Over many years I have written numerous articles about railroad history, as well as current trends in railroads..
These are of interest to the railroad manager, railfans, advocates of super railroads, railroad historians.
“Chicago Bypass” is different. It adds in the dimensions of ECOLOGY and SOCIAL CULTURE.
If you guessed from the picture above that it had something to do with doctors and medicine, your wrong. Simply stated it is all about getting railroad freight around Chicago instead of going through Chicago (with the resulting delays and pollution).
World’s greatest junction: Like cruising cabs on city streets, transfer locomotives run from one railroad to another on Chicago’s maze of trackage.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? But why do you need it if your shipping something from St Louis to Buffalo or from Milwaukee to Indianapolis.
Several solutions exist, or did exist.
One of them was the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railroad.
The “J” runs (or ran) a huge circle around Chicago, crossing every line entering the Chicago terminal.
The Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway, “Chicago Outer Belt“
Another was the Kankakee Belt Line.
It’s gone, but sections remain. The Kankakee Belt was the Illinois Division of the New York Central System. The Kankakee Branch, which ran between South Bend, Indiana, and Zearing, Illinois was marketed as the “Kankakee Belt” route to connect with western railroads and avoid the congestion of the Chicago area.
What about the Peoria & Eastern?
Does all rail freight have to go through Chicago? Once upon a time it was “quicker via Peoria,” 210 direct, unobstructed miles on the Peoria and Eastern between Peoria and Indianapolis instead of 350 miles via Chicago and congestion.
Much has changed in the quarter century since the P&E was an unbroken route. For over a century the railroads had an overcapacity problem, one solved by the mid-1990s by increasing traffic and decreasing route-miles.
In the meantime, the Indiana Harbor Belt
and the Belt Railway of Chicago
What about the Joliet Cutoff: a connection from East Gary Indiana
37,000 freight cars move through the Chicago area every day (CREATE brochure). Some 25% does not originate or terminate there (“Freight Rail Futures,” Chicago Department of Transportation website). That is over 9,000 cars a day, easily 90 or 100 trains, merely moving through the area.
Do they all have to go through Chicago? Is Chicago always on the shortest, most direct route? Obviously not. Rail officials are looking into alternatives now that political funding has come up short. (Crain’s Chicago Business, Jan. 16, 2006; TRAINS, March 2006) On rerouting traffic, now under consideration, TRAINS said, “… railroads may wind up sacrificing revenue if reroutes result in shorter hauls.”
Exactly. There is a deeply encrusted practice of “long-routing” to increase the originating road’s cut of revenues. Obviously it requires a longer route, with the obvious disadvantages of greater travel time, more expense, less reliable service, and poorer use of now scarce rail resources.
Running everything through Chicago is defended in rail circles on grounds of more frequent connections and keeping crews in position. Those are usually compelling advantages, to be sure, but not always. Bigger is not necessarily better.
Long-routing is under attack in more enlightened rail circles. By some strange co-incidence, the principal apostle of direct routing is the Canadian National, also the system returning considerably more on investment than other rail lines. CN also routes traffic through Chicago (TRAINS, March 2005).
My original interest in railroads was the New York Central Railroad.
This historic railroad reached from Boston to St Louis, but its primary trace was New York City to Chicago. At Chicago, it encountered the same situation as very other railroad entering Chicago: the requirement to switch cars with several other railroads to get carloads to and from the Western United States. The immensity of its switching operations is still evident with the Indiana Harbor Belt. Intense competition from other railroads and other modes of transportation put a huge strain on this railroad. In the 1950’s, Robert R. Young won control. His famous statement of how a hog can cross the country but a passenger couldn’t is interesting because he didn’t bring out how long it took the hog to cross Chicago. In that day, EVERYTHING had to cross Chicago. Even with Al Perlman, a great operating head, the railroad had to merge with the Pennsylvania RR; The merged Penn Central failed and turned into Conrail.
Work took me to the midwest where my first exposure to Chicago railroads was the South Shore. It was interesting to me as it carried both freight and passengers and depended on interchanging freight with several other railroads.
Soon I discovered the Peoria & Eastern which was once owned by the NY Central. The P&E had a west-to-south-of-Chicago route between Indianapolis and Peoria. Each end of this route offered connections to numerous other railroads. It offered a chance at a Chicago Bypass, but in the 1990’s the “P&E” was massacred and then dissected with the Ames to Clermont portion being integrated into the Crawfordsville Secondary of “CONRAIL” and later CSX Transportation.
