WEEK TV-25 Updates FIS Facility Progress

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Peoria International Airport’s new FIS facility, now in the last few months of construction, gets surprisingly little media coverage. So when it does, you can bet I’ll report it here.

WEEK TV-25 did a story yesterday. It confirms that the new building provides not only separate facilities to process international travelers, but also additional space for domestic flights as well.

– David P. Jordan

PIA – A History: New Decade, Dark Clouds

In the previous installment, we explored not only air service changes at the Peoria Municipal Airport during 1949, but also problems with mining subsidence which threatened the airfield’s future.

In February 1950, the U. S. Air Force informed the Park Board that if its demands for improved facilities – including a 7,000-foot runway – were not met, the 169th Air National Guard unit would have to relocate. The same month, a second fissure was discovered on both ANG and adjoining private property after 14 rooms mined by Edward Mohn & Sons had collapsed. This diagram, which appeared in the Peoria Star on May 25, 1950 shows the problem areas.

Peo Star May 25, 1950 B-24 - Copy

Airport officials agreed that the solution was to either buy out the company’s mineral rights or condemn the property. Lack of adequate sources of funding proved a barrier to either course. A push to create an airport authority gained support.

With a goal to hold a public vote by May 31, 1950, backers started a petition drive. By the end of March, some 5,400 signatures had been collected. This was good news, because this number was ten times the requirement for a vote. The election was set for May 26.

Although East Peoria decided not to become part of the taxing district, two major local employers there, Caterpillar Tractor Co. and Altorfer Bros. Co., decided to pay the equivalent of a tax paid to the authority. The Peoria Star promoted the airport authority idea, and a full page ad by a Greater Peoria Airport Citizen’s Committee Representing Peoria’s Labor, Civic Groups, Indusries appeared in the paper on May 24. The next day, a Central National Bank ad urged citizens to vote “yes.”

Local citizens approved the airport authority by a large margin. On June 13, five men were named as commissioners, including businessman S. V. Cain, who had been appointed committee head in March. Henry Howard was appointed as temporary head of the authority.

Unfortunately, the subsidence problem got much worse. North-South runway 18-36 had to be closed the evening of June 16 due to discovery of a 350′ settling strip. Repairs were made and the runway reopened on July 27.

On August 1, 1950, the Peoria Park Board officially transferred control of the airfield to the “Greater Peoria Airport Authority” The next day, a resolution was adopted to change the name from “Peoria Municipal Airport” to “Greater Peoria Airport.”

The GPAA announced it would use discarded railroad crossties from the Toledo Peora & Western Railroad’s Farmdale Dam relocation project to shore up four mined out rooms under airport property. Begun August 19, work was completed in September. The project prevented subsidence under NW-SE runway 12-30.

A book could be written on the issue with Edward Mohn & Sons, but I’ll summarize it here. In December 1950, the GPAA filed for a court injunction against Mohn. The court, however, ruled in favor of the mine. Negotiations to purchase mineral rights fell through when Mohn demanded $850,000. Mohn ceased mining operations in November 1952 and at year’s end the GPAA bought its mineral rights for $450,000.

In the next installment, I’ll discuss air service changes and airfield improvements during 1950.

– David P. Jordan

Christmas Eve Train Chase!

Railroads keep moving, even on holidays.

Since January 2014, the Iowa Interstate Railroad (IAIS) has significantly increased the volume of traffic to its Peoria Subdivision. Much of of this is due to heavy interchange with Norfolk Southern, but much of it is not.

Business is so heavy on certain days that two trains are run in each direction between Silvis and Peoria. Add weekly coal trains, and those Des Moines grain trains of varying frequency, and you have a busy railroad. Often busier than the Rock Island Railroad’s waning days in the late 1970s.

