North and Northwest suburbs (various)

North and northwest suburbs (various)


Photo by Chris Guss

Canadian National's ex-Wisconsin Central main line crosses the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern here. With Canadian National's purchase of EJ&E in January, 2009, Leithton (pronounced "LEETH-ton") is now an all-CN location. The crossing can be reached by taking I-94, the Tri-State Tollway, to Illinois Rte. 60 (Kennedy Road). Exit and head west about three and a half miles to Butterfield Road. Turn right and go north to a rail crossing. Turn left on the street just before the track (Leithton Road); the junction is at the end of the road — about three blocks. You will be in the southeast quadrant of the junction.

The CN/WC line was double tracked in 2005 to enable more frequent operation of Metra's North Central commuter trains. The trains run between Union Station in downtown Chicago and Antioch, Illinois, near the Wisconsin border. The CN/WC route is the same one that passes through Franklin Park and Deval. It was originally the Soo Line main before being acquired by Wisconsin Central.

A connection in the northwest quadrant allows CN trains from the north to access the J here. Before acquiring the J, use of this connection was pretty much limited to CN coal trains serving generating plants in Wisconsin, as well as trains to/from CN's Hawthorne Yard. However, with the acquisition, this connection takes on much greater importance. Nearly all of the 20-25 trains coming south from Wisconsin now transfer to EJ&E and continue south to Joliet. As part of the expansion, the connection has been double tracked and the curve broadened to enable trains to negotiate the tracks at faster speeds. Double tracking continues south (tt east) of the connection for several miles. Like Matteson and Griffith to the south, Leithton is now one of the most important interlockings on the CN system.

Only two or three CN trains continue to use the Wisconsin Central south of the crossing. North (tt west) of Leithton, the J sees only a limited amount of traffic, and CN might eventally sell it to a short line operator. However, Union Pacific coal trains on trackage rights use the J from West Chicago to Waukegan, so that might complicate matters. It's also possible that CN might sell the WC south of Leithton. Metra might wish to buy it from here to Franklin Park, where Metra North Central trains access the Metra Milwaukee West line.

There is another connection in the southwest quadrant but it is used mainly for car interchange between the former EJ&E and former WC.

The three locations described below feature Canadian National's ex-EJ&E main line being crossed by another route. With CN's takeover of the "J" in January, 2009, all three have seen a considerable increase in traffic. 


Located on the west side of the upscale suburb of Barrington, CN/EJE is crossed by Union Pacific's ex-CNW route to Janesville, Wisconsin. Traffic here consists mainly of Metra/UP Northwest Line commuter trains. Most of the commuters terminate at Crystal Lake, Illinois, but a few continue on to Harvard, near the Wisconsin border. This is the same route that travels through Deval, and is one of the busiest commuter lines in the Chicago area. Local freights can be seen on UP, but they are few and far between, especially with factory closings in the Janesville area. Train frequency on CN/EJE however has increased substantially as a result of the work done at Leithton. There is a connector in the southeast quadrant but it apparently sees little activity.

The crossing is a few blocks west of Rte. 59 and just north of the downtown area, but the easiest way to get here is to take a Metra train to the Barrington station and walk west about a half mile. Barrington tower, pictured here, was closed in 2004 and demolished in 2006.


Located east of Elgin, Illinois, the junction is on Spaulding Road just west of Naperville Road and south of U.S. Rte. 20. Here, the J crosses Metra's Milwaukee West Line to Elgin. Beyond Elgin, the line is owned by Canadian Pacific, who reacquired it when they purchased the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern in 2008 (CP had sold off this line in the early 1990's). Commuter trains dominate the traffic on Metra, but some local freights can also be seen, as well as a few CP road trains. There are connectors in the southwest and southeast quadrants, and local freights that serve an industrial area to the west sometimes use the former to access the CN/EJE. Traffic on the former J is now considerably greater than before the CN acquisition. Together with the Metra trains, Spaulding is now a fairly busy place.


The crossing is east of the suburb of South Elgin along Powis Road, which is about two miles west of Illinois Rte. 59. Access is very difficult, and the crossing is not at grade. CN/EJE here passes over CN's line to Iowa. The latter formerly belonged to Illinois Central and in the late 1980's and early 1990's it was the Chicago Central and Pacific. There is a connection in the northeast quadrant that has been upgraded by CN. Some trains from Wisconsin use it to access Hawthorne Yard, and a few use a connection with the Belt Railway to head south to Clearing Yard. Traffic on the Iowa route west of here is modest.