The idea of a ChicagoBypass interested me as I explored Chicago. Huge trains proceeding at walking speed. Great classification yards holding thousands of rail cars. Numerous low speed connections. How many of these rail cars had any business being in Chicago for days?
Chicago Bypass: an Alternate Opinion from Malcolm Laughlin
But in the 60’s only traffic for SF, RI, WAB and IC used that route. ATSF traffic moved on LS-3 which was a through block from Elkhart to Argentine Yard. In 1965/66 LS-21 was rerouted to interchange with the RI at DePue instead of Englewood. About the same time a Reddick-WAB block was added to one of those trains
Avoiding the congestion of the Chicago area was one of those myths that refuses to die. Connections to MILW and CNW were via the IHB. To the RI and Q were via Englewood and Cicero. Traffic leaving Elkhart in the early morning connected to trains going west at 10:30 or 11:00 am on all four of those roads.
Update December, 2010:
Question: This line once extended from South Bend, Indiana to Zearing, Illinois and seemed to be an excellent route for bypassing the extreme congestion in Chicago yet never appeared, at least to the casual observer, to be fully utilized to its potential. Any observations from operating personal who were involved with this line as to whether the line was utilized up to its potential or not?
Response by Mr. Laughlin: I’d say that under AEP it did live up to its real potential, something that is easy to exaggerate. Bypassing congestion in Chicago didn’t necessarily mean going around Chicago, more a matter of avoiding the congested yards and most congested routes. The key was that cars for all western connections were blocked at Elkhart and then sent by the best route for that connection. for example, ATSF via Streator, MILW via the IHB and CB&Q(train NYQ) via Cicero. I think it was some time in the late 50’s that Streator became the primary ATSF connection for Kansas City and west. It was sometime in 1966 or 1967 that a train for the RI began running between Elkhart and Silvis via dePue. A runthrough with the CB&Q began around the same time but it was handled via Englewood and Cicero. Also a Reddick-WAB block was added toS-3 and NYQ. With the RI, ATSF and WAB traffic, the Kankakee Belt had reached its full potential.
Question: Any comments on why it was cut back on the east end as it was?
Response by Mr. Laughlin: It was not cut back by the NYC. Tell us when it was cut back and we can say which merger changed traffic patterns so ATSF traffic stopped going via Streator. Most likely after the Rock disappeared.
Question: Was its touted strength, connections with all the other lines radiating south out of Chicago, also its weakness?
Response by Mr. Laughlin: What do you mean by its “touted strength” ? If you’re referring to the one page ad in the official guide listing all the connections, that’s just sales hype. Most of them were not logical service routes, particulary when they were way out beyond the main yard of the connection. In that category were C&NW and MILW which had main yards just west of the IHB at Proviso and Bensenville. CB&Q’s Cicero Yard was just a few miles west of downtown Chicago. GM&O traffic was handled via the IHB to Argo and IC-west via IHB and Broadview.
[side note: I don’t know Mr. Laughlin personally but I somewhat envy him. He went through the New York Central “Management Training Program” I wanted to get into. I didn’t because my grandfather, the NY Central System Paymaster, strongly advised me not to: “The Central is going to go broke.” Funny thing is that he was right: once it merged with the standard whatever of the world.]
The idea of super railroads is not new. One proponent was John W. Barriger.
He was an amazing man who ran several railroads, was both a rail historian and a railfan, and proposed many new ideas for railroads.
Railroad mergers have taken place right from the beginning of railroading. The two peak periods for mergers until the current era have been the 1920’s and the 1960’s. Because of the Transportation Act of 1920, the Interstate Commerce Commission engaged Professor William Ripley of Harvard to develop a tentative plan for railroad consolidation. Would this have solved the Chicago Bypass problem? NO!
Did these mergers occur? NO!
Over fifty years ago, Merle Armitage published a book called “The Railroads of America”. In it, he listed the major railroads of the time. I took his list and tracked the changes since 1950.
Yes there were a lot of mergers that produced bigger railroads, but nothing approaching a transcontinental that could have bypassed Chicago. Chicago remained THE rail hub.
