PIA – A History: Airline Service in 1950

The last installment in this series detailed the threat posed by inadequate facilities, mining subsidence and the lack of funding for necessary capital improvements. This post will analyze air service changes.

Peoria’s municipal airport experienced major air service changes in 1950. When the year started, air carriers numbered just two – American and TWA. Lets review happenings by each.

AMERICAN AIRLINES
This carrier operated a daily flight in each direction between Chicago, Peoria, Springfield and St. Louis with a 40-seat Convair 240. No known major changes occurred during the year, but Peoria did see an emergency landing in the early morning hours of December 26. The Peoria Star reported that day that American Airlines’ Californian, operating from Chicago to Los Angeles, made an emergency landing here due to a heating unit fire. The aircraft, probably a DC-6, had 57 passengers.

TRANS WORLD AIRLINES
On March 15, 1950, a TWA flight was the first to receive landing instructions from the airport’s new control tower. The long-delayed structure took one and one half years to build at a cost of $42,000. Air traffic controllers worked from 8:00am to midnight each day.

Transcontinental & Western Air, owned by business tycoon and aviation pioneer Howard Hughes, officially changed its name to “Trans World Airlines” on May 17, 1950. Interestingly, the Peoria Star reported on February 10 that TWA considered using four-engine Lockheed Constellations at Peoria, but rejected the idea due to inadequate runways due to length and the threat of cave-ins.

Perhaps the peak in TWA service levels was reached in September 1950 with six flights daily. Flight 521 arrived from Chicago at 1:40pm and departed back to Chicago as Flight 260 at 3:50pm. Flight 394 operated Chicago-Peoria-Quincy-Kansas City, arriving and departing at 10:20am and 10:30am, respectively. Flight 405 operated Chicago-Peoria-Kansas City, arriving here at 8:15pm for a 10-minute stop. Flight 591, added to the schedule on September 1, operate Chicago-Peoria-Quincy-Kansas City-Topeka-Wichita, and arrived here for a 10-minute stop at 4:55pm. All flights were operated with Douglas DC-3s.

TWA SkyFreighter Flight 792 operated Los Angeles-Phoenix-Albuquerque-Amarillo-Wichita-Kansas City-Peoria-Chicago-Dayton-Pittsburgh-Philadelphia-New York (LaGuardia), making a 15-minute stop here at 2:25pm. TWA used a C-47 (DC-3) for this cargo flight. Interestingly, TWA dropped this flight on November 1 only to resume it November 21 using a larger C-54 (DC-4), which tripled capacity.

PASSENGER NUMBERS, NEW AIRLINE
Peoria’s municipal airport handled 23,976 passengers in 1949. The withdrawal of Chicago & Southern Airlines the day after Christmas most certainly contributed to the decline to 22,903 passengers in 1950. Fortunately, Peoria was set for a significant boost in passengers when St. Louis-based Ozark Air Lines began flights here on November 6, 1950.

The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) awarded Ozark route authority previously given to Parks Airlines, which had failed to begin service. In August 1950, Ozark announced plans to start service here. The next month, it acquired Parks’ assets.

Ozark operated two flights daily in each direction on a Moline-Peoria-Bloomington-Champaign-Danville-Indianapolis routing with 28-seat DC-3s. Westbound flights stopped here at 8:35am and 3:35pm while eastbound flights stopped here at 10:31am and 5:16pm. Presumably, each stop lasted five minutes.

Just before service began, Ozark announced the addition of more service. At least 60 after initial service, Ozark would add a St. Louis-Rockford route, with Peoria among several stops.

As 1950 ended, it looked as if Peoria’s air service was poised for exponential growth. We will cover this in the next installment.

– David P. Jordan

Ask Peoria Station

I’m back in school working toward a bachelor’s degree, so I’ll have less time to post here. Other than news-driven content, new material will probably be added on weekends.

But I will do Q & A! It is time for another “Ask Peoria Station.” Feel free to ask any transportation-related question. As always, if I don’t know the answer, I’ll find one.

– David P. Jordan

PJStar Proves Worthless…

…when reporting local airport news. Again.

As of yesterday’s dead tree edition, the Peoria Journal Star has failed to report Peoria International Airport’s record (barely) 641,477 passenger tally in 2015. This airport press release is dated January 12, 2016.

Both WEEK TV-25 and WMBD TV-31 quickly covered this story. Peoria Journal Star…what are you waiting for? The only local airport news our trusty local paper has given us is that of an ice meth seizure by police January 8. What would we ever do if the PJStar forgot to run that story?

