Owen, WI Continues as Important Rail Center

Story & Photos by Kris Leonhardt.


~Part 3~


During World War I, Canadian railway companies found themselves in financial crisis. British funds, which had been used to finance the railway system, were now needed "back home" to finance the war effort. Most of the major railways in Canada fell into debt.


In 1917, the Canadian government presided over the merging of 16 railroads and, a short time later, incorporated the system as the Canadian National Railway Company, Ltd.

The company then took over Canada's Grand Trunk Pacific and Grand Trunk Railway, to become the largest system of it time. The system at that time included 22,000 miles of track.

The years that followed were prosperous for the railway company, until the stock market crashed. As the Great Depression lingered on, the company struggled to survive by establishing business in other industries.


One of the company's most successful additions was TransCanada Air Lines (TCA). This subsidiary was created to tap into a growing air travel industry. TCA prospered and became a separate company, named Air Canada.


As the Depression ended, a new war was just beginning. World War II brought about a new role for the company, as Canadian railroads began shipping equipment to the country's ports.

During this time, the Canadian National Railway turned the company's repair workshops into munitions factories. With steel resources being used for war-related materials, the company began to rebuild retired cars to keep up with the railway's ongoing needs.


By the end of World War II, the company was in dire need of change. The equipment fleet needed replacing and competition from air travel and automobiles threatened the railway's prosperity.


In 1950, the railway company changed their entire fleet of locomotives from steam to diesel. The company also invested in new freight cars, passenger cars, and automated electronic signals.


By the late 1960's, the Canadian National Railway showed signs of progression. The company had already implemented a computerized system for payroll and inventory and had now established TRACS (Traffis Reporting and Control System), a system to keep track of all equipment in the company's fleet.


The railway began to sell off their subsidiaries, including: hotel chains, trucking firms, real estate companies, and oil/gas exploration, to concentrate on main line railroading. Canadian National Railway worked to connect major production areas with each other and sell off shortlines with little or no activity.


The Canadian government decided that privatization would be in the company's best interest. On November 28, 1995, the Canadian National Railway's company shares were listed on the Montreal, Toronto, and New York stock exchanges. Within a day, all shares were sold, raising 2.2 billion for the Canadian government.


CN set out to grow their main line network, by purchasing Illinois Central Railroad, in 1998, and Wisconsin Central, Ltd, in 2001. The United States lines were incorporated under the name, Grand Trunk Corporation, but operates under the acronym, CN, in the United States and Canada.


The CN rail line serves Canada, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, and Central United States, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The company has connection to all points in North America, as well.


The main line, in Wisconsin, runs north from Marshfield through Spencer and Atwood, where it reaches an epicenter on the north side of Owen. At that point, the track splits into two separate lines: the Superior Sub running north to Superior and the Minneapolis Sub running west to the Twin Cities.


Owen's position, at an epicenter of the CN line, has recently lured several business to Owen's north industrial park. Businesses, such as Heartland Cooperative and the future bio-deisel plant, have been drawn to Owen, due to its location on the rail line.


"The main line was one of the deciding factors for (the expansion in Owen)," stated John Weiss, Heartland Cooperative's Division Manager.


Heartland recently installed equipment to have fertilizer products delivered in by truck or railway. During railway delivery, the car is pushed directly behind the building. A door at the bottom of the rail car is opened and product is released into a grate below, where it is transported into the building.


In addition to fertilizer, the railway also transports products, such as: petroleum, sulphur, grain, coal, metals, minerals, forest products, and automobiles.


CN, whose headquarter are located in Montreal, reported a $497 million net income for the 3rd quarter of 2006. The company operates 19,200 route miles, with a fleet of 1,500 locomotives and 61,500 freight cars.


CN operates primarily as a freight service railroad, but offers two passenger routes in Ontario and British Columbia. The company also offers a tour excursion of the Agawa Canyon, in Ontario.

A Canadian National train enters Owen from the North.

On the north side of Owen, the rail splits and heads west on the Minneapolis Sub and north on the Superior Sub.

~Return to the Hixon History Index~

If you are interested in more information on their canyon tour, visit their website at www.agawacanyontourtrain.com.




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