Union Pacific — the railroad established by Congress and Abraham Lincoln to span the continent – is always a candidate to become truly transcontinental.
Conrail might have beome transontinental if it had been given the chance.
A transcontinental railroad would have solved the Chicago Bypass issue.
The Elgin, Joliet & Eastern (EJ&E), running on 200 miles of terminal trackage, ran a huge circle around Chicago, crossing every line entering the Chicago terminal.
Formerly owned by US Steel, the line begins at the US Steel facility in Waukegan. From Waukegan, which is located near Wisconsin on the north shore, the line heads south through the towns of North Chicago. The line crosses the C&NW (UP), the BN, turns southeast to Joliet, crosses the Des Plaines River, ICG (GM&O), SF, Metra (RI), and then turns east into Indiana. The major yards for the EJ&E are the Joliet Yard on the southeast side of Joliet and Kirk Yard in Gary. The Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway is a terminal railroad whose primary business is tied closely with USX’s steel plants. BUT Canadian National (owner of Illinois Central) discovered the “J” and intends to buy it and create a ChicagoBypass.
Papers and plans have been filed with the Surface Transportation Board (STB). The STB has called for a full Environmental Inpact Statement, or EIS. If you look at the statement released by the STB, it says they cannot say how long the EIS process will take, but in past cases it has taken anywhere between 18 months- several years to complete the process, and they will not determine whether CN will be approved or denied until this process is entirely completed.
The integration plan proposed by CN talks about 30 trains a day over EJ&E tracks. Some communities that are upset include Barrington. They have established an organization and WebSite called Barrington Communities Against CN Rail congestion
Likewise, Lincolnway, Illinois has formed an organization concerned about safety and horn-blowing. They are demanding quiet zones, noise barriers etc.
The town that should be really worried is Griffith, IN. They’ll be at Ground Zero for all CN to EJ&E interchange movements.
Chicago 2000 Passenger Scene
In the late 1940’s, there was every reason to call Chicago the railroad capital. Intercity passenger trains were operating out of eight downtown terminals, most of them also serving commuters and two of them home to electric interurbans.
North Western Station ran long distance trains for the Chicago & North Western (C&NW), Baltimore and Ohio (B&O), Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) and the Union Pacific. The North Western had the largest suburban operation with 90,000 daily passengers on three routes from Chicago (Kenosha, Wisconsin; Harvard, IL; Geneva; IL). Nearly 200 trains provided frequent rush hour service as well as off-peak hourly service. This station at Madison St. and Canal St. opened in 1911 and closed in 1984 to be replaced with an office building (now the Richard B. Ogilvie Transportation Center). Current user is Metra/Union Pacific (ex C&NW).
Chicago Union Station was home to the Milwaukee Road. Suburban service included two lines which served 22,000 week-day passengers. The Burlington Route operated a suburban service to Aurora, a distance of 38.0 miles. The Gulf, Mobile and Ohio also operated into this station as did the Pennsylvania. Union Station, at Canal St. and Jackson Blvd., opened in 1925. The concourse was demolished and replaced in 1969 including a new office building. It was again remodeled 1989-1992 with the waiting room preserved. Current users are Amtrak and Metra (6 lines).
LaSalle Street Station served the Rock Island’s 26,000 daily passengers riding almost 80 trains. It also served the New York Central whose most notable train was the “20th Century Limited”. This station is now an office complex. It opened in 1903 and was demolished in 1981 to be replaced by new station building to the south. The current user is Metra-Rock Island District. The Rock Island Railroad did not join Amtrak, and continued to operate its trains serving LaSalle Street Station.
The Wabash (later the Norfolk & Western) operated into Dearborn Station which was opened in 1885. It closed in 1971 but the building was preserved. The N&W commuter train used a track west of station from 1971-1976. Former railroads were Chicago & Eastern Illinois (C&EI), Monon, Erie, Santa Fe (AT&SF), Grand Trunk Western (GTW), C&O/Louisville and Nashville (L&N), Norfolk and Western/ Wabash (N&W).
