The Wabash Railroad
The Wabash Railroad (reporting mark WAB) was a Class I railroad that served the “Heart of America,” operating in six states; Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, plus, the Canadian province of Ontario. A freight advantage for the Wabash was the main line from Kansas City to Buffalo, which avoided St. Louis and Chicago. Even though the Wabash was gone by the 1960s, the company still existed on paper until 1997 and the merger with the
Norfolk Southern Railway.

By the end of 1950 Wabash was operating 2,393 miles of road. This figure does not include subsidiaries Ann Arbor (AA) and New Jersey, Indiana and Illinois (NJI&I). In the same year, passenger revenue was $4,787,369, compared to $4,972,234 in 1949.


The Northern Cross Railway was the first railroad ever constructed in Illinois and is the earliest predecessor to the Wabash. Chartered in Ohio in April of 1853, the Toledo and Illinois Railroad planned to build from Toledo on west to the Indiana border. The Lake Erie, Wabash and St. Louis Railroad was then chartered in Indiana in August of 1853 to extend the line west through Wabash and into Illinois in the direction of St. Louis, Missouri.  Both lines merged in August of 1856 to create the Toledo, Wabash and Western Railroad. The total length of the two lines together was 243 miles. The new company soon bankrupted and was sold at foreclosure. In October of 1858, the Toledo and Wabash Railroad was chartered, acquiring the Ohio portion the same month. The Wabash and Western Railroad was chartered in September of 1858, and by October of 1858 it had acquired the Indiana portion as well. By December of 1858 the two companies merged and became the Toledo and Wabash Railway. This railroad quickly merged with the, the Illinois and Southern Iowa Railroad, the Quincy and Toledo Railroad, the Great Western Railway of Illinois, and the Warsaw and Peoria Railroad to become the Toledo, Wabash and Western Railway. These were the lines that formed the Wabash System in 1877.

Other reorganizations and mergers created the Wabash, St. Louis and Pacific Railway in November of 1879, and then the Wabash Railroad in August of 1889. Playing an important role in the formation of the Wabash System was financier John Whitfield Bunn. The Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway (WPT) was formed in 1904, acquiring the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad, which gave the Wabash a connection to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, challenging the domination of giants New York Central and the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR). Unfortunately, in 1908 the Wabash saw the WPT go bankrupt. The WPT later became part of the Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railway, and the Wabash Railroad was itself sold at foreclosure sale in July of 1915. It was then reorganized in October and became the Wabash Railway. By buying Wabash stock through its Pennsylvania Company in 1927, the Pennsylvania Railroad was able to acquire some control of the Wabash. The ICC charged the PRR with violating the Antitrust Act in 1929. However, the ruling was appealed, and in 1933 the Circuit Court ruled that it was for investment only and therefore no violation occurred.

In December of 1931, the Wabash Railway again entered into receivership. A new company, the Wabash Railroad, was organized in July of 1941 by the PRR, which bought the Wabash Railway in December of 1941. The PRR then leased the Wabash to the Norfolk and Western Railway (N&W) in 1960. Control of the Wabash's Ann Arbor subsidiary by PRR's Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad (DT&I) came in  December of 1962. In October of 1964, the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad (Nickel Plate Road) was merged into the Norfolk and Western Railway. The N&W then leased the Wabash and Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railway. In March of 1970, the Pennsylvania Company exchanged its remaining Wabash shares for N&W common stock; as a condition of the 1968 merger into Penn Central Transportation that stock was later divested. In November of 1991 the N&W purchased the Wabash outright and the Wabash became a wholly owned subsidiary of the N&W. The Norfolk & Western itself was then merged into the Southern Railway in 1997 and forming the Norfolk Southern Railway, ending 120 years of the Wabash.

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See also:

Ann Arbor

Norfolk & Western

Railroads of the U.S.A.

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A Wabash Slideshow.   Color photos by Roger Puta.

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An early 20th century map of the Wabash.

This wooden box car, owned by the Wabash Railroad, was built in the 1920's and assigned to the Studebaker plant in South Bend, Indiana.

