Facebook Page
Intermountain Western Railroad

Intermountain Western Railroad

Intermountain Western GP-9 #172 in Kansas City, Missouri, on 12 April 1990, one of several locomotives painted and lettered for the railroad before the deal fell apart. Lon Coone photo.


In 1987, Union Pacific announced plans to sell off to independent shortline operations 87 branchlines across its system. UP tried when and where practical to offer branchline clusters as package deals, one of which UP designated the "Boise Group Branch Lines". Specific lines included in the "Boise Group" included the following:

1. "Boise Cut-Off", 44.3 miles running from Nampa through Boise to Orchard;

2. "Idaho Northern Branch", 99.1 miles from Nampa north to Cascade;

3. "Payette Branch", 29.7 miles from Payette to Emmett;

4. "New Meadows Branch", 84.1 miles from Weiser to Rubicon;

5. "Stoddard Branch", 17 miles from Nampa to Stoddard;

6. "Homedale Branch", 33.1 miles from Nyssa to Marsing;

7. "Wilder Branch", 11 miles from Caldwll to Wilder;

8. "Burns Branch", 156.8 miles from Ontario to Burns.

All of these branches lay in Idaho except for the Homedale and Burns branches, which were located in Oregon.

UP's announcement attracted several bidders, from which UP selected Western Intermountain Industries, a collaboration between Western Railroad Builders of Ogden, Utah, and Intermountain Gas Industries of Boise, Idaho. UP announced WII as the successful bidder on 28 September 1987, and the two parties launched into final negotiations, with an aim of closing the deal by the end of the year. WII incorporated the Intermountain Western Railroad to handle operations, and in anticipation of an early startup the company purchased several locomotives and painted them in a tan and green paint scheme.

Intermountain Western #171 in Des Moines on 4 June 1989. William S. Kuba photo.

The #172 in Kansas City on 19 August 1990. George H. Mence photo.

The #174 in Kansas City on 6 October 1989. James Lamont photo.

Intermountain Western #201 in Denver on 4 October 1989. J.M. Seidl photo.

Another shot of the #201, this time in Des Moines, Iowa, on 9 July 1988. Ronald Sims photo.

While negotiations progressed smoothly, the deal soon hit a snag otherwise completely unrelated to the pending sale. Far to the east, the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad was in the middle of a sale that would result in the elimination of roughly two-thirds of the railroad's workforce and its emergence as a non-union operations. The fourteen labor unions representing P&LE employees sued, claiming the sale would violate the Railway Labor Act. As the Intermountain Western deal was being worked out, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling prohibiting the sale of the P&LE until an agreement could be worked out with the labor unions; this decision had an immediate chilling effect on almost all shortline sales. Negotiations between UP and WII stalled out after the court's decision, and then broke off completely by the fall of 1988.

UP withdrew the "Boise Group" package after the sale fell through. Western Railroad Builders became seriously interested in pursuing the Burns branch as an individual sale, and struck a deal with UP by the end of 1988. Western Railroad Builders subsequently operated this line as the Oregon Eastern Division of its Wyoming/Colorado Railroad. UP deferred action on the remaining branchlines for several more years; it would not be until 1992 that the Idaho Northern, Payette, and New Meadows branches, together with the Joseph branch in northeastern Oregon, would be sold to the Idaho Northern & Pacific Railroad. INPR also operated a part of the Boise Cutoff for a while, then in 2009 UP conveyed it and the Wilder Branch to another new shortline, the Boise Valley Railroad. UP abandoned the Stoddard and Homedale branches.


The following are a few views of some of the other shortlines now operating parts of what almost became the Intermountain Western.

Idaho Northern & Pacific's Idaho lines, much like the Joseph Branch in Oregon covered in the INPR page on this site, depended heavily on a number of Boise Cascade plants, and much like the Joseph Branch most of those sawmills and other facilities closed in the years after the INPR started operations. Following the loss of most of its freight business INPR fully abandoned both the entire New Meadows branch and its line between Emmett and Nampa, which also prompted the railroad to give up its lease on the Boise Cut-Off line. INPR's Idaho operations today are reduced to serving a handful of mostly agricultural related shippers on the Emmett to Payette line. INPR #4603 is seen here powering a short freight on the surviving line. Luke Noltensmeyer photo.

Oregon Eastern Railroad #2072
The Boise-Cascade closures also ended all freight operations on the Emmett to Cascade line; however, in 1998 INPR launched a successful tourist railroad operation on that line under the Thunder Mountain Line banner. The Thunder Mountain Line operated trains out of Cascade and then Horseshoe Bend until 2016 when operations ceased. The line remains in place today but faces an uncertain future. The Thunder Mountain train set is seen here in Horseshoe Bend on 20 August 2001, at the end of 2023 the equipment is still stored in Emmett. Keith E. Ardinger photo.

In 2009 Union Pacific conveyed the Boise Cut-Off and Wilder branches to the new Boise Valley Railroad, owned by shortline holding company Watco. The railroad handles a lot of business on the two lines, though only the part of the Boise Cut-Off west of Boise is operated. Luke Noltensmeyer photo.

Another photo of a Boise Valley Railroad train. Luke Noltensmeyer photo.

While most of the Boise Valley locomotives are painted in Watco's now standard black and yellow scheme, the railroad painted at least a couple locomotives in a scheme paying tribute to the colors and mascot of Boise State University. Keith E. Ardinger caught the #3502 in Nampa on 15 September 2012.


News articles in Pacific RailNews