Randolph Street hosted Illinois Central’s electrified service. It also served the South Shore which remains the principle suburban service southeast and east of Chicago. Other terminals in Chicago were the North Shore terminal on Wabash Avenue, Grand Central and Central. Grand Central, at Harrison St. and Wells St. opened in 1890 and was demolished in 1969. It’s former railroads were B&O, C&O (Pere Marquette), Soo Line, Chicago Great Western (CGW). Central Station at Roosevelt Road and Michigan Ave. opened in 1893 and was demolished in 1973. It’s former railroads were Illinois Central, NYC (Big Four), Michigan Central.
Railroad operations today are a shadow of those from the postwar era, but Amtrak carries on admirable traditions at Union Station and tens of thousands of commuters still ride the trains of CSS&SB, C&NW, BN CRI&P, ICG, N&W and CMSt.P&P (now flying a regional transit authority flag). Since 1984, the commuter rail system serving the Chicago area has been public. Most of Metra’s 12 lines are named for the original operating railroads. The South Shore Line is the common name for the old Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad (CSS&SB). This line is now operated by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD).
Many commuter operations didn’t survive into today’s era:
· The Pennsylvania Railroad operated between Chicago Union Station and Valparaiso, Indiana. Trains were subsequently operated by Penn Central, later Conrail. In 1979, with no local or state subsidy coming from within Indiana, an arrangement was made whereby Amtrak assumed responsibility for the service, even though commuter service had not normally been considered Amtrak’s responsibility. Service was discontinued in 1991.
· New York Central operated between LaSalle Street Station and Elkhart, Indiana. Service was discontinued in the early 1960’s.
· Chicago and Western Indiana operated between Dearborn Station and Dolton, serving mostly local stops within Chicago’s far south side and was discontinued in 1964.
· Chicago and North Western operated beyond the present Metra/Union Pacific terminal in McHenry, to Lake Geneva and Williams Bay, Wisconsin. Service was cut back to Lake Geneva in 1966 and in 1975, with no subsidy from the state of Wisconsin, service was cut back to Richmond, the last stop within Illinois. Service was finally cut back in 1980 to McHenry.
· Milwaukee Road operated beyond the present Metra terminal in Fox Lake to Walworth, Wisconsin, until 1982.
· Grand Trunk Western operated from Dearborn Station to Valparaiso, Indiana and was discontinued in 1935 after having been cut back to Harvey.
· Chicago and Eastern Illinois operated from Dearborn Station to Crete but was discontinued in 1935. There are presently proposals for Metra to develop a new commuter service along that route.
· Illinois Central operated to Addison via its Iowa Division line, and over an abandoned spur track and was discontinued in 1931.
· Erie Railroad operated service from Dearborn Station to Rochester, Indiana.
Metra expansion happened in 1996 to several of Chicago’s northern suburbs over the Wisconsin Central main line between Chicago and Antioch, Illinois, near the Wisconsin border. This is significant because it is the Chicago area’s first new commuter rail line in 70 years. The new Metra trains pass the east side of O’Hare Airport, and there is a station near the remote long-term parking lot there. North of O’Hare the line passes through Des Plaines, before passing through several suburbs which had never before had commuter rail service. The establishment of a new commuter rail line in an existing suburban area is significantly different from how Chicago’s older commuter lines evolved. In the past it was the rail lines which came first, and each suburb usually evolved and grew with the train station as the main focus. The station would be at the center of town, and the residential areas would be within walking distance of the station. The newer suburbs mainly evolved around the automobile, with winding residential streets and cul-de-sacs. And when a new commuter service is established over an existing railroad which happens to be in the area, driving usually will be the most practical way to get to a station. Sufficient parking is now an important requirement for today’s new commuter rail stations.
Metra’s locomotive roster includes over 200 F40’s (several models). Most Metra locomotives are named for various Chicago area suburbs, along with various Metra and government officials. Coaches include many built for predecessor lines (many of which have been rebuilt). Electric MU’s are from the 1970’s (St Louis and Bombardier). Most cars have been extensively rebuilt by Amerail (formerly Morrison Knudsen). All cars now have provisions to accommodate wheelchairs. With high level platforms, modifying the MU cars to accommodate wheelchairs is easier than on the diesel lines, where completely new cars were necessary with lifts for the low level platforms there. Cars have cab at one end, odd numbered cars face south and even numbered cars face north. Cars normally operate in back to back pairs, although any end can be coupled to any end if necessary.
