What Could Have Been...The Joliet Rockford & Northern Railroad

One of a number of railroad proposals that would have further tied Joliet to the railroad world, was a proposal to connect Joliet northwesterly with Rockford. The Joliet Rockford & Northern Railroad was incorporated in 1881 to connect Joliet, IL and Rockford, IL via Sheridan. Soon after incorporation, the size of the proposal was drastically reduced, and construction of a 19.5 mile branch line between Sheridan Junction (just south of Sheridan, IL) and Paw Paw, IL.

Right of way of what was built, and thus later abandoned.

It was completed late in 1882, and even before completion, the right of way was leased to the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad, who would purchase it outright in 1899. 

Joliet Rockford & Northern Incorporation

The Burlington briefly had an interest in not only completing the line from east from Sheridan to Joliet, but in running another line north from Joliet to connect to Naperville. This alignment would have created a loop of Burlington lines around Naperville, Sheridan and Joliet. The idea was for the Burlington to tap into the coal fields west of Joliet in/around the Shorewood area, but it obviously never materialized. It's still fun to think about what could have been though, since it would have meant another railroad running through Bolingbrook.

It is even possible that a section of this line was built, although it is both small, and unconfirmed. On Ewing Street in Naperville was a line, known as the “city track” running due south from the mainline in Naperville to the quarry, which is now the present-day Centennial Beach. Another bit of track continued along Jackson Ave to Washington St, in what was then, and is today, an extremely busy area. Beyond that though, it's not hard to imagine a right of way following the West Branch of the DuPage River south, then following Veterans Pkwy to Route 53 and heading straight into Joliet.

The "City Track" on the 1898 Sanborn Map of Naperville, IL.

But I'm getting a little sidetracked here, back to what was actually built! The Sheridan-Paw Paw line began abandonment in 1958 between Baker Station and Burgess Junction (earlier known as Sheridan Jct.), possibly as a result of a trestle fire that embargoed service. By 1984, the entirety of the route to Paw Paw had ended service.

This Joliet-to-Rockford proposal was far from the only railroad proposal to build a route that bypasses Chicago, and in fact, such proposals have continued up until nearly the present day, with the Great Lakes Basin Railroad proposing a very similar route between the two cities in 2015. Nonetheless, the Elgin Joliet & Eastern Railway (now CN) remains the only rail bypass of the City of Chicago, along a Waukegan to Gary, IN route.

Thanks as always for reading!


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