Chasing the AARPCO Specials in Chicago

METX 90 backing the train onto the Metra Electric in Blue Island, Illinois.
South Shore 2009 leads across the Canadian National diamond at Stillwell, Indiana.
The AARPCO special navigates the remaining 10th street running at Michigan City, Indiana.
Caritas brings up the rear. This remnant of the street trackage has lost its wires and is only used by freight and diesel-powered equipment moves.  All the houses and businesses on the south side of the street have been torn down and construction of a new double track line has begun. Eleventh Street is already been torn up and a new track is being laid.  When complete the former single track street trackage will be completely double tracked and on private right of way. It’s sad to see but it will certainly improve speeds and schedules by eliminating this bottleneck.

I was in the Chicago area for Labor Day weekend. The plan was to do some railfanning and visit the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Illinois, on Saturday and the Heston Steam Museum in LaPorte County, Indiana, on Sunday.

While I did visit IRM, Sunday’s plans were radically changed.

After railfanning Metra near downtown Chicago, I  proceeded to Grayslake station on the Northwest side.

This is on the former Milwaukee Road North line and sees Metra, Canadian Pacific, and Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service as well as the Empire Builder. Across the street is a hobby shop which I also visited.

Some customers informed me that a passenger car special would go by northbound around 1 p.m. It was just after that so I assumed It had not been by yet (I had not seen it downtown either).

A few other trains went by and then the northbound track which was green changed to a red signal.

A few minutes later a train led by METX No. 90, Metra’s Chicago & North Western heritage paint, came with what turned out to be the American Association of Private Passenger Car Owners special.

As it turned out their convention was in Chicago that weekend and it was running over most of Metra’s routes.

It had left Chicago earlier in the morning and run out to Elgin on the Milwaukee Road West mainline and had returned but taking the wye to turn north. This is how I had missed it.  It was now returning south to Chicago and I got a special catch.

I then continued on my journey to IRM which was open late (9:30 p.m. instead of the usual 6 p.m. closing time). 

I discovered that AARPCO was running a whole series of trips which would continue the rest of Saturday and into the next week.

After I had caught it, the special continued through Union Station and went to Joliet via the former Gulf, Mobile & Ohio line. It then reversed and took the Rock Island district to LaSalle Street Station.

This brings me to Sunday morning. Sunday’s trip would go west to Blue Island then east on the Metra Electric to Kensington.

There it would be handed off to the Chicago, South Shore & South Bend to Michigan City, Indiana, through the remaining street running and then head south to Kingsbury on a former Nickel Plate line that the South Shore now operates as freight only.

This is very rare mileage as the Metra Electric has never hosted a diesel powered passenger train and the Kingsbury line has not seen a passenger movement in 75 years.

Needless to say the Heston museum plans were thrown out and the AARPCO special would be the day’s focus.

Article and Photographs by Todd Dillon

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