Tonnage is probably heavier too. Ethanol trains are loaded at Cedar Rapids,other Iowa ethanol plants, and occasionally at Annawan, Illinois for Alexandria (VA), Augusta (GA) and Port Everglades (FL). These can be 60-, 80- and 93-car trains not including at least one buffer car placed on either end. Des Moines grain trains, usually one a week, but sometimes more, are running at 85 cars with destinations such as Baldwin (GA, probably Fieldale Farms), Loudon, (TN, Tate & Lyle) and Winston-Salem (NC, Ingredion). Those weekly coal trains which NS has been originating at either the Shay Mine near Carlinville or Hillsboro in Illinois, run at about 95 cars.

In addition, NS runs a manifest train from Knoxville (TN) to East Peoria five days a week. Train 115 is usually made up of mostly ethanol empties, but also has a block or two of mixed freight. The train, power and all, is forwarded by an IAIS crew to Silvis as PESI.

As a result of the additional traffic, IAIS crews usually run to and from East Peoria over Tazewell & Peoria Railroad (TZPR) trackage. The North Limit Yard (located between the Water Works and Sloan Street) cannot possibly handle all of this, and would be inefficient to do so anyway. And since PESI and SIPE trains also handle non-NS traffic, the Bureau Switcher (BUSW, sometimes sarcastically called, “The Rocket”), rarely makes it south of Chillicothe these days.

Thanks to a heads up from a local railfan, I managed to catch an SIPE train late this morning as it made its way down Iowa Interstate’s Peoria Subdivision. IAIS ES44AC #505, NS SD70 #2560 and NS D9-40CW #9442 led 111 cars. I shot video from Quality Metal Products on N. Galena Road then followed it to Wesley Jct. across the river. Stills were shot at the Limit Yard, the downtown ex-CRI&P depot (1900) and from South Street near the Peoria Stockyards. Final video at South Street and Wesley Jct.

This train had 58 covered hoppers blocked on the head end, probably all ADM feed loads from Cedar Rapids (and maybe Clinton), 26 denatured alcohol empties, 2 covered hoppers (probably ADM feed loads, maybe corn screenings), 16 IAIS-marked covered hoppers (soybeans?), 1 beverage alcohol empty, 2 ethyl alcohol empties, 4 denatured alcohol empties, an AOKX covered hopper (feed or gluten meal empty?) and an ethyl alcohol empty bringing up the rear.

Before crossing the river, the crew was instructed by the TZPR dispatcher to shove its train into A-41, double over onto A-35 then put the rest into A-9. The first two are Long Tracks. Originally, I heard they were going to split the train 40, 36 and 35, respectively, but then plans may have changed (good idea, because A-9 only fits about 25 cars).

– David P. Jordan

Changes in Norfolk Southern Bloomington District Operations?

Cessation of auto assembly at Mitsubishi Motors’ Normal plant has prompted Norfolk Southern to modify Bloomington District train operations.

I’m unable to confirm this yet, but it appears road locals D32 (Decatur-to-Normal) and D36 (Normal-to-Decatur) now “turn” at the Tazewell & Peoria Railroad’s (TZPR) East Peoria Yard. If this is so, then D32 arrives in the morning, the crew rests then takes D36 outbound in late afternoon or evening.

Saturday proved that I’m still unable to pin down recent changes. A freight train led by SD40-2 #3528 and D9-44CW # 9178 sat at Farmdale Switch (junction with TP&W’s Peoria Sub mainline in East Peoria) all afternoon after the crew reached its federally-mandated twelve hours of service limit. About 7:00 this evening, a relief crew delivered the train to TZPR. Two-and-one-half hours later, they departed with 21 cars.

Radio chatter indicated the relief crew used train symbol “D49,” which was one of three regular roadswitcher jobs (D46/D47/D49) based out of Good Yard. Normally, NS Peoria carload freight has been handled by roadswitcher D46 on weekdays. This train symbol, however, was most recently reported in use on Saturday, December 5.

