The Ultimate In Empire Building
In 1776 British shipping magnate Joshua Cahill Breckenridge III backed the winning, albeit wrong financial side, in the American Revolution. His assets in Canada and England were seized, leaving him to start anew in the fledgling United States. With a head for business and an eye for business opportunities, he and his family were soon on a stable financial footing again in the shipping business. Alas, the stress from losing several of his ships in the War of 1812 did the old fellow in. His son, JC Breckenridge IV, restored the family business and even expanded it into the new-fangled railroad business before his death in 1833. With the business passing to the first-born sons, a JC Breckenridge has remained at the helm through the American Civil War, the race to the Pacific coast, the Golden Age of railroad expansion and empire building, the lean years of the Great Depression between the Great and Second World Wars, and the boon and bust years of the end of the 20th Century. They slowly and purposefully expanded their railroad holdings at each step of the journey, their focus being on long routes and not spider's webs of branches.
Railroads and ocean-going shipping wasn't the only thing the Breckenridge family was involved in. By the late 20th Century the family's corporate structure had been consolidated as Breckenridge Industries, with only the railroad division, because of its complexities, still maintaining its independence - at least on paper - as a patchwork of railroads closely affiliated with their Cleveland, Indianapolis & St. Louis Railway. This changed at the beginning of the 21st Century. In reaction to several major mergers in the rail industry, the CISL and its affiliates were merged to form a single railroad. Initially, the new company took the CISL's Hoosier Lines nickname as its official name, but within a few years someone in the company finally took notice of their greatest asset / marketing ploy... Internally, the Hoosier Lines was known as Breckenridge Industries: Rail Division, which was usually abbreviated BI-R. After the acquisition of a chain of resorts, an internal memo suggested using BI-Resorts and BI-Rail to differentiate between the two. It was then that someone in marketing responded:
Brilliant idea!!! But instead of saying it Bee Eye Rail, say it By Rail - as it "Ship By Rail / Ship BI-Rail"!
And that is how BI-Rail came into being.
The Model Railroad Concept
The Cleveland, Indianapolis & St. Louis Railway or Hoosier Lines is a concept I've been toying with since the late 1990s. At one time I thought it would be THE railroad I would model, but as the concept matured it grew less attractive. It was too big with too much to stir the imagination and too little to grasp a hold of and model that would demonstrate what the concept was. It was just too big for its own good. Despite that, I've kept it around long enough that it has evolved into the BI-Rail concept mentioned above. BI-Rail is a transcontinental railroad, linking the Atlantic with the Pacific, and Canada with Mexico. It's huge in its reach, but not overly burdened with webs of branches. Its leanness is, in part, to allow for the co-existence of UP/SP, BNSF, CSX, NS, etc. In other words, today's real railroad map wouldn't be too dramatically changed with the addition of the fictional BI-Rail lines to it.
As a model railroad concept, BI-Rail would be built in 2-rail O-scale or Proto:48, and it would be BIG! At least 50' x 100', if not bigger, and it definitely would be an "if I win the lottery" sort of project. The railroad would be set in the present day, constantly updating to reflect changes in the railroad industry. The focus would be Indiana / Illinois / Iowa / Missouri, away from the major cities, but with said cities hinted at with commuter trains and the like. The layout would be designed for operations, with local freight yards, switching districts, unit train terminals, and commuter layover yards taking precedence over huge division point yards or major passenger terminals. BI-Rail would not be a part of Amtrak. The CISL would have been a 1970s holdout from its formation, but it would have bucked history and have made a success of running its passenger trains into the present day.
One piece of revisionist history that might not make the cut is the American Locomotive Company, or ALCO. I'm a fan of ALCO locomotives, especially their passenger PA/PB model. A part of me wants Breckenridge Industries to buy ALCO in the 1960s and thus still have it around today - modern 4000hp PA's anyone??? I would like this, but I fear that it might be a step too far past the plausibility line.