Sunday, April 28, 2019

Five of the World's Longest Abandoned Railways

There are numerous online resources for almost anything you could want to know about railroad history. That being said, there are still some questions that I've been unable to find a definitive answer to, and I'm not alone.

An old Ghan Locomotive. Image:
For example, it's quite easy to find information on the longest train trip in the world, the Trans-Siberian Express. 

But what is the longest stretch of abandoned railroad right of way in the world? 

The answer is hard to come by, because of several reasons, mostly in how one defines "abandoned". This even comes into play on this list, as most lines are abandoned piecemeal, and some stretches can reactivate over time. Thus I'm not sure if I'll ever have a definitive answer to that question, but in my time mapping the world, I've come across five lines (and one incomplete line) that are among the world's longest stretch of abandoned right of way.

It would not surprise me to find a longer stretch of abandoned right of way in the world, and it would surprise me even less to find one of length that would qualify it for this list, so if you know of one, please let me know in the comments!

And without further delay, here are five of the longest abandoned railroad lines in the world. 

5) Mexico North Western Railway - Ju├írez to La Junta, Chihuahua, Mexico - 351 Miles 

A Mexico North Western Railway Car. Image: Matthew Fick via
The Mexico North Western Railway was originally known as the Rio Grande, Sierra Madre & Pacific Railway, and was built by Canadian investors to tap into the mining interests of Northern Mexico. A subsidiary operation, the El Paso & Southwestern Railroad, connected it to El Paso, and the rest of the US Rail Network. 

It was built in the latter part of the 19th century, and continued in operation until 1954. 

A Mexico North Western Railway Stock Certificate, via eBay.
The abandonment begins in Juarez in between the north and south lanes of Eje Vial Juan Gabriel, and continues south into Mexico's mountains, down to La Junta, 350 miles south. 

4) Hejaz Railway - Medina, Saudi Arabia to Abiad, Jordan - 476 Miles 

The original narrow gauge Hejaz Railway ran between Damascus and Medina, but only lasted twelve years, beginning in 1908 and ending service in 1920, with its history extremely intertwined in World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Its desert climate preserved much of the unused right of way, and many examples of ruins of stations and steam engines still can be found today. A much smaller section of abandoned right of way can be found running from Beit She'an, Israel to Tal Shihab, Syria.

Image: devillp on Flickr via Amusing Planet
The line was conceived to connect Constantinople (which was Istanbul) with the Islamic holy cities of Medina, and Mecca to the south, which are today in Turkey and Saudi Arabia, respectively, but in the time of Hejaz Railway were all part of the Ottoman Empire. 

Hejaz Railway Map via Amusing Planet
Jordanian mining interests have kept the right of way north of Al-Abiad still in service, and both Saudi Arabia and Jordan have expressed interest in reopening the line, although most likely with a different alignment. 

An unidentified photo of the Hejaz via
3) Newfoundland Railway Main Line - St. John's to Port aux Basques, Newfoundland, Canada - 550 Miles

I believe the Newfoundland Railway is among the most interesting abandoned railroad operations in North America. Its sheer length, combined with the fact that it was nonetheless a narrow gauge line, and its remoteness on the Island of Newfoundland should have contributed to its much earlier abandonment. Instead, it lasted until 1988.

Locomotive #1024 in 1948. Image: Newfoundland & Labrador Heritage
The line began service in 1882, before the entire main line had been completed. By 1898, it was possible to take a passenger train across the island. For many, the ride between St Johns and Port Aux Basques was the only connection Newfoundlanders had to mainland Canada, as from Port Aux Basques, one could take a ferry to North Sydney, Nova Scotia. 

A passenger train arrives at Corner Brook Station. Image: A.R. Penney Collection. Courtesy of Harry Cuff Publications, Via Newfoundland & Labrador Heritage
The line became under CN control in 1949, which kept the line running despite its inability to make a profit, given its narrow gauge track making freight harder to move, and a lack of passenger traffic. Trucking and buses would over time take over the passenger and freight business, like the story of many abandoned lines in North America. The branch lines on the island would close in 1984, with the main line following four years later.

