Chicago, Rail Capital

Chicago Bypassstreamliningchicagorailroadssmall

Chicago 2000

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 62 long distance trains for the North Western and the Union Pacific. The North Western had the largest suburban operation. Before operations were assumed by the regional transportation authority, approximately 90,000 daily passengers rode three routes from Chicago. One route extended 51.6 miles to Kenosha, Wisconsin. Another went 63.1 miles to Harvard, with a branch to Lake Geneva (70.1 miles). The third extended 35.5 miles to Geneva. Nearly 200 trains provided frequent rush hour service as well as off-peak hourly service.

Before 1956, their steam-hauled equipment dated back to 1910 and wasn’t really fit to run. The 4-6-2’s and 4-6-0’s were nice to look at, but didn’t help provide profitable service. The road upgraded to diesel-hauled, double-deck push-pull cars in an attempt to make the service profitable.

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.

LaSalle Street 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.

The Wabash (later the Norfolk & Western) operated into Dearborn Station. Again, no more Dearborn.

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. The South Shore has often been referred to as the last interurban. It wasn’t really an interurban as its equipment was Class I and freight service used high-horsepower locomotives.

Other terminals in Chicago were the North Shore terminal on Wabash Avenue, Grand Central and 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).

In the late 1970’s – early 1980’s, the most modern passenger yard in the world emerged from the wreck of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s 12th and 16th Street yards. While construction was underway, Amtrak continued to dispatch 26 daily trains serving over 2 million passengers annually. Amtrak’s new Chicago facility replaced five others – two of which were in horrible condition and none capable of servicing newer cars. Closed up were Pennsylvania’s 12th Street coach yard, 16th Street engine facility, Milwaukee’s Western Avenue Yard, the 21st Street Sante Fe Yard and Burlington Northern’s coach yard at 14th and Canal Street.

The new yard is only a mile long but careful planning and good space use make for a most efficient yard. This consolidation allows Amtrak to operate its fleet at a lower cost than before 1971 when individual railroads operated Chicago.

When Amtrak opened its doors on May 1, 1971, intercity passenger trains were leaving Chicago from five different stations. As late as the 1950’s, several hundred trains a day served Chicago. Amtrak started with 20. Selecting yard facilities was difficult because the better yards had either a distance or reverse switching problem.

Rebuilding the yard was accomplished in phases. First was building five new 19-car service tracks, and installing water, steam and electric lines for those tracks. A diesel house, indoor fueling and floodlights were added. Phase two saw a 12-car repair shop, further track improvements and a wheel-truing shop. Phase three saw service tracks and storage tracks. Before rebuilding, no maintenance had been done on the yard for twenty years. The last known change had been in 1956. Some big changes had been made in 1937 when the Chicago River had been straightened.

Passenger train yards, traditionally known as “coach yards”, have three basic types of tracks. Storage tracks, as their name implies, are simply tracks on which rolling stock can be stored until needed. There are no platforms from which to deliver supplies to cars held on these tracks, and usually just enough utility lines to keep cars warm in the winter. Repair tracks, or “rip tracks” are where damaged or `malfunctioning (“bad order”) rolling stock is repaired. The heart and soul of a coach yard is its service tracks, where trains are “turned”, i.e., inspected, cleaned and repaired for their next trips.

A switch engine follows a train into Union Station and pulls the train back into the yard when it is unloaded. The locomotives are cut off and run to the engine house for servicing. Fuel, lubricant, water and sand are replenished. Batteries and electrical gear are checked, and the recording tape is removed from the unit’s speedometer. The passenger cars are sent through the mechanical washing apparatus. A giant vacuum cleaner is wheeled down the platform and placed against the exterior door of each car in succession. All loose waste in the car is sucked in. Car cleaners now clean carpets and seat cushions. Electro-mechanical and plumbing systems are inspected. A “honeywagon” pumps out the chemical toilets. Many other repairs can be accomplished without running a car to a repair facility. For instance, a worn set of wheels can be replaced in an hour. Food and beverages, which are subject to spoilage, can be loaded only after stewards have joined the train and are able to supervise storage.

The yardmaster in Amtrak’s Chicago yard has a control tower six stories above track level with an unobstructed view of virtually all outdoor areas. The chief of security is one story lower.

