By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; November 23, 2022
The Chicago and North Western System was a major Midwest railroad, stretching from Chicago to Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. It had fast, flashy passenger trains. It invented Head End Power for passenger trains. It ran regional trains with high capacity bi-level equipment. It ran a commuter operation in Chicago which is still going strong today. It was a railroad with an identity that was known to the traveling public.
On Amtrak Day, May 1, 1971, only commuter trains were left to run on the Chicago and North Western System. Every one of its intercity/inter-regional passenger trains ceased to exist. The Amtrak system planners at the Federal Railroad Administration simply ignored the C&NW, the railroad previously of the North Western Limited, Twin Cities 400, Flambeau 400, Minnesota 400, Dakota 400, Rochester 400 and Kate Shelley 400.
Before the C&NW’s interline agreement with the Union Pacific Railroad was abandoned late in 1955 in favor of Union Pacific moving its Chicago terminal passenger trains over to The Milwaukee Road, C&NW also handled such famous UP trains as the Overland Limited, Challenger, City of San Francisco, City of Los Angeles, City of Portland, City of Denver and Gold Coast.
And, it’s “North Western,” not “Northwestern.”
When Amtrak came into existence, most of Wisconsin, which in the middle of the 20th Century had copious amounts of passenger trains, suddenly had next to nothing except for daily service between Chicago and Milwaukee on The Milwaukee Road route still currently used, plus the two tri-weekly Empire Builder and North Coast Hiawatha trains over the same route from Chicago to St. Paul, Minnesota and points west. Amtrak’s daily Empire Builder also continues to use the route.
Today, Wisconsin is slightly included in the Amtrak Connects US proposal, but the proposed service is a shadow of what was provided by the C&NW, The Milwaukee Road, and others.
A bright spot is the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition which is working to create/restore service between St. Paul Union Depot and Eau Claire, Wisconsin over Union Pacific, nee-Chicago & North Western track which once hosted the fabled 400 trains. This far-sighted group is working methodically to bring much-needed passenger train service over the former C&NW in western Wisconsin.
Wikipedia ably tells the C&NW passenger train story succinctly:
“The C&NW’s most famous train, the 400 from Chicago to Minneapolis/St. Paul, was introduced in 1935 to compete with the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy’s Zephyrs and The Milwaukee Road’s Hiawathas. This train was named so, because it traveled the 400 miles between the cities in 400 minutes. C&NW was the first system to start a high-speed Chicago-Twin Cities schedule because it used refurbished instead of new equipment, but in 1939, modernized the 400 with new E3A diesel locomotive pairs and streamlined cars. Other named trains the C&NW operated included the Ashland Limited, Duluth-Superior Limited, and the North Western Limited. C&NW eventually renamed the first 400 to the Twin Cities 400 as the C&NW labeled almost all of its passenger trains with variations of the 400 moniker, including the Flambeau 400, Minnesota 400, Valley 400, Shoreland 400, Dakota 400 and the Kate Shelley 400. (Note: see the information at the end of this article about famous railroad heroine Kate Shelley.) C&NW ceased running the Twin Cities 400 in 1963, and all intercity passenger service on C&NW ended with the formation of Amtrak in 1971.
“Amtrak bought a dozen of C&NW’s bilevel railcars and painted them into Phase III paint, they were used with Amtrak’s EMD F40PH locomotives. They are not in use today.
“In conjunction with Union Pacific and Southern Pacific, the North Western operated some long distance passenger trains, including the Overland Limited, City of Los Angeles, City of San Francisco, City of Denver, and the Challenger. These services lasted from 1889 to 1955, after which the C&NW route to Chicago was changed to The Milwaukee Road’s. …
“Chicago and North Western also operated commuter train service in the Chicago area, where they developed what was perhaps the first control car. A modified gallery car was built in 1960 with locomotive controls to allow push-pull operation. … The C&NW also pioneered the concept of Head End Power (HEP), generating 480 volt electricity from the locomotive to power the air conditioning, lighting, and heating on the new bi-level cars. This eventually became the standard for all railroads in the United States.
“Three commuter lines radiated from North Western Station; the C&NW West Line to Geneva, Illinois; the C&NW Northwest Line to Harvard, Illinois; and the C&NW North Line to Kenosha, Wisconsin. At Crystal Lake Junction, some trains branched off to Williams Bay and Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The West Line also had branches to St. Charles, Aurora, Freeport, and Crystal Lake. A fourth commuter line operated on the KD Line between Kenosha and Harvard until 1939.
