Classic Streamliners - TRAIN​CYCLOPEDIA

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UP Heritage Unit No. 1995 passes through Rochelle Railroad Park, followed by two C&NW Dash 9 locomotives.

By Sean Lamb (User:Slambo) - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5,

The Chicago and North Western Railway
The Chicago and North Western Transportation Company (reporting mark CNW) was a Class I railroad in the Midwest. It was also known as the North Western. The railroad operated more than 5,000 miles of track as of the turn of the 20th century, and over 12,000 miles of track in seven states before retrenchment in the late 1970s. Until 1972, when the company was sold to its employees, it was named the Chicago and North Western Railway. The C&NW became one of the longest railroads in the US as a result of mergers with other railroads, such as the Chicago Great Western Railway, Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway and others. By 1995, track sales and abandonment had reduced the total mileage back to about 5,000. The majority of the abandoned and sold lines were lightly trafficked branches in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Large line sales, such as those that resulted in the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad further helped reduce the railroad to a mainline core with several regional feeders and branches. The company was purchased by Union Pacific Railroad in April 1995 and ceased to exist.

The Chicago and North Western Railway was chartered on June 7, 1859. It had purchased the assets of the bankrupt Chicago, St. Paul and Fond du Lac Railroad five days earlier. On February 15, 1865, it officially merged with the Galena and 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 and Chicago Union Railroad is considered to be the origin of the North Western railroad system. The Winona and St. Peter Railroad was added to the network in 1867.

The North Western had owned a majority of the stock of the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railway (Omaha Road) since 1882. On January 1, 1957 it 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.

After the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad (Rock Island) stopped operating on March 31, 1980, the North Western won a bidding war with the Soo Line Railroad for purchase of the roughly 600-mile "Spine Line" from the Twin Cities to Kansas City, Missouri, via Des Moines, Iowa. The North Western's bid of $93 million was approved on June 20, 1983, by the ICC. The line was well-engineered, but because of deferred maintenance on the part of the bankrupt Rock Island, a major rehabilitation was undertaken in 1984. The North Western then began to abandon the Oelwein to Kansas City section of its former Chicago Great Western trackage, which duplicated Spine Line service. In April, 1995, the Chicago and North Western Transportation Company was merged into the Union Pacific Railroad.

Chicago and North Western locomotives continued to operate in their own paint schemes for several years after the merger. As of 2011, two locomotives remain on the UP with CNW logos and reporting marks, GE Dash 9-44CW locomotives No. 8646 and No. 8701. Union Pacific has decided to leave these 2 locomotives in their current condition until either of them suffers a serious mechanical problem, in which they will be overhauled and repainted at the Jenks Shop in North Little Rock or retired, depending on how bad the failure is. In addition to this, many former C&NW units have received "patches" with a new road number and reporting mark to match their new owner's roster. Approximately 40 "patched" units remain on the Union Pacific and several others work under different owners. However, it is still possible to find untouched C&NW units in service. For instance CNW 1518, CNW 411, CNW 414 (METX 308), CNW 4160, and CNW 6847 are preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum, CNW 4153 now works at a grain elevator in Fremont, Nebraska, and several other GP7s, GP9s, and a few other C&NW locomotives are owned by various regional and shortline railroads, as well as other industries.

The Chicago and North Western Railway's "Pioneer" was the first locomotive to run out of Chicago, circa 1898.

"Rolling the Freight" is an incredible time capsule depicting life on the Chicago & North Western Railway from 1947.

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Pioneer locomotive

C&NW EMD F7 No. 411 at the Illinois Railway Museum.

By Jeff Delhaye (Wuhwuzdat) - Digital camera, GFDL,

A post card rendition of the Chicago and North Western's "400" streamlined passenger train.

Chicago and Northwestern Railway locomotive shop at Proviso Yard, near Chicago, Illinois in 1942. Several early streamliners are there, including one of M-10003 through 6 and what looks like several early E-units. One is an 1941 E6 lettered for the joint C&NW/Union Pacific "City of Los Angeles", and another is a C&NW E6. 

Photo by Jack Delano, Library of Congress.

The North Western picked up several important short railroads during its later years. It finalized acquisition of the Litchfield and Madison Railway 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 and 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 and 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 Chicago Great Western Railway was merged into the North Western. This railroad went from Chicago to Oelwein, Iowa. From there 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 and further 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.

