Thursday, April 26, 2018

5 Railroads That Never Saw The Light of Day

In my last blog, I began to explore railways which were built, but ultimately could not be finished, due to lack of funds. Today's blog is on railroads which were planned, but ultimately never built. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there existed many more ideas for railroad lines than would be considered practical, and most importantly, profitable. Four of these lines come from North Central Illinois, although that is not to say that unbuilt railroads did not exist everywhere across the country.

5) The Cincinnati Subway System

Cincinnati was one of the fastest growing cities at the beginning of the 20th. Century. The city allocated $6 Million for construction of a subway system to help ease congestion and overcrowding of the inner city...except estimates to complete the project began at $12 Million and only escalated from there.

The project was halted during World War I, and after the war had ended, costs began to skyrocket, and the infrastructure around the tunnels was beginning to crack. The war effort had left commodities and materials in short supply. The original bonds paid for the construction of 7 Miles of underground tunnel, but no track whatsoever. Engineers could not find any other use for the tunnels other than their purpose for construction in the first place, and up until World War II, various proposals kept popping up for finally developing the system. 

Still derelict, a 2002 proposal for a light-rail system would have used the tunnels for part of it's line, however, this would take 30 years and $2.6 Billion, not Million dollars, and as such, failed to gain traction.

Today the tunnels are an awesome sight for urban exploration, but not much else. Proposals had it being turned into a Hollywood set for the Batman Forever movie, a wine cellar, and a nightclub, none of which were successful.

The tunnels also aren't cheap. It costs about $2.6 million to maintain the tunnels on a yearly basis, and while this sounds outrageous, it would be more expensive to simply fill them with dirt. As such, they remain a unique part of Cincinnati's past and present.

Out for a drive one day in the middle of nowhere (Kankakee, IL), I drove on a bridge over the Kankakee River and found bridge pillars for what appeared to be a railroad, although I had began tracing lines by then and hadn't found any other physical or satellite evidence of it's existence. 

Three Happy Little Mysteries (Google Maps: 41.207954 -88.015821)

It actually took me awhile to find out what these were, as they didn't appear in topo maps either. The Wikipedia page for Kankakee State Park had a cryptic clue, "At the Chippewa Campground, hand-cut limestone pillars mark where a railway bridge was to have been built for the railroad before financiers ran out of money." The article has since been updated to include Decatur & State Line in there as well.

The same piers from Google Street View
Very little is known for sure about the route, other than it was planned to extend from Decatur to Frankfort, IL, where the only other physical remnant of the proposed railroad exists.
41.467921, -87.872589

According to Bill Burmaster, the line was chartered in 1869, but lost it's financial backing in 1871 with the Great Chicago Fire.

Thanks to Bill Dittus, who provided me with a map which showed the proposed right-of-way of both this line, and our next unbuilt railroad...
Source: Library of Congress:
3) Plymouth Kankakee & Pacific Railroad
That two proposed routes, neither of which were built, intersected, should show just how prevalent railroad proposals were in the 1870's, whether they could secure enough financial backing or not. In this case, the line was to bridge a gap between Dwight, IL, where it would connect with the St. Louis Alton & Chicago Railroad, as well as continue westward to Streator, and Plymouth, IN, where it would connect with the Pennsylvania Railroad and points eastward. 

It's demise likely came with the Panic of 1873, in which the global economy went through a six year depression, partly caused by speculation and over investment in railroads, as the railroad industry, and the construction jobs it provided, were the second largest employer at the time, behind only the agricultural industry.

2) Great Lakes Basin Railroad

It might be tempting to believe that speculation and creation of railroads was a 19th and 20th century phenomenon only, and for the most part that is true, however, railroad proposals continue even until this day.

It was a proposal all the way back from 2015, the largest proposal in over a hundred years.

The railroad and the company behind it, Great Lakes Basin Transportation, saw a problem with the freight industry. Namely, that Chicago's freight network is badly congested, which is completely true.

