Normally, you read about transportation here, but I’d like to discuss the weather.

I saw my first funnel cloud on July 20, 1994. I didn’t even have to leave home; the storm came to me. Years later, I decided to look for them myself.

I was partially successful on May 15, 2009. The forecast that day suggested tornadoes were possible, but well south of Peoria. I took a half-day off work and drove south. Near Hartsburg, overcast gave way to high clouds and hazy sunshine. A tornado watch had been issued, and I heard a severe thunderstorm warning issued for areas to the west and southwest. So I got off I-55 at Lincoln and drove west on US 10.

What seemed like mere minutes later, a tornado warning was issued for Petersurg, Greenview and New Holland. I realized how close I was to the last town, so I headed southwest toward a line of towering thunderheads, zig-zagging south then west, then south again on country roads.

Heavy, black clouds promised violence, and as I neared a T-intersection near I-55 with Williamsville in view, greenish clouds threatened significant hail. By this time, the National Weather Service confirmed a tornado on the gorund near Williamsville, so I made a left, followed a frontage road toward Elkhart, drove through town then made my way east on Rt. 10.

To my right. I could see the swirling purple and green wall cloud, but thanks to heavy rain and a pickup truck ahead of me, I only caught up with the storm after traveling Rt. 121 through Mt. Pulaski and on to Latham. By then, the tornado had dissipated. Near Warrensburg I captured brief video of a wallcloud, which may have reformed as a tornado north of Decatur early that evening. The journey back home was wrought to extremely heavy rain, large hail and flooded roads.

I did it again on August 19, 2009. My intention had been to find that elusive (to me anyway) Kansas City Southern local that runs from Roodhouse to the Illinois & Midland Railroad’s Shops Yard in Springfield and back every Wednesday. I didn’t see it, but by the time I was in Springfield, it didn’t matter: a severe thunderstorm warning had been issued for Manchester, Murrayville, Franklin, Waverly and Loami.

Then like the previous May, a tornado warning was quickly issued for those same towns. Naturally, I drove in that direction, noticing a line of cumulonimbus to the southwest. I followed country roads, zig-zagging west then south, then west again, encountering not only mature corn and soybean fields, but also patches of woods.

Somewhere along Maxwell Hall Road, probably west of Watret Road, I saw it…my first tornado on the ground. Black and purple clouds rotated in the distance. Darkness had fallen; violence was just around the corner…and some guy to my left was mowing his lawn!

Maxwell Hall Road makes a sharp turn to the left, and I could see the approaching tornado out in the fields to the west. I turned around and attempted to capture video until I realized that monster was coming straight for me! I made like a rabbit, trying to get as far ahead of that swirling beast as possible.

I ended up in the town of Loami. Sirens screemed, and I quickly realized that I was still in the tornado’s path. So I drove west on Loami Road, and there, to my left, was a rained-wrapped tornado which would severely damage Loami but kill no one, thankfully.

FEBRUARY 28, 2017
Like 1994, the storm came to me. Severe weather, including tornadoes, were predicted, thanks to unseasonably warm weather and the right mix of ingredients. By late-afternoon, I noticed that an approaching storm cell would brush Dunlap, offering the chance of a tornado. I made my way to Elevator Road and the Union Pacific Railroad crossing a couple miles north, and noticed what appeared to be the early formation of a wall cloud on the southwest side of the cell. Sure enough, it began to hail. A severe thunderstorm warning was issued, and I drove east then south to get ahead of the storm.

Going west on Akron Road, I noticed that the cloud I had identified as a possible wall cloud had begun to rotate against clear blue sky to the south. Seconds later, a tornado warning notification was sent to my cellphone.

Extreme Alert

Tornado Warning in this area til 5:30 PM CST. Take Shelter now. Check local media. -NWS Tue, Feb 28, 5:06pm

I’m not sure if the video above shows an actual tornado, but it is at least a rapidly growing funnel cloud. Soon heading southbound on Rt. 40, I ended up driving under the rapidly-growing funnel cloud, an interesting experience. Just before the intersection with Cedar Hills Drive, I pulled over and shot the last two minutes of the video you see.

Someday, I hope to capture an actual tornado on the ground. Given this winter’s weird weather, spring may prove interesting…

– David P. Jordan

PIA Posts January Record!

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Peoria Int’l Airport is already off to a good start in 2017.

The Peoria Journal Star posted this article last evening revealing that passenger traffic for January 2017 (48,847) beat the previous record in January 2015 (46,944).

Airport director Gene Olson credits a mild winter, i. e. fewer flight cancellations, and new service to American Airlines’ Charlotte hub, which started November 4.

Competition for passengers between American (Charlotte) and Delta (Atlanta) to and from southeast markets, the Caribbean, South America and Europe should stimulate traffic through 2017. American [Eagle’s] deployment of larger jets to Dallas/Ft. Worth February 16 may increase traffic as well.