“In 1974, responsibility for the commuter lines and equipment ownership transferred to the newly formed Regional Transportation Authority, whose rail division was later branded in 1984 as Metra. The C&NW continued to run the lines under a “purchase of service” contract, in which the railroad maintained the right-of-way and operated trains on behalf of Metra.
“All three C&NW commuter lines live on in the Metra system, and are still operated by Union Pacific under a purchase of service contract, with the Geneva line having been extended west to Elburn. …”
“Ride the ‘400 Streamliner Fleet – America’s Finest Trains” said the Chicago and North Western Railway. The 400s were, indeed, fine trains, with lots of passenger creature comforts. Examining the C&NW fleet of fast trains reveals a host of trains running northwest and west from Chicago, with every offering boasting at least some sort of lounge, grill, or full dining car. The C&NW management believed in feeding its patrons.
Most trains traveled routes of less than 650 miles, and, if you were traveling on one of the overnight streamliners, you woke up to a full service dining car with an impressive breakfast board of fare.
In 1963, after a choice of Chilled Orange or Tomato Juice, Prunes, Fresh Seasonal Fruit, Cereal – Cooked or Dry with Cream, it was time to get serious with the main breakfast courses:
- Smoked Ham, Bacon Strips or Link Sausages with Two Eggs as desired; $2.00
- Corned Beef Hash, with Poached Egg; $2.00
- Shirred Eggs with Little Link Sausages; $2.00
- Bacon Strips or Link Sausages with One Egg as desired; $1.75
- Two Eggs cooked as desired; $1.60
- Minced Ham and One Egg Scrambled; $1.60
All choices included either Muffins or Dry or Buttered Toast with Jelly, Tea, Coffee or Milk.
The Chef’s Special for $1.75 was Choice of Fruit, Juice or Cereal, French Toast or Griddle Cakes with Bacon Strips or Sausage Links, Maple Syrup or Jelly, and Tea, Coffee or Milk.
The Club Special for $1.00 was Orange or Tomato Juice, Muffins or Sweet Roll or Toast with Tea, Coffee or Milk.
All food was freshly prepared. As was customary at the time, no oral orders were allowed; passengers had to write their individual orders on a meal check. A note at the bottom said, “Employees are forbidden to serve food unless written on Meal Check furnished by Steward in charge. Please write each item desired. Pay only on presentation of Your Meal Check.”
The C&NW operated freight and passenger trains over a large Midwest system, competing with three other major granger railroads, The Milwaukee Road, the Rock Island and the Burlington Route. Granger railroads were lines which were founded for the benefit of farmers and their need to get their harvest to market. One of the downfalls of granger railroads (Note that all four of the granger roads mentioned here are now a part of either the giants Union Pacific, Canadian Pacific or BNSF and a small assortment of regional railroads; some lines, such as major parts of the Rock Island have been completely abandoned.) is they were heavy with expensive-to-maintain small branch lines serving grain silos and other points critical to farmers. To add to the financial anxiety of the bean counters, these small, expensive branch lines were not used throughout the calendar year, just at harvest time and occasionally at other times. That did not matter to state and local taxing authorities who believed any railroad was their government treasury’s new best friend with an endless supply of money to hand over in tax dollars. If it had rails, it was taxable.
What began in 1859 ended in 1995 when the railroad and corporate ownership became part of the Union Pacific Railroad, providing Union Pacific direct trackage into Chicago.
Those of us who don’t live in Chicago or lived in Chicago in the past most likely have a difficult time comprehending that mid-20th Century Chicago had eight major passenger train stations serving over 30 individual railroads for a combination of long distance/inter-regional trains, regional trains and commuter trains.
Today, there is Chicago Union Station serving Metra and Amtrak, the Richard B. Ogilvie Transportation Center (the former Chicago and North Western Terminal), LaSalle Street Station and Milliennium Station (formerly Randolph Street Terminal), all serving various Metra routes plus the South Shore Line east to Michigan City and Gary, Indiana.
