Posts Tagged ‘St. Charles Air Line’

The St. Charles Air Line

January 19, 2018

Since March 1972, Amtrak trains going to and from the Illinois Central mainline between Chicago and New Orleans have plied the St. Charles Air Line to gain access to Chicago Union Station.

At some point a train arriving or leaving Union Station must do a backup move to get into or out of the station. All of this adds to the running time and for years there has been talk of creating a more direct connection to the IC mainline and the route into Union Station.

But that has yet to come to fruition so six Amtrak trains a day use the St. Charles Air Line.

In the Illinois Central passenger train days, varnish going to and from the Iowa Division used a portion of the St. Charles Air Line.  Of course, freight trains use the Air Line, too.

Some Chicago officials and land developers would like to see the Air Line abandoned because it traverses territory that in the past decade has seen rapid grown of high-end residential housing. The former site of Central Station has been converted to a housing development.

But for the foreseeable future Amtrak and freight trains will continue to use the Air Line at all hours of the day.

I made the image above from the last car on Amtrak Train No. 393, the Illini, to Carbondale, Illinois, back in June 2010.

In a few minutes No. 393 will round the curve at South Wye Junction and gain the Mainline of Mid America. The train will accelerate as it passes beneath McCormick place and heads southward.

CN to Rebuild St. Charles Air Line Bridges

January 12, 2018

Canadian National plans to begin renovating bridges on a rail line in Chicago used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Carbondale-New Orleans trains. These include the City of New Orleans, Saluki and Illini.

CN said that it will begin renewing the St. Charles Air Line in Chicago, which is used by Amtrak trains to get from the CN Chicago-New Orleans mainline (former Illinois Central) to the BNSF Chicago-Aurora raceway at Union Avenue interlocking.

Amtrak trains generally back up from Chicago Union Station to reach the Union Avenue interlocking and they back up from Union Interlocking into Union Station.

The St. Charles Airline is also used by CN freight trains, including those going to and from Glenn Yard on the former Gulf, Mobile & Ohio and the former Iowa Division of the IC. Some transfer runs of other railroads also use the St. Charles Airline.

Some bridges on the St. Charles Air Line were built in 1899. In total, CN plans to spent $85 million in 2018 and $100 million in 2019 on bridges.

There have been proposals over the years to build a connection at Grand Crossing in Chicago from the former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline — now Norfolk Southern — and former IC line in order to avoid the backup moves that use of the St. Charles Air Line entails.

However, no funding source for the connection has yet materialized.

Now Arriving From Carbondale, The Saluki

December 23, 2016

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saluki-arriving-2-x

The view is from the observation deck of Willis Tower in Chicago looking south on May 20, 2013. There is a clear view of the St. Charles Air Line which Amtrak trains use to get to and from the former Illinois Central mainline between Chicago and New Orleans.

The train that is visible in the top image crossing the Chicago River is the inbound Saluki from Carbondale, Illinois. It will cross over the Amtrak and Metra coach yards en route to reaching the BNSF Raceway at Union Avenue.

No. 390 will then back into Chicago Union Station. This move has been standard operating procedure for Amtrak trains arriving from New Orleans, Carbondale and Champaign since 1972.

On occasion, Amtrak has diverged from the St. Charles Air Line to the former IC Iowa Division at 16th Street Tower, crossed the route used by eastern Amtrak trains at 21st Street, and done a backup move on the former Gulf, Mobile & Ohio route into Union Station.

I’ve also been on an Amtrak train that pulled out straight out and backed around the wye onto the Raceway to access the St. Charles Air Line.

Whichever route that an Amtrak train bound for or coming off the former IC takes, it will need to do a backup move at some point. Click on the photographs to enlarge them.