South Side (various)
South Side (various)
Four additional locations of interest, plus briefer coverage of some historically important sites. However, most of these locations are now off limits or provide less than ideal legal access.
Located at Clark and 16th streets, this junction can be reached by driving south on Clark from downtown. Unfortunately, there is no public access to the interlocking.
Running north-south through here is Metra's ex-Rock Island commuter line from Joliet; it terminates at LaSalle Street Station, about a mile to the north. Entering from the southwest and then heading due east is Canadian National's ex-Illinois Central Iowa line (the same line that passes through 21st Street). It also carries traffic from CN's ex-IC, ex-GM&O line from Joliet. Feeding into CN from the west is the St. Charles Air Line, jointly owned by Canadian National, BNSF and Union Pacific. About a mile west of here at Union Avenue interlocking, the Air Line climbs and passes over the Amtrak and Metra yards south of Union Station. It then crosses the south branch of the Chicago River on an enormous, bascule-type bridge before arriving here. A connector track in the junction's southwest quadrant allows Air Line trains to access the Metra line, but most continue east on CN to the lakefront where the tracks turn south and become the CN/IC Chicago main line.
Traffic through here is heavy at rush hours but moderate through the rest of the day, with Metra supplying most of the action. On weekdays, commuter trains run hourly during midday and more frequently at rush hours. They run every two hours on weekends. The Air Line and CN see a total of about 25 to 30 trains a day. Most are transfers heading to or from CN's Markham Yard and intermodal complex in the south suburbs, but CN road trains off the former Wisconsin Central are common too. The tower continues in operation and is staffed by Metra operators.
- New York Central passenger trains running on the former Lake Shore & Michigan Southern route terminated at LaSalle Street Station (Michigan Central trains were added in the 1950s), as did Nickel Plate passenger trains on trackage rights. The NYC tracks paralleled the Rock Island's, but were removed shortly after Amtrak began operation. The station building was torn down in the 1970s and replaced with an office tower. The Metra station is at the rear of the tower, about a block south of Van Buren Street.
- The Chicago & Western Indiana's four-track main line to Dearborn Station paralleled CN from the southwest and then passed underneath the Air Line and Metra on a depressed ROW. The C&WI carried passenger trains of the Wabash, GTW, Erie, C&EI, Monon and Santa Fe to the station. The ROW is can still be seen from the Airline bridge but is now filled with weeds instead of tracks. The Dearborn Station building still stands and has been converted into a mini shopping mall. South of it, where the train shed was located, is a park, and beyond there, where the tracks narrowed to four, an apartment complex now stands.
- Looking west from the junction you will see a another moveable bridge alongside the Air Line's. It will never be used again. The bridge once carried B&O passenger trains to Grand Central Station, one of the most architecturally impressive railroad structures ever constructed. The tracks are long gone and, in what many preservationists consider a criminal act, the station was demolished in 1971.
Located south of Archer Road and east of Cicero Avenue, the junction is best accessed from Archer by turning south at Kostner Avenue. Turn right at 53rd Street and go two blocks to Kilbourn. A road on the left leads to the junction, which is just north and a bit east of Midway Airport. Stay well back from the tracks and off railroad property.
An all Belt Railway junction, the Belt's double track north-south main line is crossed by a single track branch line. To the west, the branch wraps around the north and west sides of the airport and enters the Belt's huge Clearing Yard located just south of Midway. The northwest quadrant houses an important connector track. Trains coming south on the main line will take the connector if they are to enter Clearing from the west. If they are to bypass the yard or switch at the east end, they will stay on the main line and continue south through the junction. There is another connector in the southeast quadrant enabling trains coming north on the main line to head east to connections with other railroads. An abandoned Indiana Harbor Belt line once paralleled the the Belt's branch line through here and reached the stockyards about four miles to the east. Replacing it is a Chicago Transit Authority rapid transit route built in the late 1980s. Known as the "Orange Line", it enters the area from the east on a viaduct that parallels the Belt and IHB right-of-ways to the east. It then bends south at the junction, crosses over the main line and terminates at the airport about a mile to the southwest.
