One of the best-known junctions in the Midwest, Porter is an important location on the former New York Central, and straddles the towns of Porter and Chesterton, Indiana.
Norfolk Southern's ex-Conrail, ex-New York Central Chicago Line has three other lines feeding into it here. From the east are, first, CSX's ex-Chesapeake & Ohio, ex-Pere Marquette line from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and second, the ex-NYC / Michigan Central mainline from Detroit, now owned by Amtrak between Porter and Kalamazoo, Michigan. West of here, CSX and Amtrak use trackage rights on NS into Chicago. Entering the junction from the west is the former Conrail ex-NYC, ex-MC "Porter Branch" acquired by CSX in the Conrail breakup. Near Gibson in Hammond, Indiana, it joins the Indiana Harbor Belt main line. CSX trains then use trackage rights to a point just east of Dolton Junction, where they can transfer to the former B&OCT main and reach CSX's Barr Yard. At one time, the Porter Branch and the Amtrak line formed a continuous route (the Michigan Central mainline) that crossed the Chicago Line here. However, the diamonds were removed in the 1970s, leaving two separate lines that terminate at the junction.
In addition, an Elgin, Joliet and Eastern branch line from Griffith, Indiana, entered the junction from the southwest and connected with the Chicago Line a few blocks east of the diamonds. The open area east of 15th Street along the NS tracks was the site of an interchange yard for NYC and EJ&E. The J's "Porter Line"--as it was known-- was abandoned in the mid 1980s. The abandoned right-of-way was south of the area displayed on the map at the right and ran on a NE/SW tangent. It fed into the Chicago Line to the right of where the map ends.
Traffic on the NS Chicago Line is heavy. The Amtrak ex-MC line features eight passenger trains a day (four each direction), six of them Detroit trains. The Chicago-Port Huron train (the "Blue Water") also uses the line, and an occasional NS local freight can be seen as well. Until 2005, more Canadian Pacific trains could be found on the CSX Grand Rapids line than those of that line's owner. Trackage rights on the Chicago Line were subsequently obtained by CP, and its trains now travel on NS by way of a connection at Butler, Indiana. As a result, traffic on the CSX route has declined, but still includes Amtrak's Chicago-Grand Rapids service.
Traffic on CSX's Porter Branch is spotty. Only a handful of CSX trains use it, but BNSF and UP trains to/from NS's giant yard at Elkhart, Indiana, can also be seen, as well as an occasional NS movement.
A tower once stood where the Amtrak route feeds into the Chicago Line, but it was demolished many years ago and the junction (now known simply as "CP 482") has been remotely controlled ever since. Shortly after the MC diamonds were removed, both the Amtrak line and the Porter Branch were reduced to single track routes, although the latter has a siding about a half mile east of the junction. Porter is not what it was back in the 1950s, but it is still an important and busy location.
AccessThe best legal vantage point for the action at Porter (shown on the embedded map above) is the south side of the NS Chicago Line along 15th St. From this point, the CSX line is about 25 yards to the north as it converges onto NS. The Amtrak line is about two blocks to the north and enters the junction about a block and a half to the west. This area is devoid of trespass signs but is railroad property. While some visitors park here, apparently without incident, it is probably best to park further away and explore the area on foot, staying close to the road.
The triangular area formed by the Chicago Line, the Amtrak line and Wagner Road would be the best spot for viewing the action, and this was once a popular gathering spot. But the foolish actions of a few ruined it for everyone else. The area is now plastered with trespass signs, and NS (like CR before it) is serious. Do NOT enter this area; you may be ticketed or even arrested.
Another popular spot for the Chicago Line is the former Chesterton passenger depot about a mile east of the junction in downtown Chesterton. You won't see trains on the Amtrak or Grand Rapids routes, but it is an excellent (and legal) place to view NS Chicago Line traffic.