Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Eagles Nest Tunnel

A historical artifact that is not longer accessible to us common folk. It is the famous Eagle's Nest Tunnel, on the long gone Milwaukee Road. This is located in 16 mile canyon in central Montana.

This location is, and has been, on private land ever since the Milwaukee Road embargoed lines west, and for no reason should anyone feel free to trespass on this (or any other) persons private property. Because of the bad habits of a few, Montana ranchers don't feel especially accommodating to people who trespass, vandalize, destroy and kill live stock. Please respect this location, and the people who own it, and enjoy it in pictures only. I would hate to think the rancher would be forced to remove the structure in order to prevent unwelcome visitors.

     Unlike much of the Pacific Coast Extension, the section between of the route between Harlowton and Lombard, Montana, a distance of about 91 rail miles did not require extensive surveying and preparatory work, as the Montana Railroad had already built a route through the region.
     While the line, originally built between 1894 and 1900, was not up to the Milwaukee Road's specifications it did offer an excellent base from which to work. As such, the Milwaukee Road entered a trackage rights agreement with the Montana Railroad in December, 1907 for 99 years although just over two years later in January, 1910 the latter company sold the route directly to the CMStP&P. Between 1906 and 1910 construction crews (which was handled by contractors Dittmar, Breadbury & Weitbrec and McIntosh Bros.) worked to upgrade the route to Milwaukee Road's specifications. In doing so they straightened curves and eased grades, which usually consisted between 1% and 1.7%.
     In doing so, surveyors and engineers cut a route through Sixteen Mile Canyon, which proved to be difficult and laborious with steep canyon walls and solid rock making up much of the area. The route through the canyon covered several miles and the location of Eagle Nest Tunnel and bridge crossed the Sixteen Mile Creek. The bridge itself was a little under 300-feet in length and only stood about 100-feet in height to the rail head and its greatest. The tunnel was also rather small, being just a few hundred feet in length (which was quite small for most tunnels across the route!) although it was cut through solid rock.
    While Eagle Nest Tunnel was open cut-stone along its east portal next to the bridge, the west portal featured a standard concrete approach abutment. What made the location so impressive was simply the way it was engineered with the tunnel cut directly into the mountain face and spilling directly onto the bridge spanning the creek bed. To make train operations even more interesting for sightseers and railfans to witness, if they wanted to make the arduous journey to the remote location, was the electric locomotives operating on the line through June, 1974.
     As it turns out, the Milwaukee Road found operating through Sixteen Mile Canyon quite difficult with a narrow right-of-way and unstable rock located in the area. The railroad would line most of the route through the canyon with fencing and warning lights in the event of rock slides, which were not uncommon.

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