Traffic here is by no means restricted to Belt trains. Canadian Pacific and other Class 1 transfers are common, although many of them use the northwest connector instead of proceeding through the junction. The heaviest traffic is on the north-south line, about 40 trains a day including connector movements. Of course CTA trains pass overhead much more frequently. There are no trespass signs but it is wise to stay well back from the main line. Access has become more difficult since 2008 with the construction of a fenced parking lot in the quadrant. The local neighborhood is a reasonably safe area.
75th Street – Forest HillLocated about two miles east of Hayford Junction, this busy junction can be reached by exiting the Dan Ryan Expressway at 71st Street and heading west about two and a half miles. A few blocks past Damen Avenue is Oakley Street. Turn left on Oakley and take it till it ends at the junction.
Two parallel east-west double track routes are crossed by a double track north-south route. The latter is CSX's ex-B&OCT main line that runs north from Blue Island and also passes through Brighton Park Crossing. The east-west tracks nearest you are the Belt Railway of Chicago's busy east-west main line, terminating at the Belt's Clearing Yard about two miles to the west. The other east-west tracks belong to Norfolk Southern. Originally, this was the Wabash Railroad's main line to St.Louis, but it now terminates at a chemical plant in Manhattan, Illinois, about 35 miles to the southwest.
Much of the traffic runs to or from Norfolk Southern's Landers Yard, just west of here. The Wabash operated commuter trains to the suburb of Orland Park on this line, and they are still running thanks to Metra, the Chicago area's commuter rail agency, and a few trains now travel beyond Orland Park to Manhattan. In the good old days, the Pennsylvania Railroad's double track Panhandle main line also ran through here, paralleling CSX on the east, but it was downgraded in the 1970's and torn up in the 1980's. Little evidence remains of its existence at the crossing, but to the north a CSX's 59th Street intermodal yard occupies the ROW. There are connectors in both the northwest and northeast quadrants, with the latter seeing the most traffic.
The BRC line is the busiest line, with CSX and NS following in that order. All told, close to 100 trains rumble through the junction on a typical day. CSX, NS and Union Pacific use the BRC to access Clearing, and their trains can be seen more often than those of the Belt. Metra service is limited mostly to rush hour service, with no trains on the weekends. The junction is now controlled by CSX dispatchers.
Oakley Street takes you to the spacious northwest quadrant, where a connector track between CSX and the Belt can be seen. Unfortunately, in early 2008 CSX cordoned off the entrance to the junction and has posted trespass signs. Do not enter the area; a fairly good view of the junction can be seen from the foot of Oakley Street. The surrounding neighborhood is not dangerous, but caution is advisable. It's perhaps best to go in a group.
Pullman Jct. is on an east-west elevation that parallels the north side of 95th Street (US Rtes. 12 and 20) and is just west of Stony Island Blvd. The area may be accessed from the north by heading west a couple of blocks on 94th Street from Stony Island. There are access roads on the south side of the junction, but they are off limits to the public.
The Belt Railway of Chicago (BRC), a major terminal road, and shortline Chicago Rail Link (CRL) travel the length of the elevation with the double track BRC on the north side. In the old days, the CRL trackage belonged to the Rock Island and was also used by the B&OCT and other roads. Both BRC and CRL connect with Norfolk Southern's ex-CR Chicago Line two miles to the east. Some NS trains —as well as CP trains using NS trackage rights — use the tracks here to reach BRC's huge Clearing Yard in southwest Chicago. In addition, CSX intermodal trains use BRC tracks to access CSX's Bedford Intermodal Terminal just south of Clearing.
Until the 1980s, the Chicago and Western Indiana, which carried Erie, C&O and Monon trains into Chicago, entered the junction from the southeast and then curved to the west, running between between BRC and CRL. These tracks are now used by NS, whose ex-NKP main also enters from the southeast paralleling the C&WI. At one time, NKP had a line crossing CRL and BRC that headed northwest to a connection with Illinois Central; the line also carried NKP passenger trains into Chicago. This line has been cut back and is now just a long lead track. Entering the junction from the southwest is the Pullman district industrial branch, used by NS, CRL and others to service industries to the south.
