Wednesday, October 1, 2014

BRC Clearing Yard

Below Midway Airport is a big railroad yard complex.\\

The north side of the yard complex is Belt Railway Co. of Chicago's Clearing Yard. (The southeast part of this yard complex is not part of BRC. It is a CSX intermodal yard that is contract switched by Chicago Rail Link.) Note that the industries north of the yard used to be rail served. BRC attracted industries to the area because they could be efficiently switched. Also, if you look at the city limits of Bedford Park, IL, the town has just industries. I assume this means that their property taxes are low because they don't have to pay for any parkway trees, schools, parks and other services that residential communities expect.

Carload freight in general is a small fraction of what it was at the turn of the 20th Century because of trucks, airplanes, and intermodal and unit trains. But the two hump yards in this complex remain busy because most of the trunk railroads have converted their own classification yards to intermodal yards. For example, BNSF brings mixed freight trains from Galesburg directly to this yard or IHB's yard. Their Clyde and Corwith Yards are now intermodal yards.

"The Belt’s Clearing Yards span a 5.5 mile distance among 786 acres, supporting more than 250 miles of track." "Owner lines, as well as several other railroads, bring trains to the Belt Railway to be efficiently separated, classified, and re-blocked for cross-country departure. The Belt Railway currently dispatches on a service-driven basis more than 8,400 rail cars per day. At Clearing Yards, employees are able to classify between 40 and 50 miles of train consists every 24 hours." (BRCabout)

Stickney, the president of the Chicago & Great Western Railway, whose line reached Chicago in 1886, anticipated the growth of interchange traffic in Chicago. He bought 4000 acres in 1889 on a site outside the city to avoid the burden of taxation from 55th to 79th Streets and from Harlem to Cicero Avenues and named it his Clearing Yard.. His plan was to have a circle of track so that trains from the railroads could leave cars on radial tracks for other railroads and cars on tangent spurs for industries. The plan never reached a tryout stage. The land set idle until 1898 when H. H. Porter laid out a car sorting yard employing the hump gravity principle for the first time on a large scale. The yard commenced operation on April 1st, 1902. But it turned out to be an April Fools joke because, despite his position as chairman of the Chicago & Eastern Illinois RR, he was unable to convince his fellow railroaders to agree to its cooperative use. In August 1912, the BRC decided to use the yard, but they spent 1913-15 rebuilding it for its use. (BRCabout)

The following would be facing East. And it is just one of the two hump yards. The fact that there is no run-through tracks around it reminds me that in the first half of the century, freight moved in boxcars and had to be reclassified at the railroad yards. Probably only unit trains were stock-car trains, and they would have been taken directly to the stockyards rather than to this yard. It appears that his was taken before Midway Airport was built (dedicated in 1927) and shows that they did go way out of town to avoid property taxes.

Clearing Yard on OminousWeather
I include the 1938 aerial photo that shows that industry has filled the blocks north of the yard, but south of the yard is still undeveloped. I included the bottom of Midway Airport in the upper-right corner.

IHAP: 19381129

Cicero Avenue has a long bridge over the yards. The traffic was stop-and-creep as I headed South. Since I had to make a left-hand turn at the end of the bridge, I was not in the right-most lane so this is the best picture I got.

20140906 0089c

I then parked the car and walked South on the west side of the bridge. Unlike the Tollway Authority, the hand rails were high enough that I felt safe. And it is a good thing the sidewalk is wider than the Tollway Authority's design because this pedestrian crossing is used. I saw bikes and electric chairs, as well as regular pedestrians.


The train in the foreground is being shoved over the west hump that is under the control tower in the middle of the photo. Note that the building on the right is the big white building in the above historic photo. And there is an airplane above it that is on approach to Midway Airport. You can see a lot of planes when you railfan on the south side of Chicago. I include a similar shot that I took later to record how slowly they hump the cars. Note that the 3 flatcars have moved just a few car lengths in 34 seconds.

Closer to the middle of the bridge, I took a picture with a wide-angle lens to get an overview. I also added a red line above the three flat cars to note their progression. And I continue to crop out the sky and, sometimes, the foreground.

Then I took pictures of the north and south sides with a normal lens to get a more accurate perspective of the depth of the yard. In the north photo you can see some of the industry that fills the blocks along the yard.


The south picture has two cabooses on the left and BRC engines 248, 585, 140 and 582. While studying the photo for the engines, I noticed that the train that is being humped hasn't even made it to the hump yet. So now I'm really surprised that it is going so slow. I include another shot because it has the three flat cars on the right. And the train appears to have reached the hump.

I then concentrated on getting some pictures of a mother and slug. One last shot of the progress of the hump train. Judging from the curved track, it did about 4 car lengths in one and a half minutes. So it was going "fast" when it was shoving towards the hump and is now going even slower because it is humping?

A video is a little tedious to watch, but one thing that impressed me was that he was evidently able to cross the street on the bridge. Traffic was backed up in both directions for the full length of the bridge in the middle of the afternoon. What is the traffic like on this bridge during a rush hour? If you look at the map, this is one of the few north-south crossing for miles. (Central Avenue is closed under the hump to regular traffic! Railroads were a "paranoid" long before 9/11.) The traffic was so heavy on the bridge that there was no way I was going to cross the bridge in the middle to take decent pictures of the east side.

