Posts Tagged ‘Illinois Central Railroad’

Familiar Face From My Past

July 13, 2021

I was set up in Onarga, Illinois, waiting to photograph a southbound Canadian National train on the former Illinois Central. The train had a consist of all hopper cars and I wasn’t sure if they were carrying or on their way to pick up coal or stone.

A cut of the cars, though brought back reminders of my past. I spent many years railfanning the former Bessemer & Lake Erie between Conneaut and Greenville, Pennsylvania.

So I had seen BLE reporting marks many times not to mention locomotives in the Bessemer orange livery.

About a third of the way into this CN train was a cut of cars with BLE reporting marks. Another cut was positioned toward the rear of the train.

It was good to see something from the past that I haven’t seen for a while even if it was just a set of reporting marks.

Happy 4th of July

July 4, 2021

Old glory waves in the breeze from a bridge in Paxton, Illinois, over the Chicago Subdivision of Canadian National, formerly the Illinois Central.

Shown is a southbound CN auto rack train whose consist also had a few boxcars of, perhaps, auto parts.

The train was captured on July 3, 2021, during a holiday weekend. The train had slowed here for a possible meet with a northbound, but the dispatcher elected to move the meet to the next siding to the south at Rantoul.

Amtrak Anniversary Saturday: Where Were You and What Were You Doing May 1, 1971?

April 30, 2021

Where were you on May 1, 1971? Did you do anything to observe, document or celebrate the transition between freight railroad operation of intercity passenger trains and Amtrak operation?

Maybe you were too young to remember or to have been aware of the day that Amtrak began. Or maybe you had yet to be born.

I was a senior in high school on the day Amtrak started. It was a Saturday just as the 50th anniversary this year is falling on a Saturday.

At the time I was living in Mattoon, Illinois, which would be a stop for Amtrak trains operated between Chicago and New Orleans, and Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois.

I recall seeing from my backyard the first New Orleans-bound Amtrak train from Chicago.

I was disappointed that it looked exactly like the Illinois Central City of New Orleans of the day before with locomotives and passenger cars wearing IC chocolate brown and orange with yellow striping.

Like all teenagers I was naïve about how the world worked. I had read in newspapers about this new Amtrak operation that was to begin on May 1.

Yet I was expecting the trains to look quite different than they had. In fact, it would be more than a year before I saw a passenger car or locomotive that had been repainted into Amtrak’s livery.

Aside from seeing the first Chicago to New Orleans Amtrak train I also saw the last IC passenger train to complete its final journey.

The last northbound City of New Miami had left its namesake city on April 30. Trains that left that day were to continue to their terminus.

Therefore, the last pre-Amtrak train to finish its trip that was not slated to be part of Amtrak would not halt for the final time until May 2.

The City of Miami would not be joining Amtrak. Instead, it passed through Mattoon around 3 p.m. just as it had for many years and rolled into history. The number of trains making their final runs was a major focus of news coverage of the coming of Amtrak.

Sometime that summer cars from other railroads began showing up in the consists of the Amtrak trains that served Mattoon.

It had always been a thrill for me to see whenever I could passenger cars from other railroads. It wasn’t something I got to see often.

That June, I began college although I wouldn’t begin living on campus until late August.

I sometimes saw Amtrak trains during my trips home and during school breaks and made mental notes as to how they had changed or not changed.

My first opportunity to ride an Amtrak train did not come until late 1972.

In looking back I recall having had a sense of something historic occurring but I’m not sure I realized the gravity of it.

I wish now I could have done more – far more, actually – to have experienced and documented those historic days.

But I didn’t have a camera, didn’t have much money, and didn’t have anyone who could have taken me to ride and/or photograph trains in their final hours.

Besides, I was in school and the only time I might have been able to do that would have been on weekends.

So I just followed what was happening by reading about it in the newspapers. I did, by the way, save some of those newspaper stories from April 30 and May 1.

Fifty years later I’ve ridden most Amtrak routes at least once and made thousands of photographs of Amtrak trains and related operations.

More than a decade ago I started collecting Amtrak system timetables and have a nearly complete set.

In fact the last printed Amtrak system timetable still sits on my desk. Dated Jan. 11, 2016, I refer to it often when looking up information for stories I’m writing about Amtrak.

