The Illinois Central has been part of the Canadian National system for more than 20 years.
It’s remarkable that classic IC SD40-2s (listed as ‘SD40-3s’ on some rosters presumably owing to changes to the locomotive electrical systems and other upgrades) survive in traditional black paint.
During my travels earlier this month with Chris Guss and Brian Schmidt, I made these photos of a pair of sequentially numbered IC SD40-2s working as rear-end helpers on a southward CN freight ascending Wisconsin Central’s Byron Hill.
Notice the GE builders ‘plate’ on the trailing unit.
Low evening sun and frigid temperatures made for some rosy light.
Exposed using my FujiFilm XT1 digital camera with 90mm f2.0 lens.
Class 1 North American railroading can still offer variety.
Take for example this photo I exposed of a northward Canadian National freight at Theresa, Wisconsin on Sunday, January 20, 2019.
In the lead is CN2500, a mid-1990s General Electric DASH9-44CW built with a four-piece windshield. This is followed by more 1990s-era motive power: a CN EMD-built SD75I, a BNSF EMD-built SD75M in classic Santa Fe style warbonnet paint; then finally two more examples of state-of-the-art General Electric diesels; a BNSF ET44C4 (An emissions compliant ‘Tier 4’ with A1A trucks) and Norfolk Southern ET44AC 3616, a six-motor ‘Tier 4’ model.
This was just one of many photos I exposed on an adventure with Chris Guss and TRAINS Magazine’s Brian Schmidt.
With some pavement passing beneath us in spirited run on the ascent to Byron, Brian Schmidt and I arrived at the Highway F overpass near the summit of Canadian National’s Wisconsin Central line over Byron Hill in time to record the passage of a northward double stack train meeting a southward freight.
I’ve featured both trains previously on Tracking the Light:
Byron Hill, Lost Arrow Road—Old location Revisited in January 2019.
For this post: as the northward train glided below me, I was watching for the DPU (the locomotive working as a ‘distributed power unit’, 1990s-speak for a ‘radio controlled remotely operated helper). I timed my exposure to document its passage as the uphill train approached.
These days, leading locomotives don’t necessarily reflect the operator or even the originator of long distance freights. In fact this is a Canadian National train, working the old Wisconsin Central line.
Musical legend and an electric guitar inventor, Les Paul was from Waukesha, and here a thoroughfare has been named for him. Its elevated crossing of CN made for nice vistas in both directions.
Although it was partly cloudy, momentarily brilliant morning sun made for nice illumination.
Both feature southward trains on the former Soo Line, Wisconsin Central route ascending Byron Hill on their way south from Fond du Lac, exposed in the morning from the overhead bridge near the top of the grade.
In the interval between the images, the line was improved to two-main track and Wisconsin Central Limited became part of the Canadian National system.
On February 3, 1995, Canadian National Railway’s American affiliate Central Vermont Railway ended operations.
Shortly thereafter, the newly created RailTex short line called New England Central assumed operation of the former CV route. Since that time, New England Central became part of Rail America, which was then acquired by Genesee & Wyoming.
Despite these changes, a few of New England Central’s start-up era GP38s are still on the move in the classy blue and yellow livery.
Although exposed more than 30 years apart. This pair of ‘then and now’ photos at Maple Street in Monson, Massachusetts, helps delineate my appreciation for New England Central and Central Vermont.
My twin posts focused on Lena, Illinois drew considerable interest and answers.
Regarding the monster eastward Canadian National freight; the actual number of cars carried on this one train was 280 (plus three leading locomotives and a lone DPU). That’s a real whopper at 1,144 axles (24 are the locomotives)!
A number of Tracking the Light readers wrote to me about the unusual GREX drawbar connected maintenance train. I’ve compiled these below into a brief essay.
The curious maintenance train was built by Georgetown Industries (a spinoff of Texas-based Georgetown Railroad), which uses the GREX reporting marks. This train is described by the manufacturer as a Self-Powered SlotMachine® and commonly as ‘slot train’ which is designed to distribute materials. Instead of conventional gondolas, this is in effect a string of permanently connected articulated gondolas with the ends removed.
Since there are no bulkheads between cars an excavator can be used to traverse the entire length to load or unload material. The train is especially useful when a railroad is faced with limited track access time or locations that are inaccessible by road. One application is to dump ballast between the rails on ‘skeletonized’ track.
One flaw with the train is that the solid draw bar and articulated connections between cars make it impossible to set out a car in case of defect.