2) Central Australia Railway - Alice Springs to Copley - 600 Miles

Australia's legendary "Ghan" Train, still in service, originally used a right of way between Alice Springs and Copley, Australia, before the line was moved farther west, in some cases by 200 kilometers. 

Central Australia Railway's abandonment in Yellow. A mine uses a railway along the former ROW just south of Parachilna.
The line began service in 1929 in the almost completely uninhabited Australian Outback. The new alignment began service in 1980, allowing the former route to be abandoned.

Remains of the former right of way. Image: Wikipedia Commons
As noted before, the right of way is in use at Parachilna. This is where the old alignments of the road get slightly confusing, as there was both a standard gauge and narrow gauge alignment. South of there, they diverged a bit. Another 80 miles is abandoned between Quorn to Parachilna, while a heritage railway, the Pichi Richi Railway, is in service from Port Augusta to Quorn.

The Pichi Richi Railway in action, Via:
At 600 Miles, this is the longest continuous stretch of abandoned right of way I've discovered in the entire world. And yet it pales in comparison to the last line on the list.

1) Milwaukee Road Pacific Extension - Renton, WA to Terry, MT - Combined Abandonments: 1010 Miles

Milwaukee Road's Pacific Extension might very well be the most famous, or infamous, abandoned right of way in the United States, and it is undoubtedly the longest, although stretches of the railroad are still in use. It was one of the first lines I traced, seeing it on, and immediately being curious about it.  

Map of the Milwaukee Road's Electrified Pacific Extension via:
Aside from its length, the road traveled some of the most beautiful terrain in this country, and much of the disused right of way is now rail trails, such as the Route of the Hiawatha, or the trail formerly known as the John Wayne Pioneer Trail

A bridge on the Route of the Hiawatha Bike Trail Image: Visit Idaho
The story of the Pacific Extension began in 1901 when the Milwaukee Road management felt an extension to the Pacific Northwest was the only way to remain competitive with its competitors, such as the Northern Pacific and the Chicago & Northwestern. Despite a cost in the millions (billions today), and only an 18 mile savings from its nearest competitor, the project was completed in 1909. 

Many celebrate the building of 10 miles of track in a single day by the Central Pacific as an engineering marvel, but building 2,300 miles of track by the Milwaukee across two mountain ranges in only three years has to be recognized as well. The route was electrified in full by 1916, which allowed for operation even in the harsh Montana winters, where temperatures as low as -40 impacted steam engines along the route. 

Two Skytop Lounges in their second Milwaukee Road paint scheme. These cars were part of the Twin Cities Hiawatha equipment pool. Image: Jim Boyd
The Pacific Extension left the Milwaukee Road in a debt it was unable to pay, even when freight traffic was plentiful. It was simply a case of too many competing railroads, many of whom were merging to stay alive. By 1980, the Milwaukee would go into bankruptcy, where its assets were acquired by the Soo Line. 

Other railroads would buy sections of the Pacific extension, but the vast majority was abandoned. I've identified six of these corridors that made up the Pacific Extension:

i) Terry to Miles City, MT - 39 Miles
ii) Miles City to Butte, MT - 395 Miles (the longest stretch of abandoned right of way in the US).
iii) Silver Bow to Rocker, MT - 74 Miles
iv) Bearmouth, MT to Riverdale, ID - 213 Miles
v) Plummer, ID to Warden, WA - 134 Miles
vi) Smyrna to Renton, WA - 155 Miles

For more on the Milwaukee Road, I suggest reading The Milwaukee Road to the Pacific Northwest: Photography of John W. Barriger III via eBay and Amazon. (Clicking on those links may earn this site a commission)

Finally, it's also worth mentioning the Salekhard-Igarka Railway, also known as Stalin's "Death" Railway, which was never built in its entirety. While the Soviet Union was heavily industrializing in the 1930's, it used prison labor in construction of a railway. 

