions, had been completed (November 1979), and was open to traffic, it was also being used by the C&NW/UP (WRPI*). While double and triple tracking projects for this area were in the planning stages, this route was already becoming congested. Track capacity was being taxed nearly to the limit. This meant that Donkey Creek Junction, at the north end of the Orin Subdivision, was seeing a great deal more traffic headed to and from the South and Midwest over the BN's Butte and Black Hills Subdivisions (orange & red respectively on the Subdivision Map above right).

  * The UP/C&NW created Western Railroad Properties, Inc.

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Copyright 2001 John Olson
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