Loss of Mitsubishi vehicle business means NS no longer needs a three-shift roadswitcher at Normal, and probably just one will do. It isn’t yet clear what is going on, but I’ll try to find out over the next few days, or weeks.

– David P. Jordan

Amazon.com cargo airline? (PIA, get cracking on that hub) – UPDATE!

Online retailer Amazon.com is forming its own dedicated, overnight air cargo operation.

In a move sure to transform the nation’s overnight delivery industry, the Seattle-based firm is reportedly negotiating with Boeing to lease of 20 767-300Cs.

So what’s this got to do with Peoria? Since 1980, the local airport has been trying to lure an air cargo hub operation. All attempts have failed, and the consolidation of the dedicated air cargo industry into two domestic carriers (FedEx and UPS) has reduced PIA’s chances to nil of becoming an air cargo hub.

Until now, perhaps. If PIA contacts Amazon today and tells them, “Peoria would be the best place for your overnight cargo hub,” perhaps chances would improve? Location half way between Chicago and St. Louis, close proximity to an interstate highway (I-474) and plenty of room for potential growth could help tip the scale.

I for one would love to know 20 “Amazon Logistics” 767s are clustering at the Gen. Wayne A. Downing Peoria Int’l Airport each weeknight for sorting packages instead of former large cargo hubs like Dayton, Fort Wayne and Toledo.

UPDATE: An air cargo operation at Wilmington Air Park in Ohio, operated by Air Transport Services Group (ATSG) for an undisclosed firm, but codenamed “Aerosmith,” is rumored as the beginning of Amazon’s own air cargo operation. For one thing, flights are made regularly out of Wilmington to Ontario (CA) and Allentown (PA), where Amazon has large fulfillment centers. ATSG contracts with both ABX Air and Air Transport International (ATI) for two 767-200s each. Regular flights also go to Dallas/Ft. Worth and Tampa.

– David P. Jordan

112th Anniversary of Powered Flight (Guess what I did on the 100th Anniversary?)

Today, December 17, 2015, is the 112th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first heavier-than-air-flight, which took place at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

But guess what a friend and I did on the 100th anniversary? Naturally, we chased Union Pacific’s MASPR (Manifest, Alton & Southern to PRoviso IL) from Peoria to Camp Grove, Illinois!

Video, taken just south of Camp Grove, isn’t the best quality (I was using my very first digital camera), but it preserves something that isn’t likely to be repeated. You probably won’t see long blocks (25 cars) of truck frames moving on this line again. These were regularly shipped from Ramos Arizpe, Mexico to General Motors’ Janesville, Wisconsin assembly plant, which ceased production in December 2008.

Long blocks of frames were common on this train, and often required Union Pacific to run MASPRX trains, and also use the “Peoria Wayfreight” (LPD01) to act as “pusher” to get these heavy trains up Pioneer Hill.

Union Pacific pulled trains MASPR (and counterpart MPRPB) off the Peoria Sub in 2007. Manifest such as these (usually MASPR and MPRAS) can detour through here from time to time, but they normally traverse the Villa Grove and Pana Subdivisions between Chicago and E. St. Louis.

– David P. Jordan

Norfolk Southern Track Geometry Train

Norfolk Southern’s track geometry train ran from Decatur to East Peoria, Illinois and back today.

Railroads must make sure their mainlines are up to standard. The best way to do this is to use a track geometry train, which has a variety of computers, sensors and measuring devices to check track for proper gauge between railheads, cross level and rail wear, etc. Any defects are repaired to ensure safety of personnel when operating these lines.

Wednesday’s train, called “904” by dispatcher and train crew, powered by two SD40-2s (3336 and 3504), used NXGen Rail test car NXGX 391 (named Skykomish River). This car was originally built for the Great Northern Railway, and continued in service with successors Burlington Northern and BNSF before making its way to Ozark Mountain Railcar then its current owner.

Video scenes (some stills) are at Goodfield, East Peoria and between.

– David P. Jordan