My collection also includes some Amtrak memorabilia, including dining car menus, annual reports, and route guides.

My Amtrak photo collection may be vast, but not nearly as comprehensive as I wished that it was.

I wish I had photographed more or had the opportunity to photograph more widely during Amtrak’s first decade, which I still consider the most interesting one in its history.

Much of my collection of things Amtrak was prompted by my research for a book that was published by Indiana University Press in 2006 titled Amtrak in the Heartland.

I have had a keen interest in Amtrak since it began, probably because I’ve always had a passion for passenger trains.

In many ways, the company that calls itself America’s Railroad and I came of age at the same time and have grown older on parallel tracks.

I can’t remember a day when I wasn’t interested in Amtrak and can’t envision a time in which my interest in the history and current day affairs of the carrier will ever wane.

So, happy anniversary Amtrak; it’s been quite a ride we’ve had together.

Commentary by Craig Sanders

Railroad Photo Archive Now Available Online

March 6, 2021

The Lake States Railway Historical Association has posted on its website an archive of its collection of more than 35,000 images.

“Rail historians, prototype modelers, authors, editors, archivists, and others will find this a valuable research tool, easily accessible from anywhere.” Said LSRHA vice president Paul Swanson.

“We plan to continue scanning negatives and transparencies from our collections for the foreseeable future. We want these to be available to the community.”

Among the photographers whose work is represented in the archive are Chicago natives Bruce Meyer and Lee Hastman, Wisconsin native Ed Wilkommen, DeKalb-based school superintendent F.R. Ritzman, and avid collector William S. Kuba from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

There are also collections of Illinois Central and Rock Island company photography, builders’ photos from AC&F and Ohio Falls Car Manufacturing Company, and some photo postcards.

Prints and digital images are available for sale with proceeds supporting the association’s archives operation.

Alan Boyd Dies, Was Amtrak’s 3rd President, 1st U.S. Secretary of Transportation

October 19, 2020

Alan Boyd, 98, a former president of the Illinois Central Railroad and Amtrak and who was the first U.S. Secretary of Transportation, died on Sunday in Seattle.

Alan Boyd

He served as head of the IC between 1969 and 1972 and headed Amtrak between April 1978 and June 1982. He was the third president of the intercity rail passenger carrier.

During his time at Amtrak, the passenger carrier underwent a series of route and service reductions including a major route restructuring in 1979 that ended five long-distance trains.

More train and route cuts came in the early 1980s, including the temporary discontinuance of the Cardinal and permanent cancellation of the Shenandoah, among other trains. during a period that has some parallels with what is happening with Amtrak today.

However, during Boyd’s term as Amtrak’s third president the carrier transitioned from steam-heated equipment inherited from the freight railroads and replaced it with head-end powered Amfleet and Superliner equipment.

Shortly after leaving Amtrak, Boyd said in an interview with The Washington Post that public funding of the passenger carrier was a reality that was unlikely to change.

“I don’t see any particular reason why rail passenger service should operate without public support,” he said at the time.

“We have any number of programs in this country which deal with the redistribution of wealth in the public interest. Subsidy represents a judgment by the government that the expenditure of this money is in the public interest.”

Boyd was an undersecretary of commerce for transportation during the Lyndon Johnson administration and led a group that wrote the bill creating the U.S. Department of Transportation.

He was the first secretary of transportation but stepped down when Richard Nixon became president in 1969.

Boyd was born in Jacksonville, Florida, and served as a C-47 pilot in World War II.

He earned a law degree and also served as chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board.

Until retirement, he was North American president of European aircraft manufacturer Airbus.

Getting Half Lucky With a Short Line

September 8, 2020

Unless you know its operating pattern or have inside information, photographing a short line railroad often requires getting lucky.

Of course 100 percent of that luck involves being track side in the right place at the right time.

I recently decided to try my luck at photographing an Illinois short line I had never seen in person and knew little about.

The Bloomer Shippers Connecting Railroad, better known as The Bloomer Line, is a granger operation based in Gibson City.

It is known for locomotives painted bright red and gray in a design reminiscent of the former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy.

That seems odd for a carrier using track of former Illinois Central and Wabash heritage and somewhat far from former Q territory in the Prairie State.