A C&NW Slideshow. All photos by Roger Puta.

C&NW EMD F7 No. 411 at the Illinois Railway Museum.
Postcard depiction of the Chicago and North Western's "400" streamlined passenger train.
Chicago & North Western herald. - NFL Jerseys and Gear
Enter the Classic Streamliners Bookstore.
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Enter the Classic Streamliners Bookstore. - NFL Jerseys and Gear

The railroad operated what was once the largest "potato yard" or potato market, at its Chicago Wood Street yards. Potatoes came to the yard from every point in the United States to be bought or traded by produce dealers and brokers. While the facility came to be known as the "potato yard", it was also a site where other vegetables could be bought, sold or traded.

The Chicago and North Western was known for its installation of Western Railroad Supply Company wigwag signals at many of its crossing in the 1920–1940s. Almost every town on their route had at least the main crossing in town protected by them. The most common style were the Center Harp shorties. They were almost iconic to the CNW. Many of them, which were grandfathered in after the Federal Railroad Administration ruled them inadequate protection in 1949, survived until the 1970s and a few remain on lines in Wisconsin that have been sold off to other railroads. Lack of available parts and upgrades to roads have replaced all but a few of them.

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." Sometimes employees referred to the condition of equipment as "Cardboard and No Wheels."

In 1891, the CNW adopted the famous "ball and bar" logo which survived a few modifications throughout its 104-year existence. This included the changing of text:
The North Western Line (1891-1902)
Chicago & North Western Line (1902-1944)
Chicago & North Western System (1944-1957)
Chicago & North Western Railway (1957-1971)
North Western: Employee Owned (1971-1982)
Chicago & North Western System (1982-1995)

The Cowboy Trail is a rail trail which follows the abandoned CNW line between Chadron, Nebraska and Norfolk, Nebraska. When completed, it will be 321 miles in length.

The Sangamon Valley Trail is another rail trail, currently 5.5-mile in length, on the west side of Sangamon County in Illinois, which skirts Springfield, Illinois. It is a segment of a former St. Louis, Peoria and North Western Railway 38-mile right-of-way (which was later folded into the CNW) that has been set aside for rail trail use. The entire right-of-way connects Girard, Illinois, on the south end, to Athens, Illinois, at the north end. The right-of-way spans the western half of Sangamon County in a north-south direction, and also traverses small sections of Macoupin County and Menard County.

Finally, the CNW has a following of more than 3,000 members of the Chicago and North Western Historical Society.

Notable employees
Clarence Darrow, noted attorney known for the Scopes Trial and a former Chief Counsel for the C&NW.
Fred H. Hildebrandt, U.S. Congressman from South Dakota
Charles Ingalls, De Smet, South Dakota (1879–80); father of Laura Ingalls Wilder
Carl Ingold Jacobson, Los Angeles, California; City Council member, 1925–33.
William B. Ogden, the first mayor of Chicago and the first President of the C & NW.
Merritt Clarke Ring, Neillsville, Wisconsin; lawyer and politician.
Abe Saperstein, founder of the Harlem Globetrotters.
Perry H. Smith, Chicago, Illinois, politician and businessman.
George Gilbert Swain, Delton, Wisconsin, politician.​

Chicago and North Western Overview

Reporting mark: CNW
Locale: Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming
Dates of operation: 1859–1995
Successor: Union Pacific Railroad
Track gauge: 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Headquarters: Chicago, Illinois

See also:
The Chicago and North Western Historical Society:

Omaha Road

Minneapolis & St. Louis

Chicago Great Western

Railroads of the U.S.A.

Joint Chicago & North Western - Union Pacific advertising promoting their "City of Los Angeles" Streamliners, circa 1938.

The Wood Street "potato yard" in 1959. The boxcars are filled with potatoes. Chicago and North Western Railway photo.

Union Pacific continues to follow its new tradition of releasing "Heritage" units to represent the paint schemes of companies absorbed by UP. After completion of painting at the Wisconsin and Southern Railroad's Horicon, Wisconsin shop, UP 1995, an EMD SD70ACe locomotive painted in a "Heritage" C&NW paint scheme, was unveiled on July 15, 2006, at North Western Station in Chicago, Illinois. North Western Station now serves as UP's Metra terminus (although the station is officially designated the "Ogilvie Transportation Center", many locals still refer to the station as the "North Western Station", or as the "CNW Station"). The unit was then placed in dedicated service on former C&NW trackage, sometimes paired with the C&NW 8646 and 8701.

