Peoria RR Memories from 1990!

A friend of mine, Art Purchase, shot this 18-minute video of Peoria area rail action on July 5-6, 1990. Because this is PURE GOLD, I thought I’d share it here and comment on the action a bit since so much has changed in 26 years.

The video begins with an Iowa Interstate (IAIS) local heading southbound through Chillicothe, Illinois (then a second scene closer to Peoria). The location appears to be Moffitt Street on the city’s northside. Galena Road Gravel Co. had yet to start loading construction sand here. The siding seen to the left of the train was removed, and a switch was built on the south end.

The train’s consist is interesting. The first two cars appear to be of the type used by BF Goodrich’s Henry plant to ship polyvinylchloride resin. Behind these were two IAIS hoppers were used in ballast service. Then, another covered hopper that I believe was used by Goodrich to ship resin, followed by three empty vinyl chloride tank cars (from Goodrich). At least the first of the next two tank cars last contained sodium hydroxide solution (that is what the stenciling on the car appears to say). A centerbeam flat car loaded with lumber is bound for a P&PU-served customer, possibly Carver Lumber at Pioneer Park. The two Conrail boxcars – CR 209540 and CR 209911 – are “XP”-type boxcars assigned to paper service, possibly newsprint. The Cedar Rapids & Iowa City Railway and Soo Line covered hoppers bringing up the rear may be the same ones shown on an eastbound Norfolk & Western freight the next day!

The next scene shows CF Industries’ locomotive moving on TP&W’s Mapleton Industrial Spur. Air Liquide’s ex-MG Industries liquid oxygen plant wasn’t built until 1994, thus allowing the clear view from Wheeler Road.

P&PU 603 is shown hauling five C&NW-marked covered hoppers through the North Valley enroute to the Iowa Interstate interchange at the North Limit Yard.

P&PU 609 is shown hauling the Pekin Local through Hilliards (Creve Coeur) bound for East Peoria. Note six C&NW covered hoppers ahead of the ethanol tank cars.

At about 5 minutes, 36 seconds into the video, a 25-car eastbound Norfolk & Western freight is shown behind a pair of geeps. Note the Container-On-Flat-Car (COFC) and Trailer-On-Flat-Car (TOFC) traffic, and Caterpillar tractor loads.

Next we have some Chicago & North Western action! First, at what I believe is the Rt. 9 crossing near the CILCO power plant south of Bartonville, is a northbound freight. Part of this, and another right behind it, is shown. The next view at W. Farmington Road shows the first train after having added some Peoria cars at Sommer, which leads me to conclude that this is SPBOA (South Pekin IL to BOone IA, Manifest). The train following it at Rt. 9 was probably MAPRA (MAdison IL to PRoviso IL, Manifest).

Action following the W. Farmington Road is at Molitor Jct. where the ex-C&NW Elm Subdivision crossed Burlington Northern’s Galesburg-Peoria line and junctions with the C&NW main. The train shown being shoved is a bit of a mystery, but it may be BOSPA (BOone IA to South Pekin IL, Manifest) either ducking into the Low Line (to Peoria) to get out of SPBOA’s path, or wayfreight WPE01 shoving a cut of cars to Limestone Siding (stub track scene in W. Farmington Road scene) for pickup by PRMAA. Not sure why they didn’t wait for MAPRA!

Priceless video of P&PU 600 pulling a train up the Kellar Branch begins at ten minutes, 17 seconds. Years ago I purchased a print of P&PU 600 pulling an empty boxcar (GMSR 49556) from the old Cohen’s Furniture Co. distribution center in Peoria Heights. This video was taken the same day! Note the different boxcar in the third scene. That is the car pulled from Cohen’s!

We are then treated to action on the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe’s Illinois Division at Houlihan’s Curve and Edelstein Hill.

The final scenes show a TP&W GP20 pulling a lone Burlington Northern boxcar off the the Industrial Spur that served Hagerty Bros, Federal Warehouse Co., United Facilities and Demeter Inc. (grain elevator & barge dock). The final scene indicates this train added an empty centerbeam flat car that had earlier been pulled from Illinois River Lumber Co. closer to the river.


– David P. Jordan

Remember the Peoria Railfair?

Here are 6+ minutes of highlights from 2008’s “Peoria Railfair” at Barrack’s Cater Inn on Pioneer Parkway. The event was organized by Sharon Deckard’s Illinois Prairie Railroad Foundation and supported by Pioneer Industrial Railway and the Toledo Peoria & Western Railway. The Tazewell & Peoria RR provided some literature for the event, which was held on September 20-21, 2008.