I can’t believe the airport did not provide this information to the newspaper. They always do. There is no excuse for laziness, the press release is already made up for them.

– David P. Jordan

CIRA Too Embarrassed To Release 2015 Figures? (Updated)

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Passenger traffic through Central Illinois Regional Airport (CIRA) declined again in 2015, but exact figures haven’t been made public.

The only story I could find from a Bloomington/Normal-area source was on WJBC Radio 1230’s news page. The only figure offered was this

CIRA Spokeswoman Fran Strebing said there were 9.7 percent fewer flights in 2015 compared to 2014.

MY TAKE
The airport’s 2014 passenger tally was 412,045, down 3.9 percent from 2013. That 9.7 percent figure reflects a decline in available seats (thanks to Frontier Airlines’ withdrawal April 27), but remaining flights might have posted higher load factors. A similar 3.9 percent decline in 2015 would cause traffic to dip below 400,000 for the first time since 1998 when CIRA handled just 382,091 passengers. I can’t confirm this without actual figures.

It is possible CIRA officials are too embarrassed to provide actual figures that show a decline for the fourth year in a row. It isn’t their fault – the airline industry can be fickle – but hiding bad news is unacceptable. For the sake of historical documentation, we need to know how many passengers traveled through CIRA last year.

At least CIRA can boast the return of Delta Air Lines mainline service. Last week, the carrier replaced a 76-seat Delta Connection CRJ900 its evening arrival/morning departure to Atlanta with a 110-seat Boeing 717-200. PeoriaStation reported this back in October.

UPDATE (Jan. 16) – The Pantagraph is reporting an 8 percent drop in CIRA passenger traffic in 2015. Only 379,186 passengers were handled last year, slightly below 1998’s figure! Some interesting information in this article.

Olson said increased capacity on the morning Atlanta flight, plus more consistent schedules to Detroit and Minneapolis, will help increase traffic. Additional Dallas-Fort Worth flights are expected in March and April.

“We continue to work toward bringing additional leisure destinations to the market, also, although no commitments have been made at this time,” he said.

Some thoughts…

(1) According to American Airlines’ online schedules, a third DFW-CIRA roundtrip daily except Saturday starts March 3. Perhaps Bloomington-based State Farm Insurance’s Dallas and Phoenix centers are in fact generating more business travel to and from headquarters.

(2) Presumably, additional leisure destinations would be flown by Allegiant Air. Not sure the airline would cannibalize its Peoria-Las Vegas/Phoenix-Mesa flights, but it is always possible they’d offer service from CIRA as well in the not-too-distant future.

– David P. Jordan

Peoria Int’l Airport Sets 2015 Passenger Record!

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Last year, despite a declining job market and worries over the national economy, General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport (PIA) handled an all-time record for passengers, the fourth time in a row.

According to this press release, PIA handled 641,477 passengers in 2015. That’s less than 0.004 percent more than 2014’s tally of 639,320, but it is still a record.

MY TAKE
Caterpillar’s recent cutbacks have no doubt affected business as well as leisure travel through the local airport. Fortunately, declining fuel prices (and probably fares) and recent new destinations (Orlando-Sanford in November 2014 and Houston in March 2015) helped maintain high traffic levels. Increasing passenger tallies, even if slight, will help PIA retain existing service, and make it a candidate for larger regional jets in the not-too-distant future.

Of course, American Eagle’s plans to upgrade its PIA-DFW flights from three daily roundtrips with 44- and 50-seat jets to two daily roundtrips with 67-seaters have been delayed indefinitely. But they will be here eventually. Similarly, Delta Connection will upgrade its Peoria – Atlanta flights, and hopefully those to Detroit and Minneapolis/St. Paul as well, to larger jets.

– David P. Jordan

Changes on Norfolk Southern’s Bloomington District

Auto assembly has come to an end at Mitsubishi Motors’ Normal, Illinois assembly plant, and with it a major chunk of business for the Norfolk Southern Railway.

By mid-December, Norfolk Southern changed train operations to reflect this traffic reduction. Weekday Normal, Illinois-based roadswitcher, D46, was abolished and locals running between Decatur and Normal were extended west to East Peoria. Train D32 runs Monday thru Saturday to East Peoria and counterpart D36 operates after D32’s crew returns to duty following mandatory rest, or with a relief crew. It should be noted that roadswitcher D47 also goes on duty at Good Yard during the afternoon, and D49 works the night shift.

Not all changes are set in stone. Night roadswitcher D49 relieved D32 on Saturday, December 19, delivered D32’s train to the Tazewell & Peoria Railroad’s East Peoria Yard and took an outbound train at least as far as Good Yard. On Sunday, December 27, Train D09, arrived East Peoria by mid-afternoon with a D32-like train.