By vxla from Chicago, US (Wabash Box Car No. 49114  Uploaded by oaktree_b) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons. Text:

Wabash EMD F7 No. 1189 at the Monticello Railway Museum, Illinois, 13 September 2008.

By Daniel Schwen - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Major Freight Customers 1960:

    Ford (Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Toledo, Kansas City, Buffalo)
    Pillsbury Co. ( Springfield, IL)
    A. E. Staley Mfg. Co. (Decatur, IL)
    A. P. Green Firebrick (Mexico, MO)
    Archer Daniel Midland Co. (Decatur, IL)
    Detroit Union Produce Terminal
    Lauhoff Grain Co (Danville, IL)
    International Salt Co. (Detroit)
    Central Stone Co. (Huntington, MO)
    Granite City Steel Co. (Granite City, IL)
    Acme Fast Freight (in Detroit, MI, Kansas City, MO)

Passenger Trains:
The Wabash had a fleet of passenger trains and several were streamliners. The named passenger trains were led by the six-car streamlined “Blue Bird,” which began in 1950 and had five dome cars in the consist, operating between Chicago and St. Louis. The “City of Kansas City” was built by ACF and provided streamline service between St. Louis and Kansas City. The “Wabash Canon Ball” began in 1949 and was a fast daylight train between St. Louis and Detroit. The Wabash also participated in the ownership and operation of equipment in cooperation with the Union Pacific for the “City of St. Louis,” a St. Louis to Kansas City to the West Coast streamliner. Other named passenger trains included the Banner Blue, the Banner Limited, the Chicago Arrow (with the PRR), the Des Moines Limited, the Detroit Arrow (with the PRR), the Detroit Limited, the Kansas City Express, the Midnight Limited, the Omaha Limited, the Pacific Coast Special, the Red Bird, the St. Louis-Colorado Limited (with the UP), The St. Louis Limited, and the St. Louis Special. The first diesel locomotives utilized on passenger trains were the EMD E7, and lathe the Alco PA, followed by the EMD E8.

    Banner Blue
City of Kansas City
City of St. Louis (in partnership with UP)
    Des Moines Limited
    Detroit Arrow (in partnership with PRR)
    Detroit Limited
    Kansas City Express
    Midnight Limited
    Omaha Limited
    Pacific Coast Special
    Red Bird
    St. Louis-Colorado Limited (in partnership with UP)
    St. Louis Limited
    St. Louis Special

St. Louis - Chicago Passenger Trains:
Blue Bird (started 1950) St. Louis – Chicago
Wabash Banner Limited St. Louis – Chicago

Detroit-Saint Louis Passenger Trains:
    Detroit Limited (Pullman)
    St. Louis Limited (Pullman) (westbound counterpart to the Detroit Limited)
Cannon Ball

Detroit-Chicago Passenger Trains:
    Detroit Arrow (joint with PRR)
    Chicago Arrow (joint with PRR) (westbound counterpart to the Detroit Arrow)

The Wabash Cannonball
The name of this legendary train became famous with the 1904 revision of an 1882 song about the "Great Rock Island Route." Yet the name was never borne by a real train until the Wabash Railroad christened its Detroit-St. Louis day train as the Wabash Cannon Ball in 1949. The train survived until the creation of Amtrak in 1971, when it was discontinued.

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Shop for Railroad and Train Collectibles on eBay

A Wabash Railroad timetable from 1887.

Classic Streamliners - TRAIN​CYCLOPEDIA

Major Routes:
Toledo – Hannibal
The Toledo to Hannibal Line was constructed in 1855. The line out of the Illinois River valley from Griggsville to Baylis had the steepest ruling grade on the Wabash, almost 2%, which required helpers in steam era. After World War II, the line was relocated to ease the grade. In 1955, passenger service was discontinued, and by 1989, the line from Maumee to Liberty Center, Ohio was abandoned. Today, the portion from Liberty Center to the western border of Ohio is now operated by a shortline railroad. The abandoned portion is now in use as a rail trail; the South fork of the Wabash Cannonball Trail.

The Maumee, OH to Montpelier, Ohio portion of the line was constructed in 1901. It was abandoned by Norfolk Southern in 1990, and makes up the North fork of the Wabash Cannonball trail. It is the longest rail-trail in the state of Ohio.