Once one of the busiest junctions in Chicago, Pullman now sees only modest traffic — an educated guess would be about 40 to 45 trains a day. Probably most of the traffic consists of NS transfers and locals working out of Calumet Yard, which begins just south of the interlocking. However, traffic through the junction appears to have increased somewhat since the Conrail split, with road trains from NS, CSX and CP using the BRC tracks more often than BRC itself. The CRL line sees limited traffic, consisting mostly of locals and switch jobs. The area around the junction, while not dangerous, has seen better days. Caution is advised.
Featuring the same busy NS and CSX north-south lines that pass through Brighton Park, Ash Street is located along the Chicago River's south branch. It is less than a mile north of Brighton and in the shadow of the Stevenson Expressway. The NS and CSX lines are crossed here by Canadian National's ex-Illinois Central line to Iowa. However, since this line is not as busy as the CN line through Brighton, Ash Street sees less traffic. In the old days, the Santa Fe main line paralleled the IC tracks, but it has been abandoned east of here (its main purpose was carrying Santa Fe passenger trains to Dearborn Station). A BNSF track still approaches the junction from the west but curves south and feeds into NS at Brighton. Ash Street Tower still stands but it was closed in December, 2001. It apparently is now used in some other capacity. With the impressive rail bridges over the Chicago River, Ash is a smaller-scale version of Blue Island.
Once one of the least accessible junctions in Chicago, Ash can now be safely and legally accessed from the parking lot of a boat launch facility constructed in 2009. Follow the directions for Brighton Park, but turn right at Western Avenue (not Western Boulevard which parallels it on the east). A few blocks north, Western begins to curve to your right, but you will see a street that continues straight north. Turn onto this street and take it till it ends at the boat ramp. The parking lot is public property with no parking fee. A path leads from the parking lot up to the junction. You can stand back from the tracks off railroad property and still get a nice view of the crossing. The parking lot itself is a good observation point for trains crossing the bridges.
Below are some south side crossings of historical importance. Many are still quite busy but are difficult to access, and some are located in unsafe areas.
Also known as "Belt Crossing," Hawthorne is approximately three miles north of 55th Street Crossing on the Chicago-Cicero border. It can be accessed by taking 31st Street west to Kostner Avenue and going south on Kostner to the tracks. The Belt Railway's north-south main line crosses Canadian National's ex-Illinois Central route to Iowa. When the Chicago Central & Pacific existed, their ownership began at this point. Paralleling the Belt to the west is a track belonging to short line Manufacturers Junction that was used mainly to service a large Western Electric plant. The plant was closed in the early 1990s, but other industries moved into the facility and were served by MJ until about 2006. At one time, a former Chicago & Illinois Western track crossed the Belt just south of the CN crossing, but it was removed a few years ago. There are connectors in the northeast, southeast and southwest quadrants, all of which appear to be used fairly often. A small yard once occupied the southeast quadrant, but most of the tracks have been taken up. The majority of traffic is on the Belt with frequent movements by Class 1 roads headed to/from Clearing Yard. Traffic is modest on the Iowa line and likely will be reduced even further when CN finishes its connection with the EJ&E at Munger.
Located just south of Archer Road and east of Lawndale Avenue, the CTA's Orange Line travels east-west through here over an abandoned Indiana Harbor Belt line that once ran to the Chicago stock yards. The Belt Railway's branch through 55th Street parallels the Orange Line from the west and curves north here to enter BNSF's Corwith Yard. Entering from the south is CN's ex-Grand Trunk Western main which curves east here and parallels the Orange Line on the south. Coming out of Corwith and curving east to parallel the Orange Line on the north are two switch leads that occupy what was once the ROW of the Chicago River & Indiana (a terminal line controlled by New York Central). Despite all the trackage, traffic is light through here (except of course for the Orange Line). The switch leads probably see the most traffic. This junction is of interest mostly to rail historians. East of here, the CR&I, IHB and GTW all ran alongside one another on an elevation. The IHB ROW is now the Orange Line, the GTW is still here but the switch leads on the CR&I ROW peter out about a half mile east of the junction.
