This hottest of hotspots lies in the blue collar suburb of Dolton, south of Chicago.
Anyone who has been to this junction has surely placed it in their top ten list of rail hotspots. A typical day sees about 100 trains rumble over the diamonds. It is not uncommon to have two – or even three – trains passing through simultaneously.
Two double track east-west main lines, the Indiana Harbor Belt and, just to its north, CSX (B&OCT), are crossed by the double track Union Pacific main line (ex-MP, ex-C&EI). This line is actually owned jointly by UP and CSX but is operated and maintained by UP. In the old days this line became the Chicago & Western Indiana just north of the junction but is now a UP operation. The CSX line bends northwest to nearby Barr Yard after crossing UP while the IHB continues west to Blue Island Yard about a half mile away.
There is also CSX traffic on the UP line (used by trains on its ex-C&EI Evansville and ex-Monon Lafayette routes), and a connector leads off UP south of the diamonds, then crosses the IHB and joins the CSX main just west of the junction. In addition, there are connector tracks between UP and IHB in both the southwest and southeast quadrants, and after the Conrail split a connector was built in the northeast quadrant between CSX and UP.
At one time, the Pennsy's double track Panhandle main line also passed through the junction, entering from the northwest alongside the CSX main, and then crossing the IHB and UP tracks going southeast. This line was abandoned during the early Eighties, except for a short stretch that runs northwest from the junction off the IHB main.
The interlocking tower was closed in February 2017 and razed in August of the same year; traffic is now controlled remotely by IHB's East Dispatcher. Located alongside the Panhandle right-of-way, the tower was manned by Pennsy operators back in the old days and featured 172 levers.
A great variety of trains can be observed here: Canadian Pacific trains use both the IHB and CSX tracks, and Canadian National transfers are common here too. A few run-throughs from BNSF and can be seen, as well as an occasional Norfolk Southern local. As if all this weren't enough, Metra Electric and CN's ex-Illinois Central main line pass over the IHB about a half-mile west of the junction, and are clearly visible from the diamonds. While not a scenic location by any means, Dolton is nonetheless one of the very best places to view trains in the Chicago area, or anywhere else for that matter.
The southeast quadrant is an open area that has long been used for observing the action. However in August, 2004, IHB posted No Trespassing signs there, so the location is is now off limits. Fortunately, the city hall parking lot just off Lincoln Avenue provides a legal viewing area. You have a front row seat for trains on IHB and CSX, but the UP line is nearly 100 yards away. In addition, the junction's northwest quadrant lies in a city park and can be accessed by a road leading off Lincoln Avenue that runs along the west side of the UP. An excellent view of both the diamonds and the UP line can be had here, but photography is difficult.
A third location would be "Mount Dolton," a huge mound of excavated dirt about 35 feet high located just west of the Dolton police station. It gives a legal birds-eye view of the entire junction, but be prepared to expend a little effort climbing to the top. See below for a photo from this spot.
For more on UP (ex-C&EI) junctions, see Chicago Heights.The CSX main also passes through Calumet Park, Pine and Calumet, the IHB main through Calumet Park, Gibson, Argo and Chicago Ridge, and the UP main through Thornton. More information is available on Calumet Park and Thornton, as well as on Calumet, Pine and Gibson. Likewise, see the information on Argo and Chicago Ridge, as well as that on 75th Street.
|View from Mt. Dolton. Photo by Doug Kaniuk.
Dolton and Blue Island
Dolton and Blue Island form a matched pair. Each features heavy traffic on CSX and IHB with a third major railroad crossing them – UP at Dolton, CN at Blue Island. Dolton is the eastern gateway to CSX's Barr Yard and IHB's Blue Island Yard, while Blue Island is the western gateway. Both junctions are among the busiest anywhere, with Dolton having a slight edge. Both feature a wide variety of trains, with Blue Island having a slight edge.
The two locations are only about five miles apart. To get to Blue Island from Dolton, head north on Lincoln Avenue to the first stop sign, 138th Street. Turn left and proceed about two miles to Ashland Avenue. Turn right and go under the CSX overpass to Broadway, the first stoplight. Turn left, Blue Island Crossing is a little over a mile. It should be noted that 138th Street is paralleled by Barr Yard a half mile to the north and by Blue Island Yard a half mile to the south. To get a bird's eye view of the two yards, turn at Halsted Street (right for Barr, left for Blue Island), which crosses both of them on viaducts. Halsted is about a mile from the Lincoln/138th intersection.