Altoona, WI (US) July 23, 2019 – Since 1847, rail has had a significant impact on Wisconsin’s mobility and economic prosperity. There is no doubt that freight, intercity passenger, and commuter rail all benefit our local economy. Railroads have played a critical role in the development of the Chippewa Valley because important sectors of our local economy depend on freight rail to deliver low-value, high-volume, heavy commodities. They link raw materials and finished products to markets throughout North America and overseas. Finally, our freight-dependent industries, utilize train cars as moving warehouses, allowing manufacturers and producers to reduce inventory and warehousing costs while improving their competitive positions in the global marketplace.

On July 23, 2019 several thousand Chippewa Valley businesses and citizens took part in recognizing the importance of the railroad and welcomed the world’s largest operating steam locomotive “The Big Boy No. 4014” as it visited Altoona, Wisconsin. The historic visit was part of Union Pacific’s tour to celebrate its 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad. The Big Boy locomotive is one of eight still in existence and measures more than half the length of a Boeing 747 jet and is considered a legend in the railroad world because only 25 of its kind were built during the 1940’s. Their ability to haul heavy tonnage was vital and after 60 years of being out of commission the Big Boy is back. Before Wisconsin, the locomotive has made pit stops for the ‘Great Race Across the Midwest’ in various cities that include St. Paul, Chicago and Des Moines. For many, this is a once in a lifetime experience and reiterates the critical history of rail and its existence and heritage here in Altoona, WI.

“One of the things the transcontinental railroad did was create communities along its route — many of which still exist today,” said Kristen South, Union Pacific’s director of media relations. “The tour is our way of celebrating the anniversary and the communities that are forever linked.” The engine will be staffed by a crew of four: a locomotive engineer and a fireman from Union Pacific’s steam crew and a locomotive engineer and conductor who are familiar with the route and can advise the steam crew about the terrain, South said.

“To see this historic locomotive on the tracks will be quite an experience for anyone,” stated Charlie Walker of Chippewa County Economic Development Corporation (CCEDC). Chippewa County is served by the Union Pacific railroad and they have been an excellent partner in helping us accomplish our economic development objectives and we look forward to our continued partnership with Union Pacific,” Walker said.


Photo Credit: Brad Sundell of Chippewa Falls