The purpose of the event was to promote public awareness of the operational status and economic potential of the city-owned Kellar Branch. For a decade, the trail groups, the Peoria Park District and the City of Peoria on one side, and the Pioneer Industrial Railway and rail enthusiasts on the other, battled in the media and the local blogosphere over the merits of converting the line to a recreational trail.

Lacking prime media interest, turnout was low, but if one or two people, particularly young children, were inspired by the display of two locomotives, fueling a new fascination with railroads, then the price, time and effort put into it was worthwhile.

The first four minutes show PREX 2032 and IORY 1501 (then assigned to the TP&W) running up the Kellar Branch on Friday, September 19, 2008. The last scenes are at Pioneer Parkway the following day.

– David P. Jordan

Peoria Area Rail Users 2014: Carver Lumber Co.

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PREX GP-20 2032 and a boxcar rest at Carver Lumber Co. on March 29, 2009

If the then-owners of Carver Lumber Co. had a crystal ball in 1964, they would have chosen a location other than 8700 N. University Street for their new contractors’ lumberyard.

The first crisis came in 1980 when the bankrupt Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad was forced to shutdown and liquidate its assets. Directed service by the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway then the Burlington Northern continued rail service for nearly two more years. When BN bowed out, Carver Lumber (and several other firms) were forced to arrange alternative transportation.

Newspaper reports indicate that Carver Lumber transloaded from railcars to trucks at Burlington Northern’s Galesburg Yard, increasing costs in a period of economic stress. Fortunately, the City of Peoria purchased the Kellar Branch from the bankrupt Rock Island and contracted with the Peoria & Pekin Union to operate it. Service resumed in October 1984.

A $175 per car surcharge proved a deterrent to economic development along Pioneer Park, and although replaced by a property tax abatement for adjoining landowners two years later, the city’s rail line had stalled. Promising traffic in the fall of 1984 had turned to a trickle. Fortunately, two local firms, Gateway Milling Co. and Cohen’s Furniture came online in 1986 and 1989, respectively.

By the mid-1990s, the City of Peoria began entertaining the idea of abandoning its railroad to make way for an extension of the Rock Island Trail. Ideas to accommodate rail users’ needs were tossed about, but none provided viable. Things heated up when Pioneer Industrial Railway replaced P&PU as operator in early 1998.

Despite warnings, the City of Peoria went ahead and purchased Union Pacific’s former Chicago & North Western spur into Pioneer Park. Plans to extend it 1800 feet to the Kellar Branch dragged for more than three years. Construction started in late 2004. The new connection, which backers claimed would provide better service to Pioneer Park, opened in March 2006.

The new configuration was a disaster. The routing to Carver Lumber now involved an additional carrier, Union Pacific, and at great extra cost. Transit times increased and/or became unpredictable. The city’s contract operator, Central Illinois Railroad (replaced Pioneer in 2005), did not always have a crew available to work the Union Pacific interchange and deliver to Carver. After six months, Carver made arrangements with P&PU successor Tazewell & Peoria Railroad (TZPR) to transload material from railcars to trucks at its Creve Coeur freight house and team track facilities.

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On July 27, 2009, a boxcar is spotted for unloading at the TZPR freight house in Creve Coeur. The contents of this car were likely consigned to Carver Lumber Co.

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A centerbeam flat car, likely consigned to Carver Lumber, awaits unloading on TZPR’s diesel shop tail track on December 15, 2006

Although Pioneer was able to win back its right to operate the Kellar Branch, declining housing construction and a poor economy rendered the operation unprofitable. Pioneer and Central Illinois Railroad’s interests were bought out and the Kellar Branch was abandoned in 2010.

Carver continues to use TZPR facilities.

– David P. Jordan

JSEB Still Unrepentant About Trail

How is a trail better than this? Pioneer Industrial Railway’s “Hill Job” on March 15, 2004

Now that the new trail bridge across N. Knoxville Ave. is complete, it is no surprise the Journal Star Editorial Board is praising the project.

Our patience has been rewarded. The formal dedication last week of the Rock Island Greenway recreation trail was 17 years in the making, but what has resulted is something Peorians can be proud of, and at a relatively bargain price.

A bargain price? By what standard?