The Belt Railway of Chicago (BRC) provides freight connections between line-haul railroads. It is jointly owned by major railroads in the Chicago area and it’s 48 miles of track stretch around the city limits of Chicago. The major yard for the BRC (and one of the largest yards in the World) is Clearing Yard south of Midway Airport.
Chicago Short Line Railway Company (CSL) is owned by LTV Steel and operates more trains on neighboring rails than on its own rails. The trackage actually owned by the road consists of little more than yard trackage running along the Calumet River on the southeast side of Chicago with connections to EJ&E, Norfolk Southern, CSX, Indiana Harbor Belt, Chicago Rail Link, Illinois Central, and the BRC.
The Indiana Harbor Belt (IHB) begins south of O’Hare Airport near Franklin Park; goes south passing under the Burlington Northern in LaGrange; through McCook Junction (ATSF); southeast through Chicago Ridge (NS) and Blue Island; heads east through Blue Island Yard, through Dolton Junction, Calumet Park, and enters Gibson Yard in Indiana. After Gibson yard the IHB splits in several directions, servicing the steel mills at Indiana Harbor, the steel works near Burns Harbor as well as a connection to the Norfolk Southern.
Originally the Chicago Terminal Transfer Railroad, Baltimore and Ohio bought and created the Baltimore and Ohio Chicago Terminal (B&OCT) in 1910 to perform all switching operations for the road in the Chicago terminal. The B&OCT connected with the B&O mainline at Pine Junction in Gary. From Pine Junction, the B&OCT headed west through Hammond, State Line Crossing, Burnham, then ran parallel to the IHB through Dolton Junction, and then went northwest under the Illinois Central, and across the Penn Central (Pennsylvania Railroad). The line then headed west into Barr Yard, which was the B&O’s major yard in Chicago. From the west end of Barr Yard, the B&OCT continued into Blue Island Crossing, then turned north to Forest Hill Crossing, where the B&OCT ran alongside the Penn Central (Pennsylvania Railroad) through Brighton Park, Ash Street, and Western Avenue Junction. At Western Avenue Junction the B&OCT split, the east split heading into Robey Yard, which was a secondary yard for the B&O, and the west end heading northwest to a connection with the Soo Line in Forest Park.
The Elgin, Joliet & Eastern (EJ&E), running on 200 miles of terminal trackage, runs a huge circle around Chicago, crossing every line entering the Chicago terminal. Owned by US Steel, the line begins at the US Steel facility in Waukegan. From Waukegan, which is located near Wisconsin on the north shore, the line heads south through the town of North Chicago. The line crosses the C&NW (UP), the BN, turns southeast to Joliet, crosses the Des Plaines River, ICG (GM&O), SF, Metra (RI), and then turns east into Indiana. The major yards for the EJ&E are the Joliet Yard on the southeast side of Joliet and Kirk Yard in Gary. The Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway is a terminal railroad whose primary business is tied closely with USX’s steel plants. It is one of a group of railroads owned by Transtar, a holding company now handling USX’s transportation subsidiaries.
Chicago & Eastern Illinois (C&EI) ran south from Chicago through Danville, IL, to connections at Evansville, IN; Joppa, IL; Thebes, IL; and St. Louis. After a 1922 coal strike, C&EI, largely a coal hauler, found itself in a slump. In 1928, C&O took control of the C&EI, however, the line became independent again in 1940. In 1961, Missouri Pacific and Louisville & Nashville, who both used the C&EI to reach Chicago, sought permission from the ICC to control the C&EI. The ICC agreed to give Missouri Pacific control as long as MP sold the Woodland, IL, to Evansville, IN, portion to the L&N. This line was bought by the L&N in 1969, and the remainder of the C&EI was merged with MP in 1976. Near Chicago, “C&EI” still shows on an overpass on the North-South Rollaway (I-294).
Chicago Great Western (CGW) merged into C&NW; now UP. Built by imaginative and energetic Minnesotan, A.B. Stickney, the Chicago Great Western Railway extended by 1903 to Omaha. The CGW enjoyed relative economic prosperity during the post World War II boom that funded badly needed modernization of the physical plant. Unfortunately, profits declined from constantly rising costs of labor and material during the 1960’s. As a result, management believed that bankruptcy would ultimately result if the railroad did not merge with another carrier. The CGW found a mate in the Chicago & North Western Railway and officially merged in 1968. The C&NW subsequently abandoned most of the CGW.
