PIA Breaks March Record! (Updated)

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Thanks to a commenter, I can report that Peoria International Airport broke its March passenger record this year. Unfortunately, a report by WMBD TV-31 wasn’t as specific as I’d hoped.

The airport saw the largest number of passengers ever pass through its gates in the month of March.

More than 60,000 people flew out of Peoria. This is on the heels of eleven other attendance records in the past year.

This is clearly an increase over March 2014, when 59,021 passengers went through PIA’s gates.


UPDATE: WEEK TV-25 is reporting the exact passenger figure March 2015 – 60,750. Even better is this:

Olson says the Houston flights have about 14 percent more passengers last month than the Denver flights they replaced. PIA has set monthly records for 12 out of the last 13 months, with passenger boardings running about 4.5 percent ahead of last year’s record total.

This is great news! If the 4.5 percent increase holds throughout the year, then PIA may handle about 670,000 passengers in 2015. No wonder 300 additional parking spaces are being built.

– David P. Jordan

Pouring Rain, Two Local Trains

A tradition of mine is to chase Canadian National Railway’s “Peoria Local” back home after I leave the Decatur (Illinois) Train Show, which is held every in April and September.

Problem is, the CN local’s schedule didn’t always work out for my tradition. One time in fact, an encounter with that local on my way to Decatur actually prevented me from attending. The date was September 15, 2012. I encountered the train around Latham, then shot it from the US 54 bridge at Mount Pulaski. See below.

My plan had been to attend the Decatur show early then head to Springfield for a timetable collectors’ meet. The CN local diverted my attention for too long, so I skipped Decatur and headed to Springfield.

Shortly, the CN local switched to a nocturnal schedule. I did not see it again until May 2014 after it had returned to a daytime routine. I didn’t see the train after last September’s Decatur Train Show as I probably lingered at WABIC Jct. too long.

But Sunday, April 19, I saw not only the Peoria Local, but also the Clinton Local because they worked in Mount Pulaski – the junction of CN’s Peoria and Gilman Subdivisions – at the same time.

The Clinton Local, officially, L58591, makes a daily trip from Clinton to Cockrell (southwest of Springfield) and return. The train might “turn” at Mount Pulaski some days. Sunday’s train was led by SD75I No. 5645 and SD60 No. 5433 and had 16 cars of mostly plastic and lumber loads.

I’m not sure why lumber loads would be going north as they probably originated in western Canada or northern Wisconsin.* I’d say the Clinton Local’s crew just pulled everything at Mount Pulaski set out by the Peoria Local and will sort the cars at the Clinton yard. All eight are probably consigned to the Illinois & Midland Railroad’s lumber re-load at Springfield.

*Packaged lumber on the centerbeam flat cars show Louisiana Pacific markings. LP has wood siding mills at both Tomahawk and Hayward, Wisconsin. Both are served by CN. 

The Peoria Local, shortened to just two engines (SD70I No. 5613 and SD75I No. 5707) and 23 grain empties after making its set out, departed a short time later. I managed to capture the train as it raced through Hartsburg, Delavan and Green Valley. It ran around these cars at South Pekin then spotted them at either Delavan or Emden on the way back south.

– David P. Jordan

Conrail Heritage Unit on IAIS!

Peoria and the Iowa Interstate Railroad got another Norfolk Southern Heritage Unit this week!

NS 8098, painted in Conrail’s blue 1976 paint scheme, led coal train 402 from Deer Run Mine near Hillsboro, Illinois to East Peoria on Sunday. Delivery to the Iowa Interstate was swift that evening, and the train reached Silvis, Illinois at 3:20 the next morning. Paired with BNSF 8018, the Conrail unit reached South Amana, Iowa.

Both  returned to Silvis by early Thursday, April 16 and were used for switching duties there. The next day, they led a 95-car ethanol train to Peoria. See embedded video for still shots and live action from Chillicothe to Creve Coeur.

NS 8098 would be the fourth member of Norfolk Southern’s Heritage fleet to run through Peoria to the Iowa Interstate and return. The others are NS 1065 (Savannah & Atlanta) in January-February 2013, NS 1070 (Wabash) in December 2014-January 2015 and NS 1066 (New York Central) just last week.

– David P. Jordan

The STB Issues Decision On Morton Rail Controversy

The federal Surface Transportation Board has issued a decision on the case Fort Transfer Company – Alternative Rail Service – Toledo Peoria & Western Railway Corp.

This decision holds the proceeding in abeyance and directs Toledo, Peoria & Western Railway Corp. (TPW) to certify to the Board by May 1, 2015, that it has completed repairs to, and restored service to Fort Transfer Company over, the Morton Industrial Lead (the Lead), an approximately 4.3-mile long track located in Morton, Ill.

The TP&W has already begun making repairs to the line, and expects to restore full service by late April. The Surf Board is holding them to it.

– David P. Jordan

Journalistic Malpractice

It is time to complain about the ineptitude of today’s media, specifically newspapers.

The Peoria Journal Star reported that on Tuesday morning, Jason Parnell drove his semi off 2nd St. in Pekin to enter the Ox Paperboard plant property. The semi driver should’ve seen the Illinois & Midland Railroad locomotive nearing the railroad crossing he was about to traverse. He did not and the locomotive hit his truck and knocked it over.

Reporting grade-crossing collisions is standard fare for newspapers. There is historical value if details such as railroad company involved, time of accident, direction of train, etc. are included. All that is here.