A section of the abandoned and never completed line between Salekhard and Nadym. Image: Wikipedia Commons
The road was graded, some track was built, but never completed, between Korotchayevo to Igarka, a distance of 348 miles, while west of Korotchayevo, the line is still in service. 

I hope you enjoyed today's blog, and let me know if there's any other long stretches of abandoned right of way you're aware of. Thanks as always for reading!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Forgotten Railways of Japan (By Jet Lagged Jaff)

This month, I made my first trip to one of my favorite countries. Going to Japan was a childhood dream of mine. It was definitely an experience that I will always cherish and never forget about. One of my favorite things about Japan was the development of their railroads and trains, especially the Shinkansen (Bullet Trains).

What I am also intrigued in about Japan is the utilization of space. To me, the Japanese are the most  efficient when it comes to using up any land space they can find, and this is exactly what they do when it comes to their abandoned railroad lines, of which there are many.

The abandoned rail lines in Japan that have been found on the abandoned railroad map.

While some of the ruins of old rail lines exist, and some have been converted into railbike tours, there are also new buildings and linear parks on where the railroad used to be. There are many abandoned railroads in Japan, many of which were abandoned during the 1980's when the Japanese National Railway company was privatized. During my visit, I came in contact with three of these lines.

#1: The Hanwa Freight Line from Sugimotocho to Yao Station in Southern Osaka

This section of the freight line was taken near the Sugimotocho station in Osaka. The Hanwa Freight
Line was abandoned in 2009, however the JR Hanwa line adjacent to the abandoned railroad is still in operation. It was owned by the West Japan Railway at the time of its abandonment.

2: Toyoko line from Shibuya to Daikan-Yama station, owned by the Japanese National Railways

The Toyoko Line was originally above ground, then it went below grade. On 16 March 2013, the section of the Toyoko line between Shibuya and Daikanyama Station was put underground, and connected to the Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin Line platforms at Shibuya. This allowed for through operation between the two lines. Since opening of the Fukutoshin Line in 2008 trains would through operate between the Seibu Ikebukuro line (via Seibu Yurakucho line) and the Tobu Tojo line at the northern end of the Fukutoshin Line.

Looking at the Spring Valley brewery along what's called "Log Row" on Tokyo's converted linear park.
The new connection allows trains from Tobu Railway, Seibu Railway Tokyo Metro, Tokyu Corporation and Yokohama Minatomirai Railway to operate trains in a common corridor. As a result of the new connection, the original elevated Shibuya terminal for Tokyu trains was abandoned and demolished, and thus converted into a linear park.

This is similar to the High Line in New York City, in addition to other linear parks around the world. The Spring Valley Brewery is more in the vicinity of near Daikan-Yama station. The other two pictures are closer to where Shibuya crossing is located. This abandoned railroad is an excellent example of how space can be properly utilized after something else has been abandoned, instead of left to become blight.

#3: The Chitose Line from Naebo to Kitahiroshima in Sapporo

One of the many abandoned lines in Japan's northernmost prefecture, Hokkaido. This section of the Chitose line (link in Japanese) was taken near the Higashi-Sapporo ST subway station. The Sapporo Convention center is now built over the abandoned rail line. Also, connecting the convention center, a linear park was built in place of the abandoned rail line. It was owned by the Japanese National Railways and was abandoned in 1976.

On 9 September, 1973, in line with the new Sapporo Fukutoshin development plan, the line was replaced between Kitahiroshima Station and Naeho Station where the linearity was bad and the transport bottleneck was carried out, and all lines were doubled.

An entire country's worth of abandoned rail lines deserves further investigation, but nonetheless, I hope you enjoyed this blog, and if so, please consider following my Facebook page, Jet Lagged Jaff!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

10 of Illinois' Forgotten Railroad Bridges

My project to map the abandoned railroad corridors of the world began in my home state of Illinois, and as such, I thought it would nice to revisit the area and discuss some of the many railroad bridges in the state that no longer serve any traffic, including those lost to history.

