Willow Creek and Burns Harbor
Willow Creek and Burns Harbor
Located in the sprawling suburb of Portage, Indiana, Willow Creek is easily reached by exiting at Indiana Rte. 249 from I-94, the Borman (or Tri-State) Expressway. Go south to Old Porter Road, turn right and proceed about half a mile to Willow Creek Road. Turn left, the junction is just a few blocks. On your right, just before reaching the tracks, is a parking lot.
The junction can also be reached from the Indiana Toll Road (I-80/I-90). Take Exit 23 and go north to Old Porter Road. Turn left, and follow the above directions. You'll cross the junction on an overpass just before reaching Old Porter Road.
CSX's ex-Baltimore & Ohio double track mainline is crossed by its "Porter Branch," which it acquired as part of the Conrail breakup. Formerly, the Porter Branch was the ex-New York Central, ex-Michigan Central mainline from Detroit. However, the crossing at Porter Junction was severed years ago, and it is now just a single track branch heading west off the ex-NYC Chicago Line (now Norfolk Southern) at Porter. It feeds into the Indiana Harbor Belt main near Gibson Junction, and CSX (as CR did before it) uses trackage rights on the IHB west of there. In 1999, CSX installed a connector track in the southwest quadrant of the junction (see above photo), enabling westbound trains on the B&O to access the Porter line.
The Conrail split increased the traffic on the B&O line, with more than 50 trains a day polishing the rails. Traffic on the Porter Branch east of here diminished to four or five trains daily after the Conrail breakup, but it has picked up in recent years. Traffic west of the junction is more frequent owing to trains using the new connector track.
Until the early 1980s, Norfolk Southern's ex-Wabash Chicago-Toledo line passed through here, crossing both the Michigan Central and the B&O. In its heyday, this line saw roughly 15 to 20 freights a day, but NS abandoned it and diverted the traffic to their ex-Nickel Plate artery. With all the highway construction in the area — and the work CSX has done around the junction — it is difficult now to discern where the right of way was.
Woodland Park occupies the northwest quadrant of the junction. Use the parking lot there and walk the short distance to the tracks. Do not venture away from the sidewalk along Willow Creek Road.
Three miles north of Willow Creek is a nice spot for observing both Norfolk Southern's busy Chicago Line and the parallel tracks of the Chicago, South Shore and South Bend. Also viewable are the lead tracks at the west end of Burns Harbor Yard, which serves Bethlehem Steel and other nearby mills and factories. An Indiana Harbor Belt local serving the Port of Indiana can occasionally be seen here as well. To get here from Willow Creek, return to to the I-94 exit. Continue on Rte. 249 another mile or so and turn left at US Rte. 12 (do NOT take an earlier exit marked with a sign announcing the South Shore's station at Ogden Dunes). About 200 yards west of the 249 bridge over Rte. 12 is a closed off grade crossing. Park just west of it on the north side of Rte. 12. Stay south of the South Shore tracks. But be careful; South Shore trains typically blast through here at around 70 mph. To get to Burns Harbor without first going to Willow Creek, simply exit I-94 at Rte. 249 and go north to the Rte. 12 exit.
For more on CSX (ex-B&O, ex-B&OCT) junctions, see Blue Island, Brighton Park, 75th Street, Dolton and State Line. See also Calumet, Miller and Pine Junction at Northwest Indiana (various) and Calumet Park at South suburbs (various).
The Other Northwest Indiana page also contains locations for the NS main (Pine, Whiting station), the Porter Branch (Gibson, Tolleston) and the South Shore (Miller, Ogden Dunes).
For more on CSX's Porter Branch, see Porter.