Bolingbrook’s (Abandoned) Railroad
|Pic taken July 2016.|
In 1960, the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Purchased many hundreds of acres of land in southwest DuPage County and northeast Will County, Illinois, to develop into an industrial park that would become known as the Santa Fe Argonne Industrial District. While named after the adjacent Laboratory, it was a different spur than the line which served the laboratory directly.
|The line south of Internationale Pkwy in 2016.|
Evidenced by the lack of photos of the line in action, it was a relatively inconsequential railroad spur within the US Railroad Network, but for me, it was the most interesting thing a five year old interested in trains could stumble upon. My town actually had railroad service once upon a time!
|Much like my photography skills, which albeit are still not great.|
As a little kid, I had the fortune of growing up miles away from the BNSF Railway Metra Line, the “Racetrack” as railfans call it for its extremely busy mainline, consisting of Metra, Amtrak and Freight Trains. On top of that, the Chillicothe Subdivision passing through neighboring Lemont often meant one could hear train whistles in Bolingbrook, even if the village didn't have service itself.
Or so I thought. Shortly after moving, I discovered Bolingbrook, did, in fact have a spur from the BNSF. It was built in the late 1960’s along with the industrial park south of I-55.
|USGS topo Map|
|Interesting tidbit here...one can see the proposed Lake-Will Freeway on this map that eventually became I-355.|
The line was simply an industrial spur that served a few industrial developments, leading from a junction near Argonne National Laboratory. It spurred from the mainline junction at the bottom of a bluff near the Des Plaines River. Thus, the line had a pretty significant grade to overcome.
|By May 1968, the line was completed, as shown in this black and white copy photo from a newspaper ad|
At the west end of the line was the first development to be completed in the district: Johnson and Johnson. How long Johnson and Johnson used the line for rail service is unknown. At least one satellite image from 1974 shows railcars on the tracks, but no other definitive resource indicates an end date to service west of Joliet Road, either from J&J or another development.
This line is still in service east of Joliet Rd as the Argonne local, serving customers in Woodridge and Bolingbrook's far eastern end. It enters Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve and comes close enough to some walking paths to be able to get some pretty good photos when the daily train comes through.
Here's what the abandonment looks like. Also noteworthy, AT&SF had railroad easements built into the nearby Crossroads Business Park in Romeoville, which would have connected this line west of Illinois Route 53. I've also heard rumors that this line served the construction of the Old Chicago Amusement Park, but I can find no corroborating evidence to those rumors.
|Source: Abandoned & Out-of-Service Railroad Lines|
The area can perhaps explain my love of abandoned railroads, abandoned theme parks, and forgotten highways. Within a mile of the right of way was Old Chicago, as well as Hillcrest Park, a small picnic grove with a small rollercoaster, named Little Dipper, that is now in Wisconsin. Adjacent to the line is Joliet Rd, which was the 1940 alignment of Route 66.
I sadly never actually got to see a train traverse the line in its entirety, and never will. While the line sat in disuse for the better part of two decades, it was officially abandoned west of Joliet Rd on April 29th, 2013.
|In over a decade of searching, this Robby Gragg photo from 2007 of BNSF 2014 is the closest to Joliet Rd I could find (visible in the background).|
The right-of-way and trackage does still exist, however. Given that the western terminus of the line is right near Old Chicago Dr. and a park and ride is located almost right at its end though, I think would make an interesting rail trail, especially since it would connect with an existing trail via Internationale Pkwy.
|Would be nice if people could figure out where the garbage cans are, however.|
|The line's northwestern terminus, immediately north of Old Chicago Dr.|
|Old Chicago Drive looking south during a November '18 snow event.|
In 2020, the railroad crossing at Joliet Rd was removed, signaling the end of any potential operations west of Joliet Rd again, although as the last train operated there around 2002, or perhaps earlier, it was honestly not much more than a bother for traffic, especially since it was still being tested yearly as an "active" crossing.
|The week before the crossing was removed, one can see the westbound gate had been earlier knocked off.|
|By November 21st, 2020, the crossing was history. A hopper car visible east of here shows the Argonne Lead still has some life in it.|
When I-355 was extended south in 2007, this railroad crossing was upgraded to one with gates, somewhat strangely, as operations had long ceased by then. I-355 is nearby the crossing, and the I-55 interchange with Joliet Rd allows one to access either north or south 355 from eastbound Joliet. But again, activity had ended, so why it wasn't simply removed at that time is beyond me. I have heard that, occasionally, operations at the building immediately east of the crossing have required a switcher to move about the crossing, but that could have been done with a flagger as well. Who knows.
|It'll be a smoother ride on Joliet Rd now, at least!|
|West of the crossing the track still exists, and likely will in perpetuity as the land is no longer owned by any railroad, at least according to Will County Assessors.|
Thanks for reading! This is the line that ultimately got me interested in railroad abandonments, being so close to where I grew up. I’m sure most railfans have a similar story of a certain line they love that means more to them than it ever will the general rail fan population.