Their solution to the problem sounded great on paper, create a beltway around the Chicago area to be used by other railroad carriers which could avoid the Chicago bottleneck, unclogging the system and help move freight that much faster across the U.S. It would've been no different than a tollway, as the company wouldn't have any rolling stock of it's own for freight. Instead, it would charge tolls to other railroads to use their system. 

Why did the line fail? The Great Lakes Basin Railroad is a good lesson that really anyone can propose anything, even if they have absolutely no clue what they're doing. GLBRR had $151 to their name when they submitted their application to the Surface Transportation Board for a railroad that would have cost $8 Billion to build. 

Having no capital, no financing, and with significant public opposition (partly because the railroad requested a huge right-of-way much larger than would otherwise be necessary), the Great Lakes Basin Railroad was unanimously rejected by the STB, and it's owners did not appeal the decision.

And yet, this isn't the craziest railroad proposal on this list. 

1) Chicago - New York Electric Air Line Railroad

Chicago and New York are very well linked to each other via railroad, as one would expect two extremely large cities to be. This proposal would have added another line to compete with the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroads, and would be 150 miles shorter than either of them. The line proposed was a nearly entirely straight railroad with no at-grade crossings, less than a 1% grade, and would reach either Chicago or New York in 10 hours. The speeds of the railroad would be over 100 mph, which is hard to believe even today, and this was in the early 20th Century. 

Interurban lines did not do very well financially in most cases. All but a few were completely abandoned by World War II. This would have been far more costly, and far larger than any other built. Investors nonetheless flocked to the project, and construction actually began in Indiana. 

Yet, an untimely depression in 1907, increasing construction costs, and possible fraud and accounting irregularities doomed the project. The company would go out of business before any of it's right-of-way would be ready for trains. That being said, the project would not be completely for naught. Indiana's construction would eventually lead to an interurban line in the Gary, IN area, which is more than can be said about any of the other proposals on this list.

As I've said already, anyone can propose a railroad. That doesn't mean it's ever going to be built, and thus there exists plenty of plans for railroads which would only exists in the minds of a few investors.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Three Railroads Only Partially Built

In spite of the fact that not every railroad was ultimately a good idea, there is only one litmus test for whether or not a line gets built, and that is money. If a line had the funds, bonds, land grants, or in any combination thereof, it was usually built, although it is common for lines to be planned for much longer routes than they ultimately traverse. In Part 1 of this blog, we explore three railroad lines which were only partially built. In Part 2, which comes out tomorrow, we discuss four railroads which weren't built at all, but nonetheless were planned, graded, and even have ghost infrastructure!

3) The Raft River Branch of the Oregon Short Line Railroad

End of the Line

Located in southern Idaho, Idahome is an unremarkable former end of the line of the Raft River Branch of the Oregon Short Line Railroad, a subsidiary of Union Pacific. According to Wikipedia, the community was named by a railroad surveying party that found a bag labeled "Idahome Flour Co." at the site, and the rest is history. The entire railroad is abandoned, however, tracks once ran between Delco and Idahome. Yet a very clear grade, even to this day, exists much more south of Idahome, all the way to the Utah State Border.

Wye graded in extreme far southern Idaho.
The entirety of the line was abandoned in 1941.

2) The Waukegan Fox Lake & Western Railway

Perhaps the most speculative railroads were electric interurban lines, who's lives tended to last much shorter than larger freight and passenger lines. It also didn't help that many were replaced by the automobile in the early 20th century. Nonetheless, the Chicago Area has a few examples of interurbans that lasted quite long, in fact, the South Shore Line from Chicago to South Bend operates to this day, although is funded publicly by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District.

The Waukegan Fox Lake & Western would not fare as well. Owned by the predecessor to the Chicago Milwaukee & North Shore Line (A much more successful interurban), tracks were laid through Waukegan on Washington St, with plans to be extended into Fox Lake. Even more grandiose plans had it as part of a network of interurbans which would extend from Waukegan to Rockford and down to Schaumburg. One of these lines was actually built; the Palatine Lake Zurich & Wauconda Railroad, although that would be powered by steam, not electricity.

The Waukegan Fox Lake & Western would be muddled by a lack of funds and public opposition, as only the far southern part of Lake County, which had few roads at the time, was interested in it. Which given today's political climate for Route 53, is somewhat ironic. 