The remaining information is from a Sept. 2006 article in Progressive Railroading.

At the 650-acre Clearing Yard — a seemingly never-ending maze of 92 classification, 44 departure and 40 receiving tracks stretching several miles East and West of the tower — workers hump an average of two freight cars every minute of every day. To get 3,000 cars in and out of the yard each day and help keep traffic flowing through North America's largest rail hub, the more than century-old BRC needs to be a 24/7/365 operation.
32 inbound and 33 output trains daily

They're also modernizing infrastructure and equipment, such as installing remote-controlled switches and implementing variable speed humping with help from Cattron-Theimeg Inc. and GE - Transportation.

If they execute the plan, they'll consistently process more than 3,000 cars within a 24-hour dwell period instead of the 26 or 27 hours the BRC has been averaging at times to switch 2,700 to 2,800 cars, managers say. 

Re-humps because of incorrect humps are at about 15 percent of humps, which management considered too high. I was surprised that there were any incorrect humps. What goes wrong?

For the next six years, the railroad will be busy upgrading bridges, as well. Because most of its mainlines in Chicago are elevated, the BRC maintains 70 bridges, many of which were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The railroad will spend between $6 million and $7 million per year to rehabilitate about a dozen bridges and make the structures 286k-compliant, says O'Brien.

The same can't be said of a long-term investment in the BRC's locomotive shop. Built in 1914, the shop is used to service 650 of other railroads' locomotives a month, as well as maintains the BRC's 22 switchers — all of which employ locomotive remote-control systems — and five slug units. O'Brien wishes he had funds available to replace the facility.
"We want a new shop, but it would cost millions," he says.
Now, workers at the facility repair about 1,200 cars a month, including the replacement of about 450 out-of-round wheels, says Superintendent of Mechanical O'Donnell.

Mike Wyatt -> Railroad Depots, Shops & Structures of North America
Belt Railway of Chicago diesel shop. Built in 1914. Bedford Park, Illinois. December, 2015.
David M Laz posted
Bedford Il railyardJames Karczewski In all the photos of the BRC yard you always know the place by the distinctive hump tower on the horizon. From the oldest to the newest. Nice picture.
David M Laz posted
Belt Railway of Chicago (BRC) Clearing Yard Chicago, (Courtesy Nicky Sudam)
David M Laz posted
Fascinating from the are view of the early Clearing yard, originally run by The Belt Railway. The Belt has 28 miles of mainline route with more than 300 miles of switching tracks, allowing it to interchange with every railroad serving the Chicago rail hub. The Belt's Clearing Yards span a 5.5 mile distance among 786 acres, supporting more than 250 miles of track.
Bob Lalich commented on above posting
Actually the first Clearing Yard was owned, built and operated by Chicago Union Transfer Railway Co, which had no other track. It was promoted as a yard to sort cars for all the other railroads in Chicago. The location was chosen so that it would connect with the BRC and predecessors of the IHB and B&OCT. The first Clearing Yard design incorporated a giant circle of track with yards fanning off the circle. It was never completed but the circle was graded. Parts of the circle can be seen in this photo south of the west classification yard. CUT was acquired by BRC as part of the 1912 reorganization.
Eric Kruse posted
At least three sets of power from three different railroads are sitting and waiting for their next train assignments at the Belt Railway of Chicago Clearing yard in Bedford Park, ill. on July 9, 1986
I learned from the following that the engine in the middle is Seaboard System, probably because it acquired the Monon route when it acquired the L&N.

Michael DeSoi Sr. posted
Horace Bristol, An aerial view showing the Belt Railroad Clearing Yard, Chicago, 1941.
Jake Jones posted
Bedford Park IL June 2002
Under the double hump control tower.
BRC yard
[3D Satellite]
Jerry Bragiel posted
Old Round House Long gone, But Large Engine House Still In Operation Today, At The Belt's Chicago Clearing Yard
An Arturo Gross Flickr 1994 link of the west side with trains entering from Corn Products and from the BRC Union Station Branch was posted on Facebook.
Anthony Caciopo Wow, one of the old, rare ones with friction-journal trucks. No MU hookups, either. BRC sure was frugal ordering those. Hopefully, they came with a seat for the engineer.
David Daruszka When I worked at the IC we switched Corn Products. Did the Belt switch them as well?
Arturo Gross I recall seeing BRC jobs going from Clearing to the Argo plant, not sure if they did the switching or just transferred cars back and forth.
Bob Lalich According to the Ill. Freight Ass'n. Directory of Industries from 1963, Corn Products was switched by B&OCT, BRC, GM&O and IHB.
David Daruszka GM&O makes sense in that the IC job that I was on that worked at Corn Products worked out of GM&O's former Glenn Yard. I never realized the other roads worked the plant as well.

An Arturo Gross Flickr 1997 link: "BRC Alco C424s 601 and 605 drag a cut of cars towards the east end of Clearing Yard at Pulaski Rd in Chicago Apr 1997."

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