LaGrange and Congress Park
LaGrange and Congress Park
One of the busiest locations in the Chicago area, LaGrange can be reached by taking the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) to 25th Avenue. Exit and head south (25th eventually becomes Kemman Avenue) three and one-half miles to Shawmut Street. Turn right, cross the tracks and turn left on Tilden Avenue. You can park just off Tilden on Calendar Avenue.
To get to the Congress Park station platform from Tilden, walk up a stairway leading to the Ogden Avenue overpass. Walk east on Ogden a few blocks to DuBois Street and then head north a block to the station. If you're too lazy to walk, go south on Tilden to Lincoln Street. Turn left on Lincoln (it becomes Rochester Avenue after a few blocks) and then left again on DuBois. The station is just a few blocks.
You can take a Metra/BNSF commuter train to Congress Park, but service to the station is limited on weekdays and non-existent on weekends. However, the LaGrange station is less than a half mile to the west and nearly all trains stop there. You can walk east a few blocks along Burlington Street and get to Tilden by using the above-mentioned stairway. Then using the above directions, go further east to Congress Park.
LaGrange is not a crossing at grade. BNSF's ex-BN, ex-Burlington "racetrack" crosses over the joint Indiana Harbor Belt / CSX main line from Blue Island to Franklin Park. Both lines are triple track, although only two of the IHB tracks are designated as mains. The racetrack sees large numbers of both freight and commuter trains (the latter are dubbed "dinkies" by rail personnel), along with Amtrak's Southwest Chief, California Zephyr and corridor trains to Quincy, IL. The joint line is freight only, and while it is not as busy as the racetrack, it features a wide variety of trains. In addition to IHB and CSX movements, Norfolk Southern, Canadian Pacific and Union Pacific use it frequently. Occasionally, a Belt Railway train can be seen as well. CSX owns the line from Blue Island through Chicago Ridge and Argo to a point near McCook Crossing. From there north through LaGrange it is the property of IHB, who also dispatches the entire route. The line terminates at Franklin Park, where it feeds into the Metra/CP Milwaukee West Line. Rarely does 20 minutes pass without a train on one or both of the lines. The joint line is just below and parallel to Tilden Avenue while BNSF crosses over both. Although the crossing is not at grade, both routes can be observed without any sightline problems.
There are connector tracks in both the northeast and southeast quadrants. The latter is used for interchange between IHB and BNSF, with transfers running between here and Cicero Yard. The northeast connector is less active and leads up to BNSF's Congress Park Yard, which nowadays is used for MOW equipment and storage. The Congress Park station platform provides a safe place to view both the yard and the main line (however, the IHB main is not visible from the station). There is also a small IHB yard in the northeast connector area.
Metra traffic on the racetrack is heavy at rush hours. At other times, trains run hourly in each direction. The dinkies terminate at the southwest suburb of Aurora, about 25 miles from here. The Aurora terminal is in a remodelled roundhouse that was once a major facility of the Burlington. A trip out there is highly recommended. At the west end of Aurora, the racetrack splits: the Galesburg line runs west to Omaha and Denver, while the LaCrosse line runs northwest to Minneapolis / St.Paul.
LaGrange is one of the busiest locations in the Chicago area--ranking alongside Dolton, Blue Island and Hayford. Unlike the others it is an overhead crossing, but if that doesn't bother you, put it down on your must-see list.
BNSF: 161.100, 161.160
IHB: 160.980, 161.070
There are no trespass problems at either the overpass or the station, and the two locations are within easy walking distance of one another. At Tilden, the Ogden Avenue overpass provides some much needed shade on a hot summer's day. The stairway up to the overpass enables you to get a nice bird's eye view of the area. However, only the south side of the overpass has a sidewalk, and hence your view of the BNSF bridge to the north is limited. The surrounding neighborhood is quite safe, and photos are easy to come by.
Another location often used by visitors lies north of the BNSF overpass at the corner of Tilden and Shawmut. This spot is especially good for viewing and photographing the IHB line.
For more on IHB main line junctions, see Dolton, Blue Island, Franklin Park and Hohman Avenue. See also Chicago Ridge and Argo at West and Southwest suburbs (various), Calumet Park at South suburbs (various) and Gibson at Northwest Indiana (various).