Chicago has the greatest concentration of passenger carrying lines after the metropolitan New York area. Over the years, it was probably the most varied as far as equipment was concerned. Before the RTA (Regional Transit Authority) consolidation, movements were diesel-powered, electric-powered and included interurbans.

The RTA is a coordinating agency for commuter rail. It provides subsidies to Burlington Northern, Northwestern, Illinois Central and N&W (ex-Wabash). The Chicago, South Shore & South Bend is operated jointly with the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District. The NICTD acquired ownership of that line from the Chessie System. An RTA subsidiary, the Northern Illinois Railroad Corporation operates commuter trains over former Milwaukee and Rock Island lines. Some of the rolling stock and stations are owned by local transit districts. Its stable includes 130 locomotives, 690 passenger cars and 210 M-U cars. 429 miles of track are operated.

The Belt Railway of Chicago provides freight connections between line-haul railroads. It is jointly owned by major railroads in the Chicago area and includes 48 miles of track and 41 locomotives.

Last but not least, the Chicago Transit Authority operates several lines: Evanston; Howard-Englewood-Jackson Park including the Skokie Swift line; O’Hare-Congress-Douglas (with travel from the downtown Loop to O’Hare Airport along the median of the Kennedy Expressway in 39 minutes); Lake-Dan Ryan; and Ravenswood. A new route to Midway Airport is under construction. It runs 1200+ cars over 95 route miles using 600-volt DC power.



What’s a “Chicago Bypass”?

Why do we need a “Chicago Bypass“?

Where East meets West: Any railroad car entering Chicago from any direction can leave in any other direction. It’s done by means of junctions.

Chicago’s stations: gates to everywhere.

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” ran a huge circle around Chicago, crossing every line entering the Chicago terminal.

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. The Chicago railroads are now seeking $1.5 billion in public and private funds for the CREATE (Chicago Regional and Transportation Efficiency) program to upgrade trackage and ease congestion, which so far has not gotten the expected appropriation from Congress.

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 Hunter Harrison, president of the Canadian National, also the system returning considerably more on investment than other rail lines. CN also routes traffic through Chicago (TRAINS, March 2005).

There once were rail by-passes of Chicago, notably the Peoria and Eastern. It has not functioned as a through route since a bridge washout in 1981 and getting caught in merger backwash. In its heyday it handled about 40,000 cars a year or 110 a day, less than 2% of the traffic now going through Chicago.

What it would take to restore I do not know. Money. Money to purchase the land which has reverted back to farm land. Money to buy the buildings built upon the ROW. Money to relay the track. Last figure I read was somewhere between 1.5 and 2.0 millions per mile.

It can be more difficult to restore an abandoned line than to build a new one. Yes, it is difficult to restore, but it is virtually impossible to build a new one. This is 2006, not 1886. I venture to guess that it is never going to happen. Look at the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern. They’re attempting to build a new line into the Wyoming coal fields across virtually uninhabited (by humans, not by cows) land. It’s been 10 years in the making. Now try that across prime agricultural land in Illinois and Indiana.

It would need connections to the BNSF and UP lines to the north to be fully effective, perhaps over its also bygone Peoria connection, the Minneapolis and St. Louis, or the old Burlington route to Galesburg. But why would Uncle Pete, or the Great Green and Orange want to shift its traffic through Peoria? It may take time to get through Chicago, but at least they have connections in place, and classification yards.

There is also the still functioning Toledo, Peoria and Western, which has little if any bridge traffic and perhaps inadequate eastern connections. Yes, but it’s in place. Not hard to fix up an existing line. Under the best of circumstances it would be a considerably longer route between Peoria and Indianapolis. There are also abandoned Pennsy, B&O, and Nickel Plate lines in the area that might be considered, especially if obstacles preclude any P&E segment.

A large portion of the P&E could in fact be restored. As most of you know, Dean to Mansfield is still in place, but is railbanked. I’ve also been told that the ROW between Urbana and Danville is still owned by CSX (even though the track is pulled).

Also, I’ve followed the P&E from Pekin to Dean and was surprised to see how much ROW still exists (many bridges are even still in place). Yes, certain segments have reverted back to corn fields and some larger segments, through Pekin and Bloomington as an example, are bike trails. Other former railroads around the Peoria area, like the Pennsy Secondary and the IT have entire subdivisions across their former ROW. This doesn’t seem to be the case with the P&E.