The name “Bloomer” has an IC heritage. In 1985, the Bloomer acquired the IC’s Bloomington District, which linked Bloomington, Illinois, on a circuitous route with the IC Chicago-New Orleans mainline at Otto south of Kankakee.

The Bloomington District had long been known as the Bloomer line.

As the Bloomer’s formal name suggests, the primary purpose of the railroad is to connect with larger carriers.

Owned by Alliance Grain Company, it serves that firm’s eight facilities.

A railfan website devoted to the Bloomer noted that grain is the primary commodity hauled with some plastic and lumber mixed in.

I had a fairly small window of opportunity to catch the Bloomer while on a outing whose primary purpose was to photograph Amtrak in action on two routes.

I planned my travel between those routes to pass through Gibson City, a once bustling railroad junction that remarkably still has most of its original rail lines.

At one time, a Nickel Plate Road line to Peoria, the Wabash line between Chicago and St. Louis, and the IC line to Springfield and St. Louis crossed here.

Today, NS still operates the former Wabash and NKP south and west of town respectively. CN owns the ex-IC and the Bloomer has the ex-Wabash north of town. Only the ex-NKP east of Gibson City is no longer in place.

Grain is the major reason why all these rail lines still come here. Gibson City is home to a number of large grain elevators and the Bloomer funnels corn, soybeans and some wheat into town to interchange with NS.

I had studied Gibson City on Google maps and determined from a satellite view where the Bloomer locomotive shop and yard were located.

After checking those out I planned to drive north on Illinois Route 47, which runs parallel to the Bloomer as far as the tiny hamlet of Risk. I hoped to see a train on the line along the way, perhaps working at a grain elevator.

As I drove into downtown Gibson City I saw flashing lights for a railroad crossing.

Maybe luck was with me. But it wasn’t. It turned out to be a malfunction at the CN crossing. There was no train coming.

A brief look around town yielded nothing moving on any of the rail lines.

It took a little doing, but I eventually found my way to Bell Street, which runs parallel to the Bloomer.

In short order I spotted two locomotives sitting outside the engine house, including GP9 No. 7591 painted in that Q-like livery.

It’s nose was coupled to LTEX GP38-2 No. 3801. Both units were running, but no one was around.

I had hoped to see a train being made up in the yard or getting ready to head north, but what had looked on the satellite map like a yard turned out to be just the lead tracks to the engine house.

There were no freight cars parked nearby and no sign of any activity.

I headed out of town on Route 47 and in a couple of miles any hope I had of seeing a Bloomer train on the road was dashed.

A crew was working on the track and had the aura of likely to be there for some time.

If the Bloomer would be running today it wouldn’t be during my window of opportunity.

I had a date with Amtrak Lincoln Service train No. 303 in about a half hour so I didn’t have time to further explore the Bloomer to see if something was happening elsewhere.

I considered myself to have been half lucky to have been able to photograph a Bloomer locomotive.

Perhaps I’ll try again later this fall when the grain season harvest season is underway.

Efforts to Save Ticket Offices Will Fail

May 14, 2018

The outcry in some places following the news that Amtrak plans to close 15 ticket offices nationwide between now and late June took me back about 40 years to when the carrier planned to close its ticket office in my hometown in Illinois.

I was a young reporter for the newspaper in Mattoon, Illinois, when I got a phone call one day from one of the Amtrak ticket agents assigned to that city’s station telling me about the plans to not only close the ticket office, but the station itself.

Mattoon is a stop on the former Illinois Central between Chicago and New Orleans and the station there once housed various railroad offices. But all of those had closed by the time I got that phone call.

In Mattoon, as in countless other cities, Amtrak was the sole user of a station that was a relic of another era and had more space than the passenger carrier would ever need.

The plan in Mattoon was to build an “Amshack” at the north end of the Illinois Central Gulf yard next to the only grade crossing in town on the ICG’s Chicago-New Orleans mainline.

The agent had spoken to me on what reporters call “deep background” but the public might know as “off the record.”

I took the news tip and ran with it, calling Amtrak’s PR person in Chicago and getting confirmation that, yes, indeed, my information was correct.

The story I wrote for the newspaper prompted city officials to protest the move. I wrote subsequent stories about meetings, phone calls and letter writing campaigns and in the end Amtrak backed down.

