The Butte, Anaconda & Pacific Railway (BA&P) was a standard gauge common carrier short line railroad within the state of Montana. A subsidiary of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, the BA&P was built to carry ore from mines at Butte, Montana to Anaconda, twenty-six miles away, for concentrating and smelting. Other freight and passenger business was of secondary importance. In 1912, when General Electric contracted to convert the BA&P from steam to electric operation, the short line became a proving ground for main line railroad electrification, and the center of attention from advocates for electric power. Electric operation was demonstrated to be mechanically superior to the use of steam locomotives on the BA&P. Immediately after the BA&P proved the technological feasibility of high voltage direct current for moving heavy freight trains, the Chicago Milwaukee & St. Paul (CM&St.P) electrified over 600 miles of transcontinental main line using the basic technology demonstrated on the BA&P. However, on long distances of track with relatively few trains such as the CM&St.P, the capital cost of the electric distribution system exceeded the operational savings obtained by use of electric locomotives. Steam locomotives remained the primary form of railroad motive power in the United States until the 1950's, when the diesel-electric locomotive combined the mechanical efficiency of electric motors with an on-board diesel generating plant, eliminating the need for expensive electric power supply and distribution wires of conventional electrics. The BA&P purchased three diesels in the early 1950's, but relied primarily on its electric locomotives until 1967, when diesel operation became less costly than continued use of electric motive power. The BA&P offers a microcosmic view of the transformation of one industry in response to technological and economic forces as the United States moved from reliance on coal-burning steam power to electric power and internal combustion. The differing equipment needs of mining companies and railroad companies are also examined in the history of the BA&P.
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