Highly improbable? Maybe.

Impossible? Never!


Some Chicago problems:


Going back a little further than the flexi-van era, many of the color books that have been done on the west end of NYC feature pictures of NYC mail and express trains. They were steam powered well into the fifties when diesel had taken over assignments on the crack trains. Guess that made them prime photo material.

The Milwaukee orange and maroon baggage/express cars can be seen in the consists of these express trains, as well as the CB&Q troop kitchen conversions.

I’m not sure about steam era freight cars, but modern freight equipment will not clear through Union Station’s through track. Unless things have changed in the last several years, high cars can’t be cleared coming up the PRR and going around the wye to BNSF’s main, either.

Now, what about Chicago stations and Transcontinental trains?


In Chicago a single passenger station would have been an enormous challenge. In January 1930 there were 468 non-commuter trains in and out of the six terminals. (A few of these may have been better classified as commuter trains but the scale would be the same.) These trains were not spread evenly throughout the day, and significant numbers of them arrived or departed in close succession at the busier times. A station big enough to handle all these movements would have been massive, and the throat tracks in both directions (assuming a north-south orientation) would have been terribly complex. If all the commuter trains were to be included the scope would have been far bigger. Just organizing the crowds in the terminal building would have been a major challenge, probably requiring separate levels. If coach yards were combined into a few large facilities they would require lots of space at convenient locations; otherwise there would need to be a complex of junctions and branches to reach separate yards elsewhere, and to connect with the railroads’ own main lines. This would be a hugely expensive undertaking and the railroads could ask what benefit was actually being gained if they were asked to pay for any of it. The City could pay if it stood to benefit, but I would question how much benefit it would receive. The inconvenience of transferring was felt by the passengers, but this didn’t seem to diminish the volume of traffic using Chicago. The city simply didn’t need to care about making transcontinental (or inter-regional) travel a snap. The cost of transferring passengers and baggage between stations was borne by the railroads, but a common station would be far too expensive a way to eliminate these transfer costs. The costs of transferring baggage, express and mail in such a huge terminal would be substantial as well, thus eliminating some of the expected savings. The time to establish a single station would have been after the great Fire, but in order for it to be successful over the next 100 years it would have needed a lot of space reserved for future expansion. If a common station were set up later the railroads would object because they were to losing their investments in the existing stations. City governments didn’t have the legal or practical power to order around railroads unilaterally. Railroads had the state and federal governments to appeal to if they didn’t like what the City wanted. I question whether New York would even have wanted a single station in Manhattan. It would have been terribly complex no matter how it was configured, and the City might well have felt there was no benefit from it. Grand Central had existed at 42nd Street for thirty years and didn’t need authority to be there. In fact it was City requirements against smoke that had pushed the terminal location that far north in the first place. NYC desperately needed room for more trains by 1900 and neither railroad nor City could have afforded to defer expanding the facilities for the years it would have taken to argue about where they would go and how to pay for them. As for Penn station, the City benefited greatly from having it in Manhattan rather than in New Jersey. It would not have improved anything to have the station combined with Grand Central. The services of their owners were competitive and wouldn’t have benefited anybody by being combined. In fact having passengers change stations rather than change trains ensured they kept the taxi industry healthy. New York didn’t much care whether the New Haven ultimately used two stations. It wasn’t a problem that would have been worth the enormous trouble and expense required to force construction of a single station. New York in the early 1900s had far more pressing problems. Having the other railroads terminate in New Jersey was an inconvenience to New York but the city didn’t have the power to force those roads to cross the Hudson, nor to force the PRR to accommodate them in its own terminals. A cooperative approach might have got those lines into Manhattan but it would have required a lot of money. Montreal has never had a single large terminal. VIA Rail and Amtrak managed to transfer all intercity trains to Central Station in the 1980s. Both Windsor and Central Stations must be retained for commuter service due to the location of lines serving them.

