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



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