According to, there are over 1,400 bridges that were built in Illinois that are no longer standing. And even bridges that still exist, there are many hundreds that no longer serve any traffic whatsoever, including pedestrians. Today, we're going to look at just 10 of these, which barely scratches the surface of how many lost bridges there are in this state, and indeed the rest of the country, but if there's enough interest, this can certainly be revisited in future blogs. Any other bridges you have photos or information on, please share in the comments!

10) Alton Bridge over the Mississippi River at Alton, IL (38.885, -90.18245)

Image: Clayton B. Fraser for the Historic American Engineering Record, 8/1985 via
The Mississippi River is a dominant geographic feature when it comes to railroads. The sheer size of the river makes it difficult to cross for freight traffic, and thus it is uncommon for railroads to abandon bridges that were built over the river. Nonetheless, there exist numerous examples of bridges that were indeed abandoned, including this bridge completed in 1894 for the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad. This bridge connected the busy railroad town of Alton, IL with a railroad junction at West Alton, MO across the Mississippi.

The bridge was demolished by the CB&Q's successor, the Burlington Northern, in 1988, but not before extensive photography and documentation took place by the Historic American Engineering Record, available via the Library of Congress.

9) Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad Bridge over the Illinois River at Peru, IL (41.32161, -89.08402)

Image: Douglas Butler via
Another lost Chicago Burlington & Quincy bridge existed in Peru, IL. This one has a more interesting history, as it was originally built in 1890, but did not include a movable span, which meant that steamships could not traverse the river. This was corrected in 1913, but the original bridge was replaced in its entirety in 1932 with a vertical lift span, pictured above. 

A nearby bridge built for the Illinois Central Railroad is still in service over the river.

This time, the railroad was abandoned in the late 1970's, and the bridge didn't last much longer, being demolished on June 17th, 1980.

8) Polly "L" Bridge, Chicago, IL (41.88841, -87.67014)

This is one of the unique uses for an abandoned bridge, as this one is still standing, but is used for signals for the railroad line it goes over!

Polly Bridge over the Union Pacific tracks, with signals installed in the middle. Image: John Marvig
The Metropolitan West Side Elevated Railroad began constructing elevated lines in the City of Chicago. This particular stretch was for the Logan Park branch, a line about 1.5 miles long, between what is now the CTA Green Line just west of the Ashland Station, and what is now the CTA Blue line just west of the Division Station. According to Forgotten Chicago, this line was used until 1951, with the Logan Square Branch being demolished in 1964.

Image: Forgotten Chicago
This bridge was the only remnant saved, as it was purchased by the Chicago & Northwestern to become a signal bridge, which it remains today.

7) Kinzie St Railroad Bridge, Chicago, IL (41.888528, -87.639167)

My photo, taken on a mid-February day with the sun breaking despite lingering snow showers.
We stay in Chicago for the next bridge on our list. I'm going to save myself numerous comments by stating that technically, the Kinzie St Railroad Bridge is still in service, as Union Pacific lowers the bridge and drives a hi-rail truck over it once a year. However, the line east of the Chicago River has not been used since 2000, and will not be used any time soon. It's an icon of the Chicago River, and that's why I'm including it on this list.

The first bridge in this area was built in 1848 for the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad, Chicago's first railroad of what would become hundreds. A swing bridge replaced the original in 1879, and this too was replaced by the current bridge in 1907.

The bridge was used for industrial operations as far east as Navy Pier, but only served commuters for a few years, as the Chicago & North Western Station (now known as Ogilvie) was completed in 1911. It served the Chicago Sun-Times until 2000, when it put permanently out-of-service.