But these days, it has become all too common for reporters to finish their articles with assumptions and bad descriptions, especially when they involve railroads. The worst offense in the article is this:

The engine, owned by Illinois & Midland Railroad of Havana, was pulling no cars as it traveled south at 5 to 7 mph. Moving in reverse, its operator was on the opposite side of the engine’s collision point with the truck.

The Illinois & Midland Railroad is not “of Havana” but Springfield. Reporter Michael Smothers (long notorious for sloppy reporting) could have checked his facts easily by going to the railroad’s official website. Maybe Google wasn’t working on Tuesday.

Unfortunately, such errors are old hat for the PJStar. A July 17, 1991 article entitled, “Officials visit Detroit for incinerator” (page C-2) we find this about Illinois & Midland Railroad’s predecessor:

The Mason County project was originally proposed in April by Havana-based C & IM Railroad, which wanted to build the solid waste incinerator near its underused railyard.

The C&IM and successor IMRR have been based in Springfield for a long time. There is no excuse for such an error. Another offense is using the term “operator” instead of engineer. Smothers does it twice in this article.

The Peoria Journal Star has also done this with its commercial aviation reporting. One of numerous examples goes back to 1990 and 1991 when local businessmen and elected officials lobbied the U. S. Department of Transportation to modify commuter lot restrictions at Chicago-O’Hare International Airport to allow American Airlines to replace short-haul turboprop flights with 97-seat Fokker 100 twin jets.

An oft repeated narrative in articles and at least one editorial was that Ozark Air Lines operated Peoria’s last Chicago-bound jet service in 1986 (the year TWA acquired the airline). No doubt someone researching local aviation history would accept this as fact.

Problem is, it isn’t true. The PJStar’s own archives should have been used. Ozark Air Lines dropped its last Peoria-Chicago O’Hare roundtrip jet service on October 24, 1981.* The airline had been gradually reducing service on this route, but the PATCO strike and FAA restrictions due to lack of controllers forced it to drop the last flight.

Prior to American Airlines’ inauguration of Peoria-Chicago O’Hare jet service on December 4, 1991, the last carrier to offer such service was TWA, which discontinued its single daily roundtrip on July 1, 1982.*

Understaffed and plagued by reporters unfamiliar with rail and aviation industry, newspapers these days are too sloppy and selective with their reporting to be considered for proper historical research. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

*See PJStar articles dated October 13, 1981, page C-12 (“Ozark Drops Peoria-Chicago Flight, Cites FAA Guideline”) and June 6, 1982, page A-8 (“TWA to ‘indefinitely suspend’ Peoria to Chicago service”).

– David P. Jordan

TP&W Will Restore Morton Rail Service (Updated)

Scenes such as these (from September 10, 2013) should return by month’s end

The Toledo Peoria & Western Railway is making repairs to the Morton Industrial Lead and intends to restore service by the end of the month. That’s according to the railroad’s latest filing to the Surface Transportation Board.

Apparently, Fort Transfer Company’s request for emergency service on March 10 and the issues discussed before the STB April 1 has pressured TP&W to change course. The following is quote from the attachment.

TPW has begun repair of the Lead, and expects rail service to Fort Transfer to be restored by the end of April, with some traffic to move sooner if possible.

I’m assuming that Morton Buildings will resume getting cars at its Erie Court truss plant rather than have to rely on transloading material at East Peoria.

Unfortunately, this filing repeats the same nonsense about traffic disruption (new business must be stressful). Hopefully, the Board will require parties to provide updates six months or a year from now as to whether the situation is satisfactory.

Finally, the TP&W filing contains two maps, one with a serious error. The last still shows as current the Norfolk & Western line that crossed the TP&W just west of the East Peoria Yard and ran parallel for 1.5 miles to P&PU Jct. Norfolk Southern predecessor N&W abandoned this track in November 1983 when a switch was installed at the TP&W crossing. The disconnected track was removed shortly thereafter, probably spring or summer 1984. Use of an out-of-date map kind of shows TP&W’s STB attorney isn’t getting accurate local information.

UPDATE: The Village of Morton’s support statement was posted today. You can view it here.

– David P. Jordan

[Chinese] Steam Finale?

I’m glad I took the time to chase QJ 2-10-2 No. 7081 on September 7, 2013.

The Iowa Interstate Railroad ran public excursions that day as a fundraiser for Geneseo and Atkinson, Illinois volunteer fire departments. I caught the last roundtrip, then the deadhead move to turn the train at Bureau Jct. This was done so 7081 could lead westbound for trips between Tiskilwa and Sheffield the next day.

These were the last trips under auspices of the Iowa Interstate Railroad, but 7081 and 6988 may run again someday. In September 2014, owner Railroad Development Corporation announced that it had donated them to Central States Steam Preservation Association.

Presently, CSSPA is raising funds to operate the QJ’s. The group’s purpose is explained in this Facebook post. Hopefully, we’ll see 7081 and 6988 running again on the Iowa Interstate – and other railroads – in the near future.

– David P. Jordan

Update On Morton Rail Situation

Last news heard on the situation with the Toledo, Peoria & Western Railway’s service embargo on its Morton Industrial Lead is that the federal Surface Transportation Board called a meeting among the parties on April 1, 2015. Most attended via conference call.

Fort Transfer’s situation is becoming dire, as explained in this letter posted today. Basically, herbicide intended to Fort’s Morton facility was diverted to a competitor in Farmer City (Heartland Ag isn’t named, but that is who it is), but the competitor is running out of storage space and demanding Fort provide trucks to move product to Morton.

The Board has posted a transcript of the hearing/conference from last week. It is 174 pages long, but reveals new (and repeats old) information.

– David P. Jordan