In 1964, the Chicago & Western Indiana (C&WI) had 27 route miles, 195 track miles and 12 diesels. It was purchased by the Missouri Pacific but an arrangement with the Wabash provided that railroad with entrance trackage and terminal facilities in Chicago.
The Chicago Rail Link (CRL) is a new short line formerly called the La Salle & Bureau County. It purchased the Calumet Western and a small industrial railroad, the Chicago, West Pullman & Southern (CWP).
Last but not least, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) operates several lines: YELLOW LINE Howard-Englewood-Jackson Park including the Skokie Swift line; PURPLE LINE Linden to Howard; ORANGE LINE to Midway Airport; BROWN LINE Kimball to Belmont (Ravenswood); GREEN LINE: to Harlem/Lake: Englewood Branch; Jackson Branch; Lake Branch (East 63rd Street and Ashland branches); BLUE LINE to O’Hare and West Suburbs (branches to Forest Park and Cermak) (with travel from the downtown Loop to O’Hare Airport along the median of the Kennedy Expressway in 39 minutes); RED LINE to Howard from Dan Ryan. CTA runs 1200+ cars over 95 route miles using 600-volt DC power. The Chicago Transit Authority operates all rapid transit trains and buses within the city of Chicago. Four separate companies constructed Chicago’s elevated lines beginning in the 1890’s. Two of these lines originally used trains powered by steam locomotives. All original rapid transit lines were elevated, except for a few outlying segments at street level. The 1897 opening of the “Loop” made unification of Chicago’s elevated system more logical. At first, the various elevated lines generally operated simply between downtown Chicago and the outlying terminals. Express operation was later adopted on certain routes, and through routing was introduced between the North and South sides. The first subway opened October 17, 1943 underneath State Street, connecting the north side and south side elevated lines.
Winter’s grasp on Chicago can nearly shut down ALL major roads and Metra. Examples of what happens are:
· The CSXT single tracks from Madison St /Forrest Park to 71st Chicago (About 15 heavily used miles).
· Barr Yard is barely able to function. Switches are frozen and /or drifted over.
· A transfer is on its THIRD crew and is still at Central Ave attempting Barr Yard. Another transfer was able to get out of Barr Yard and it’s nearing Schiller Park now heading west.
· The BRC (Belt Railway of Chicago) at Clearing Yard is a whisker from shut down with the humping of cars going at a snails pace at best. The switches are frozen and/or drifted shut.
· The BRC Main Line from Cragin Jct to 31st Chicago is full of dead trains, mostly CP Rail’s. Anything going to the BRC will take two crews at least and some trains have used three crews to go 10-15 miles.
· The IHB is having the same switch problems all others are having. Norpaul Yard at Franklin Park is completely buried. No tracks in the yard were visible at all.
· The foreign lines in Chicago are still having switch problems as they drift over and/or freeze closed. Even dual control switches at interlockings are not immune to the severe winter conditions. There is extreme congestion at Schiller Park and further delays are encountered due to having to dig out a hand throw mainline switch just to enter the Chicago Sub mainline. At Hawthorne Crossing where the BRC crosses the ICRR Bridgeport District, a train spends 45+ minutes digging out a dual control switch to get onto the IC from the BRC that had frozen over. The burner had either run out of gas or never had the gas tank filled.
· Main line industry switches are impossible to keep clear between the wind and the snow kicked up by passing trains. The BRC in particular is having the worst time coping with the extreme winter weather. Normally, the BRC accepts and humps around 4000+ cars per day from all carriers that interchange through Clearing Yard. Now they are humping around 2000 or less cars per day.
· The bottom line effect is that all carriers are having to either park BRC traffic until they can handle it or find other routings. The CP has BRC traffic backed up as far as Portage. CSXT is backed up going south and east out of Chicago. The BRC is not expected to stabilize for some time and will no doubt fall further behind. They also have been plagued by several accidents some of which are related to this horrible weather.
Clearing Yard in Chicago
The Belt Railway is the largest intermediate switching terminal railroad in the United States, employing approximately 520 people. The Belt has 28 miles of mainline route with more than 300 miles of switching tracks, allowing it to interchange with every railroad serving the Chicago rail hub. The Belt’s Clearing Yards span a 5.5 mile distance among 786 acres, supporting more than 250 miles of track.