The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF) is the result of numerous railroad mergers. Today the BN/SF is one of America’s largest railroads. The major railroads which merged over time to form the BN/SF were the Burlington Route, the Great Northern Railroad, the Northern Pacific Railroad and the Santa Fe Railroad. The BNSF essentially ends at Chicago and at points directly south of Chicago; the road does not pierce the eastern portion of the United States or Canada.
Controlled by New York financiers, the Northern Pacific Railroad (NP) was granted a federal land grant in 1864 by Abraham Lincoln. The Great Northern Railroad (GN) was built by James J. Hill. The GN received lands grants from several states but not from the federal government or the State of Montana. Unlike the Milwaukee or the NP, the GN had numerous branch lines built as it moved across the west. The Burlington Route was a mid-west regional railroad; it reached west only into far eastern Wyoming. Hill eventually gained control of the NP and the Burlington Route.
For most of the first half of the twentieth century, the GN and the NP only reached east as far as St. Paul, Minnesota. The Union Pacific Railroad (another west coast competitor of the Milwaukee Road) reached east only as far as Omaha, Nebraska. The Burlington Route carried these railroads’ traffic on the Chicago. Only the Milwaukee had trackage from the Pacific Ocean to Chicago. To “correct” the many problems this lack of direct reach (to Chicago) created, Hill’s companies merged in 1970 to form the Burlington Northern Railroad.
In 1996, the BN merged with the Santa Fe. In 1999, the BNSF tried to merge with the Canadian National Railway (CN). The United States Federal Government blocked the merger. Rumors of this merger continue to surface on and off as the years pass. One of the consequences of these rumors is the CN’s major competitor, the Canadian Pacific Railway’s (CP) ongoing efforts to buy American railroads, including much of the Milwaukee Road (when its subsidiary, the Soo Line, absorbed the Milwaukee Road in 1986). The CP currently has trackage from Duluth, Minnesota to New Orleans, Louisiana. If the BNSF were ever to merge with the Canadian National Railway, the company would, under Canadian federal law, be headquartered in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The BNSF is currently headquartered in Ft. Worth, Texas.
The BN/SF line in northeastern Wheatland County is considered a part of the road’s main line system. Other than the Union Pacific’s branch line from Ogden, Utah to Butte, Montana, the BN/SF is the only railroad available to Montanans to move rail freight into or out of the state.
For more on the BNSF, go to BNSF on Wikipedia.