Allegiant Air’s Destin, Florida flights start in May, adding another leisure destination and even more passengers. There’s also a possiblity that United Airlines’ renewed energy for expansion, Peoria-Denver will resume as soon as this year.

If these trends continue, PIA should break 2015’s record (641,671 passengers) this year.

– David P. Jordan

United Express Picks Champaign/Urbana! (Updated)

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Champaign/Urbana is getting a new airline.

In a move sure to heat up competition and bring lower fares, ExpressJet Airlines dba United Express begins thrice-daily service out of Willard Airport starting June 8. The new service will be flown with 50-seat Embraer 145 twin jets.

This gives Champaign a second legacy carrier for the first time since 2010 when Delta Connection dropped its Detroit flights. Since that time, American Eagle has been Willard’s sole scheduled air carrier, offering nonstops to Chicago-O’Hare and Dallas/Ft. Worth.

Last November, the Wall Street Journal ran an article noting a new strategy for United Airlines in that it would add some 20 small cities to boost revenue and market share.

United Express served Willard Airport before. Its legacy dates to 1983 when Mississippi Valley Airlines (MVA) added Willard. Air Wisconsin acquired MVA in 1985. That carrier adopted the United Express branding systemwide in late October 1986 and continued to service here until February 1993.

United Express more recently served Bloomington/Normal’s Central Illinois Regional Airport. Four daily flights on 32-seat Dornier 328 turboprops started in September 2000. Regional jets were phased in a few years later. Surging fuel prices and a declining economy prompted the carrier to ended service to CIRA in early November 2008.

Unknown is whether United Express looked at CIRA for new service. Favoring Willard is its distance from existing stations (Peoria and Springfield), an American Eagle monopoly (i. e. high fares) and a potentially larger catchment area*.

*Champaign’s metro area of 232,000 and nearby Danville’s 81,000. This number is considerably higher than Bloomington/Normal’s MSA of 191,000. 

Thanks to commenter “Mike” for the heads up!

UPDATE (Feb. 27): The News-Gazette posted a story this morning. The official announcement came today.

(NOTE: Above photo taken September 9, 2007)

– David P. Jordan

A Canton Blogger?

A declared railfan is blogging from Canton, Illinois.

Her name is Jan Smith…and she is a tornado! Actually, her Google handle is “cantontornado36” so when you read her musings about a variety of topics (including trains), get ready to be blown away.

Check out Howdy from Canton, Illinois and help Jan transform a notoriously long-suffering and boring town into a more vibrant and memorable place!

– David P. Jordan

TP&W Ethanol/Manifest – 2/18/17

The Toledo Peoria & Western Railway continues running unit ethanol trains.

I saw the most recent on Saturday, February 18. A trio of former Iowa Chicago & Eastern SD40-2s – 3441, 3440 and 3443 – led 102 cars out of East Peoria in early afternoon. The first 20 cars were mixed carload freight. The trailing unit ethanol train was shorter than usual – 82 cars including a buffer car on either end.

The 8 minute, 34 second video includes scenes at Farmdale, Washington, Cruger and just west of Secor. The whole train is shown at the last location.

– David P. Jordan

Norfolk Southern’s Bloomington District Remains an Interesting Piece of Railroad!

The loss of outbound finished vehicle business from Mitsubishi Motor Mfg. of America’s Normal, Illinois assembly plant did not end the excitement of railfanning Norfolk Southern’s Bloomington District.

Regular mainline locals (D32 and D36), two Normal-based roadswitchers (D47 and D49), grain and coal extras keep the railheads shiny. Even better, auto traffic has returned thanks to Volkswagen’s surprising little-publicized diesel reprogramming operation at the former Mitsubishi plant’s rail facilities.

I’ve written before about the VW operation.You can read about that here.

Examples of recent train action on the East Peoria end of Norfolk Southern’s Bloomington District can be found below. First, on Saturday (Feb. 11), I caught Norfolk Southern’s 402 coal train at Farmdale and TZPR’s Farm Creek through truss bridge. CP 8853, NS 2603 and NS 9237 have 93 coal loads for the Iowa Interstate.

Monday (Feb. 13) afternoon, I heard about a Norfolk Southern vehicle train passing Crandall Jct. enroute to East Peoria, and quickly left home to investigate. I caught some radio chatter on my way down to East Peoria and heard the symbol “D4W.”

The train was an extra called out of Good Yard, and the second reported train of Volkswagens “turned” at TZPR’s Wesley Jct. so they could be properly unloaded at the former Mitsubishi auto ramp in Normal.