Indeed, the cost as of last week came to $8.1 million — though some bills continue to trickle in — with local taxpayers on the hook for less than $1.1 million of that, about 13 cents on the dollar. For that they purchased the last seven or so miles — the missing link, plus accompanying investments in safety fencing, trailhead facilities, signage, etc. — in a nearly 46-mile trail stretching from Morton to Toulon, with 13 of those paved miles meandering their way through the city of Peoria, including a magnificent bridge over Knoxville Avenue near Junction City.

Cost is $8.1 million so far, yet they say “some bills continue to trickle in.” Like perpetual upkeep and unplanned repairs, such as washouts.

There was a point when we thought we’d never see the day, between critics of converting the Kellar Branch railway into a trail and arcane federal railroad law making the public asset seem like anything but, as for all practical purposes it was under private control despite the taxpayer ownership.

Hence the headline of this post. The City of Peoria and Village of Peoria Heights purchased the Kellar Branch in 1984 for rail service, and contracted with the Peoria & Pekin Union Railway (P&PU) to operated it, not for the Cities to do what they pleased with it. They found out the hard way that federal regulations came into play.

After taking over operations in 1998, locally-based Pioneer Industrial Railway demonstrated that it could operate the line at a profit and bring back business, which it did. As the voices demanding conversion to a trail increased in decibel, truth was thrown out. Pioneer was demonized. Trail proponents actually believed that recreational trails, not rail transportation, would bring economic development.

In 2010, the logjam was finally broken, and then it became a funding and bureaucratic issue given the cooperation that was necessary between local, state and federal governments. The project came to symbolize the difficulty of accomplishing anything in Peoria, which seems to be shedding some of that reputation.

Let’s review this, shall we? There were those who didn’t understand that in order to close the Kellar Branch and remove it for recreational trail use, the owners and railroad operator (Pioneer) had to petition the Surface Transportation Board for a “Discontinuance of Service Exemption.” But Pioneer rightfully insisted that its contract was good until at least July 2004, and had no intention of ending service until then.

Talk of trail conversion in the early years (1997, when the Peoria & Pekin Union’s contract allowed for an “out”) included the reasonable assumption that rail service to existing customers had to be maintained. A proposal to extend the Union Pacific’s Pioneer Industrial Lead 1,800 feet across University Street to the Kellar Branch was the surest way to continue service to Carver Lumber and Gateway Milling. But it soon became clear that the loss of the neutral P&PU connection would result in higher freight rates and slower service as everything would have to be routed via Union Pacific, regardless of its origin or destination.

As a result, Pioneer publicly opposed the plan. Trail proponents closed their ears and demanded it be implemented anyway. Who cares about the railroad, the businesses they serve and the jobs risked with substantially higher transportation costs.

Indeed, we trust some of the more unforgiving will never set foot on the trail, though we see more traffic on it every day. Witnessing the result now — with finishing touches, such as water fountains, benches, bike racks, etc., continuing to be added — we can say, as an opinion page that was on board from the very beginning, that the wait was worth it, though we’d just as soon not have to go through it again.

Utopia rising.

For those who avail themselves of the trail, it can produce positive returns in physical health. As far as the environment is concerned, biking beats driving. Long-term, both can produce spin-off savings to taxpayers on other fronts. While the economic development gains of projects like these can be exaggerated, we do believe this trail will enhance the value of nearby properties, and that easy access will be coveted by enough people that local entrepreneurs will seek to capitalize on that.

So they finally admit that economic development gains with trails can be exaggerated? They must be referring to Running Central’s recent move from Peoria Heights to Peoria’s Warehouse District. Some of those “gains” can be lost as Running Central was in the Heights just three years.

Kellar Killer Cartoon

The saddest consequence of this project is that the potential for industrial development along the former Union Pacific spur (which the City of Peoria purchased in 2001) and west of Allen Road is lost. A connection to the Kellar Branch, not to replace it, but compliment it, would’ve provided economic development agencies an unmatched marketing tool for prospective industry: shovel-ready greenfield and neutral access to multiple railroads. Peoria now has little or no land to attract industry, something we need far more than more shopping centers and restaurants.

So what’s next?

The city has hired a consultant to develop a master bicycle strategy, and the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission is advocating the study of a protected bike/pedestrian lane on the McClugage Bridge, which is in IDOT’s pipeline for maintenance and perhaps more in the coming years. To the degree an expanded trail system in central Illinois can take advantage of the area’s river views, that could be a draw. Ultimately, it would be great if a bicycle network could link Peoria and the bedroom communities surrounding it. Other towns may find the Knoxville pedestrian bridge so impressive that they try to replicate it. One place that comes to mind is Washington, with large residential areas — and the young families that live in them — divided by the Route 24 bypass.