The important historical judgement is to determine whether there was any real need for transcontinental Pullman car service. Most of the lines which were instituted shortly after the controversy began required several hours of layover time in places like Chicago and St. Louis–time which most passengers used in town touring, dining or shopping. I think we need to separate the concept of the transcon car from the implementation difficuty due to multiple stations. The former was sound, the latter faulty. The city governments are essentially to blame for the multiple stations. There was no reason, other than childish competition, to allow more than one large passenger station in a city (like Chicago and New York). The smart thing is to have all railroads come into one large terminal, like Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland, and other cities. In New York, for example, building permits (if there was such a thing at that time) should never have been granted to build both Pennsylvania Station and Grand Central Terminal. New York City should have required that all railroads get together there and construct one large terminal, halfway in between, in a location where tracks from both railroads could reach it. Brussels has ICE, TGV, and Chunnel trains all coming into the same terminal. If Chicago did that, then transcon travel would be a snap. And in NY, the New Haven wouldn’t have been split between 2 terminals; and you could have had, for example, travel between Albany and Washington DC without changing trains and you would have two major routes bewtween Montreal and Washington, DC (based on D&H/NYC and NH).



Old postcard of Polk Street Station



Old postcard of Chicago Central Depot



Railroad Station Transfers

There was a “limousine/taxi” transfer service for passengers between the various Chicago stations, I believe with the blessings of the railroads.

It was called the Parmelee Transfer Company. Founded in 1853, and at some point became the “official” transfer service between Chicago stations. Interline tickets included Parmelee coupons if a transfer of stations was required. I’m not sure whether Parmelee carried checked baggage between stations, or if the railroads used their own vehicles. I believe Parmelee transfer service ceased to be provided with through tickets some time in the 1950’s. Parmelee is still in business under the name Continental Airport Express and the Parmelee family still appears to be associated with it.

Checker apparently controlled Parmelee at one point but relations seem to have been complicated and changed a lot, involving Yellow Cab (which was related to Hertz).

Checker made special vehicles for the Parmalee service, larger than their cabs, with greater luggage capacity.



Old postcard of Chicago Union Station in 1939





Chicago Rail Fair of 1948-1949.
We have searched out tons of information available on this memorable event. Most of the railroads in the United States were represented, or exhibited. Union Pacific’s Big Boy locomotive was one of the most popular exhibits. At this time, Chicago was the Rail Capital of the U.S.



Chicago Union Station Main Entrance



Chicago NorthWestern Station


New York Central Stations

Have been trying to learn details of NYC access to Illinois Central in Chicago. The Michigan Central seems to be a pretty simple trackage rights agreement with NYC crews and power accessing IC within the Chicago switching district.

The Big Four is another matter. This required use of 52 miles of IC mainline with ATC equipped 100 mile an hour track. Steam era timetables for NYC show five round trip passenger trains with no restrictions on handling local passengers in IC territory except for the “Riley” which no doubt was imposed by NYC not IC. IC timetables do not show the NYC trains even though they served IC points.

An article in July 1991 RAILFAN indicates that Big Four Indiana division engine crews and power did not work North of Kankakee. Photos exist showing an IC 4-8-2 heading what appears to be a NYC consist. Many NYC Js were ATC equipped but were the group assigned to the Indiana Division? Was NYC ATC compatible with IC system? On the other hand photos of a train that could be the “Riley” at Central station with a J1 have been published And in the diesel era the Riley behind a trio on NYC Geeps was photoed at 95th St Chicago on the IC in Sep. 1966.

The Wolverine was brought to LaSalle St. so that the NYC would have as much of their NY-Chicago trains operating from under one roof as possible. By then the only exception to that idea would be trains #39, The North Shore Limited, and #44, The New York Special, which would continue to use IC Central Station along with the remaining MCRR and Big Four trains.

A possible reason why the Wolverine operated in and out of La Salle historically is that it was once one of the New York Central’s crack New York-Chicago 18 hour limiteds.

Only the passenger trains from the Big Four would continue to use Central Station until the demise of the NYC. They could not use LaSalle Street because they operated over the IC to Kankakee.


Chicago Passenger Stations

I know that the New York Central’s primary passenger station in Chicago was La Salle Street Station. I also know that the Big Four trains for Indianapolis departed from Illinois Central’s Central Station, and utilized IC trackage rights to Kankakee. The Michigan Central RR used Central Station because their passenger trains ran on the ICRR to Kensington where their trains switched over to the MCRR. The MC used the IC as a friendly connection into Chicago as early as the 1870’s. Passenger trains from Chicago to Detroit were switching over to La Salle Street beginning in the mid 50’s; using Porter, Indiana where the MC line crossed the NYC main to head towards Detroit. I do not believe that any station stops were ever made at Porter. NYC and IC went to court (for years?) over NYC’s wish to move out of Central Station.

