Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Chicago and Northwestern Railway
The Chicago and North Western Railway was chartered on June 7, 1859. It had purchased the assets of the bankrupt Chicago, St. Paul & Fond du Lac Railroad five days earlier. On February 15, 1865, it officially merged with the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad, which had been chartered on January 16, 1836. Since the Galena & Chicago Union started operating in December, 1848, and the Fond du Lac railroad started in March, 1855, the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad is considered to be the origin of the North Western railroad system.
The North Western had owned a majority of the stock of the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railway (Omaha Road) since 1882. On January 1, 1957, it officially leased the company, and merged it into the North Western in 1972. The Omaha Road's main line ran from an interchange with the North Western at Elroy, Wisconsin, to the Twin Cities, down to Sioux City, Iowa, and then finally to Omaha, Nebraska.
The North Western picked up several important short railroads during its later years. It finalized acquisition of the Litchfield and Madison railroad on January 1, 1958. The Litchfield and Madison railroad was a 44-mile bridge road from East St. Louis to Litchfield, Illinois. On July 30, 1968, the North Western acquired two former interurbans – the 36-mile Des Moines and Central Iowa Railway (DM&CI), and the 110-mile Fort Dodge, Des Moines & Southern Railway (FDDM&S). The DM&CI gave access to the Firestone plant in Des Moines, Iowa, and the FDDM&S provided access to gypsum mills in Fort Dodge, Iowa.
On November 1, 1960, the North Western acquired the rail properties of the 1,500-mile Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway . In spite of its name, it ran only from Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Peoria, Illinois. This acquisition provided traffic and modern rolling stock, and eliminated competition.
On July 1, 1968, the 1,500 mile (2,400 km) Chicago Great Western Railway was merged into the North Western. This railroad went from Chicago to Oelwein, Iowa. From there, separate lines went to the Twin Cities, Omaha, Nebraska, and Kansas City, Missouri. A connection from Hayfield, Minnesota, to Clarion, Iowa, provided a Twin Cities to Omaha main line. The Chicago Great Western duplicated the North Western's routes from Chicago to the Twin Cities and Omaha, but went the long way. This merger provided access to Kansas City, Missouri, and eliminated competition. After abandoning a plan to merge with the Milwaukee Road in 1970, Benjamin W. Heineman, who had headed the CNW and parent Northwest Industries since 1956, arranged the sale of the railroad to its employees in 1972. The words "Employee Owned" were part of the company logo in the ensuing period.
After the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad (Rock Island) stopped operating on March 31, 1980, the North Western took over operations of about 800 miles (1,300 km) of the Rock Island, including the "Spine Line." This was a well-engineered line from the Twin Cities to Kansas City, Missouri, via Des Moines, Iowa. Because of deferred maintenance, though, slow orders plagued the line. Nevertheless, the North Western started to abandon ex-Chicago Great Western trackage north of Oelwein, which duplicated Spine Line service. The North Western won a bidding war with the Soo Line for purchase of the Spine Line when on June 20, 1983, the ICC approved the North Western's bid of $93 million. After a major rehabilitation of the Spine Line in 1984, the North Western started to abandon the Oelwein to Kansas City section of the former Chicago Great Western Railway, which also duplicated Spine Line service.
Chicago and Northwestern operated some notable passenger trains, including the City of Los Angeles and City of Denver. Both of those lines were jointly operated by CNW and the Union Pacific railway from 1936 until Amtrak was created in 1971.
The CNW was known for running "left-hand main" on double track mainlines. In other words, traffic was routed by default to the track on the left rather than the track on the right. In the United States, most railroads followed the "right-hand main" operating practice, while "left-hand main" running was more common in countries where automobile traffic drove on the left as well. According to a display in the Lake Forest station, the reason for this was a combination of chance and inertia. When originally built as single-line trackage, the C&NW arbitrarily placed its stations on the left-hand side of the tracks (when headed inbound toward Chicago). Later, when a second track was added, it was placed on the side away from the stations so as not to force them to relocate. Since most passengers waiting at the stations were headed toward Chicago, the inbound track remained the one closest to the station platforms. The expense of reconfiguring signals and switches has prevented a conversion to right-hand operation ever since.
The railroad also purchased a great deal of its equipment second-hand. CNW shop forces economized wherever possible, earning the railroad the nickname Cheap and Nothing Wasted.
- Grant, H. Roger (1984). The Corn Belt Route – A history of the Chicago Great Western Railroad Company. Northern Illinois University Press, DeKalb, IL. ISBN 0-87580-095-5.
- The Trains staff (November, 1990). Timeline. Trains, pp. 21-47.
- (1973). Handy Railroad Atlas of the United States. Rand McNally & Co. p.53.
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