Other Locations

Techny (Tower A-20)

Located in the suburb of Northbrook on Techny Road just west of Illinois Rte. 43, the Metra Milwaukee North Line that runs through Rondout passes underneath Union Pacific's ex-Chicago & North Western New Line, an all-freight route that connects UP's freight line from Milwaukee with Proviso Yard in the west suburbs (for more on it, see the Bensenville and Deval pages). In the northwest quadrant of the crossing is a connector that enables Canadian Pacific freights on the Metra main to access the New Line. They then use trackage rights on UP to reach CP's Bensenville Yard just south O'Hare Airport. Many CP freights use the connector — traffic south of here on Metra consists mostly of Milwaukee North commuters and Amtrak trains. Since the crossing is not at grade, Bryn Mawr and Deval are better locations for the New Line.

Valley Jct.

Located a couple of miles northwest of Techny, the UP's New Line diverges to the southwest as a continuation of the freight line from Wisconsin (the latter continues south but sees only local freight movements). The freight line runs parallel to — and a mile or so west of — the Metra UP North Line (see Lake Bluff below). Traffic is modest here, with no commuter trains to increase the action. Then again, some purists might find that an asset.

Lake Bluff

The fashionable north shore suburb of Lake Bluff lies about eight miles south of Waukegan. Just north of the local commuter station, a connecting track diverges from the UP/Metra North Line and heads southwest for about a mile or so to join UP's ex-C&NW freight line from Wisconsin. UP freights use this connection, and south of here North Line traffic consists entirely of commuter trains. The interlocking is readily accessed via the station platform (see photo). Commuter trains are frequent, UP freights are not nearly as common.

The area around the Lake Bluff station is a fascinating one for those interested in rail archaeology. Three routes of the long-abandoned Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee interurban line came together here and the old rights-of-way are now paved biking trails. The CNS&M's Shore Line route continued straight south and its ROW is just east of the station. The high speed Skokie Valley line and the Mundelein branch headed west together, with the former veering south about a mile later to parallel the CNW (now UP) freight line. The Mundelein branch continued west paralleling Illinois Rte. 176 on the south, and its embankment now provides the elevated viewing area at Rondout. Some of the poles that carried the trolley wire are still in place along the Mundelein branch and carry high tension wires. This area is well worth exploring.


The connection that begins at Lake Bluff joins Union Pacific's ex-CNW freight line here. Located just a couple of miles west of the ultra-affluent suburb of Lake Forest, it can be reached by walking north from Deerpath Road on a biking trail that was once the CNS&M's Skokie Valley route. It's about a 3/4 mile trek and the trail parallels the freight line the entire distance. Traffic is moderate here, but it perhaps provides the best legal access in the area to the freight line.


Crossing of the CN's ex-EJ&E main and the UP ex-CNW freight line, Upton is about a half mile north of where Illinois Rte. 176 crosses the UP route. The junction is remote and can't be reached without trespassing on the UP service road alongside the track. This of course is not recommended, but with very modest traffic, there's little reason to visit anyway. The UP freight line is better accessed at KO, and the CN/EJE at Rondout or Leithton.

Prairie Crossing (Grayslake)

Located alongside Illinois Rte. 137 just south of the suburb of Grayslake, Canadian National's ex-Wisconsin Central main crosses Metra's Fox Lake branch that leads off the Canadian Pacific main at Rondout. The branch features the Metra Milwaukee North Line commuter trains that terminate at Fox Lake, about eight miles to the northwest. Freight traffic on the branch is limited to a couple of Wisconsin Southern freights and a CP local. The same CN freights and North Central commuter trains seen at Leithton can be seen here. The crossing is unusual in that the angle between the crossing tracks is very acute, perhaps less than 30 degrees. A connector in the east quadrant sees little use. Although the crossing is widely known as "Prairie," and commuter stations just south of the crossing on both lines are named "Prairie Crossing," the equipment boxes at the interlocking read "Grayslake." The junction can be reached from the Milwaukee North station by walking about a half mile along Rte. 137.


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