After breakup of Conrail in 1998, Norfolk Southern was able to connect the small remaining segment from Maumee to its Chicago Main, allowing it to access Maumee via a shorter route. This caused the disuse of and the eventual abandonment of the west side of the Toledo Terminal Railroad.

Detroit – Chicago
Covers the third district (Montpelier to Detroit) and 4th District (Montpelier to Clarke Jct – B&OCT+SC&S – State Line – C&WI).

The Wabash was part of the Union Belt of Detroit, a joint switching operation started with the Pere Marquette and later the PRR joined.

The Montpelier-Chicago line was started in the early 1890s, allowing the Wabash to give up trackage rights over the Erie (Chicago and Atlantic). - NFL Jerseys and Gear
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Enter the Classic Streamliners Bookstore. - NFL Jerseys and Gear

Completed in 1880 from Bement to Chicago, using the Chicago & Western Indiana as a terminal line. The Wabash became a joint owner of the C&WI along with founder Chicago & Eastern Illinois and others. It comprises the 6th, 7th and 13th districts of the Decatur Division. Trackage between Manhattan and Gibson City has been abandoned by NS.

Council Bluffs – Brunswick
The track between Council Bluffs, Iowa and St. Louis was constructed in 1877 by the Council Bluffs and St. Louis Railway. In 1879 that railway became part of the Wabash, St. Louis and Pacific Railway. This line has the highest point on the Wabash, Dumfries, IA, 1242'. Today, most of the line is abandoned (222.4 miles from MP188.56 TO MP410.96) under ICC Decision AB-10 (SUB-NO. 27) by the Norfolk and Western from Kelley, Missouri to Council Bluffs, Iowa and effective January 13, 1984.

The Iowa Southern Railroad (ISR) took over 61.5 miles of the Wabash rail line in Iowa to the Missouri stateline between Council Bluffs and Blanchard, Iowa. On August 22, 1988 the line was cut back to serve only Council Bluffs. In August 1990 the remaining Iowa Southern line in Council Bluffs was sold to the Council Bluffs and Ottumwa Railroad (CBOA). In May 1991 the CBOA was sold to the Council Bluffs Railway (CBR), an
OmniTrax subsidiary. Iowa Interstate purchased CBR on July 1, 2006. Today the 66-mile route is abandoned between Council Bluffs and Blanchard and it has been converted into a rail trail known as the Wabash Trace Trail See below for more on the line to Des Moines.

A 93-mile portion of Wabash's Council Bluffs – St. Louis line in Missouri between Blanchard, Iowa (other sources show Burlington Junction, Missouri) and Lock Springs was sold to the Northern Missouri Railroad (NMOR) and began operations on February 13, 1984. Operations on that line were discontinued in June 1986.

The Wabash Railroad ran their passenger trains that came into St. Louis on a 7-mile stretch of track that ran from Grand Ave (through a rail yard near Vandeventer Ave), through University City (at Delmar Station) to a junction at Redmond Ave. in Ferguson, where the Ferguson station (now an ice cream parlor) was at North Florissant and Carson Ave., and where it met up with the current Norfolk Southern mainline. After passenger service discontinued in 1960, trains on this stretch were reduced to one westbound freight and one local per day. Norfolk Southern, who took over the line after the merger, abandoned the stretch in 1988. Bi-State Development Agency purchased the line which is now operated by Metrolink. The light rail trains run on the portion from north of UMSL to Grand Ave., while the north portion is now the Ted Jones Trail, which runs from Florissant Road at UMSL to Redmond Ave where the old junction was.

Norfolk & Western abandoned the track between Lock Springs and Chillicothe in 1983, and salvaged this portion of the line in 1985.

Thirty-seven miles of track between Chillicothe and Brunswick were sold to the Green Hills Rural Development, Inc., a Missouri economic development group organized as a non-profit corporation, in 1985. The line was leased, by order of the ICC, to the Chillicothe-Brunswick Rail Maintenance Authority (CBRM) on July 24, 1987. On April 1, 1990 the line was leased to the Wabash and Grand River Railway. The Wabash & Grand River Railway's lease was terminated on December 1, 1993 due to severe flood damage on the line and the line reverted to the Chillicothe-Brunswick Rail Maintenance Authority.

