Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway

Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway
Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway


System map
Reporting mark MSTL
Locale Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota
Dates of operation 1870–1960
Successor Chicago and North Western
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge)
Headquarters Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway (M&StL) (reporting mark MSTL) was an American Class I railroad that built and operated lines radiating south and west from Minneapolis, Minnesota which existed for 90 years from 1870 to 1960.

The railway's most important route was between Minneapolis and Peoria, Illinois; a second major route extended from Minneapolis into eastern South Dakota, and other trackage served various areas in north-central Iowa and south-central Minnesota. The M&StL was founded in 1870, and expanded through line construction and acquisition until the early 20th Century. Most of the railway's routes saw only relatively light traffic, and consequently the company's financial position was frequently precarious; the railroad operated under bankruptcy protection between 1923 and 1943. The M&StL was acquired by the Chicago and North Western Railway in 1960, and much of its former trackage was later abandoned.



The Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway was created on May 26, 1870 by a group of Minnesota investors interested in establishing a railroad connection between Minneapolis and the agricultural regions to the south. Ultimately, the railroad's primary line was extended south from the Twin Cities into Iowa, and then east to Peoria, Illinois. It ran through Mason City, Iowa, and that city became an important traffic center for the railroad. One of the major attractions of the railroad was that it allowed freight bound for Illinois to by-pass Chicago.

The Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway had spurs that ran into various parts of Iowa and also ran a line into South Dakota. During the 1880s, the M&StL went in to its first receivership leaving the Rock Island interests in control of the M&StL. The Rock Island turned over the operation of the western district of the Wisconsin, Minnesota & Pacific (another Rock Island road) to the M&StL by 1889 which ran from Morton, MN to Watertown, SD (the eastern district of the WM&P ran from Mankato, MN to Red Wing, MN and later became part of the Chicago Great Western - it is interesting to note, as well, that the two districts of the WM&P were never connected). After receivership was terminated in the mid 1890s, the M&StL purchased the western district of the WM&P in 1899 from the Rock Island and built an extension from Morton, MN eastward toward Minneapolis connecting the western mainline with its southern mainline at Hopkins, MN thereby connecting the two mainlines and creating a continuous railroad system.

Its sister railroad, the Iowa Central Railway began in Iowa in 1866 and merged with Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway in 1901. By 1916 the combined system had become stable and was absorbing other, smaller railroads.

Locomotive D-538 is preserved at the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

However, by the early 1920s the railroad was again having financial problems and in 1923 again went into receivership. Despite calls for the railroad to be sold to a larger operation, Lucian Sprague took over in 1935. He streamlined the company and its assets by selling off scrap and increasing its efficiency. By 1942 Sprague was chairman/president and orchestrated a reorganization that year. The effort was a success and in 1943 the receivership was terminated and ownership was returned to the railroad. Sprague remained president of the M&StL until 1954, when he was ousted in a dramatic shareholders battle orchestrated by Benjamin W. Heineman.

Heineman became president of the Chicago and North Western Railway (C&NW) two years later in 1956. In one of his last acts with the M&StL, Heineman orchestrated the purchase of the Minnesota Western Railroad for the M&StL, which was the successor line to the famous Luce Line Railroad in central Minnesota. Four years after leaving the M&StL for the C&NW, he arranged for the C&NW to acquire the Minneapolis & St. Louis in November 1960, and the smaller railroad was soon integrated into the C&NW system. Where possible, long-haul traffic was transferred to former C&NW routes, and large sections of the former M&StL were abandoned in the 1960s and 1970s.

Today, only a few relatively short segments of the old M&StL remain intact and in use. The Minnesota Valley Regional Railroad Authority owns the former M&StL line from Norwood/Young America, MN to Hanley Falls, MN and this segment is currently operated by Twin Cities & Western affiliate Minnesota Prairie Line. The Union Pacific operates the Montgomery, MN spur which runs from Merriam Junction just south of Shakopee, MN to Montgomery. The Chaska Industrial Lead from Merriam Junction to downtown Chaska has been abandoned by UP following a trestle collapse along the Minnesota River in the spring of 2007 due to high water. UP is working on selling the Chaska Industrial Lead to a coalition of area government entities to preserve the corridor for future transportation use, sewer lines, and recreational trails. A few segments are still in use in northern Iowa, as well. UP operates the line south of Estherville to Emmetsburg, from Mallard to Grand Junction, from Mason City north in to Minnesota, from Mason City south to Harley, IA, and from Marshalltown, IA to Eddyville, IA. Canadian National operates a short spur to Ackley, IA to Geneva, IA.

Passenger service

While the primary business of the M&StL was the haulage of freight, the railroad also operated a limited number of passenger train services. Since the railroad's route structure was not based on direct lines between major American cities, long-distance passenger service was generally not competitive with the trains of larger railroads. The premiere M&StL passenger train was the North Star Limited, which operated from Minneapolis to Albia, Iowa on the M&StL, and then continued to St. Louis via the Wabash Railroad. The North Star Limited was discontinued in 1935.

In 1929, the M&StL began acquiring a number of gas-electric railcars -- self-propelled vehicles that included compartments for baggage/express and mail. Some of the gas-electrics also included passenger compartments, and all were able to tow additional passenger and express cars as necessary. Soon, the railcars provided nearly all of the railroad's meager passenger service. The railroad also purchased two Budd RDC's in 1957 for Minneapolis - Des Moines service, but the cars proved unsuccessful and they were sold the following year.

M&StL passenger service declined throughout the 1950s, the result of significant drops in mail, express, and passenger revenue. The last M&StL passenger services—trains 13 and 14 between Minneapolis and Watertown, South Dakota -- made their final departures on July 20, 1960.


  • Hofsommer, Don L. The Tootin' Louie: A History of the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8166-4366-0.

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