gokeefe wrote:I would appreciate any thoughts on why this train seemed to have such difficulty competing against services that did not reach as many people.
The reason is that the other "services" really did "reach" as many people, and the right kind of people. While the Olympian Hiawatha certainly could tap more of the Wisconsin market than the CB&Q route, one has to realize that west of the Twin Cities in places like the Dakotas and Montana, Minneapolis/St. Paul (not Milwaukee) is (or this case, are) "the big city." This is true even today looking at ridership data from Amtrak. From Fargo, the number one destination for Amtrak passengers by numbers thereof is Chicago; next is St. Paul. Milwaukee is No. 7. From Minot, St. Paul is the No. 1 destination. Milwaukee didn't even make the top 10.
And it is west of the Twin Cities where the Olympian Hiawatha had nothing going for it. Population served in South Dakota on the Milwaukee paled in comparison to GN and NP routes across North Dakota, and GN even had two passenger train routes between the Twin Cities and Minot; The Olympian Hiawatha might have served Butte and Missoula, but so did the NP. When it came to exclusivity of service west of South Dakota, being the only railroad offering passenger service in Roundup and St. Maries and Othello was unproductive compared to the same situation in places like Williston, Billings, Great Falls, Kalispell/Whitefish, Pasco-Richland-Kennewick, Yakima, and Wenatchee.
Great Northern basically built Glacier National Park and its hostelry infrastructure and capitalized on exclusive rail access. UP and NP got the lion's shares of rail traffic to and from Yellowstone. The Milwaukee claimed to serve Yellowstone, but even the CB&Q (via Cody) brought in more people. The Milwaukee Road, in spite of building the white elephant that was/is the Gallatin Gateway Inn for Yellowstone travelers, was able to attract relatively few patrons to use its trains via its circuitous Three Forks gateway.
Connections? Just about none for the Olympian Hiawatha west of Wisconsin. GN (and NP to a lesser extent) attracted passengers to its transcontinental trains from secondary trains from places like Duluth, Grand Forks, and Winnipeg. But the big missing link for the Milwaukee was in the Pacific Northwest: No Portland section of the Olympian Hiawatha and the all-important connections to/from California via SP, and no direct connecting service to and from Bellingham and Vancouver, BC that was so well-served by the Great Northern.
Equipment? The home-grown equipment on the Olympian Hiawatha was generally considered to be vastly inferior to the Budd-built equipment of the GN, NP, CB&Q, and SP&S. The only dome car run the Olympian Hiawatha was its Super Dome, which very much lacked forward visibility, one of the most appealing things about dome car riding. And after 1955, the Olympian Hiawatha was the lone "transcontinental" passenger train on the Milwaukee while GN still operated two real streamliners (Empire Builder and Western Star) and to a lesser extent, the NP had the Mainstreeter to accompany the North Coast Limited.
All things considered, the Chicago-Twin Cities-Pacific Northwest corridor really had more passenger trains than it should have (indeed, NP and MILW explored running trains on alternate days), and when the time came to start whittling down the fleet, the train with all the inferior attributes (after the Columbian, of course) was the first to go.