LocationAn excellent place to observe Canadian National's ex-Illinois Central main line, Homewood is easily reached by taking the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-94) south from downtown Chicago to the Tri-State Tollway (I-80). Head west on the Tri-State about two miles and exit at Halsted Street (Illinois Rte. 1). Go south on Halsted and turn right at 183rd Street. Head west for a mile and a half. Just before the rail overpass, turn right on Harwood Avenue. Go north three blocks to Kroner Avenue. You'll see a rail viewing platform on your left. Directly across Harwood from it, is a public parking lot.
You can also reach Homewood by rail. Take a Metra Electric train from Millennium Station (Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street) or Van Buren Street station (also on Michigan Avenue). Be sure to catch a University Park train; the Blue Island and South Chicago lines do not reach Homewood.
The former Illinois Central main line and the Metra Electric commuter route to University Park run side by side here. Both lines are double track with Metra on the west. Of course the commuter service was once an IC operation as well, but Metra, Chicago's commuter transportation agency, assumed control of the electric lines in 1986. It now owns the equipment, tracks, stations and other infrastructure. Metra and CN operations are completely independent of one another, with each having its own dispatchers, train crews and maintenance force. In addition to a high-level Metra boarding platform, an Amtrak low-level platform is sandwiched between the IC mains. Both platforms can be accessed via a tunnel running underneath the tracks. To the east of the IC main are several running tracks that head north and then veer off to the east (see top photo). They lead to CN's Markham Yard and Moyers intermodal facility. Switching action is common on the runners, with long cuts of cars being pulled out from the yard and then being shoved back. Both road power and switchers can be found on these movements. However, with CN's acquisition of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern, Markham has been downsized to make room for an expanded Moyers terminal.
The IC main and running tracks together feature more than 30 freight movements a day, including road freights, switch moves and transfers. Homewood is also an Amtrak stop for trains running south of Union Station on the CN main. There are three trains daily in each direction: the City of New Orleans, the Illini and the Saluki. The latter two are popular with students of the University of Illinois in Champaign and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, where the trains terminate. Metra Electric's University Park route is one of the busiest on the Metra system, and features bilevel electric coaches that operate in pairs. Trains run hourly during midday with much more frequent service during weekday rush hours. Saturday trains also operate hourly with half hourly service during rush hours. Sunday service, however, is very sparse.
CN: 161.190, 161.460, 160.920
In March, 2007, the town of Homewood opened a train-watching platform along Harwood Avenue. It offers a safe and legal vantage point for observing the tracks, as well as both the Metra and Amtrak boarding platforms (see bottom photo). The platform is on the east side of the tracks, so mornings are best for photographers. The Metra and Amtrak boarding platforms can also be used if you want a closer look at the action but be sure and stand behind the yellow lines. Both can be accessed using a tunnel whose entrance is just north of the viewing platform (do NOT cross the tracks, CN has a very strict trespass policy). Metra's high-level platform offers a nice view, and both platforms are good for afternoon photos. The platform and stations are in downtown Homewood, so food and drink are available nearby. The surrounding neighborhood poses no safety problems. Homewood has long been a railroad center, and the town holds a Rail Heritage Weekend every third weekend of May, featuring a slide show, train show and prototype displays.
Note: In March, 2009, Amtrak announced a policy prohibiting photography from their boarding platforms. While there are some exceptions, railfan photography is covered by the ban. It is not clear whether the Homewood platform falls within Amtrak's jurisdiction, nor whether Amtrak is serious about enforcing it at small, outlying stations, but those who would rather not risk a run-in with Amtrak security are advised to use the Metra platform instead.
On the west side of the tracks and north of the station area, an IC GP10 (rebuilt GP9) and caboose are on static display. To reach them from the trainwatching platform, walk through the tunnel and then go north along Park Avenue.
For more on both the CN/IC main line and Metra Electric, see the Matteson page. See also Kensington and Grand Crossing on the Other South Side page, and Harvey on the Other South Suburban page.