Translation = we’re not done spending money. Oh, but future projects will also be worth it. 😛

We continue to believe that quality-of-life investments are important to communities that people desire to call home, because there’s a lot of competition out there. Fall behind and people with choices may exercise them elsewhere. We have a lot to offer in central Illinois, which is ripe for that discovery.

Quality-of-life begins with a job. Previous generations were content with their surroundings, and would find their own entertainment. Now, taxpayers must foot the bill for costly recreational facilities that will result in miniscule economic growth at best.

How this project is “worth it” I’ll never understand.

– David P. Jordan

Rail vs. Trail Realities Going Back To…The ’70s?

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A Central Illinois RR Co. train tiptoes through Peoria Heights on April 16, 2009

It is amazing what people will accept when they live in Reality City. I about fell out of my chair when I came across this in a June 24, 1973 Peoria Journal Star article entitled Bikeway Routes Revealed.

The Alta to Grand View Drive Bikeway would follow the Rock Island tracks, beginning at Alta, through Pioneer Park across Rt. 174, parallel to Rt. 88, across Rt. 88 at Northmoor Golf Course, through Peoria Heights along Bishop and Hammond Avenue to Grand View Drive, ending at the foot of Lorentz and connecting to a future riverfront drive. Railroad right-of-way along most of the length is 100 feet wide and little use is made of the present tracks.

You read that right, the proposed trail would follow the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad’s Kellar Branch because the right-of-way was 100 feet wide. Recall trail proponents’ him-and-hawing several years ago that it would be unsafe to run a recreational trail alongside this same rail line. But in 1973, joint-use was acceptable because everyone knew the tracks were going nowhere.

And then there is the assertion that “little use is made of the present tracks.” Sounds like trail proponents’ propaganda from the late 1990s and early 2000s as justification to close the Kellar Branch and BUILD THE TRAIL NOW! Back then, the Pioneer Industrial Railway ran up to three times a week and handled some 200-250 carloads annually to three Pioneer Park industries – Carver Lumber, Gateway Milling and Peoria Plastic.

But “little use” must have meant something else entirely in 1973. I don’t have figures for that year, but I do have them for 1978, thanks to the 1980 ILLINOIS RAIL PLAN. Traffic was summarized by commodity:

Grain & Grain Products – 4,439 carloads
Lumber, Building Materials – 417 carloads
Paper, Paper Products – 200 carloads
Plastics – 130 carloads

TOTAL – 5,186 carloads

So 5,186 carloads a year (probably more in 1973) meant “little use.” Those 4,439 carloads of grain and grain products were attributed solely to Pabst Brewing Co.’s Peoria Heights brewery and 200 carloads of Paper, Paper Products was mostly newsprint for the Peoria Journal Star. The rest was generated mostly by industries located in Pioneer Industrial Park, such as Advance Millwork Co., Peoria Plastic Co., Carver Lumber, Reserve Supply Coop, CILCO (Line Service Center), Dawson’s Home Center and Jordan Manufacturing Co. Smaller firms such as A & M Insulation and D. H. Overmyer had rail access but might not have used it. Also, the Peoria Observer transloaded newsprint from boxcars to trucks near Northmoor Road and Continental Can Co. probably received aluminum rollstock at its Peoria Heights can plant.

Unlike the recent rail vs. trail fight, the Peoria Journal Star was less inclined to espouse trail proponents’ propaganda in the 1970s. In fact, a captioned editorial photograph dated September 16, 1974 showing bumper-to-bumper cars and trucks stretching several blocks read this way:

This traffic back-up at the Rock Island crossing on Prospect Road near Pabst in Peoria Heights has been a rushhour regularity for years, but lately the waiting time has become more exasperating.

Longer trains, caused by increasing traffic to both Pabst and Pioneer Industrial Park, are to blame for the tie-up around 5:30 each afternoon. It would seem that the Rock Island and its customers on the spur line ought to be able to get together and change the transit time for this train to a little later in the evening.

A “little used” line would lack sufficient train activity to cause such traffic backups, right? Obviously not. Even the Peoria Journal Star could contradict itself with the truth now and then.

– David P. Jordan

Trail Will Bridge Over, Not Tunnel Under, Knoxville

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Construction of a recreational trail over the Kellar Branch (former Peoria, Peoria Heights & Western Railroad) right-of-way has been slow-going since rails were removed in late summer 2010.