Despite losing Mitsubishi, Norfolk Southern’s Bloomington District does not lack business. Online customers and connections with other railroads on the Bement-Gibson City-East Peoria line are numerous –

TopFlight Grain Co. (Monticello) – outbound corn and soybeans (25 cars)
Piatt County Service Co. (Monticello) – inbound fertilizer (dry)*
Viobin USA (Monticello) – inbound wheat germ
Monticello Railway Museum (Monticello) – inbound/outbound equipment, storage cars*
Premier Cooperative (Galesville) – outbound corn and soybeans (60 cars)
Brandt Consolidated (Galesville) – inbound fertilizer (dry)*
The Andersons O’Malley Grain (Mansfield) – outbound food-grade corn (5 cars)
DuPont Nutrition & Health (Gibson City) – outbound soybean meal & oil
Cargill Inc. (Gibson City) – outbound corn and soybeans (100 cars)
Bloomer Shippers Connecting Railroad (Gibson City) – SEE NOTE 1
Evergreen FS Inc. (Arrowsmith) – outbound corn and soybeans (25 cars)
Evergreen FS Inc. (Arrowsmith) – inbound fertilizer (dry)*
Evergreen FS Inc. (Holder) – outbound corn and soybeans (25 cars)
AgRail LLC (Bloomington) – outbound corn and soybeans (110 cars) – SEE NOTE 2
Midwest Fiber Inc. (Normal) – outbound baled scrap paper
Mitsubishi Motors Inc. (Normal) – outbound vehicles – SEE NOTE 3
Evergreen FS Inc. (Yuton) – outbound corn and soybeans (52 cars)
Toledo Peoria & Western Railway (Farmdale) – SEE NOTE 4
Tazewell & Peoria Railroad (East Peoria) – SEE NOTE 5
Iowa Interstate Railroad (East Peoria) – SEE NOTE 6

*Rail facilities intact, but used only on occasional basis, or inactive

NOTE 1 – The Bloomer Shippers Connecting Railroad, better known as “The Bloomer Line,” serves Jordan Industrial Park in Gibson City, which is accessible via trackage rights on a short segment of Norfolk Southern’s Bloomington District. Customers Alliance Grain Co. (30 cars) and One Earth Energy LLC ship almost exclusively via NS. Other Bloomer Line-served customer generate business – including unit grain trains – for NS as well.

NOTE 2 – Norfolk Southern has direct access to AgRail LLC’s Bloomington grain terminal via Union Pacific trackage.

NOTE 3 – Production ended November 30, 2015 but inventory will continue to be shipped into Spring 2016.

NOTE 4 – NS & TP&W maintain track for direct interchange, but this rarely happens.

NOTE 5 – The Tazewell & Peoria Railroad’s East Peoria Yard is Norfolk Southern’s area terminal. The TZPR provides terminal switching services for NS as well as intermediate switching for interchange with BNSF Railway, Canadian National Railway, Illinois & Midland Railroad, Iowa Interstate Railroad, Keokuk Junction Railway, Toledo Peoria & Western Railway and Union Pacific Railroad.

NOTE 6 – Norfolk Southern interchanges run-through trains directly with the Iowa Interstate Railroad on TZPR trackage in East Peoria and vicinity. This includes loaded and empty ethanol trains, loaded and empty coal trains, loaded and empty grain trains, and Knoxville (TN) to East Peoria (IL) manifest Train 115.

See videos showing recent activity on the East Peoria end of Norfolk Southern’s Bloomington District.

A Norfolk Southern Railway departs the Tazewell & Peoria RR (TZPR) East Peoria Yard about 2136 hours on December 19, 2015. Motors 9178 (D9-44CW) and 3528 (SD40-2) had 21 loads (no empties) in tow. Some radio chatter indicated train symbol might be “D49.”

Norfolk Southern Train D09 arrives the the Tazewell & Peoria Railroad’s East Peoria Yard about mid-afternoon, Sunday December 27, 2015 with NS 9172 & 9166 and 38 cars. This train seems to be operated on an as-needed basis out of Decatur.

Norfolk Southern Train D36 rolls under TP&W’s famous Farmdale Trestle on December 30, 2015, about 1 hour, 20 minutes behind ethanol train 66E. NS 6973 & 9175 have 39 cars.

Norfolk Southern local D32 arrives East Peoria, Illinois from Decatur mid-afternoon Monday, January 11, 2016. NS 9162 & 9740 have 22 cars. Last scene shows ethanol train 64G departing East Peoria shortly after D32’s arrival.