Rivian Automotive purchased this plant about the same time Volkswagen began temporary use of its rail facilities for diesel reprogramming, so I’d assume VW is paying Rivian rent, or this falls to Vascor Logistics, which operates the former auto ramp. If so, that would be a shot in the arm for the fledgling upstart Rivian, which doesn’t plant to begin auto production (and some doubt they ever will) until 2019.

NS 9756 & NS 2738 pull 54 autoracks across E. Washington Street, roll through TZPR’s Farm Creek through truss bridge, back up then pull forward at Wesley East, and crosses W. Washington Street, where street lamps provide decent lighting for night video.

– David P. Jordan

Gritty, Industrial Railroading, Part XVIII

Six decades ago, BF Goodrich announced plans to build a $5 million chemical plant just north of Henry, Illinois.

The public announcement came on March 19, 1957. This plant, which was to produce anti-oxidents for use in the petroleum, rubber and plastics industries, was expected to be online by Spring 1958. Groundbreaking took place May 14. Steam boilers were fired up on May 19, 1958 and production began on June 2. The public got a chance to view the new plant several months after it opened. The Peoria Journal Star noted October 25, 1958 that the plant used 35 acres and had 65 employees.

The best part – and I know you already guessed this – was that the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific Railroad extended rail access to the plant. A new station, Goodrich, marked the location of a wye and industrial track just north of Henry.

Plant expansions ocurred with frequency. A small addition opened in 1959 added an anti-zonant chemical to the plant’s products. Goodrich didn’t allow a September 26, 1963 blast get in its way; it repaired the section used to produce rubber accelators and doubled capacity in the process! In September 1964, Goodrich announced it would double the size of its Henry plant and create 100 jobs. Poly-Vinyl-Chloride (PVC) resin production began in the new addition on November 24, 1965.

A second company, this time Davison Chemical Div. of W. R. Grace Co., announced in September 1965 that it would build a $4 million granular fertilizer manufacturing facility south of the Goodrich plant. The Rock Island also extended service to this plant, which opened in early 1967. An ammonia terminal, complete with barge dock, was built around the same time.

Goodrich wasn’t done with expansion. In 1969, it completed an addition which added 50 employees and facilities to process PVC resin in solid cube (and colored) form. Yet another increased PVC resin capacity in 1973.

Sadly, the Rock Island Railroad reported its last annual profit in 1964, and endured a drawn out battle to merge with the mighty Union Pacific. After the Interstate Commerce Commission approved Union Pacific’s bid (with undesirable conditions) on November 1974, the Rock lost its suitor. A severe business downturn and an inability to pay its debts forced the Rock to entered its third bankruptcy, on March 17, 1975.

Uncertainty, fueled by talk of shutting down the railroad in a matter of weeks, made shippers nervous. For many, rail service was absolutely necessary. The Rock cut costs and improved cash flow, but never regained profitability. A strike over compensation shut down the carrier on August 28, 1979. The federal government ordered Kansas City Terminal Railway to assume directed service from October 5. In January 1980, a federal bankruptcy judge rejected the railroad’s reorganization plan, and ordered liquidation.

The Rock Island began embargoing traffic in mid-March 1980, and completely shut down at the end of the month. On April 2, the Elgin Joliet & Eastern Railway assumed directed service from Joliet west to Bureau Junction then south to Peoria. This arrangement lasted two months. Then in early June, Burlington Northern extended service from Peoria north to Henry.

Poor track conditions and inevitable derailments made service unprofitable, so BN ended operations north of Mossville (and reportedly north of Peoria) on October 1, 1981. Fortunately, service to the chemical plants continued as the Chessie System’s Baltimore & Ohio, which began operations from Joliet west to Bureau Junction in August 1980, extended service down to Henry.

This created a costly problem for BF Goodrich’s large, rail-dependent facility. Shipments of one primary feedstock, vinyl chloride, originated in Calvert City, Kentucky, but the preferred routing – Illinois Central Gulf to Peoria, thence the Rock Island (and subsequent directed-service providers) to Henry – was no longer available. Instead, BF Goodrich was forced to use a circuitous and costlier routing via Chicago.

The solution? Purchase one of the last rail assets not yet sold by the Rock’s bankrupt parent. At this late date, the Henry-Peoria line was to be scrapped if a buyer couldn’t be found. In June 1985, BF Goodrich purchased this stretch, a portion of which had been unused for nearly four years (P&PU ran the line from Peoria to Mossville).

Goodrich had no interest in entering the railroad business, so subsidiary Lincoln & Southern Railroad, contracted with the Iowa Interstate Railroad to operate the line. The IAIS acquired trackage rights on CSX Transportation (into which B&O had been merged) between Bureau Jct. and Henry to connect Peoria with its mainline across Illinois and Iowa. Service began June 22, 1987.