The line would be abandoned in 1916, and would not leave much trace, no photograph and very few maps of this line exist, to my knowledge.

1) Mansfield Coldwater and Lake Michigan Railroad
The 1874 Pennsylvania Railroad Map, showing the line wish marks indicating that construction was in progress. Source:

The most extensive railroad on this list, The Mansfield Coldwater and Lake Michigan Railroad was planned to connect Allegan, MI with Mansfield, OH, as it's name would suggest, given Allegan is pretty close to Lake Michigan.

In 1871, the Allegan to Montieth, MI section was built fairly quickly, but was only 11 miles long. The other section starting from Mansfield, OH, to Fostoria, OH was completed, a distance of about 50 miles. The lines, however, would never meet as planned. The entirety of the route was graded, but never connected.

Between the 1870's and the early 20th Century, a variety of different railroad companies would build in the grade between the two built sections, but ultimately never formed a continuous route as planned between Allegan and Mansfield.

By 1928, the Allegan to Montieth section was abandoned, leaving only the Mansfield to Fostoria section of the line as the only relic of the railroad.,_Coldwater_and_Lake_Michigan_Railroad

Part 2 explores four railroads never built at all, and the reasons why, tomorrow.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

4 Railway Lines Ended By Disaster

"This is the way the world ends, Not with a bang but a whimper." - The Hollow Men by T.S Eliot.

Many railroads and railroad companies have come and gone over the course of the last two centuries. While the railroad network is much smaller than what we had in 1917, the list of railroad companies is even smaller than that. The industry has consolidated, such that most formerly independent companies have now been integrated into the Class I railroad network that we know today.

To put that into perspective; in 1925 there were 174 Class I railroads. Today there are 7 in the United States, including Amtrak.

Short lines still exist, of course, but are nowhere near as prevalent as they once were. As their fortunes are ever changing, some lines are wildly successful and others whimper away until they are abandoned, and forgotten.

And then there are those that go out with a bang. Here are 4 Railroads whose lives were cut short due to unforeseen disaster.

#4) Illinois Midland Railway


The Illinois Midland Railway has the distinction of being the shortest railroad on this list by far. In fact, it was one of the shortest railroads ever to exist, being about two miles in length, operating between the tiny villages of Millington, IL and Newark, IL, serving the grain company in the area. It consisted of a single locomotive, and had a single employee to run the line in its entirety.
The Pittsburgh Press, 10/3/1943
Being this small had the advantages of keeping costs down. That being said, the line was too small to absorb the costs if some of its infrastructure were to become damaged. Sadly, this is exactly what happened in 1967, as arsonists destroyed the only bridge along the line, rendering the two mile line incapable of moving its loads. As such, it was abandoned, and the grain company who was its only sponsor turned to the trucking industry to move its inventory.

#3) Hawaii Consolidated Railway


By far, the Hawaii Consolidated Railway was the largest railway in Hawaii, located on the Big Island with its HQ in Hilo. It was the only standard gauge line on any of the islands. This provided tourists with wonderful views of the ocean, and allowed the sugarcane industry to transport goods to ships. While the line was expensive, it was originally a profitable line before it was petitioned in 1907 to extend up the island another 33.5 miles, having to navigate the rugged coastline of the Island. The line would go into receivership. Nonetheless, over time it did manage to right its financial ship and it appeared after World War II was over that it might become profitable.

Except the Ocean had other ideas. On April 1, 1946, a massive tsunami caused by an earthquake off the Aleutian Islands headed straight for the island, completely destroying the track. The railway filed for abandonment soon after, and most of the sugarcane plantations went to trucking. Hawaii would purchase some of the right-of-way for a reconstruction of the Kamehameha Highway.

A long but wonderful write up and story about the line can be found here;

2) Missouri & Arkansas Railway
Of each of these lines listed here, this is the only line that survived one tragedy. But it may very well be the unluckiest line here, as it could never seem to escape one disaster before another would strike. In 1914, faulty communications resulted in a head on collision crash that killed 38 people. In 1921, a wage strike and vandalism resulted in the line being out of service for 8 months. 