An Amtrak official claimed that business had improved in Mattoon, but I suspect there was more to it than that. Political pressure can be a powerful thing in motivating Amtrak’s behavior.

Also, I found during my journalism career that organizations seldom like to acknowledge the so-called power of the press.

The Amtrak ticket office in Mattoon remained open for several more years and I got to know all three agents who worked there. They were a valuable source of information about Amtrak.

I moved on in my career in 1983 and a few years later Amtrak closed the Mattoon ticket office. There is no correlation between my leaving the ticket office closing.

Organizations have a way of doing sooner or later what they want to do.

The Mattoon ticket office was not the first to close on the Chicago-Carbondale-New Orleans route.

Offices at Kankakee, Rantoul and Effingham, to name a few, had closed before Mattoon’s did.

Today, the only intermediate ticket offices still open on the former Mainline of Mid-America are in Champaign-Urbana, Carbondale, Memphis, Jackson and Hammond. The latter, though, is among those slated to close by late June.

Officials in some of the 15 cities where Amtrak ticket agents are set to be pulled are waging campaigns not unlike the one that played out in Mattoon many years ago.

None of those efforts is going to ultimately succeed.

It will be difficult to prevail in the face of Amtrak’s argument that nine of every 10 tickets are sold online. Who needs a ticket agent?

I also wonder how many political officials will take seriously some of the arguments being made by those rail passenger advocates trying to save the ticket offices.

Sure, letters will be written, resolutions passed and phone calls made. But in the end the offices are going to close because it’s tough to thwart the religion of cost cutting.

Amtrak is closing these offices to save money. It is not part of a plot by a former airline CEO to kill long-distance trains as some rail advocates are contending even if other moves Amtrak is making seemingly point in that direction.

Amtrak has been closing ticket offices for decades and the majority of stations served by long-distance trains do not have a ticket office and haven’t had one for many years.

Whatever political pressure that officials might bring against Amtrak to keep the ticket offices open will fade quickly in the face of the “nine of every 10” ticket sales argument and assurances by Amtrak officials that a caretaker will keep the station waiting room open at train time, keep it clean, and assist passengers.

The latter is significant because if there is one group of people who need assistance it is the elderly and physically challenged.

But I wonder how long it will be until the caretakers that Amtrak says it is hiring at the 15 stations losing their agents will themselves face the budget knife.

In Amtrak’s ideal world a unit of local government or a developer owns the stations it serves at intermediate points and underwrites most of the cost of maintaining that facility.

Otherwise, Amtrak will put up a bus shelter-type facility that receives minimal, if any, maintenance.

I understand why some are protesting the removing of ticket agents because there is something of value being lost. It is just that those who need or benefit from that are a small minority of Amtrak passengers.

Mattoon may have lost its ticket agent back in the late 1980s, but it kept its station. The city eventually bought it and spent millions to restore it.

Today it houses the Coles County Historical Society and an Amtrak waiting room.

I’ve passed through that station dozens of times over the past 20 years after traveling to Mattoon by train to visit my Dad.

I’ve never seen evidence that not having a ticket agent has depressed ridership from Mattoon.

If you need to know where the train is, you can call Amtrak Julie on your cellphone. If you have a Smartphone, you can even go to the Amtrak website and see for yourself where the train is at any given moment.

Mattoon learned to live without an Amtrak agent as have hundreds of other places. So will 15 other cities that are about to have the same experience.

CSX Will, First and Foremost, Protect Its Own Financial Interests in Line Sales or Leases

January 23, 2018

Many years ago when I was a college student intern at the Illinois Department of Transportation, one of my co-workers in the Bureau of Planning schooled me on what CSX is seeking to do today.

The Illinois Central Gulf Railroad was slimming down its route network much as CSX is doing today.

ICG was seeking to abandon a web of former Illinois Central Railroad branch lines in Illinois whose primary commodity handled was grain.

My fellow planner quoted officials of the ICG as saying “we’re going to get that grain one way or another.”

Even if the grain was taken away from those scores of small town grain elevators that dotted the Illinois prairie like rural skyscrapers by truck rather than in covered hopper rail cars, it had a long way to go to reach its final destination.

Those trucks leaving the elevators were not bound for a port on the Gulf of Mexico or the Mississippi or Ohio rivers.

