Indiana Harbor Belt

Indiana Harbor Belt

The Indiana Harbor Belt (IHB or "the Harbor") is one of the important belt lines in the Chicago area. Historically, the IHB was jointly owned by the New York Central (NYC) and Milwaukee Road (CMStP&P), which is reflected by the IHB's easternmost and westernmost endpoints.

Main lines

The IHB main line extends 39.4 miles from Ivanhoe on the west side of Gary, Indiana, to Franklin Park, Illinois, near O'Hare Airport. It runs west from Ivanhoe through Gibson (Hammond, Indiana) to Blue Island, Illinois. There, it heads northwest and then north through Chicago's near western suburbs. The IHB main line is mostly double track.

Westbound IHB freight at Dolton, IL. Photo by Jon R. Roma

From Calumet Park, just on the Illinois side of the IL-IN state line, to Blue Island, the track is owned outright by the Harbor. The same is true of the trackage between McCook and Franklin Park. From Blue Island to a point near McCook, Illinois, the infrastructure is leased to the IHB but is owned and maintained by the Baltimore & Ohio Chicago Terminal, now a CSX subsidiary. In addition, the 7.1 miles of main line from Ivanhoe to Calumet Park, Illinois, is operated on a long-term lease agreement. 

IHB has another major route known as the Kankakee Line. It extends south from the lakefront at Indiana Harbor (East Chicago, Indiana) to a point near the crossing of the now-abandoned Erie Lackawanna Railroad, a distance of about seven miles. The IHB's main line and Kankakee line cross at Gibson in Hammond, Indiana, where the IHB headquarters and shops are located. 

IHB dispatches its entire railroad, including the parts leased from the B&OCT (CSX).


The IHB's major yards are as follows:

  • Blue Island Yard, located near Riverdale, Illinois, is the heart and soul of the IHB. It is one of the largest and busiest yards in the Chicago area with 44 classification tracks, and a hump for eastbound traffic. Blue Island is a major origin and destination point for most of the Class I railroads.
  • Gibson Yard in Hammond handles auto rack cars exclusively. IHB's shops, headquarters and servicing facilities are located at the east end of the yard.
  • Michigan Avenue Yard in East Chicago marshals traffic for the steel industries along Lake Michigan.
  • Lakefront Yard, also in the Indiana Harbor area, serves the steel mills and also serves as an interchange point with other area railroads.
  • Argo Yard serves the huge Corn Products plant near McCook, Illinois.
  • Smaller yards like Burnham and Norpaul (the latter in Franklin Park) serve local industries and build transfer movements to and from Class I connections.

Approximately 40% of the Harbor's revenue is derived from transfer traffic between other railroads together with switching and trackage rights fees. The remaining 60% comes from online industries, and about half of that is related to the steel industry. A large chunk of the rest is derived from grain processing plants throughout the Chicago area.

IHB system map from an operating timetable dated 1941.

The IHB maintains an official website. More information about the Indiana Harbor Belt can be found at Bill Gustason's IHB archive site. Some of the material on this page was adapted, with Bill's permission, from that site.


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