Let’s not forget that Englewood Union Station on Chicago’s South side at 63rd and State was a major NYC Station in Chicago. NYC shared the station with NKP, PRR and CRI&P. Just about every NYC passenger train out of LaSalle Street stopped next at Englewood Union Station, about 6 miles out of the Loop. .

Because of the multiple stations, Parmelee was synonymous with Chicago gateway transportation. They provided limo and transfer services to generations of rail travelers in Chicago-land. So entrenched was their service that the Parmelee transfer coupon would usually, if not always, be part of the through railroad tickets issued to passengers requiring a change of railroad station. You will also find their advertisement in virtually every major timetable of roads through Chicago. The tag line “Just see the man from Parmelee” was famous in Chicago. New York Central timetables made known the fact that “PARMELEE LIMOUSINE FREE from your incoming to outgoing station. Your through ticket has coupon for this.”

Coast-to-coast on Pullmans

There were transcontinental Pullmans to/from the NYC at LaSalle Street. They also operated out of Dearborn Station (ATSF), Northwestern Station (C&NW), and Union Station (MILW). In April 1956, passengers traveling coast to coast by train had several through Pullman routes to choose from. Yes, there were other options than New York to Chicago over the New York Central; but they were never as good! Can I be a little prejudiced sometimes?

New York Central-Santa Fe route: The NYC side was handled by the “20th Century” or the “Commodore Vanderbilt,” depending on the day of the week. Passengers could either ride in a 10 roomette 6 double bedroom car or a 4 compartment/4 double bedroom/2 drawing room car. The westbound schedule was leave NY 5:00 p.m. and arrive at LaSalle St., Chicago at 7:45 a.m. the next morning. Departure was at 7:00p.m. from Dearborn Station, Chicago with an 8:30 a.m. arrival in Los Angeles, the second morning out. Eastbound Leave LA at 7:00 p.m. and arrive Dearborn Station, Chicago at 12:30 p.m. the second afternoon out. Leave Chicago LaSalle St Station at 3:45 p.m. and arrive at GCT 8:30 a.m. the next morning.

NYC/Milwaukee/Union Pacific route between New York and Los Angeles: Westbound the NYC’s “Wolverine” handed off a 10 roomette 6 double bedroom car to the “City of Los Angeles” at Chicago. Eastbound the through car came east of the “City of Los Angeles” and was passed to the “Commodore Vanderbilt.” The westbound schedule was leave New York 5:15 p.m. and arrive at La Salle St, Chicago at 10:55 a.m. Departure from Chicago Union Station was at 6:45 p.m. with a 9:30 a.m. arrival in Los Angeles, the second morning out. Eastbound: leave LA at 8:00 a.m. and arrive Chicago Union Station at 11:00 a.m., second morning out. Depart Chicago LaSalle St. at 3:00 p.m., and arrive NY at 8:00 a.m. the next day.

New York-San Francisco service: Every other day, the “Commodore Vanderbilt” carried a 10 roomette 6 double bedroom Pullman west to Chicago where it was carried to SF on the “City of San Francisco”. A similar service applied eastbound. The routing for these cars was NYC/MILW/UP/SP. Westbound Depart NY 430 p.m. and arrive LaSalle St., Chicago at 730 a.m. the next day. Lv Union Station, Chicago 630 p.m. and arrive San Francisco at 1020 a.m., the second morning out. Eastward Lv San Franciso 400 p.m. and arrive Chicago Union Station 1115 a.m. the second morning out. Lv LaSalle St, Chicago 300 p.m. and arrive GCT at 800 a.m. the next day

“Commodore Vanderbilt” – “California Zephyr” service: Operated on days the “Commodore” – “City of San Francisco” car didn’t run. This was also a 10 roomette 6 double bedroom car. This followed an NYC/Burlington (CB&Q)/Rio Grande (D&RGW)/Western Pacific routing. Westbound passengers left Grand Central Terminal at 4:30 p.m. with a 7:30 a.m. arrival at LaSalle St, the next day. The Zephyr departed Union Station, Chicago, at 3:30 p.m. with a 3:50 p.m. arrival at San Francisco the second day out (2,293 miles). Eastbound passengers left San Francisco at 10:00 a.m. and arrived at Union Station, Chicago at 1:00 p.m., the second afternoon out. Departure from Chicago, LaSalle St. was at 3:00 p.m., with an 8:00 a.m. next day arrival at GCT.