The Slot train’s power is a relatively new creation and appears to be based on LORAM’S boxy power unit. Georgetown has several Slot train sets that work at various places around the country, the machinery is still being evaluated or leased an as of yet, these trains are a rare sight on American rails.
Another Georgetown creation is its Dump Train, which is a series of drawbar-connected hoppers featuring a conveyor belt running under the length of the train and a swing out conveyor belt at the unloading end to deliver aggregate line-side. The style of construction gives the train a nearly European appearance.
As noted in yesterday’s post, I’d been inspecting a maintenance train parked on the siding at Lena, when lo and behold, the signal cleared to green.
I alerted John Gruber and we took positions to make photographs.
So there we were along the old Illinois Central at Lena, Illinois in the fading glow of the evening sun. This had been IC’s line from Chicago via Dubuque to Council Bluffs, Iowa and Back in the mid-1990s it had been operated as a regional called the Chicago, Central & Pacific, before being re-incorporated into Illinois Central on the eve of IC being absorbed by Canadian National.
A headlight twinkled into view, and I could see that a freight was coming, but not very fast.
As it grew closer I had the innate sense that it was a really huge train.
Finally it roared by with CN SD70M-2 in the lead. Many cars into the train was a lone CN DASH8-40C employed as a DPU (distributed power unit, modern railroad lingo for a radio controlled remote.)
I’ll let you in on a secret: I counted the cars. And do you know what? This was the largest/longest train I’d ever seen on the move. That’s with more than 40 years of watching trains. Any guesses as to how many cars? Trust me, it was a doosie!
(To those of you that I’ve told about this already, please keep the correct answer under your hat. And if anyone was working this monster, perhaps you have greater appreciation for its size than I do.)
The answers will be revealed in an up-coming post!
A few weeks back, John Gruber and I were on our way back to Madison, Wisconsin from the Mississippi River Valley. We’d followed the old Milwaukee Road up to Lanark, Illinois, then cut northward on Illinois State highways.
The sun was a golden globe in the western sky above rolling corn fields.
At Lena we intersected Canadian National’s former Illinois Central east-west line that connects Chicago with Council Bluffs, Iowa. I noticed that the signals were lit red and that there was something unusual in the siding.
Unusual indeed! It was a self-propelled draw-bar connected train of articulated flatcars for maintenance service. I’d never seen anything like it.
I’d love to tell you all about it, except I know precious little, except that the ‘locomotive’ had EMD Blomberg trucks and the whole machinery carried GREX reporting marks. Perhaps if I do another book on railroad maintenance equipment, I’ll have the opportunity to research this train more thoroughly.
While I was studying this unusual railway machine, the eastward signals at the end of the siding changed aspects; the cleared from all red to ‘green over red.’ A train had been lined! Hooray!
The names and the paint have changed, but the machinery?
Back in Central Vermont days in the 1980s and early 1990s, it was common enough to see in Palmer, Massachusetts run-through Canadian National GP40-2L locomotives (some people prefer the alternate designations ‘GP40-2W,’ ‘GP40-2LW’ take your pick, I don’t mind).
Fast forward a few decades: Canadian National is no longer ‘national.’ New England Central has replaced Central Vermont, and New England Central has passed through a series of corporate ownerships. Today, the railroad is part of the Genesee & Wyoming family, making it one of more than 110 lines world wide under this orange and yellow flag.
Yet, despite all this, after more than 40 years on the move, some old former CN safety cabs GP40-2s (NECR 3015 is now listed on the cab as a GP40-2CU) still routinely work former CV rails in Palmer.
I wonder if I have photographs of these very same locomotives in Canadian National paint?
It was a clear Spring day; Mike and Tom Danneman and I had departed Waukesha, Wisconsin before sunrise aiming for Rochelle, Illinois where Chicago & North Western crossed Burlington Northern’s C&I Line.
At 7:46 am we photographed our first train, a C&NW eastbound crossing the diamonds at Rochelle. By 10 am we’d caught six trains between the two lines and had worked our way east on BN.
At 10:47, we picked up a Canadian National freight working westbound on BN. At the time CN was routing 4-5 trains each way daily over BN between the Twin Cities and Chicago.
We followed this CN freight led by a pair of General Electric cowl type diesels (model DASH8-40CM numbers 2416 and 2440). At 11:57 am it met an eastward CN freight near Stratford, Illinois.