It would regain profitability afterward, until 1927 when flooding destroyed much of its Eastern Arkansas infrastructure. After things dried up, it suffered a massive fire in 1941. Another fire occurred over World War II, and finally another flood on the White River in 1946 were too much for the line. Battered, weary, and beaten, it came back to life as two discontinuous short lines, before the entire right of way was abandoned by the 1970's.

1) Florida East Coast Railway's Key West Extension
The Florida East Coast Railway is still in service today, and has been a massive success, especially when compared to the other railroads on this list. But that said, even successful companies have history they'd prefer to forget.

Henry Flagler, the Patriarch of the FEC Railway, envisioned a line to connect mainland Florida with the Florida Keys, ending at Key West. While this would require significant engineering problems, Flagler believed the opening of the Panama Canal would present an opportunity for trade with the west, and the cost of the road was worth it. Known as the Overseas Railroad, it cost over $50 Million, as 4,000 men battled three hurricanes in the seven years it took to complete the line. 

Flagler would ride the maiden voyage of the line and die shortly afterward. Billed as "The Eighth Wonder of the World", the railroad was initially successful despite the engineering challenges.

But, as one could predict, given the crew dealt with three hurricanes during its construction, another hurricane hit the Keys in 1935. Known as the Labor Day Hurricane, before Hurricanes were named, it was a Category 5 which dealt catastrophic damage to the line. With 40 miles of track destroyed, FEC was unable to pay for the costs of reconstructing the line, and ultimately abandoned it. The right-of-way was sold to the State of Florida, who extended US-1 all the way to Key West along the route, and thus the Overseas Highway would live on, even today, where the Overseas Railroad could not.

There are certainly other disasters which have been impossible to overcome for railroad lines, but these are some of the most significant. If you know of any others, let me know in the comments!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Parks and Amusements Built By Railroads

As the 19th Century progressed, the railroad industry enjoyed a monopoly on the long distance travel within the United States, and most other countries. The railroads opened the West to development, travel, and communications with the developed East. In many cases, the railroad industry was directly responsible for developing towns west of the Mississippi River, having been given land grants by the United States, and passing those lands onto would-be travelers looking to settle on the land, giving another reason for people to move out west.

Yet the 20th Century saw the rise of the automotive industry and roadway development, and suddenly the railroads weren't the only way to get somewhere. Many towns that had been planted the century before were progressing and growing. Many more had disappeared off the map entirely. The industry needed new ideas to stay relevant with regard to passenger traffic.

The link between the amusement park industry and the railroad industry actually goes back much farther than that, however. Just the second operating railroad in the United States (after the B&O Railroad), the Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway was a small coal operation in Pennsylvania which began operations in 1828. In the 1840's, it began taking passengers up and down the hilly terrain in a precursor to the modern roller coaster, and developing technology such as an anti-rollback device, preventing cars full of people from falling backwards up the journey. Abandoned in 1932, it is now the Switchback Railroad Trail.

But the railroads had an ace up their sleeve. The sheer beauty of the West sold itself as a vacation destination. Yellowstone Park, Glacier National Park, Arches National Park, the Grand Canyon, and many others were only accessible by rail, or at the very least required driving through extremely rough terrain and roads engineered by early 20th Century traffic standards. The aforementioned parks would all be organized into the National Park System of the United States, by an act signed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. In 1922, Union Pacific created an all-inclusive circle tour, designed to traverse many of the National Parks. The preservation and promotion of the National Parks had a big sponsor in the railroad industry.

That being said, railroads also created smaller venues to attract visitors. One example of this is Ravinia Park in Highland Park, Illinois, which is still around today as the largest outdoor music festival in the United States. The brain child of the A.C Frost Company, the park was designed to lure visitors onto the Chicago & Milwaukee Electric Railway, which would later become the North Shore Line. While the line would ultimately be abandoned in the 1950's, Ravinia was created in 1904 and still attracts tons of visitors today. In fact, a benefactor of this park was also the Chicago & Northwestern Railway, and later the Union Pacific, as trains still stop at Ravinia Park today on Metra's Union Pacific North Line.