All of these stations, built as railroad temples in their original designs, including Dearborn Station which is no longer used as a passenger train station, have either undergone major changes to/and reductions of their original design such as Chicago Union Station or have been demolished and replaced with major office buildings and the passenger/commuter train functions grudgingly kept, but minimized. Other stations, such as Central Station and Grand Central Station have simply been demolished and erased from the face of Chicago.
The major railroads of the day had terminals in Chicago, such as the Santa Fe, Burlington Route, Illinois Central, Pennsylvania, New York Central, The Milwaukee Road, Rock Island, Baltimore & Ohio, Chesapeake & Ohio and a host of others, including the Chicago & North Western. Some of the most famous trains of the 20th Century had a terminal in Chicago including the Super Chief, El Capitan, Texas Chief, Broadway Limited, 20th Century Limited, Capitol Limited, George Washington, Panama Limited, Golden State, City of Los Angeles, Empire Builder, North Coast Limited, Blue Birds, Phoebe Snow and C&NW’s various 400s as well as North Western Limited.
C&NW’s Chicago & North Western Terminal, built in 1911 had a similar fate to New York City’s Pennsylvania Station and other major Chicago terminals. A railroad had built a temple to itself, ran into some tough financial times, and allowed the temple which was getting gray around the edges to be demolished and 42 stories of glass and steel rose above the old station headhouse, named Citicorp Center, now the 500 West Madison building.
Wikipedia again tells the story of the station well:
“The Richard B. Ogilvie Transportation Center (formerly Chicago and North Western Terminal) is a commuter rail terminal in downtown Chicago, Illinois. It is the terminus for the three commuter rail lines of Metra’s Union Pacific District to Chicago’s northern and western suburbs, which approach the terminal elevated above street level. It occupies the lower floors of the 500 West Madison Street building. The building occupies two square city blocks, bounded by Randolph Street and Madison Street to the north and south and by Canal Street and Clinton Street to the east and west. It is the second busiest rail station in Chicago, after nearby Chicago Union Station, the sixth-busiest railway station in North America, and the third-busiest station that exclusively serves commuter traffic.
“The Chicago and North Western Railway built the Chicago and North Western Terminal in 1911 to replace its Wells Street Station across the North Branch of the Chicago River. The new station, in the Renaissance Revival style, was designed by Frost and Granger, also the architects for the 1903 LaSalle Street Station.
“… The station’s 16 tracks were elevated above street level and ‘reached by six approach tracks and sheltered under an 894-foot-long Bush train shed.’ The upper level of the head house housed a concourse and other facilities for intercity passengers, including ‘dressing rooms, baths, nurses and matrons rooms, and a doctor’s office.’ The centerpiece of the upper level was a stately waiting room, measuring 201 by 202 feet and rising 84 feet to its barrel-vaulted ceiling. In addition to the main concourse on the upper level, there was a street-level concourse for commuters.
“During the heyday of rail travel, the Chicago and North Western Terminal was home to the C&NW’s trains to Milwaukee, Minneapolis-St Paul, Madison and other cities of the upper Midwest, including the railroad’s premier 400 series of trains. Until October 30, 1955, it was also the Chicago terminus of the trains the Union Pacific ran in conjunction with the C&NW, including the Overland Limited and the famed City trains (City of San Francisco, City of Los Angeles, Portland Rose). Other less famous trains such as the Corn King Special (Omaha), Viking (Milwaukee, Green Bay, and Minneapolis/St Paul), and Columbine (Denver). In 1939, there were 38 inter-city departures each business day.
“In 1984, the head house was razed and replaced with the glass-and-steel 42-story Citicorp Center (now 500 West Madison), which was completed three years later in 1987. Metra service was maintained with only minor interruptions during construction – following the example of the demolition and replacement of New York Penn Station.
“In 1991 Metra purchased the train shed from Chicago and North Western and conducted a survey to determine the condition. The examination included necessary repairs to improve its structural integrity and redesign measures to bring the station up to modern mass-commuting standards. After completing a thorough evaluation, Metra, the Urban Mass Transportation Administration, and the Illinois Department of Transportation decided to completely replace the existing structure and in 1992, with the assistance of Federal funding, a contractor and management team were selected to begin the work.