New York Central connecting services between New York and Texas: One route operated NYC/Frisco (SLSF)/Katy (MKT). This was handled by the Southwestern Limited and the Meteor. The eastbound route was handled by the Texas Special and the Southwestern Limited. The connecting point was at St. Louis. There was a three-hour layover at St. Louis westbound and a one hour twenty minute layover eastbound. A second route service operated via the NYC/Missouri Pacific/Texas & Pacific. Both sides of the “Commodore Vanderbilt” connected with the “Texas Eagle” at St. Louis. The westbound layover time in St. Louis was 1 hour 45 minutes. Eastbound was one hour and ten minutes. There were no through cars operated in either service according to NYC Form 1001 dated April 29, 1956.

In a 1950 Official Guide, there were five western routes that had one or more through cars to the east, all via Chicago:

· San Francisco Overland (Chicago & North Western / Union Pacific /Southern Pacific) had a 10-roomette, 6-double-bedroom car via New York Central and another via Pennsylvania.

· California Zephyr (Chicago, Burlington & Quincy / Denver & Rio Grande Western / Western Pacific) had one 10-roomette, 6-double-bedroom car going alternate days by New York Central or Pennsylvania.

· The Chief (Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe) had four cars. A 4-compartment, 6-double-bedroom, 2-drawing-room car and a 10-roomette, 6-double-bedroom car both went via New York Central. A 4-compartment, 4-double-bedroom, 2-drawing-room car went via Pennsylvania, and lastly a 6-section, 6-roomette, 4-double-bedroom car went to Washington DC via Baltimore & Ohio.

· Los Angeles Limited (Chicago & North Western / Union Pacific) had a 10-roomette, 6-double-bedroom car via New York Central and another via Pennsylvania.

· Golden State (Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific / Southern Pacific) had one 4-compartment, 4-double-bedroom, 2-drawing-room car that went alternate days via New York Central or Pennsylvania.

Let’s consider the situation at Chicago:

Name Destination Chicago Station Routing

San Francisco Overland Oakland 16th St Chicago C&NW CNW UP SP

California Zephyr Oakland 2d St Chicago Union CBQ DRGW WP

The Chief Los Angeles Union Chicago Dearborn SF

Los Angeles Limited Los Angeles Union Chicago C&NW CNW UP

Golden State Los Angeles Union Chicago LaSalle St RI SP

New York Central trains New York Grand Central Chicago LaSalle St NYC

Pennsylvania trains New York Penn Chicago Union PRR

Baltimore & Ohio trains Washington DC Union Chicago Grand Central B&O

Yes, almost all the connections required odd movements between terminals in Chicago, using track otherwise used only for freight. Railfans’ delight! The time allowed at Chicago runs from 2 to 6 hours, typically about 4 hours, so travelers could probably do better time by changing trains.

Runs east of Chicago took at least 16 hours, and west of Chicago took over 48, so it looks like they needed 8 cars to run each one of the “through car” services– that’s 2 east of Chicago and 6 west of.

Using the California Zephyr as an example, here’s the 1950 schedule westbound, as a sample (showing alternate days)–

New York Grand Central: 1815 (1815 ET Mon)

Chicago LaSalle St: 1215 (1315 ET Tue)

New York Penn: 1845 (1845 ET Tue)

Chicago Union: 1025 (1125 ET Wed)

Chicago Union: 1530 (1630 ET Tue) 1530 (1630 ET Wed)

Oakland 2d St: 1600 (1900 ET Thur) 1600 (1900 ET Fri)

Why both New York Central and Pennsylvania? Possibly to avoid a war between the two rivals! But also, the two had quite different routes in between New York and Chicago, so they served more cities by offering both eastern routes.

