Showing posts from September, 2019

Scanning Old Railroad Photos: Keeping Railroad History Alive

In any industry, media preservation is an ongoing issue, particularly when it comes to film and photography. For example, many early Hollywood films have been lost to history. To its credit, the railroad industry has been quite proactive about keeping its history preserved, at least when it comes to the largest companies and routes, as have the numerous historical societies that have existed long before the digital age. That said, much of the history of smaller short line railroads can be much tougher to come by, some of it is all but gone. It was only this week that a user clued me into a small railroad in the Chicago area I had no idea existed; The Midlothian and Blue Island Railway . Certainly, given the size of the ever-changing rail network, railroad historians have had their work cut out for them keeping up with the changes. The internet and digital media have been a fantastic tool to this end. Without it, my map of abandoned rights-of-way couldn't exist, at least

The Fremont Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad

The Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad began in 1869, creating some of the longest lines in the state, including the now-abandoned Cowboy Line between Norfolk and Chadron, NE. The company also expanded into Wyoming and South Dakota, especially in the Black Hills area.  Image: Fremont Elkhorn & Missouri Valley 4-8-0 Mastodon Above Nevada Gulch on the Portland Line (circa 1900)   The larger  Chicago & Northwestern Railway  acquired the company and completely integrated the system in 1903. Most of its rights of way have since been abandoned, but the line north of Chadron, NE remains in service to this day.

The Embarcadero Freeway: A San Francisco Disaster

The Embarcadero Freeway , also known as CA-480, was a freeway located in San Francisco, first constructed in 1959. Planned to be part of the Interstate Highway System, originally proposed as a connection to US 101 and US/40-50 in 1947, the Embarcadero was proposed as I-480. When it became clear the entire freeway wouldn't be built, the I-480 designation was removed, converting it into a State Highway. View of the freeway, facing north near Howard Street. ( America's Canceled Highways )  According to the Congress for New Urbanism, "San Francisco's Embarcadero Freeway was originally designed to connect the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge but was never completed. The Embarcadero only succeeded in cutting off the city from the waterfront and running long ramps deep into the neighborhood fabric. In the most used sections, traffic on the Embarcadero reached well past 100,000 vehicles per day." Image: SF Chronicle , "Vista views of a section section of the Emb

Railcars in Storage

The US railroad network is an engineering marvel. And just as important to the industry as the rails themselves are its rolling stock. After all, without railcars, the rails would be nothing but iron. But the demand for railcars is not constant, and different kinds of cars are needed at different points of the year. While the exact number of railcars in service in North American railroads and holding companies isn't known, it's about 1.6 million. On any given day however, about 900,000 won't move . While many of these are simply waiting in large railyards, many more are redundant at certain points of the year, and yet will be needed in the future. Thus, there is a market for train tracks to hold excess cars. While many of these can be stored away in yards, an alternative to placing a line out of service or abandoning it outright is to lease the space and store railcars and other rolling stock on it. However, the practice isn't without controversy. Some of these c

One of the straightest railroad lines in the US is located in Colorado of all places.

Railroad lines attempting to brave the terrain of the Rocky Mountains meant that some of the tightest curves ever in the US railroad network were located in the State of Colorado . DRGW 207 at Alamosa, CO. Fireman's Side of Engine, 1907. Image: NG Train Pics Ironically, one of the longest straight (tangent) sections of track was also located in Colorado, along a Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad line running between Alamosa and Poncha Springs, CO, known as the Valley Line . Much of this grade paralleled present-day Colorado Route 17 . Just north of Alamosa all the way to Villa Grove, the line was perfectly tangent for nearly 53 miles.  Image: Colorado Encyclopedia Nonetheless, this line would be abandoned some time in the 1950's. According to, "Most of the route - from Mears Jct down to Hooper - was abandoned in 1951. Without the Marshall Pass line in place, there was no northern narrow gauge system to connect with, making the line pointless. However, t

The Amstutz Expressway: Lake County's "Road to Nowhere"

Freeway proposals don't always work out, as this site has discussed with both New York City and Chicago's  abandoned expressway proposals. Still many others are built, but not in the entirety their planners originally envisioned them to be. Such is the case of Lake County, Illinois' Amstutz Expressway, one of the shortest and least traveled limited access freeways in the Chicago area. Image: Amstutz Expy under Grand Ave. Google Maps A Lakefront highway proposal had been planned since the very early part of the 20th century in eastern Lake County. Generally, early proposals had the road continuing to near or even beyond the Wisconsin State Line. During the early 1970's, the North Amstutz was completed between Greenwood Ave and Sheridan Rd, where it remains to this day. So how exactly did we get here, and what is the future of this road? Looking south at the north end of the Amstutz. Image: [jonrevProjects] Planning and Design: The main purpose f