Western Railroad Properties, Inc. (WRPI)

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This page was last updated on March 21, 2008.

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Western Railroad Properties, Inc. (WRPI), was formed in about 1978 as a jointly owned company of the C&NW and UP to acquire in 1983, half interest in BN's Powder River Basin coal line from Shawnee Junction north to Coal Creek Junction. Beginning June 27, 1983 WRPI constructed six miles of new railroad from Shawnee Junction north to Shawnee, rebuilt 45 miles of C&NW line from Shawnee to Crandall, and constructed 56 miles of new railroad from Crandall to Joyce, Nebraska, where the WRPI line connected with UP's North Platte Branch and North Platte Cut-Off. Joyce, Nebraska, is just two miles west of South Morrill, Nebraska, the operational connection between the two lines. The first coal train ran August 16, 1984. On December 15, 1986 WRPI purchased 11 additional miles of BN line from Coal Creek Junction to East Caballo Junction. (part from Jim Harrawood, who cited Eugene Lewis as his source)

Dick Davidson, UP's president spoke at the National Coal Transportation Association's meeting on April 18, 2006, and shared the following narrative:

Burlington Northern Railroad and Chicago & North Western Railroad were very interested in developing Wyoming's coal fields back in the early 1970s following the first Arab oil embargo and the promise for inexpensive low sulfur coal. Unfortunately, or I guess fortunately in UP's case, the C&NW didn't have the financial resources to live up to their end of the bargain.

That's where Union Pacific jumped in and helped underwrite the C&NW's investment - to the tune of over $325 million. Which, I believe may have been the country's largest railroad construction project in about 50 years. We used the code name "Project Yellow."

We moved our first train on August 16, 1984 from North Antelope to Newark, Arkansas.

In 1985, an 11,000-ton coal train was considered unusually large. I remember that in our first full year in the Powder River Basin, it required not quite five trains per day to move 19 million tons. We did it with a single main line with occasional sidings.

By the time Union Pacific acquired C&NW ten years later, we were celebrating 25 trains per day and average train size had grown to 12,400 tons. A substantial portion of the Joint Line was double-tracked, but much of the UP route was still single main lines.

The market demanded more Western coal and we responded by building 109 miles of triple-main line with universal crossovers; concrete ties and premium rail to handle heavier 286,000 pound loads, and introducing a critical innovation - distributed power. We also double tracked either side of the North Platte-to-Gibbon route. We saw the future and the future was coal!

Today, we've been averaging 36 trains per day in the Basin. But trains per day isn't the real story - it's tonnage. From our first full year in 1985, to 2005, UP's coal tonnage grew at a compound annual growth rate of 12 percent.

(View a map of the project)

The first coal train to move on the new Chicago & North Western coal line serving Wyoming's Powder River Basin was operated on August 16, 1984. The train was powered by C&NW SD40-2 6935, along with two UP C30-7s. UP was a partner in construction of the new line, which was known as "Project Yellow". (part from Pacific RailNews, December 1984, page 6)

The earliest reference to "Western Railroad Properties" is in comments by Union Pacific to the Federal Railroad Administration in 1978: "FRA Docket No. 511-78-11, Application of Western Railroad Properties and C&NW Before the Federal Railroad Administration, Comments of Union Pacific Railroad Company, November 6, 1978."

A reference to WRPI was in 1981, in Application of Chicago and North Western Transportation Company and Western Railroad Properties, Inc. for a permit to construct certain railroad facilities in Converse, Niobrara, and Goshen Counties, Wyoming, Mills, Christopher A., and C. Newman (1981), published in Cheyenne by Chicago and North Western Transportation Company.

A reference to WRPI was in a New York Times article dated August 11, 1982, stating, "The Interstate Commerce Commission said it had approved a plan enabling the Chicago & North Western Transportation Company to finance construction of a rail route to Wyoming's Powder River Basin coal fields. The estimated $460 million project involves an integrated package of commitments and obligations, including the issuance of notes by Western Railroad Properties, a Chicago & North Western subsidiary."

Western Railroad Properties, Incorporated ("WRPI"), which transports low-sulfur coal in unit trains from the southern Powder River Basin in Wyoming (the "Powder River Basin"), part of the largest reserve of low-sulfur coal in the United States, and is one of only two rail carriers originating traffic from the Powder River Basin. WRPI provides service principally under long-term contracts and is a highly efficient, low-cost operation. WRPI's tonnage, revenues and profits have increased significantly since its inception in 1984. During the period from 1986 to 1993, WRPI's annual coal tonnage increased from 23.8 million to 73.9 million tons. (SEC, C&NW Form 10-K, dated March 21, 1994)

WRPI's trackage consisted of a 103-mile line (the "Joint Line"), which was jointly owned with Burlington Northern Railroad, the only other railroad originating service from the Powder River Basin area. The Joint Line consisted of BN trackage between Coal Creek Junction and Caballo Junction. In addition to the Joint Line, WRPI owned a 107-mile line which connected the Joint Line to the Union Pacific Railroad at South Morrill in western Nebraska. (SEC, C&NW Form 10-K, dated March 22, 1995)

Union Pacific's participation in the financing of Western Railroad Properties, Incorporated ('WRPI') in 1982 was restated in 1990 when the construction of WRPI's rail lines was refinanced. Union Pacific owned approximately one-half of the track and certain support facilities constituting the WRPI line, and leased them to WRPI. During 1992, 1993 and 1994, WRPI paid $17.7 million, $21.8 million and $20.2 million, respectively, as rent of the UP-owned portions of WRPI trackage and facilities. During 1995, substantially all the coal transported by WRPI out of the Powder River Basin is interchanged with UPRR at South Morrill, Nebraska. (part from SEC, C&NW Form 10-K, dated April 21, 1995)

WRPI handled coal for customers principally under long-term transportation contracts, with over 97% of WRPI's 1994 revenues derived from such contracts. During 1994, WRPI had 52 contracts with electric utilities and other industrial users of low-sulfur coal. (SEC, C&NW Form 10-K, dated March 22, 1995)

On August 1, 1995, UP merged with the former C&NW subsidiary Western Railroad Properties (WPRI) which C&NW had organized to build into the Wyoming Powder River Basin. (Union Pacific, Law Department records )

(Note: According to other SEC filings, C&NW also had another subsidiary known as Midwestern Railroad Properties, Inc.)

More Information

"Project Yellow" -- from the September 1984 issue of Camerail Club's "The Mixed Train."