I don’t have exact dates, but at some time in the twentieth century one could travel from New York to Chicago via…

1. Pennsylvania RR

2. New York Central (Lake Shore)

3. New York Central (Michigan Central)

4. Erie

5. [ CNJ-RDG- ] B&O

6. DL&W-NYC&StL (Nickel Plate)

7. DL&W-Grand Trunk

8. Lehigh Valley-NYC&StL (Nickel Plate)

9. New York Ontario and Western–NYC (Rome Watertown and Ogdensburg)–Wabash.

One that didn’t occur was “Train X”, a transcontinental train New York Central dreamed of. The December 1957 issue of TRAINS announced it would go through St. Louis instead of Chicago (LaSalle Street) because New York Central couldn’t deal with a stub-end terminal. This was after Chicago had just forgiven taxes in order to get the new speedliner.


High Speed Rail in Illinois

Some of the best information on High Speed Rail in Illinois comes from an article by WILLIAM T. SUNLEY, Engineer of Local Roads and Streets, IDOT.

Illinois is taking the lead in introducing high speed rail service to the Midwest. The benefits are significant: travel between Chicago and St. Louis that is twice as fast as by car for about half the cost of air fare; a mode of travel that is easy on the environment; and opportunities for economic development and jobs along the corridor.

The proposed Chicago to St. Louis high speed rail line is part of the “Midwest Hub,” one of six rail corridors designated as potential high speed rail routes by the Federal Railroad Administration. The Midwest hub also includes the Chicago-Detroit and Chicago-Milwaukee segments. The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) is responsible for the planning and development of the proposed high speed rail service along this corridor.




Chicago Dates (NY Central)
June 15, 1902 The New York Central & Hudson River Railroad’s
“20th Century Limited”, “a train a century ahead of its time” according to contemporary accounts, begins operation. The average speed is 49 mph between New York and Chicago resulting in a 20-hour journey.

March 28, 1909 Chicago Banker Frank Vanderlip hires a New York Central & Hudson River train to rush him to his dying Mother in New York. The trip takes 16 hours and 30 minutes. Regular schedules take around 24 hours.



Old Trolley in Chicago postcard at State and Polk Streets


Chicago Heights Terminal Transfer

The Chicago Heights Terminal Transfer has been and remains today as the switching road in south suburban Chicago Heights. Chicago & Eastern Illinois and the Kilgallen family were the owners. When the C&EI was purchased by the Missouri Pacific, the CHTT went with it. Then Missouri Pacific became part of Union Pacific.

The “Terminal” was an interesting operation that from overhead looked just like a giant model railroad. It made a complete oval. You could actually start from point A and head west and return to point A coming back in from the east. There are numerous industries along the line including the still very active Ford Motor Company Chicago Heights Stamping Plant. There was a two stall roundhouse that was active and in use until the early 80’s. A fuel track was also located there and a machinist was stationed there.

The CHTT which was also referred to as the “Hack Line.”

Some good pictures of the Chicago Heights Terminal Transfer.

See some pictures of the equipment of the Chicago Heights Terminal Transfer.



Northwestern Terminal: from one of my old postcards


REA Express


In 1966 REA Express was operating a system primarily engaged in the expeditious transportation of express packages, less-than-carlot, and carlot shipments requiring special handling. REA Express also provided a world-wide shipping service through contracts with air carriers, acted as an ocean freight forwarder to many countries of the world, and provided local truck express service in some large cities of the United States. A subsidiary company of REA Express leased truck trailers to railroads, forwarders, and shippers for the use in trailer-on-flat car service. Such miscellaneous services as pick-up-and-delivery services for railroads, custom brokerage on import traffic, sale of traveler’s checks and money orders, and collection of C. O. D. charges were also performed. REA Express conducted its business through 8,200 offices and used in its operations 137,000 miles of railroad, 132,000 miles of air lines, 79,000 miles of motor carrier lines, and 6,600 of water lines. The company employed 30,000 persons and operated a fleet of 12,000 trucks. The company handled some 66,000,000 shipment annually. (Association of American Railroads)

-with all those assets and experience, even though rail shipping was in decline, REA dominated the private package business. It was already into trucks, had name recognition, a customer base etc. -why did it finally fail? Why didn’t it follow the trends and morph into something successful like UPS and FED EX?

We have a lot of information on the Railway Express Agency, later known as REA Express and also have significant background information available that will help you understand why REA Express failed.


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