In 2003, during a dispute caused by inter-community rivalries and jealousies over industrial development along the line, the owner, Green Hills Rural Development, Inc. "sold" the railroad to the City of Chillicothe, MO, (all real estate, rails, tools, rolling stock and locomotives) for $32,500. Thereafter, the line immediately appraised for $1.53 million, not including rolling stock or other tools or equipment and inventory of the short line railroad.

On December 8, 2006, the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune reported that the city of Chillicothe sold the majority, about 30 miles of the railroad to Seattle, Washington, based Montoff Transportation, LLC for $976,000. The part of the railroad that was sold had been embargoed since 2004. The city still owns the railroad to the city's industrial park and to a location just east of Chillicothe where future development is planned. Today, the part of the railroad south of Norville has been abandoned and dismantled, and the city has pocketed a large sum of cash. On January 29, 2008, The Chillicothe City Press reported that the city council had voted to buy back the right of way previously sold to Montoff Transportation, paying $10 to acquire the 100' wide by 29-mile long corridor. The stated intention was to gradually develop a trail. The report further stated that, though Montoff had the right as part of salvaging the rails to remove the bridges along the right of way, the cost to do so had been excessive. Instead, the deteriorated decks, which were sufficient for light duty use such as a trail, were being left.

Moberly – Des Moines
The Wabash Railways' line from Moberly, Missouri to Des Moines, Iowa was originally built as part of the North Missouri Railroad property, which was financed, in part, by bonds backed by the "full faith and credit" of the State of Missouri. Public backlash over the default on these bonds led Missouri to enact a state constitution which prohibited such future investments in "private enterprise".

Jay Gould brought the North Missouri Railroad into his family of Wabash lines in the time period around 1877–79. He envisioned a bold move to encroach upon the operating "turf" of the so-called "Iowa Pool" of railroads, by extending his own lines to both Des Moines and Omaha. He was opposed in these efforts by the member railroads of the Iowa Pool, particularly Charles Perkins of the Burlington. A protracted court battle that went all the way to the US Supreme Court resulted in the CB&Q and the Wabash joining forces to build and operate a joint line of railroad from Albia, Iowa, north to Des Moines. From Albia south to Moberly, the line was always a Wabash property. This line was important as a bridge to the south for the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway, interchanging at Albia with the Wabash. An off-branch to Ottumwa, Iowa, was operated from 1881 until 1981, when it was abandoned.

The Moberly to Des Moines line had a good traffic base up until the early 1970's, when traffic started to fall off precipitously. Freight traffic included coal mined in Iowa (prior to 1960), agricultural goods, farm machinery, and paper products. A change of personnel in customer service at Des Moines brought about a resurgence in business in the late 1970's and into the 1980's – so much so that the Norfolk Southern largely re-built the line with newer, heavier steel and continuous welded rail in the mid-1980's. The Moberly to Des Moines line had few local industries shipping on it in the 1980's in either northern Missouri or southern Iowa, however, and served primarily as a "bridge" to get the NS to the Des Moines market.

During the early 1990s the NS began to look for ways to save on track outlays and maintenance, and a deal was hammered out with the BN to share access to Des Moines over the old CBQ "K Line" which paralleled the Mississippi River from Hannibal, Mo. north to Burlington, Iowa. From there, haulage rights were secured to Des Moines over the BN mainline to Albia, then northward to Des Moines on the old Albia joint trackage. A portion of the line north of Moulton, Iowa, was saved in order to provide access to the national rail system by the Appanoose County Community Railroad (APNC).
The last train on the Moberly to Des Moines line ran in 1994. Interestingly, the Moberly to Moulton Iowa line segment was used extensively in 1993 during the Midwestern Floods of that year, as many observers noted that it was one of the few north-south through routes that were "above sea level" during the flooding. Unfortunately, this was not a factor that could have been used to save the line. Today the line's right-of-way has not been preserved, and is quickly being consumed by other land uses.