Hayford and Clearing Yard
Hayford and Clearing Yard
One of the busiest junctions in the Chicago area, Hayford is just east of the Belt Railway's Clearing Yard. To reach here, exit the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-90/94) at 79th Street and head west four miles to Kedzie Avenue. Cross Kedzie and continue another half mile to a railroad crossing. Turn right on the street just before the crossing (Central Park Avenue) and take it until it ends — about six blocks. The junction will be right in front of you.
Alternatively, exit the Stevenson Expressway (I-55) at Pulaski Road and take it south to 79th. Turn left and head east one-half mile to the railroad crossing. Turn left again immediately after crossing the tracks and head north to the junction.
Hayford is the eastern gateway to Clearing Yard--a massive double hump yard that is the largest and probably the busiest in the Chicago area. The Belt's east-west main line is here crossed by Canadian National's ex-GTW main that runs north-south at this point and parallels the street you took to get here. The four-track Belt main is one of the most active anywhere and features a wide variety of trains, including those of Norfolk Southern, CSX and Union Pacific. Of course Belt trains are also seen here, but they are relatively rare in comparison with those of the Class 1's (unfortunately, the Alco Centuries pictured above are no longer on their roster). A typical day sees an almost constant parade of trains pounding the diamonds--about 100 in all. It is not uncommon to see two (or even three) trains passing through simultaneously. Most originate or terminate at Clearing, but some bypass it and use the Belt's north-south main that begins a half mile west of here (see the 67th Street Wye below). CSX's Bedford Park intermodal terminal is located just south of Clearing, but TOFC/COFC trains are not all that common here.
The CN line is the same one that passes through Wellsboro, Griffith and Blue Island. In 2013 CSX obtained operating control of this line between Elsdon, about three miles north of here, and Munster, Indiana by way of an easement negotiated with CN. Consequently, although CN trains on this segment have diminished, CSX trains have been added, giving about the same amount of traffic as before. However, it is nowhere near the number of trains seen on the Belt. Most of the CSX and CN trains from the south use a connection in the southwest quadrant to reach Clearing, and CSX intermodal trains also use it to access the Bedford Park intermodal terminal adjacent to Clearing.
Traffic is sparse north of the junction. Of the few trains that cross the diamonds, most are headed to/from Elsdon Yard (or what's left of it--most of the tracks are now gone) or else BNSF's ex-Santa Fe Corwith Yard, located just beyond Elsdon. There is an additional connection in the northwest quadrant, but it sees little use and is not visible from the diamonds. In addition, the northwest quadrant once had a cabin housing the operators who controlled movements through here. It was torn down in the mid-1990's and the junction is now remotely controlled by Belt dispatchers. Just east of the junction is Rockwell Yard, a small facility that was once the Chicago terminal for the Pere Marquette and Chesapeake & Ohio railroads. Westbound traffic on the Belt now wraps around the north side of the yard, while eastbounds pass by on the south.
BRC: 160.500, 161.445, 160.635
CN: 160.590, 160.530
The directions given above will put you in the southeast quadrant of the junction. There are trespass signs posted in the Belt area, and in September, 2004, the Belt built a chainlink fence along their property line. Make sure you stay behind it. Although you are south of the Belt main, the fence makes photography difficult. However, the fence ends about 20 feet from the CN track, and some decent shots of the diamonds can be had from alongside the CN right-of-way. The local neighborhood is reasonably safe.
For more on CN (ex-GTW) junctions, see Blue Island, Griffith and Wayne / Spriggsboro. See also Thornton and Harvey at Other South Suburban Junctions.
For more on the Belt Railway's east-west main line, see 75th Street Crossing, Pullman Junction and Rock Island Junction on the Other South Side Junctions page.
Clearing Yard Area
Cicero Avenue Overpass
Just south of Marquette Road (67th Street), the Cicero Avenue viaduct provides a panoramic view of Clearing Yard in both directions (there are sidewalks on both sides of the street). The photo at right looks west toward the hump "tower" — it's not really a tower but an overhead structure that straddles both the east and west hump tracks. In front of you is the bowl yard for the east hump. On the other side of the viaduct, the view eastward takes in both the east departure yard and the west receiving yard, as well as a bypass track that forms the south leg of the wye at 67th Street (see below). The wye itself is also visible to the northeast. All of the Class 1 railroads use Clearing, especially Union Pacific, CSX and Canadian National. Cicero Avenue is a very busy thoroughfare, so be careful when crossing it. Because Midway Airport is just north of here, lodging is readily available along Cicero in the Marquette Road vicinity.
Clearing Yard is more than four miles long and approximately a half mile wide. Much of the area is inaccessible to all but railroad personnel. However, there are two busy wyes worth exploring in the area. The first is located near the northeast corner of the yard, the other is at the yard's far west end. Both can be accessed safely.
67th Street Wye
A few blocks east of Cicero Avenue on 67th Street (also called Marquette Road), the Belt's north-south main line splits into a wye. The east leg is double track and accesses the receiving and departure yards at the east end of Clearing. It also provides a bypass around the yard for trains to and from the Belt's east-west main (the Belt's main line is basically an "L" shape with the wye at the corner of the L, and Clearing Yard to its left). The wye's west leg is single track and leads into the hump area of Clearing. The south leg of the wye is a bypass track around the west receiving yard. The photo at right shows a Belt switch job heading north on the west leg. However, the best view of the wye is from an alley that runs right alongside of the wye's east leg. You can park there and observe all of the action. The neighborhood poses no safety problems.
Roughly 30-35 trains a day can be seen here daily, and most of them are Class 1 movements. Canadian Pacific and Canadian National provide the most action. Unfortunately, only about one in five trains is a Belt Railway move.
Harlem Avenue Wye
At the west end of Clearing, two sets of tracks exit the yard. The Belt's tracks to 55th Street Junction head north and parallel Harlem Avenue to 63rd Street and then veer eastward. Of greater interest are the tracks that continue west underneath the Harlem Avenue viaduct. Just past the bridge they diverge, forming a wye with the north leg feeding into the IHB/CSX joint line that runs from Blue Island to Franklin Park by way of LaGrange and Argo.The south leg also feeds into the joint line with the latter forming the wye's west leg. To get here, turn east onto an industry service road a few blocks south of the Harlem overpass. Turn left immediately and continue to a gravel area on the right and park. From there you can walk west under the viaduct to the beginning of the wye. Or if you're feeling friskier, you can walk up to the viaduct for a superb, overhead view from the west sidewalk. In the photo at right, a CSX train is departing Clearing and entering the wye's south leg. The Harlem overpass is in the background. The north and south legs together feature around 40 trains a day. CSX and other Class 1 roads use the wye, as well as IHB and of course the Belt itself.