The grain traveled by truck a relatively short distance to a regional grain facility such as the one operated by Cargil in Tuscola, Illinois, where unit trains were made up to move the grain onward toward its final destination, whether for export or domestic use.

ICG would continue to make good money hauling grain while getting rid of the expense of maintaining hundreds of miles of branch lines and paying union scales wages and benefits to the railroaders whose trains ran once a day or less on those branches.

The routes that CSX is seeking to lease or sell are not necessarily 25-mph or 10-mph branch lines in need of millions of dollars of rebuilding as was the case with many of the lines the ICG abandoned in the 1970s. Some of them, like the New Castle Sub, are significant mainlines handling much overhead traffic.

But they do cost a sizable amount of money to maintain and the CSX employees who operate the trains on those routes make Class 1 union scale wages and benefits. CSX would rather see that money wind up in the pockets of its shareholders or used for other purposes, such as buying back its stock.

Like the ICG in the 1970s, CSX will do all that it can to keep most of the business generated by its “surplus” routes while not having to pay to maintain or operate them.

CSX doesn’t do much business in Akron. What business there is could be handled by the Wheeling & Lake Erie, which already has a considerable presence in town.

But the Wheeling won’t be hauling most of that freight to its final destination. How that freight reaches its destination will come down to how those sale or lease contracts are written.

The ICG also spun off most of the former Gulf, Mobile & Ohio mainline between Chicago and St. Louis to an upstart known as the Chicago, Missouri & Western.

ICG was careful to keep for itself the more financially attractive elements of the route, including ownership and operation of the track between Chicago and Joliet, Illinois.

CM&W quickly found the traffic it received from the ICG was not what it thought it had been promised.

CM&W had overpaid for the ex-GM&O and couldn’t earn enough to pay its debts and get back its investment.

There are, of course, numerous success stories in which a short line or regional leased or purchased a route from a Class 1 and was able to make a go of it due to lower labor costs and more attentive customer relations policies.

Such was the case when the late Jerry Jacobson leased some track from CSX for his Ohio Central System.

It remains to be seen how much, if any, of the New Castle Sub that CSX will be willing to part with.

Aside from whatever business there is to be had in Akron, there is considerable auto rack business at Lordstown and some business in the Youngstown area.

CSX is not going to put itself in a position where it is likely to lose most of that business to Norfolk Southern for the long haul.

We’ve seen this game played before. Route rationalization has been the modus operandi of Class 1 railroads for years. That is how the modern W&LE got started. We’re about to see it play out again.

CSX Names Operations VP

January 9, 2018

A former Canadian National executive has been brought out of retirement to help CSX in its implementation of precision scheduled railroading.

Harris

Edmond L. Harris has been named executive vice president of operations and will oversee mechanical, engineering, transportation and network operations.

Harris, who will begin his position immediately, worked with the late E. Hunter Harrison and current CSX CEO James M. Foote at CN.

He also worked with Harrison at the Illinois Central Railroad where Harrison initially implemented the precision scheduled railroading model.

During his 40 years in the railroad industry, Harris rose to the post of executive vice president of operations at CN.

He later served as chief operations officer at Canadian Pacific and held a seat on the CP board of directors.

Harris also was as a senior adviser to Global Infrastructure Partners, an independent fund that invests in infrastructure assets worldwide; chairman of Omnitrax Rail Network; and board director for Universal Rail Services. He began his railroad career in operations at the IC.

Holding a Bachelor of Science degree in management from the University of Illinois-Chicago,  Harris served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1969 to 1973.

Sanders Article Published in The Mid-American

January 4, 2018

An article about New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal by Akron Railroad Club president Craig Sanders recently was published in The Mid-American, the magazine of the Illinois Central Heritage Association.

The article describes the creation of NOUPT, which opened in 1954, and which some likened to the “second Battle of New Orleans.”

The battle reference reflects how it took more than 50 years to finally create a true union station in the Crescent City. Before the opening of NOUPT, the city was served by five train stations. The first Battle of New Orleans took place during the War of 1812.

The ICRR had built a union station that opened in 1892, but IC was among the few users of the facility.

NOUPT, which was the last major union station built in America, was built adjacent to New Orleans Union Station.