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Chicago, Burlington & Quincy


CB&Q: Oldest, Largest of the BN Predecessor

From its humble start, it is unlikely that any of the Aurora, Illinois, businessmen founding the Aurora Branch Railroad in 1849 could have envisioned their fledgling corporation evolving into Burlington Lines—largest of BN's constituent companies with nearly 10,000 miles of track extending from the Great Lakes to the Rocky Mountains and from Montana to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Aurora Branch was laid with secondhand strap iron spiked to 12 miles of wooden rails, obtained from the Buffalo & Niagara Falls Railroad at a bargain price after the New York legislature outlawed their use. On September 2, 1850, the first train chugged its way over six miles of newly-built line from Batavia to Turner Junction (now West Chicago).

Progress over the next decade was rapid. By 1864, the railroad had 400 miles of track—all in Illinois—and adopted the name Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Co., which properly described its trackage stretching to Burlington, Iowa, and Quincy, Illinois, on the Mississippi River.

CB&Q's rapid expansion after the Civil War was based on sound financial management, dominated by John Murray Forbes of Boston, who was in turn assisted by Charles Perkins, president of the company from 1881 to 1901. The railroad eventually reached Denver, its western terminus, and reached east to the Chicago, Kansas City and St. Louis gateways. CB&Q lines also went to Omaha, Nebraska, and St. Joseph, Missouri.

Always anxious to employ the latest technology, CB&Q operated the first printing telegraph in 1910, and in 1915 was the first railroad to use train radio. Later, in 1927, the CB&Q was one of the first to utilize centralized traffic control.

Perhaps CB&Q's best known achievement took place in 1934, when the railroad introduced the Pioneer Zephyr, America's first diesel-powered streamlined passenger train. On May 26, the CB&Q staged one of the greatest transportation events ever—a 1,000-mile record-breaking, non-stop run from Denver to the World's Fair in Chicago, reaching speeds of more than 100 miles per hour. The Zephyr was the forerunner of thousands of diesels which, after World War II, replaced steam locomotives on virtually every railroad in the country.

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Last Update 01/28/01

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