As soon as track conditions allowed (probably when full rehabilitation was completed in 1989), vinyl chloride and other chemical shipments originating on the Illinois Central in western Kentucky and Louisiana began routing via the Peoria & Pekin Union Railway and the Iowa Interstate. Although the IAIS hauled the majority of inbound BF Goodrich traffic, CSX handled all plant switching.

In 1993, BF Goodrich spun off its PVC resin business to The Geon Company. A merger with M. A. Hanna created PolyOne in 2000, which in turn sold its PVC resin business to Mexichem in 2013. In 2001, Goodrich sold its performance materials business to Noveon. Lubrizol acquired Noveon in 2004, and two years later Emerald Performance Materials acquired certain Lubrizol assets, including the Henry plant.

W. R. Grace sold its Henry granular fertilizer plant to Henry Fertilizer Co. in 1988. Agrium US acquired the facility in 1995 and expanded it. United Suppliers LLC, the present owner, acquired the plant in 2002 after a short period of dormancy.

Then rail service was about to change for the better. CSX allowed the less traffic-dense portion of its “New Rock Subdivision” (leased for 99 years from 1981) to deteriorate. A May 2004 derailment just south of Bureau Junction involving a Peoria-bound Iowa Interstate train was the last straw. CSX slapped a 10-mph speed restriction on the line. The Class 1 entered into negotiations with the IAIS and came to a deal in which the latter would operate the line from Utica to Henry via Bureau Jct. under a sublease agreement. This change became effective February 3, 2006. The IAIS subsequently rehabilitated the line, restoring 25mph operation south of Bureau Junction.

The sublease agreement meant the IAIS could finally provide direct service to Henry’s major industries. Better and more frequent service by the IAIS has increased business. Taking another step up the improvement ladder, the IAIS acquired the Lincoln & Southern Railroad on December 30, 2006.

At present, Iowa Interstate provides as-needed service to four industries located just north of Henry at Goodrich – Emerald Performance Materials, Mexichem Specialty Resins, Ozinga Materials and United Suppliers LLC. The daylight “Bureau Switcher,” or BUSW, works here as needed, probably a minimum of three days a week.

I shot the video above on February 10, 2007. IAIS 703 came down from its Bureau Junction base, backed into the industrial track and left two phosphoric acid tank cars for United Suppliers. Then, it shoved a carbon sulphide car and eight vinyl chloride cars onto the north leg of the industrial track. The carbon sulphide car was probably for Emerald; the vinyl chloride cars definitely for Mexichem.

– David P. Jordan

Springfield Air Passenger Numbers Up in 2016! (Updated)

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Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport (SPI) has seen an increase in passengers now four years in a row.

The Springfield Airport Authority posted this press release today revealing last year’s passenger figures. Last year, 191,946 passengers arrived or departed the state capital’s air terminal. The release shows traffic in 2010-2016.

2010 – 125,369
2011 – 148,077
2012 – 128,480
 – 144,953
2014 – 174,265
2015 – 183,975
2016 – 191,946

The 2016 figures represent a 4.33 percent increase over 2015. The press release also notes that January 2017 figures are 17 percent higher than in January 2016. Figures were broken down by carrier.

According to data collected by the Springfield Airport Authority during 2016, United Airlines served 82,029 passengers, an increase of 4,199 or a 5.40% increase over 2015; American Airlines served 52,131 passengers, an increase of 1,560 or 3.08%; and Allegiant served 54,173 passengers, an increase of 2,963 or 5.79%.

Present service is offered by Allegiant Air (Orlando-Sanford, Punta Gorda), American Eagle (Dallas/Ft. Worth) and United Express (Chicago-O’Hare). Low fuel prices, stable service levels and potential for air service expansion will likely make 2017 another good year.

UPDATE (Feb. 15): I didn’t see this article until this afternoon, but the State Journal-Register covered SPI’s 2016 performance seven days ago. It notes that last year’s passenger numbers were the highest in 12 years. Recall that in 2004, Chicago Express dba ATA Connection offered low-fare service to Chicago-Midway Airport, which stimulated traffic. The carrier, which was credited with reviving SPI after years of decline, withdrew in early January 2005 after ATA filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection.

– David P. Jordan

A Rare Move on BNSF’s Dunfermline Subdivision

This video was shot February 1, 2017 at Bryant, Illinois by the owners of the former Illinois Central Electric Railway interurban depot. It was a rare move to see on a line where the only reguar traffic is coal bound for Illinois Power Holdings LLC’s Duck Creek Station.

For awhile, empty twin-bay covered hoppers were stored on an unused portion of the line north of the power plant junction switch at Dunfermline. The train, led by BNSF 3885 & CSXT 7832, probably had 100 cars. The market for frac sand may be improving, so the stored cars are re-entering service.

NOTE: This video uploaded to my youtube channel with permission by owner.

– David P. Jordan