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Showing posts from March, 2018

Abandoned Railroad Rights-of-Way Map: Year Two

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On March 29th, 2016, I would begin the journey to map the abandoned railroad network. This blog is going to give you a little history of the project, and where it is now, and where I would like it to go. Before I say anything else, thank you for your support. This project would be nowhere near where it is right now without your help, information, and enthusiasm. I've had the great pleasure of being able to talk to many of you about abandoned railroad lines, many of which I wouldn't have been able to find myself. So thank you! BACKGROUND: Before this project began, I would hardly be described as a railfan. I mean, don't get me wrong, I did enjoy trains, however my background is in the traffic industry. Aside from that, I loved learning the history of our road network, and how roads got their numbers and why they traveled in the direction they did. Both the US Route Network and the Interstate Highway System are highly fascinating, to me at least. I honestly found the

The Eagle Lake & West Branch Railroad

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 “There are not a lot of places in the world where you can be hiking through a remote wilderness and suddenly stumble upon rusting locomotives.” - Maine.gov Image: Maine.gov The Eagle Lake & West Branch Railroad was a logging railroad running in northern Maine during the turn of the last century. Logging railroads have existed in almost all forested areas of the US, and were particularly common in the far northeast. It ran about 17 miles from Eagle Lake, ME to Umbazooksus Lake, and then terminating at the north end of Chesuncook Lake. What sets this line apart from the numerous others that existed was that good chunk of the tracks and two locomotives still exist nearly 100 years after abandonment of the line. This line would replace an earlier tramway which existed for the same purpose on a smaller scale. Image: Chesuncook Lake 1954 USGS Map showing the track of the old tramway and railway, long abandoned by this point. After the end of operations, it was deemed too costly to re

Albion, MI's Railroad Crossing on I-94

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In 1873, the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad was completed between Lansing and Hillsdale, MI, passing through the town of Albion. The railroad was the clear cut state of the art transportation system of the day.  Just over eighty years later, the Interstate Highway System was quickly overtaking the railroad industry's dominance in long distance travel. As early as 1940, this change would mean that the LS&MS's successor, the New York Central Railroad , would begin abandonment of the line between Lansing and Springport, the village north of Albion on the line. Railroads would have to relocate their roads above newly-constructed highways, and highways would have to build around existing railroad property.  For the most part in the US, this wasn't an issue, but this would come to a head in Albion, Michigan, where an at-grade crossing was built to accommodate the newly constructed I-94 in the late 1950's. 1959 picture of I-94 Railroad Crossing. Image: Albio

In Defense of Rail Trails

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When a rail line finally closes, it is an undeniably sad event. Railroads are an integral part of the American ethos, and without them, the Manifest Destiny doctrine would have been much more difficult, if not impossible. Railroads connected the two oceans, and are just as important to our economy now as they were in the 19 th century. CGW /CNW Bridge over the Little Maquoketa River in Durango, IA , part of the Heritage Trail . However, as sad as it is to see a line go from hauling freight or passengers to a derelict state and finally close, it is ultimately necessary in some cases. If the revenue of moving goods along the line cannot justify the costs associated with running the line, the railroad is at a disadvantage to keep running it. With that in mind, as railroads have become more efficient operators, and as roads, highways and the trucking industry have opened up vast swaths of lands, there are some railroad lines which are now functionally obsolete. In fact, there are

Shockwave at Six Flags Great America

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When I was a very small kid visiting Six Flags Great America, there was always one ride intimidating enough that I wouldn't ride, sparking fear into you immediately upon entering the park, that being Shockwave .  Standing at 170 feet tall with 7 inversions, it was briefly the world's tallest coaster when it opened in 1988. However, like many Arrow coasters, what was initially hailed as an incredible ride became quite rough over time, and were supplanted by other manufacturers in the industry - most notably B&M and Intamin . After fourteen years, public opinion of the ride had soured, with many complaining of a rough layout. Image: Joel Rogers, 2001. Coastergallery.com It was the first of three Arrow Dynamics mega looper roller coasters, each of which featured 7 inversions and roughly 3,900 feet of track. Viper at Six Flags Magic Mountain is the only one that remains in operation today, with the other ride being the Great American Scream Machine at Six Flags Great Advent

The Forgotten Railways of Chicago: Scarchitecture

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Scarchitecture, a portmanteau of the words scar and architecture, is somewhat of an internet buzzword. It refers to the remnants left behind by abandoned or disused infrastructure or old buildings, and how one can find, using satellite imagery, evidence of old roads, railroads, and all sorts of remnants of a city that once was. This blog post from 99% Invisible explains the phenomenon far better than I could. Applied to the old rights-of-way of railroad corridors that ran in the urban core, one can see examples in nearly every corner of Chicago, as well as many other cities. Of course, not every abandoned railroad right-of-way leaves a scar, in fact I was quite surprised to learn that Chinatown Square occupies what was once a former rail yard of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe . In fact, much of the industrial area east of the Chicago River was once home to various rail yards, with very little, if any evidence remaining of their former lives. It is also impossible to trace the a

The Cincinnati Bluffton & Chicago Railroad

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The Cincinnati Bluffton and Chicago ran between Huntington & Portland, IN between 1903-1917. ( Right of Way ). It was to run between its namesake cities, but it was never successful, like many short lines it suffered from a lack of investment and financing. Outside of a couple small spur tracks serving gravel pits, it could not create any freight traffic for itself to survive. CINCINNATI BLUFFTON AND CHICAGO RAILROAD – STEAM ENGINE 30 0-6-0 switcher, 1921 ( Val Trotter via Pinterest ) The original route was to run south of Portland, IN to Union City, IN on the Ohio Border. Had this connection been established, it would have been able to connect to Cincinnati, OH via the Cincinnati Hamilton & Dayton Railroad. At Huntington, IN, it did connect to Chicago through the now-abandoned Erie Railroad. The line opened in segments: Bluffton to Pennville was opened in 1903, from Pennville to Portland in 1904, and from Bluffton to Huntington in 1908. The route largely paralleled present-day

My List of the 10 Best Rail Trails in the Chicago Area

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The Chicago area, is full of abandoned railroad corridors, as is pretty much all parts of the United States , as I've come to learn. Plenty of these corridors have been converted into biking trails, or rail-trails, the most famous of which is the Bloomingdale Trail, otherwise known as " The 606 ". In my humble opinion, it's a nice hike but not my favorite trail to walk on. Having lived in the Chicago area my whole life, I've had the joy of being able to discover Chicago's historic railroads as well as its many active lines that are perfect for viewing trains! The criteria I used to evaluate might be a little different than most people's, given that I'm seeing the trails through the lens of the railfan. The most important things for me, other than safety and cleanliness, are 1) How close the trail gets to other active rail lines. 2) How well the trail relates to the history of the railroad than once ran on its right-of-way, and 3) The area around