I was working with two cameras. In my Nikormat FTN I had Fuji Provia 100, and in my Nikon F3T Kodachrome 25.
We continued our chase went toward Savanna, catching this train again at 1:36pm near Burke, Illinois. By the end of the day we’d photographed 21 freights. Not bad for a day out.
I exposed this vertigo inducing view from the sky-reaching CN Tower using my Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar and Kodachrome 64.
It was a glorious clear morning and I was visiting Toronto for the first time. After the tower, I wandered around on the ground making a few select images.
While the nearby Canadian Pacific roundhouse at John Street survives as a museum, CN’s Spadina Street was demolished a year after my visit, and almost everything in this view has been erased from the scene.
Looking down from the CN Tower on Canadian National’s Spadina Roundhouse in Toronto.
Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.
Ten years earlier in my Pacific RailNews days, I’d often photographed along the Wisconsin Central. By 2004, the railroad had been absorbed by CN, yet quite a few of WC’s old SD45s were still on the move.
It might surprise some regular readers, but photography wasn’t the prime reason for my visit. Rather, I was trying to make high-end audio recordings of the old SD45s working in multiple. As I’ve explained in other publications; the SD45’s 20-cylinder 645E3 produces a distinctive low-frequency sound when working in the mid- throttle positions. I wanted to preserve these sounds that had been so familiar to my earlier railroad experience.
So what does that have to do with this CN DASH 9?
Simple opportunity; that is all. I’ve never been one to squander a chance to make a photograph.
This CN General Electric was leading a southward freight toward the yards at North Fond du Lac, and I set up this image at Subway Road a little ways north of the yard.
Unfortunately, a thermal cloud covered the sun moments before the locomotive reached the optimum position. This would have been a greater problem if I’d been using Kodachrome. As it happened, I was exposing Fujichrome.
I’ve made a few minor post-processing adjustments to the slide scan designed to improve the contrast and color balance.
What about the audio recordings? I made most of those late at night when there was minimal interference from random noise, but that’s really the topic for another time.
During my visit with Chris Guss in November we explored Chicago area railroads. This was both a means of making photos while proving needed opportunity to discuss the text for book on Chicago’s railroads that we were authoring (along with Mike Blaszak and John Gruber).
On the morning of November 7th, we drove to South Elgin to intercept an eastward Canadian National ethanol train working the old Illinois Central Iowa Division. Back in the mid-1990s, I knew this route as the Chicago Central & Pacific.
As it turned out the CC&P was just a short-lived regional, perhaps now almost forgotten, swept up in the wave of mergers and acquisitions that characterized the railroad dynamic of the 1990s.
Chris favored this location off a bicycle trail below a massive highway bridge. On the opposite side of the river are the tracks of the Fox River Trolley Museum.
Although we missed an earlier eastward freight, we arrived in ample time to set up for this train. I exposed several photos using my Canon EOS 7D, and made this color slide using my dad’s Leica M4 that I’d borrowed for the trip.
Making a slide with this Leica allowed me to maintain interesting continuity, since my father made many slides around Chicago with his Leica cameras in the early 1960s. (Incidentally, some of him images will appear in the book, to be published by Voyageur Press later this year).
These days while I largely work with my digital cameras, I still expose a fair bit of film (usually color slides, but sometimes black & white). I have plenty of old film cameras to choose from, and I often carry an EOS 3 loaded with Provia 100F.
Railway tracks are the defining infrastructure of this transport system. They are key to the whole technology as well part of the title of this Internet Blog.
Often, tracks are view as secondary to the trains that use them. Photographs tend to focus on the locomotives and cars, rather then the tracks themselves.
With this post, I’ve focused on the tracks. I’ve selected a few photographs from my archives in which the tracks are the subject: tracks leading to the horizon across a desolate desert landscape; tracks curling around a bend in the snow; tracks in the weeds and tracks catching the sunlight.
Tracks capture our imaginations, and the images of tracks can be timeless. Yet not all tracks are the same. The condition of the line and nature of the landscape is telling. I’ve made hundreds of images like these over the years; sometimes from trains, other times from the ground, or overhead bridges. The formula is simple, but the results vary greatly.
Often the thought of what lies beyond is the most intriguing. What lies around the curve or just over the horizon? It are images like these that inspire wanderlust for railway journeys. In days of yore, how many young men left home in pursuit of that the elusive view around the next bend in the tracks.
Southbound CN Stacks work the old Soo Line, November 8, 2013.