Located between Kedzie Avenue and Pulaski Road, this interlocking is just north of BNSF's ex-Santa Fe Corwith Yard. Here, the Stevenson Expressway travels southwest from downtown Chicago. Paralleling it on the north is BNSF's ex-Santa Fe main line; paralleling it on the south is Canadian National's ex-GM&O double track main to St. Louis. Coming north from the yard is a lead track that crosses CN and then curves west under the expressway and feeds into the BNSF main. Coming straight north out of the yard and crossing both main lines is a former Illinois Northern track that is now owned by BNSF. There's also a connector track in the southeast quadrant enabling trains on CN to access the yard.
The majority of traffic here consists of movements entering or departing the yard, although CN freights and Amtrak Chicago-St. Louis trains are fairly frequent as well. Light engine moves between Corwith and BNSF's intermodal facilities at Willow Springs and Logistics Park are common. Until November, 2008, Corwith tower controlled the interlocking. The tower is now closed and control has been passed from CN to BNSF. The tower was subsequently demolished. Accessibility is limited here, but a fairly good view can be had from off railroad property by turning onto 38th Street from Kedzie or Pulaski and taking it to St.Louis Avenue. Head north on St.Louis till it ends.
Nerska and Lemoyne
About a mile and a half southwest of Corwith, the parallel BNSF and CN mains are crossed by the Belt Railway's north-south main line. The CN crossing is called "Lemoyne" and the BNSF diamonds are "Nerska". Both are just east of Cicero Avenue and about a half mile directly south of Hawthorne. The two crossings are separated by the Stevenson Expressway, a distance of perhaps 75 yards. From one of the crossings you can peer under the expressway bridges spanning the Belt and see the other. At Lemoyne, there is a connection in the southeast quadrant between CN and the Belt. Both crossings are remotely controlled and see a good deal of traffic with Nerska being the busiest. Access is difficult however and the elevated expressway hampers visibility. From 47th Street, head north on Knox Avenue, which parallels the Belt on the west. At the end of the street is a vacant lot which provides a fairly good view of the Lemoyne diamonds. Even so, BNSF is better viewed at Joliet, CN at Bridgeport, and the north-south Belt main at the 67th Street wye.
Lying about a mile south of Hayford Junction, Ashburn is near the intersection of Columbus Avenue and 83rd Street. Here, Canadian National's ex-Grand Trunk Western main line crosses Norfolk Southern's ex-Wabash line to St.Louis. The NS line has been abandoned south of Manhattan, Illinois, but it is still a fairly busy route at this point. Metra's Southwest Service commuter trains between Manhattan and downtown Chicago provide most of the action, with perhaps eight or ten NS freights using it as well. Most transfer at Chicago Ridge to the joint IHB/CSX route through the western suburbs. Before 2011, CN operated perhaps 10 to 15 trains a day through here, nearly all of them using a connection at Hayford that provides access to the Belt Railway's Clearing Yard. However, in 2013 CSX took over operation of this line via an easement granted by CN. As a result CN traffic is minimal with CSX trains comprising most of the traffic. CSX movements include both freights to Clearing and intermodal trains headed to their nearby Bedford Park intermodal terminal.
While traffic through here is moderate, access is easy. The Ashburn commuter station is just west of the crossing, and station parking lots are located in both the northwest and southwest quadrants. The local neighborhood seems reasonably safe.
Located at State and 63rd streets, this was quite a place back in the old days. The parallel Pennsylvania and New York Central main lines entered from the southeast. The Rock Island main line entered from the southwest, crossed the Pennsy and then headed due north. The NYC also curved north at the junction and paralleled the Rock to LaSalle Street Station in downtown Chicago. The Pennsy continued northwest for a short stretch before heading north to Union Station. The three lines thus formed a triangle here, and enclosed within it was Englewood Station which served passenger trains of all three roads, including commuter trains on the Rock. This was a busy junction, seeing many freight trains as well as passenger traffic. The 20th Century Limited and the Broadway Limited would often depart Englewood at the same time and begin their well-known, impromptu race to the Indiana state line.
It's much different now. The station was closed and demolished in the 1970s, most of the NYC trackage has been removed and the Rock Island tracks are now the property of Metra, Chicago's commuter transportation agency. Englewood Tower was closed and razed in 1995. Commuter trains no longer stop here but they pass through frequently on weekdays. The Pennsy main was conveyed to Conrail in 1976 and now belongs to Norfolk Southern; it is quite active and features nearly all Amtrak trains between Chicago and eastern points. There is also activity at the Park Manor intermodal yard just east of the junction. However, the surrounding neighborhood is a high-crime area. The best way to see Englewood is to ride a train through it.