UPDATE (May 10): I should have mentioned it earlier, but by February of this year, Good Yard was again the terminus for D32 and D36. Roadswitcher D49 is working the East Peoria run during the night.

– David P. Jordan

Big Industrial Development Coming to Havana?

Finally, a follow up to a pathetically incurious article first published April 17, 2012!

Integrated Biorefining Corp. plans a $150 million agribusiness and energy project at Havana Industrial Park. Groundbreaking is expected this spring. You can read about it here.

What caught my eye was this

development of a facility to manufacture a fuel reduction system for trucks, locomotives, marine vessels and coal fired power plants.

and

The locomotive engine retrofit operation uses technology to reduce harmful emissions in the engines, while simultaneously increasing fuel efficiency and extending the life of the engine. The company says this process can be applied in coal-fired power plants.

I suppose actual locomotives will be hauled into and out of this facility on a regular basis. If so, the Illinois & Midland Railroad will gain an interesting new customer.

– David P. Jordan

BNSF M-GALPEI 1/7/16

Yesterday, I had my first encounter in 2016 with BNSF Railway’s Galesburg-to-Peoria freight, M-GALPEI.

The train entered Tazewell & Peoria Railroad trackage at S. Darst Street in Peoria about 4:00pm, January 7, 2016. The 34-car train was led by GP28M 1520 and GP38-2 2036. Consist details and comments below.

BNSF 1-7-16
(1) BN- and  ATSF-marked covered hoppers often arrive here loaded with potash consigned to Mosaic Crop Nutrition LLC’s warehouse south of Bartonville in the Pekin Bottoms. However, some potash cars are also interchanged to TP&W with an Indiana destination. Similar equipment may also be loaded with bentonite consigned to Magnetation LLC in Reynolds, Indiana or contain wild bird feed ingredients transloaded to trucks by Co-Alliance at Remington, Indiana.

(2) FURX 845213 was empty. My only guess is that this car may have contained distillers’ grain and is returning to Illinois Corn Processing LLC in Pekin.

(3) Cars marked AOKX and PMRX are distillers’ grain empties returning to Pacific Ethanol’s Pekin plant. Strangely, these cars appear to be switched by the Illinois & Midland RR (IMRR) rather than sister, Tazewell & Peoria RR (TZPR). The TILX- and ADMX-marked cars are probably returning to ADM in Peoria, though there is a possibility they’re going to Decatur (via Canadian National).

(4) TTHX 92582 is a 60′ wood deck machinery flat returning to either Caterpillar at East Peoria or Komatsu at Peoria.

The scrap metal loads are likely going to Keystone Steel & Wire and the plastic loads are consigned to Springfield Plastics, for which a rail-truck transfer facility at Springfield is switched by the Illinois & Midland.

– David P. Jordan

PeoriaStation Time Machine – TP&W’s Morton Pumpkin Run

Morton, Illinois is known as “The Pumpkin Capital of the World.” That’s because Nestle USA/Libby’s local cannery processes, cans and ships most of the world’s supply of pumpkin pie filling every late-summer/early-fall.

For many years through the 2005 season, Nestle USA sent at least some boxcar loads of canned pumpkin from its Morton cannery. Boxcars unsuitable for food-grade shipments, damaged lading, misroutings and inflexible service by the serving carrier caused the company to end rail service for the 2006 and 2007 seasons.

Pumpkin leftover from the 2007 season shipped in boxcars during June 2008. There was great hope regular service would resume that fall, but thanks to late-summer flooding and a shortened shipping season, no boxcars were ordered, and none since. The cannery’s rail spur was removed in 2013.

All we have now are memories. I shot this video September 20, 2002 as TP&W GP40 4020 and GP38-2 3878 pushed four pumpkin-loaded boxcars and a caboose out of Morton enroute to Crandall Junction. From there, the train ran on Norfolk Southern’s mainline to East Peoria then backed into the TP&W yard there. These cars would be delivered to Union Pacific at Collier Yard in Bartonville or Watseka.

– David P. Jordan

MPECL Encounter, January 5, 2016

As reported in my previous post, I caught Union Pacific’s MCLPE (Manifest, CLinton IA to PEoria IL) Sunday, January 3, and I’m happy to report that I caught counterpart MPECL (Manifest, PEoria IL to CLinton IA) this afternoon.

Scenes are at W. Farmington Road and north of Dunlap near the Akron Services elevator. A more typical two units, C45ACCTE 5699 & C44ACCTE 5588, led the train with 30 cars.

– David P. Jordan