Between July 1994 and October 1996, I lived within walking distance of the former Soo Line station at Waukesha, Wisconsin.
At that time the railroad was owned and operated by Ed Burkhardt’s Wisconsin Central Limited (a 1980s regional carved from the old Soo Line after Soo Line merged with the largely parallel Milwaukee Road)
I’ve long since moved to new horizons and in the meantime, the ever-expanding Canadian National empire assimilated the WCL. The line through Waukesha that had once been part of the Canadian Pacific family is now a CN route.
Today’s CN has a very different operating style than that of WCL in mid-1990s.
Where WCL ran a tightly scheduled railroad with frequent but relatively short freights connecting Shops Yard at North Fond du Lac with various Chicago-land terminals, CN leans toward enormous rolling land-barges, many of which now take an Elgin, Joliet & Eastern routing around Chicago to reach the former Illinois Central or other connections.
Like the WCL, EJ&E and IC are now part of the CN empire.
On November 8, 2013, Chris Guss, Pat Yough and I photographed CN’s southward intermodal train symbol Q11651-04 led by SD70M-2 8800 passing the old Waukesha Soo Line station. At the back of the train was a modern General Electric working as a ‘distributed power unit’ (a radio-controlled remote locomotive controlled from the head-end).
This is a big change from the pairs of SD45 leading strings of 50 foot box cars or Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range ore jennies that I regularly saw in the 1990s. And, by the way, DM&IR is also another of CN’s railroads.
On the afternoon of December 3, 1994, Mike Danneman and I were following a southward Wisconsin Central freight up the 1 percent grade south of Fond du Lac known on the railroad as Byron Hill.
Here, heavy freights would slow to a crawl for several minutes as they laboured to reach the summit at Byron. With a bit of swift driving we were able to make several images of the train in the low evening light.
The best part of the experience was listening to the 20-cylinder throbbing roar pulsing into the rural Wisconsin countryside as the SD45s clawed their way up the hill.
Ten years later, I returned to Byron Hill with a DAT recorder to make stereo sound records of SD45s at work.
Tomorrow, Tracking the Light looks at CN on Wisconsin Central.
And there are still six tracks, but now it is in effect two parallel lines; a four-track electric suburban route run by Chicago’s Metra, and a double track line run by Canadian National.
On November 7, 2013, Chris Guss gave me a whirlwind tour of Canadian National operations in Chicago, largely focused on former Illinois Central lines.
We scoped this location on East Pershing Street south of downtown, knowing that Canadian National’s southbound freight from Waterloo, Iowa (symbol 33891) was on its way. We didn’t wait long before it came into view.
In the course of about 25 minutes, we caught the freight followed by a wave of passenger trains run by Metra, South Shore and Amtrak.
The old Illinois Central catenary adds an element of intrigue to the gritty atmosphere of this line.
While waiting for trains, an enthusiastic baker came by and offered us butter cookies. Tasty too!
I exposed photos with three cameras, working with both my Canon EOS 7 and Lumix LX3, plus my Dad’s Leica M4.
During out short visit the sky over Lake Michigan quickly changed from blue to gray, a weather condition all to typical of Chicago.
Eighteen years ago today, May 20, 1995, I made this image of a CC&P former Illinois Central GP9 (still wearing pre-Illinois Central Gulf, IC black) working across the Burlington Northern crossing at East Dubuque, Illinois.
For me, this image of a train emerging from the inky depths of a leaf-covered, stratified cliff, crossing another set of tracks and reaching out of the frame, neatly sums up the short history of the CC&P.
During the mid-1980s, Illinois Central Gulf dramatically trimmed its route structure. Among the lines carved out of ICG, was the Chicago-Omaha/Sioux City CC&P. Born at the end of 1985, this ambitious regional line competed for east-west traffic on the its Chicago-Omaha trunk, while serving on-line customers. After a little more than a decade, Illinois Central (by it then had dropped the ‘Gulf’ in its name—adopted as a reflection of the early 1970s merger with Gulf, Mobile & Ohio) reacquired CC&P.
During the relatively short interval of CC&P independence, the railroad never re-painted all of its locomotives, many of which had been in inherited from ICG. Shortly after, CC&P was melded back into the IC family, it too was absorbed by Canadian National. At the time of this photo, CN was actively using trackage rights on BN, and its trains crossed CC&P’s line 8 to 10 times daily.
Railroad Family Trees Coming Soon!
My book, tentatively titled Railroad Family Trees will be available from Quayside Publishing Group later this year.