In October, 2014, the Metra/Rock line was elevated, thus removing an at grade crossing that was the source of much congestion on the NS/Amtrak route. The project was part of the CREATE program for improving the flow of rail traffic in the Chicago area.
Not a crossing at grade, Canadian National's ex-Illinois Central main line and Metra Electric's ex-IC commuter route pass underneath two parallel bridges: one carrying the former Pennsylvania main, the other the ex-New York Central main. Most of the tracks on the NYC bridge have been taken up, but the Pennsy span carries the same NS freights and Amtrak trains that pass through Englewood. The CN/IC main sees about 30 or 35 trains a day, including Amtrak's City of New Orleans and Illini. The Metra tracks are quite busy, especially at rush hours, and feature South Shore trains as well. Grand Crossing is about two miles southeast of Englewood, half way between Cottage Grove and Stony Island avenues at 76th Street. Both ROW's are on elevations, making access difficult, and the local neighborhood is a bit risky in any case. But a Metra train will take you from downtown Chicago to the 75th Street/Grand Crossing station. The platform provides a nice view of the CN/IC tracks, and the Pennsy overhead bridge is about 75 or 80 yards to the south. Sight lines are a little awkward, though, since the mostly trackless NYC bridge is in front of the Pennsy structure. Indiana Harbor and the Hammond-Whiting Amtrak station afford a better view — and more freight traffic.
Rock Island Junction
Sometimes called "South Chicago Crossing," this junction is 1.5 miles east of Pullman Junction and just west of the Calumet River. Located in the triangle formed by South Chicago Avenue, Commercial Avenue and 95th Street, the junction is near the intersection of Commercial and 95th, underneath the Chicago Skyway which passes high overhead on a northwest/southeast viaduct. Norfolk Southern's ex-CR Chicago Line runs alongside the Skyway on an elevation just below it. This was once the ROW of the parallel Pennsylvania and New York Central main lines, but Penn Central and Conrail removed the NYC tracks years ago. Entering from the west on an elevation below Norfolk Southern's is the Belt Railway of Chicago's line from Pullman.
The Belt splits here, with one line passing under NS and running to the lakefront. The other heads south through the industrial area along the west bank of the river. A connection from NS to the Belt lies just east of here, and some NS trains, plus a few Canadian Pacific trains on trackage rights, transfer to BRC and proceed west through BRC's South Chicago Yard (which begins just west of the junction) to Pullman and ultimately to Clearing Yard (a few CP trains use the Belt main all the way to Bensenville). Transfers and switch jobs from BRC and Chicago Rail Link occasionally move through here as well, as do South Chicago & Indiana Harbor trains. SC&IH is the successor to Chicago Short Line, which ceased operation when the LTV steel plants closed. However, the plants were reopened in 2002 and now belong to Arcelor-Mittal Steel, the owner of SC&IH. NS is the busiest route, but traffic is heavier — and access is easier — at the Hammond-Whiting Amtrak station, Indiana Harbor and Porter. The BRC sees only a modest amount of traffic. Access is a problem here and the surrounding neighborhood is a bit rough.
River Branch Junction
Located just across the Calumet River from Rock Island, the "River Branch" leaves the NS main here and runs south along the river's east bank. The branch was formerly a Pennsylvania property, and was taken over by Conrail. It is now owned by NS and operated by both NS and Indiana Harbor Belt. The branch is still fairly active and serves several industries along the river. In 1995, a new connection to NS was built here, enabling CSX and Canadian Pacific trains to access NS from the former B&OCT passenger line, which parallels NS to the southeast. Chicago Short Line switch jobs once used the connection, and successor South Chicago & Indiana Harbor does the same.