Locomotives over the ash pit at the roundhouse and coaling station at the C&NW Railway yards, Chicago, Illinois. December, 1942.

​Photo by Jack Delano, Library of Congress.

Passenger Train Service
The CNW's most famous train, the Twin Cities 400 from Chicago to Minneapolis/St. Paul, was introduced in 1935 to compete with the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy's Zephyrs and the Milwaukee Road's Hiawathas. This train was named because it traveled the 400 mi between the cities in 400 minutes. CNW was the first system to start a high-speed Chicago-Twin Cities schedule because it used refurbished instead of new equipment, but in 1939, modernized the 400 with new E3A diesel locomotive pairs and streamlined cars. Other named trains the CNW operated included the Ashland Limited, Duluth-Superior Limited, and the North Western Limited.

CNW eventually renamed the first 400 to the Twin Cities 400 as the CNW labeled almost all of its passenger trains with variations of the 400 moniker, including the Flambeau 400, Rochester 400, Valley "400", Shoreland "400", Dakota 400 and the Kate Shelley 400. CNW ceased running the Twin Cities 400 in 1963, and all intercity passenger service on CNW ended with the formation of Amtrak in 1971.

Amtrak bought a dozen of C&NW's bilevel railcars and were repainted into Phase III paint. They are not in use today.

In conjunction with Union Pacific and Southern Pacific, the North Western operated some long distance passenger trains including the Overland Limited, City of Los Angeles, City of San Francisco, City of Denver, and the Challenger. These services lasted from 1889 to 1955, after which the CNW route to Chicago was changed to the Milwaukee Road's partially due to poor track conditions and other considerations.

Chicago and North Western also operated commuter train service in the Chicago area, where they developed what was perhaps the first cab car. A modified gallery car was built in 1960 with locomotive controls to allow push-pull operation. Today, it is preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum. The C&NW also pioneered the concept of Head End Power (HEP), generating 480 V electricity from the locomotive to power the air conditioning, lighting, and heating on the new bi-level cars. This eventually became the standard for all railroads in the United States.

Three commuter lines radiated from North Western station, terminating in Geneva, IL; Harvard, IL; and Kenosha, WI. All three are still operated by Metra. At Crystal Lake Junction, some trains branched off to Williams Bay and Lake Geneva, WI. The West Line also had branches to Aurora, Freeport, and Crystal Lake. A fourth commuter line operated on the KD Line between Kenosha and Harvard until 1939.

In 1974, responsibility for the commuter lines and equipment ownership was transferred to the newly formed Regional Transportation Authority, later branded in 1983 as Metra. A "purchase of service" contract was signed with the C&NW, by which the railroad would be paid to maintain the line and operate trains on behalf of the RTA. This arrangement continues with the Union Pacific today.

All three C&NW commuter lines live on in the Metra system, with the Geneva line having been extended to Elburn, IL, however service on the branch to Williams Bay was gradually cut back over the years (also resulting in changes to the name of the branch). In 1965, service was abandoned between Williams Bay and Lake Geneva. In 1975, service ended between Lake Geneva and Richmond. In 1981, service between McHenry and Richmond ended. Rails and ties north of the Cargill plant in Ringwood were removed during the 1980s, and the right of way converted to a trail.

Named trains of the Chicago and North Western Railway

Capitol 400
Dakota 400
Flambeau 400
Peninsula 400
Kate Shelley 400
Minnesota 400
Rochester 400
Twin Cities 400

Overland Route
City of Denver
City of Los Angeles
City of Portland
City of San Francisco
Los Angeles Limited
Overland Limited
San Francisco Challenger - The San Francisco Challenger was operated by the Southern Pacific Railroad, Union Pacific Railroad and Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. Starting in 1936, it ran from Oakland, California to Chicago, Illinois via the Overland Route. Schedule was about 60 hours or three nights and two days. In 1947 it was replaced by the Gold Coast, which was discontinued in January 1955.

Additional notes
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 British companies built the railroads. 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 required to reconfigure signals and switches has prevented a conversion to right-hand operation ever since.