Cessation of train service gives me little reason to visit those parts of Peoria and Peoria Heights that it once traversed. But I happened to be driving down Knoxville Ave. the morning of December 23 and noticed bridge construction on either side of the former railroad crossing.

Until recently, the Peoria Park District intended to construct a tunnel here. This plan would have avoided placing an extra set of traffic lights (and another annoying stop for motorists) near Junction City. But a note dated October 30, 2012 reveals PPD had decided on a bridge instead of a tunnel.

Contractors are building the approaches and supports (when weather cooperates) in anticipation of receiving fabricated sections from a bridge shop in New York State. Expect completion sometime in 2014.

Don’t get me wrong, I ‘m not a convert to bike trail mania. This whole rail-to-trail conversion is a costly, unnecessary project driven by a small number of developers and a loud minority of environmentalists. It will not enhance the City of Peoria’s quality of life any more than a new shopping center, restaurant or car dealership will. And those don’t require multi-million dollar trails and trail bridges.

Good news may be on the horizon. There are rumblings that the dormant railroad serving Pioneer Industrial Park may gain new life. Watch here for updates.

– David P. Jordan

1999: Build the Trail NOW! 2012: We Want Our Rail Line Back! (UPDATED)

Perhaps water quality has improved in the state of Wisconsin. Or perhaps hindsight is 20/20. These may be explanations for this opinion piece in The Capital Times newspaper, which serves Madison.

First some background. Wisconsin has a history of buying rail lines to preserve service to shippers. Mostly, this has been successful. But there was a sad exception when officials allowed the demands of a loud and tiny minority to drown out common sense. In 1999, the South Central Rail Transit Commission voted to abandon a then-unused rail line running from Madison to Monroe.

Now the mistake is obvious as there are several businesses that would use rail (see link for details). But the most enlightening aspect is regarding promises by bike trail advocates.

New Glarus native Kim Tschudy, who was a vociferous supporter of retaining the line in 1999, today insists that the tourism promised by the bikers has never materialized, despite the promises from DOT and bike groups that the trail would draw up to 250,000 users.

“In Belleville the grand story was ‘oh, my God, there will be a bunch of shops being built trailside,” he said. “Never happened. A restaurant called the Trailside one block from the trail came and went in a matter of months.”

Sound familiar? The saddest part is that Peoria was warned that such promises never materialize. And you know what else? Kim Tschudy himself traveled to Peoria to address the City Council about this very topic on February 20, 2007. And – you’re going to be shocked by this – they didn’t listen.

The Kellar Branch, had it been preserved for operation by one carrier, would have had two active users (Carver Lumber and O’Brien Steel), potential for a transloading site and hundreds of greenfield acreage along the connected Pioneer Industrial Lead west of Allen Road. Along with preservation of competitive rail connections (as the Kellar Branch allowed), these would have enabled a proactive effort to lure new industry to the city.

But now it is too late. Most of the Kellar Branch is abandoned and, Pioneer Railcorp, operator of the remaining segment that serves Pioneer Park has moved its locomotive off City-owned track (ironically as two grade crossings were repaired), believing there is no potential. Sadly, they’re probably correct. Peoria wants shopping centers, residential subdivisions and restaurants, not industry.

Maybe they’ll regret it in a decade.

UPDATE: The following is a comment from Al Muir. It makes a great addition to this post –

The story about rails-to-trails sounds very familiar no matter where you go.

Recently, on my way to Oskaloosa, Iowa,  I was seeking a rescued depot on the former Rock Island branch line that ran through West Chester, Iowa.  I found the depot on a farmer’s lot, nicely restored, no less.  The farmer owned some of the land upon which a rail-to-trail project had been accomplished.  The twenty or so mile Keota to Washington, Iowa  trail (call the KeWash) was supposed to be a big boon to the rural Iowa area, attract countless visitors and not only be self sufficient, but actually a profitable enterprise.  Yeah, right!

The farmer tells me he sees no more than twenty cyclists per year.  The trail authority went bankrupt, leaving the trail to become a responsibility of the county.  So now the taxpayers pay to blade and maintain the trail, provide liability insurance and  spray it for weeds.  A money maker?  No way.  An economic drag on the taxpayers?  You bet.  And the farmers are still inconvenienced by dealing with broken fields  that make their job more difficult.  The original agreements say that the ROW would revert to the local farmer whenever the railroad should abandon.  Yeah, right.  The agreement is not worth the paper upon which it is written.

And to top it all off, it appears to me that recent industrial development in the area could well be served with rail transportation.  So much for governmental planning!

– David P. Jordan