Another park that survives and thrives today which owes it's existence to railway investment is Kennywood, in West Mifflin, PA. This theme park was founded in 1898 as a trolley park that was begun by the Monogahela Street Railway Company. While the line is long gone, Kennywood is still around, and still maintains the charm of an earlier 20th Century theme park with many classic coasters still in operation, right next to more modern thrills. Phantom's Revenge is one of the best steel coasters on the planet, and Jack Rabbit, Racer and Thunderbolt are three classic wooden coasters that survive today from the 1920's that are still thrilling guests to this day.
Kennywood: Image -
What was built as Lake Park on the shores of the Great Salt Lake by the Denver & Rio Grande Western in 1886 eventually became Lagoon Amusement Park which is still around today. The original park literally dried up as the Lake's water levels dropped. The park was moved about a mile east to it's present location. Simon Bamberger purchased the assets of the park from the D & RGW and used the new park to drum up business on his competing Bamberger Railroad, which ran between Salt Lake City & Ogden, UT. While his line is abandoned, rail service between Salt Lake and Ogden is now served by Utah Transit Authority's Frontrunner trains, and Lagoon is still easily accessible by rail and public transit. The park has one of the oldest roller coasters in existence, the aptly named Roller Coaster, which is both Utah's only Wooden Coaster, and has been around since 1920, despite being partially destroyed in a fire in 1953, as well as Jet Star 2, one of the two remaining spiral lift coasters in the world.
Roller Coaster (My image from 2011)

Jet Star 2, one of two spiral-lift coasters left in existence, the other is Whizzer at Six Flags Great America (My image from 2011)

Minerva Amusement Park in Columbus, OH was not as successful a venture as Ravinia or Kennywood was and are. Built by the Columbus Central Railway Company as a destination for the Columbus to Westerville line, it had a casino as well as a theater for Vaudevillian shows, a boat ride, a museum, and Scenic Railway, one of the first Roller Coasters in the World. Unfortunately, the park only lasted for seven years between 1895-1902.

Source: Columbus Metropolitan Library Collection
The interurban line didn't fare much better; it too was abandoned in 1930.

Of course, if there's an attraction that already exists, it also made sense to build a way to get to it. Such was the case for the Hummelstown & Campbelltown Street Railway, which connected it's namesake cities with Derry Church, PA. Derry Church would later be known as Hershey, PA, named after Hershey Chocolate. Milton Hershey, the founder of the chocolate factory, sponsored the development of the trolley line to allow his factory to grow. The trolley line would connect to others that would provide a link to Harrisburg, PA. As the factory grew, so did the railway line, and so did Hershey. In what might be the most successful theme park on this list, in 1923, Hersheypark was built as a direct result of the success of Hershey Chocolate. Today it is a major amusement park with one of the most impressive Roller Coaster collections in the country.
Great Bear Roller Coaster, among others (image by Eric Beato)
In later years, as railroads became larger entities, they would become investors in some Amusement Park projects, even if they were not directly involved in the operation. Such was the case of the Illinois Central Railroad, who was an investor in Old Chicago Amusement Park, which was billed as the first indoor theme park. It only operated between 1975-1980 as a result of of mismanagement, building issues, and larger theme parks, like Six Flags Great America siphoning visitors away. It featured a theme park with two roller coasters, various rides and games, and shows all surrounded by a mall in a turn-of-the-century Chicago theme. It unfortunately could never quite find a profitable niche or anchor stores. The building stayed up for a few years afterward but it too would succumb to the same fate, and today the complex is a used-car auction lot. Nonetheless, it remains a significant park of Bolingbrook, IL's history. 
Old Chicago being constructed in the early 70's. (Photo:
There are certainly more examples of theme parks which owe their existence to the railroad industry, as the two are somewhat intertwined, especially in their beginnings. Nowadays, the theme park industry is self-sustaining, and passenger trains are rarely used for transportation to them. However, Amtrak still offers National Park vacations, and many long-distance trains, such as the Empire Builder, stop near National Parks.