“Many engineering challenges had to be addressed and resolved, not only because of the train shed’s prominent location but also due to its high traffic volume as it was to remain operational to 45,000 daily commuters during the project. Such challenges included the removal of original lead paint, the complete replacement of all 16 tracks which served 200 trains a day, extensive structural steel repairs (under load), erection of a new steel canopy, complete exterior masonry restoration, new electrical and plumbing systems, and construction of a new pedestrian concourse. During the rehabilitation project, which lasted four years and cost $138 million, over 60 contractors spent more than 800,000 man-hours performing repairs and producing new construction.
“The station was renamed the Ogilvie Transportation Center in 1997, two years after the C&NW merged into the Union Pacific Railroad. The station was named for Richard B. Ogilvie, a board member of the Milwaukee Road (the C&NW’s rival and competing neighbor) and a lifelong railroad proponent, who, as governor of Illinois, created the Regional Transportation Authority, which is the parent agency of Metra. Many longtime Chicago-area residents still call it ‘North Western Station,’ and many longtime employees simply call it ‘CPT’ – short for ‘Chicago Passenger Terminal.’
“The station has 16 tracks with eight island platforms, each island platform servicing two tracks. …
“The Chicago and North Western Terminal has served as a terminal for all the commuter and intercity trains of the Chicago and North Western Railway. In addition, on November 9, 1969, the day after Grand Central Station closed, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and Pere Marquette Railway, Grand Central’s two remaining users, moved their remaining intercity services into the C&NW’s terminal. Those trains, which used the C&NW’s branch to the St. Charles Air Line west of Western Avenue, last ran on April 30, 1971, the day before Amtrak took over most intercity passenger trains in the U.S. Amtrak services over the lines of those two railroads have run into Union Station.
“Metra’s three Union Pacific District lines – the Union Pacific/North Line, Union Pacific/Northwest Line and Union Pacific/West Line – now provide regular commuter rail service along three former C&NW lines. In Metra’s zone-based fare schedule, Ogilvie is in Zone A. More than 106,000 people board Metra trains at Ogilvie Transportation Center each day.”
It’s a cold, snowy winter’s day in Chicago in 1960 under the train shed of the Chicago and North Western Terminal.
Two brutes, the epitome of mid-century diesel strength and technology stand, side by side, at rest and awaiting their next turn to launch out of the terminal pulling a string of passenger cars.
The station is now the Ogilvie Transportation Center, and newer generations of passenger diesels ply the tracks, hauling commuters from the suburbs to work downtown and then home, again. The commuters, too, are a new generation, the grandchildren of the commuters who rode behind these brutes.
The C&NW, famous for its 400s and streamliner commuter trains, in 1960 was still fielding a full roster of passenger trains.
Our two brutes, shown here, have a bit of a grimy face and probably more than a few scratches here and there. But, like their hundreds of cousins all over North America, are ready to hit the road, again, and reliably more than pull their weight efficiently. These two are of a mid-century generation where it was possible the only “high tech” aspect of these locomotives was that the engineer had a radio to stay in contact with the conductor and dispatcher. Everything else was mechanical.
The passenger diesels of this generation were an advertising man’s dream; in more than one advertisement for train travel, the locomotive’s windows became eyes, the headlight a nose, with the mouth below. They had a friendly look about them, modern, yet powerful. When this generation was being produced after World War II, steam locomotives were still operating on mainline trains, and the public perception of passenger and freight trains would change from locomotives belching smoke to much quieter and less complicated diesels rumbling down the tracks.
It’s now seven decades since these diesel locomotives were introduced. They look good, for their age. To many of us, they look ageless.
Note about Kate Shelley, from Wikipedia: “Catherine Carroll “Kate” Shelley (December 12, 1863 – January 21, 1912) was a midwestern United States railroad heroine and the first woman in the United States to have a bridge named after her, the Kate Shelley High Bridge. She was also one of the few women to have a train named after her, the Kate Shelley 400.
“Catherine Carroll Shelley was born at Loughaun, a crossroads near the village of Dunkerrin and the town of Moneygall, in County Offaly, Ireland. Dunkerrin Catholic Church records show that her parents, Michael and Margaret Shelley, married on February 24, 1863, and she was baptized on December 12, 1863. Her grave marker says she was born on September 25, 1865 and died January 21, 1912. The family name was originally spelled Shelly, which is how she wrote her name, but the spelling Shelley was later adopted.
