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Nevada Northern & Railroads of White Pine County

The Ely Route

 When Mark Requa, general manager of the Eureka and Palisade Railroad, originally considered a rail route to transport the mineral wealth of the Robinson mining district, two alternative plans were considered. The shorter journey would link his Eureka and Palisade narrow gauge line with the Robinson district. The longer route, eventually chosen, proceeded north through the Steptoe valley to the crossing of the Western Pacific line at Shafter and further north to the junction at Cobre with the Southern Pacific.

The map to the right clearly illustrates the geography of the alternate routes for the iron rails. The east-west route to Eureka is shorter by far, but entails crossing several mountain ranges. The prospect of keeping such a line open during the winter months with heavy snows at those elevations, and the fact that grades (aka gravity) are the enemy of railroads led to the selection of the longer but relatively flat north-south route.

Had the route to Eureka been chosen, Ruth or Riepetown might very well have been the eastern terminus of a 3-foot narrow gauge railway that never reached Ely.

Nevada Northern Railway route superimposed on a shaded relief map of Nevada

Copyright © 2000 Keith Albrandt

Map background Copyright © 1998 by Ray Sterner, Johns Hopkins Univ. Applied Physics Laboratory. Used with permission.

Ray Sterner's superb collection of maps can be viewed at the "Color Landform Atlas of the United States":

Cover of NN employee timetable 71

Photo courtesy of Chris Marotte
Used with permission

 

 

 

 

Employee Timetables

Click on above for detailed information from the years 1937, 1947, 1967, and 1998.

Employee timetables (click on title above right) further illustrate elevations involved in the chosen route. Notice that the mainline from Cobre to East Ely gains a paltry 674 ft in over 139 miles; an average grade of only 0.06%. In addition, there are no bridges, trestles or tunnels along the entire route.

The line from East Ely to the Robinson mining district has a slightly different flavor. There were originally two tunnels between East Ely and Keystone Junction. The 206' tunnel #2 was "daylighted" in 1944 while the 310' curved tunnel remains to this day. The grade here is 0.9%. From Keystone Junction to the BHP copper mill at Riepetown the rail line gains 350' in 3.1 miles -- a substantial 2.1% grade.

 

West portal of tunnel No. 1

The 310' curved tunnel between East Ely and Lane

20 June 1999
Copyright © 2000 Keith Albrandt

 

 

 

Elevation Profile of "The Ely Route"

Elevation Profile of the NN from Riepetown to Cobre

 

 

 

Public timetables from 1931 show that the crew of passenger trains could enjoy home cooking for breakfast and dinner, while squeezing-in a round-trip from Ely to Cobre between meals. Departing East Ely at 8:49am they arrived at Cobre at 1:10pm. After a one-hour layover, they returned to East Ely at 6:35pm.

In contrast, the most recent BHP Nevada ore trains from the Ely ore yard to the junction with the Union Pacific at Shafter were multiple-day excursions.

However, this comparison does suffer from the "apples to oranges" syndrome. The passenger trains of the 1930's era had a speed restriction of 40mph whereas the freights of the BHP Nevada of the late 1990's were limited to 10mph. Even the ore trains of the 1930's were generally restricted to a top speed of 20mph between the Robinson district and the smelter at McGill. Regardless, the recent very low speed restrictions do reflect the light rail and poor track conditions that are evident over much of the original mainline today.

BHP Nevada Railroad

"Call time for the crew on Monday for the first trip north is 7:00 am. The crew takes the train north to Currie, NV were its' parked for the night. Tuesday morning the crews is (sic) back to Currie at 8:00 AM and handles the train to Shafter. On arriving at Shafter the loads are set out for interchange with the Union Pacific. Empties are then assembled and inspected, after this it south to Currie, Nevada where the train is parked for the night. The crew returns to Currie Wednesday morning and handled the empties the rest of the way back to Ruth."

Jim Bryant

Nevada Rail News

March, 1998

 

 

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Last modified 25 May, 2002 by Keith Albrandt