6) Rooks Creek Bridge - Between Pontiac and Chenoa, IL (40.81397, -88.67761)

While the Kinzie St Bridge is an icon, not every abandoned bridge can hold that status. In fact, the vast majority of abandoned bridges may not seem to be interesting at first glance, but each has a story. Here, the story is of the significant challenges interurban railways faced in the early 20th century.
Rooks Creek Bridge. Image: John Marvig
As you can see, the bridge is still standing, but you could hardly tell it was ever intended to be a railroad bridge from its condition. The bridge was built in 1909 for the Bloomington Pontiac & Joliet Interurban Railway, intended to connect its namesake cities. Ultimately, like many interurbans, it was dreamed to be more than it ever became, as the BP&J only ran between Dwight & Pontiac. The line would've directly paralleled the much larger Chicago & Alton Railroad, which still today has passenger service via Amtrak. By 1925, with the construction of Route 66, it was clear an interurban could not survive, and the railroad was abandoned. 

5) Gulf Mobile & Ohio Bridge over the Salt Creek (40.12316, -89.58891) 

Image: HAARGIS via
This through truss bridge, located in rural Logan County, Illinois served a Chicago & Alton Railroad line between Peoria and Springfield. It later became part of the GM&O, and the Illinois Central later still after their merger. It was abandoned in the 1980's and removed before 1998 according to satellite imagery.

4) Rockford & Interurban Railway Bridge over the Pecatonica River (42.29852, -89.50655)

Here's what's left of another interurban railway bridge, this one east of Freeport, IL on the Pecatonica River.

Image: John Marvig, 2015 via
Like the Rooks Creek Bridge, this also paralleled another railroad; in this case the Chicago & Northwestern between Rockford and Freeport. It too is abandoned, and it too had another bridge over the Pecatonica River, which is still standing and part of the Pecatonica Prairie Trail.

But this bridge was built in 1904 for the Rockford & Interurban Railway. Unfortunately, no image of the bridge appears to exist on the internet, other than John Marvig's picture of the piers that remain today. The line remained in service until 1930, with the bridge being demolished two years later.

3) Iowa Central Railroad Bridge at Keithsburg, IL. (41.1055, -90.95151)

Like the previously mentioned Alton Bridge, the Iowa Central Railroad Bridge is another abandoned bridge over the Mississippi, this time once connecting Keithsburg, IL to Oakville, IA.

Bosse, Henry Peter, 1844-1903. 1889. "Iowa Central Railroad Bridge at Keithsburg, Il. [Illinois], 1889." U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, Accessed April 17, 2019.

The original bridge, pictured above, was built in 1886, and replaced in 1909 with a lift bridge that partially stands today.

Image: Nathan Morton, 8/2007. Via
The Iowa Central Railroad was purchased by the much larger Minneapolis & St. Louis in 1909, which itself was purchased by the C&NW in 1960. The line was abandoned in 1971, with the lift bridge permanently locked in the upright position. Ten years later, the lift was accidentally destroyed by fireworks, requiring it to be removed by the Army Corps of Engineers, as it was blocking traffic on the Mississippi River.  

2) Joliet Iron Works Flyover Bridge (41.53893, -88.07914)
This is probably the most obscure bridge on this list, but it has an interesting history, although most of the bridge is still in ruins. I visited the Iron Works in August of 2018, and noticed this bridge which once connected one side of the Iron Works with another. 

Dennis DeBruler has done some research on this bridge, indicating that it was of Santa Fe Railway origin, and led into a building on the east side of the tracks.

My August 2018 photo of what's left of the bridge.

In the background, you can see the still existing tracks which this bridge led over.

Another view of the bridge from the Joliet Iron Works/I&M Canal trail.
1) Chicago Burlington & Quincy Bridge over the Ursa Creek (40.07061, -91.3746)

Image: Ursa Creek Lodge
Much like the Polly Bridge in Chicago, this bridge is more notable for what it became after it was abandoned than when it was in service. The bridge was built by the Chicago Burlington & Quincy in 1919, for their line between Quincy and Gulf Port, IL. By 1896, the Burlington Northern tore down the structure after the line's abandonment. However, on the land once home to the bridge, the owner of the land built a lodge in the early 2000's, which is what it remains today, and open to the public.

There are many, many abandoned railroad bridges in Illinois, so there remains much to discuss on the matter, nonetheless, I hope you enjoyed today's blog, thanks for reading!