“Michael was likely a tenant farmer in Ireland. The family emigrated to the United States when Shelley was 1+1⁄2 years old. They first lived with relatives near Freeport, Illinois, then built a home on about 163 acres near Honey Creek, a perennial tributary stream to the Des Moines River in Boone County, Iowa located to the east of Moingona. Michael became foreman of a section crew, building tracks for the Chicago and North Western Railway.
Michael died of “consumption”, in 1878. Shelley had to help support the family by plowing, planting, harvesting crops, and hunting. In 1880, the family consisted of Margaret, Shelley, Mary, Margaret, and John, living in Worth Township. A fifth child, James, was also born in Iowa, but he drowned while swimming in the Des Moines River when he was ten.
“Shelley gained fame due to her “heroic” actions in the aftermath of the collapse of the Des Moines River Bridge.
“On the afternoon of July 6, 1881, heavy thunderstorms caused a flash flood of Honey Creek, Iowa, washing out timbers that supported the railroad trestle. A pusher locomotive sent from Moingona to check track conditions crossed the Des Moines River bridge, but plunged into Honey Creek when the bridge fell away at about 11 pm, with a crew of four — Edgar Wood, A.P. Olmstead, Adam Agar, and Patrick Donahue.
“Shelley heard the crash, and knew that an eastbound express passenger train was due in Moingona about midnight, stopping shortly before heading east over the Des Moines River and then Honey Creek. She found two surviving crew members, Wood and Agar, and shouted that she would get help, having to cross the Des Moines River bridge along the way. The lantern she brought with her went out, and she crawled the span on her hands and knees, with only lightning for illumination. Once across, she had to walk approximately two miles to the Moingona depot to sound the alarm. She then led a party back to rescue Wood and Agar. Wood was pulled to safety by a rope, while Agar couldn’t be reached until the floodwaters began to recede. Pat Donahue’s body was eventually found in a cornfield a quarter mile downstream from the bridge, but A.P. Olmsted was never found. The passenger train was stopped at Scranton, with about 200 aboard.
“The passengers who had been saved took up a collection for Shelley. The “little girls” of Dubuque gave her a medal, and the state of Iowa gave her another one, crafted by Tiffany & Co., and $200. The Chicago and North Western Railway gave her $100, a half barrel of flour, half a load of coal, and a lifetime pass. The Order of Railway Conductors gave her a gold watch and chain.
“News of Shelley’s bravery spread nationwide; poems and songs were composed honoring her. The Chicago and North Western Railway built a new steel bridge in 1901 and named it the Boone Viaduct, but people quickly nicknamed it the Kate Shelley Bridge or Kate Shelley High Bridge. It was the first and, until the Betsy Ross Bridge in Philadelphia was opened in 1976, perhaps the only one in the country named after a woman. A second viaduct was built alongside the old one by the Union Pacific Railroad from 2006 to 2009. It can accommodate heavy trains, features two tracks, and can handle two trains simultaneously at a speed of 70 mph. It was opened on October 1, 2009, as the new Kate Shelley Bridge, and is one of North America’s tallest double-track railroad bridges.
“In the early 1880s, Frances E. Willard, a reformer and temperance leader, wrote Shelley’s friend, Isabella Parks, who was the wife of the president of Simpson College at Indianola, offering $25 toward an advanced education for her. Parks raised additional funds for her to attend during the term of 1883–84, but she didn’t come back the following term.
“… The Boone County Historical Society maintains the Kate Shelley Railroad Museum on the site of the Moingona depot. The Shelley family donated a collection of letters and papers of family members of Shelley, 1860–1911, to Iowa State University. The timetable accents for Metra’s Union Pacific/West Line are printed in “Kate Shelley Rose” pink.
“The original high steel bridge nicknamed the Kate Shelley High Bridge (officially called the Boone Viaduct) still stands. In 2009, the Union Pacific Railroad completed a new concrete and steel one next to it and christened it the Kate Shelley Bridge.
“The Iowa poet and politician, John Brayshaw Kaye, wrote a poem in Shelley’s honor called, “Our Kate”, in his collection Songs of Lake Geneva (1882).
Margaret Wetterer wrote a children’s book called Kate Shelley and the Midnight Express in 1991 telling Shelley’s story. It was featured in an episode of the children’s television program Reading Rainbow.”
Editor’s Note: This article contains two previously articles published on this platform on December 4, 2020 and January 21, 2021 plus new material, photos and illustrations. – Corridorrail.com Editor