The Chicago & Western Indiana and Belt Railway Corridor
Running from 74th Street south to 91st Street is a series of junctions located a half mile west of State Street. The former Chicago & Western Indiana main line runs north-south through here, and at 74th the tracks of the Belt Railway main and Norfolk Southern's ex-Wabash line enter from the west. The Belt curves south and parallels the C&WI. The Wabash curves north and joins the C&WI; Metra's Orland Park commuter trains transfer from the former to the latter here and continue north to Union Station. Metra now owns the C&WI north of 74th. From 74th to 80th Street it's owned by Norfolk Southern, and from 80th south through Dolton the owner is Union Pacific.
At 79th Street Metra's ex-Rock Island main crosses over both the Belt and C&WI. In the good old days, a morass of trackage extended south from 80th to 87th streets. Here, the C&WI split three times.
First, freight and passenger traffic diverged and operated on two separate, dedicated routes, with the freight tracks crossing the Belt main at grade at the 80th Street interlocking plant.
Second, the freight tracks divided at 80th with one line heading southeast to State Line Crossing and the other going due south to Dolton. The passenger line climbed and then crossed over the Belt main and the parallel State Line freight tracks at about 86th Street.
Finally, the passenger line also divided into separate State Line and Dolton routes. The latter joined the Dolton freight main just north of Oakdale Crossing (90th Street), and the former curved southeast and joined the State Line freight tracks east of where the Dan Ryan expressway now passes underneath (about a half mile east of Oakdale).
Entering from the west and crossing the Dolton line at Oakdale was the Rock Island's double track South Chicago branch that continued east to meet and then parallel the Belt and C&WI State Line main.
The three lines came together at the Dan Ryan Expressway underpass, and they then proceeded east side by side to Pullman Junction. The Rock Island tracks not only saw transfers and switch jobs, but also hosted Baltimore & Ohio passenger trains on their circuitous route to downtown Chicago.
The accompanying, rough-and-ready map shows the area as it once was. The following abbreviations are used: "SL" for State Line, "DOL" for Dolton, "FRT" for freight and "PSR" for passenger.
Much has changed since the golden days. The C&WI State Line freight main has been torn up (in part because of the Dan Ryan construction in the 1950s), but the State Line passenger main still sees considerable traffic. Norfolk Southern purchased it in the 1980s, and while no passenger trains ply it now, NS uses it to route trains from the former NKP Calumet Yard to both their ex-Wabash Landers Yard and the Belt's Clearing Yard.
The Dolton freight line is still a major freight route and is now the property of Union Pacific. It connects with the Belt at 80th Street and provides UP with access to Clearing Yard. CSX trains on trackage rights can also be found here, using it to reach both Clearing and their Bedford Park intermodal terminal. The Dolton passenger main, however, has been torn up, and its ROW is barely discernible from Oakdale. The Rock Island line is now single track and owned by short line Chicago Rail Link. CRL transfers interchange with the Belt and NS, and switch jobs service some industries on the far south side.
This is a fascinating area to explore, but with the exception of Oakdale crossing, most of the area is off-limits and the surrounding neighborhood is a little dicey.
Located less than a mile west of the 115th Street exit of I-94 (the Bishop Ford — formerly the Calumet — Expressway), driving to Kensington is easy but not recommended without the exercise of caution.
Instead, take a Metra (ex-IC) Electric commuter train from downtown Chicago to the Kensington/115th Street station and stay on the platform. In addition, trains coming from the south on Metra's University Park main line and their Blue Island branch line stop at the station.
The Metra Electric and Canadian National's ex-Illinois Central main line run parallel on an elevation here. Entering from the east is the South Shore which crosses the freight tracks and joins Metra just south of the station. South Shore trains then proceed on trackage rights to Randolph Street in downtown Chicago. Until the early 1980s, Conrail's ex-NYC, ex-MC main line from Michigan paralleled the South Shore's approach and joined the IC freight tracks here. However, the connection has been removed and the line cut back from Kensington. Metra's Blue Island commuter branch leaves the main line a half mile south of the station. The tower is closed as an interlocking station, but the building is still in use by Metra.
Commuter traffic is heavy on the Metra line, and especially so at rush hours. The CN/IC tracks see about 30 trains a day, including Amtrak's Illini, Saluki and City of New Orleans. Most freights are road trains headed to/from CN's Markham Yard and intermodal complex near Homewood, Illinois. A few NS trains on trackage rights can also be seen.