Saturday, October 25, 2014

Railroad Crossing War

Cindy Gray posted
The first railroad from Chicago was the Galena and Chicago Union. But soon after G&CU was started, the Illinois Central's branch from Centralia to Chicago and the Rock Island were also started. The original plan for the IC route was to build west of Lake Calumet and proceed due north to the Chicago River. But before the IC could implement this plan, the Rock Island interests had bought "considerable acreage along the very right-of-way that the Illinois Central had hoped would provide a route to the heart of Chicago. Not only had they bought up much of the needed land, but they had also immediately begun to build." (ChiRail, p32)

The first two railroads to build to Chicago from the East were the Michigan Central (MC) from Detroit and the Michigan Southern and Northern Indiana (MS&NI) from Toledo (later part of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern then NYC). Both of these railroads intended to shorten the trip for people and cargo coming from the Erie Canal to the I&M Canal by eliminating the circuitous water route up Lake Huron and then down Lake Michigan. But their entry into Chicago was stymied because there was no provision for granting charters to out-of-state railroads. To get around this issue, the IC agreed to award trackage rights to MC while the RI granted the MS&NI access to Chicago. Since the RI was the first line constructed, MS&NI was the first eastern railroad to enter Chicago on Feb 20, 1852. (ChiRail, p32)

Since the Rock Island beat the IC to the preferred route, the IC obtained permission from Chicago to build north through Lake Michigan. At that time, Michigan Avenue was at the shoreline, and it needed a breakwater that the IC would provide when it built its railroad in the lake. But to get to the lakeshore, the IC had to cross the branch line that the RI had built southeast from 63rd street to the Indiana border for the MS&NI. Since the IC was allied with the MC, an enemy of the MS&NI, it was denied permission to cross the MS&NI trackage. And to emphasize the point, they posted a guard to prevent unauthorized construction activity. They expected the IC to build an overpass. But the IC was not going to spend money on an overpass, one night they simply kidnapped the guard and by dawn a frog was installed. Each railroad ran its trains with the assumption that they had the right-of-way until 1853 when a wreck killed 18 people. The rule was established that a train had to stop at a crossing and proceed only after verifying that there were no other trains approaching. (ChiRail, p 42-43)

The MS&NI became part of the New York Central System (and now the Norfolk Southern) and those tracks were later elevated because of Chicago city ordinances requiring grade separations between railroads and streets. But it appears that somehow the IC dodged the requirement to elevate its tracks. Looking at a sattellite map, the NS/NYC tracks now go over the CN/IC tracks. Update: looking again, the CN/IC tracks are elevated towards the north.

Update: The crossing is known as the Grand Crossing. I don't know how safe this neighborhood is to go take my own pictures. Plus I'm sure I can't get this view because this looks like the photographer  is on CN/IC property. Checking a satellite image, I was surprised that most of these IC tracks are still present.

.pdf copy from 1915 Smoke Abatement Report, p. 488
Bob Lalich found a Barriger photo from the perspective of the Pennsy tracks.

David Daruska posted in Facebook
David Daruska has more information on Chicago's first rail crossing accident.

David Daruszka posted
Northbound on Metra Electric Track 4, approaching 75th Street. The bridges are former Pennsy and NYC heritage.

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