The Butte, Anaconda & Pacific

The Butte, Anaconda & Pacific

The Butte, Anaconda & Pacific Railway was founded in 1892, with the primary intention of hauling ore from the copper mines in Butte, Montana to the smelter, 30 miles west in Anaconda, Montana. Though there were grand plans to extend the railroad beyond Anaconda, Montana – all the way to the Pacific, in fact – but such dreams never materialized. The founder of the railroad was Marcus Daly, the man who owned the controlling interest in the Anaconda Copper Mining Company. Daly was tired of rising rates on the Utah & Northern – a co-owned venture between Union Pacific and Northern Pacific – so he founded his own railroad to haul his ore to the smelter. In addition to hauling ore, the BAP would also haul general freight between its two namesake towns as well as passengers.


A map of the Butte, Anaconda and Pacific dated 1912. The image is believed to be in the public domain and is used as such.

When it began operations in the late 1890s, the BAP was an all steam route, using 2-8-0 and 4-8-0 configuration steam engines for ore and other freight, 2-6-0s for passenger trains, and 0-6-0s for switching the yards. However, by 1913 the BAP had converted fully to overhead electricity (being one of the first primarily freight railroads in the US to fully convert) and the steam engines began to be phased out in favor of boxcab electric locomotives built by General Electric. Most of the boxcabs were delivered in 1913, with the last several trickling in over the next few years. The last one was delivered in 1918.

BAP boxcab 47 & booster T-1

BAP boxcab 47 & booster T-1 on display at the Anselmo Mine Yard in Butte, Montana on July 9, 2014. Built in 1914, the booster was semi-permanently mated to the 47 and provided another 4 axles for traction hauling loads up and down the hills of Butte. Photo by the author

The arrival of the boxcabs wasn’t the immediate end of steam operations, but steam began to be phased out more and more each year. Most of the steam engines were sold or scrapped by 1917, though, but others hung on until 1953, when the last of the BAP steam engines was retired.

Butte, Anaconda & Pacific train hauling ore crosses over a Milwaukee Road freight

A Butte, Anaconda & Pacific train hauling ore crosses over a Milwaukee Road freight in the canyon. The undated photo was staged by General Electric, who built the electric locomotives both railroads are using.

In 1952, the BAP received its first order of diesel-electric locomotives, a pair of EMD GP7s. Over the next five years, the line would order one more GP7 and four GP9s. The diesel engines proved cheaper to operate than electrics and marked the end of the 40-year-old boxcabs. The railroad did take delivery of a pair of GE 125-ton off-center cab electrics in 1957 but they were not popular and no more were ordered. Just ten years later, in 1967, electricity was completely abandoned and the overhead wires pulled down. Diesel power was king now.

Rarus GP7 102

Though lettered for the post-1985 renamed Rarus, this GP7 otherwise looks the way it did when delivered to the BAP in 1952. Photo by the author.

Mining in the area began to decline by the 1960s and by the 1970s the underground mines were closing at a rapid pace. The huge open pit Berkley Mine, which began in the 1950s, closed in 1985, putting an end to mining in the area (at least, temporarily). With the closure of the mines, the BAP had to find other avenues of revenue. Passenger traffic was no longer a thing so it was freight only. At this point, the railroad primarily operated as an interchange shortline between the Union Pacific and the Burlington Northern at Silver Bow, Montana – picking up cars from both lines and delivering them to locations in Butte and Anaconda, and dropping of cars from those industries for both lines to move further east, west or south.

Rarus GP9 106

This GP9 carries the lettering for the Rarus and demonstrates the chop-nosed rebuild from the 1980s. Photo by the author.

When the Berkley Pit closed in 1985, the BAP was purchased by a group of local investors and the line reorganized as the Rarus Railway (named for one of the most prolific mines in to have existed in the region, a mine owned by F. Augustus Heinze, a competitor of Marcus Daly’s and, along with Daly and William A. Clark, one of the three “Copper Kings” of the area). The railroad operated as the Rarus until 2007 when new owner – Patriot Rail – renamed it the Butte, Anaconda and Pacific. The storied line continues to operate today, hauling general merchandise as well as once again hauling concentrated ore from the Continental Pit, a new pit located right beside the old Berkley Pit.

BAP GP15-1 1402

The first “new” diesel on the BAP in years is this ex-Conrail GP15-1, wearing the colors of corporate owner Patriot Rail. Photo by the author.


“Where Electrification First Made Good” by Gordon W. Rogers, July 1963 issue of Trains
“Butte, Anaconda and Pacific Railway” at Wikipedia
“Anaconda Copper” at Wikipedia
Butte, Anaconda & Pacific official Patriot Rail website
“Butte, Anaconda & Pacific Railway” at American Rails

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Robert Thomson

Robert W. Thomson is a life-long railfan, the son of a former L&N Railroad B&B gang foreman, and an amateur photographer. He was born and raised in southeast Tennessee but now lives in Butte, Montana with his wife, Connie and cat, Charlie. Robert has worked as a park ranger, underground mine tour guide, freelance roleplaying game writer, and ran his own roleplaying game publishing company until selling it in 2012.

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