Thursday, September 11, 2014

BNSF Willow Springs Intermodal Yard

(BNSF Intermodal HistorySatellite; The Yard Tower)

Update: Trains article. They mentioned a truck is placed every 80 seconds. But they don't mention how many cranes are operating to achieve that rate. Note below that there a several tracks in this yard and each one has a couple of cranes serving it.

Bruce DeMaeyer posted
Can anybody help me with the location of this yard tower?
The Willow Springs Intermodal Yard (WSP) is one of four intermodal yards that BNSF operates in the Chicagoland area. It specializes in high-speed, low-dwell-time deliveries to the following destinations (GreatLakes):

Albuquerque, NM: Albuquerque (ABQ)
Dallas/Ft Worth, TX: Alliance Intermodal Facility (ALT)
Denver, CO: Irondale (IRN)
Fresno, CA: Golden State Road (GST)
Kansas City, MO: Argentine (ARG)
Los Angeles, CA: Hobart (HOB)
Phoenix, AZ: Glendale (GLN)
San Bernardino, CA: San Bernardino (SBD)
Stockton, CA: Stockton Intermodal Facility (MOR)

In 2005, WSP was BNSF's second-busiest intermodal yard, performing 770,000 lifts. (TrainsMag) The UPS Chicago Area Consolidation Hub (CACH) that is next door provides 40-50% of the traffic (depending on the source). (All sources agree that if a trailer has to travel over 400 miles, it goes by rail.) In addition to the CACH, there are a lot of freight consolidation/warehouse/distribution buildings northeast along Sante Fe Drive and River Road. I assume that if the logistic centers along 73rd street east of Harlem Avenue want to ship west instead of east that they go to Willow Springs Yard instead of the CSXT intermodal yard near Harlem and 71st Street. Or does CSXT load a block of cars and then they are transferred to the WSP yard using the IHB connection? Likewise, how do the freight houses along River Road ship east? And if a trailer or container is destined for the Northwest, then they need to go to the Cicero Yard.

WSP trains actually originate in Corwith Yard because it has the engine terminal that provides the power for the Willow Springs trains. They leave Corwith with a cut of double-stack containers and then back into Willow Springs to add more cars. The train leaving Willow Springs can be at the max length of 8000 feet. But they may have to back in twice because each of the loading tracks is about 5000 feet long.

I was heading southbound on I-294 and construction forced the lanes to be shifted so that the right-most lane was riding on the shoulder. So I got in that lane and took some pictures of BNSF Willow Springs Intermodal Yard that normally would not be legal to take. After studying the pictures, the main activity in the yard is on the south side and storage is on the north side, so I'm going to discuss the pictures in the opposite order that I took them.

Along the south is a tree line, an access road, the three mainline tracks past the yard, three storage tracks for empties, and the loading/unloading area.

20140831 0014c
What looks like the fourth storage track is really one of the five load/unload tracks. It is serviced by three Taylor sideloaders. You can see a couple of them in the photo.

Further north we see the first loading/unloading track that uses a Mi-Jack gantry. I could not see the number on the engine, but I can see a horse on the nose of the engine. So this is a run through to or from the Norfolk Southern. In a railroad forum, a BNSF engineer talked about how they would have the pigs off the cars before the engines hit the crossing and UPS would have the trailers at their CACH before he got the FRED off the train. The black thing near the lower-left corner would be the top of one of the Taylor sideloaders. Note the hydraulic cylinders. That is the reason I added the hydraulic label to this post.

The next view North shows all four of the gantry serviced tracks. You can't tell from the photo, but the Trains article indicated there are two MiJacks per track. The MiJacks for the second and third tracks are visible in the distance.

This view shows some of the 27 yard hostlers mentioned in the Trains article. The red thing about in the middle of the view is another gantry. A spare?

It looks like they are doing some repair work to the entrance portal. And we can start to see some of the trailer parking lot.

I include more of the parking lot to get a good view of the track in the middle of the lot. I could not figure out what this was for until I looked at the other side of the bridge in a satellite photo. It is a lead to switch an industry spur. It looks like the industry uses 2 tracks of tank cars. The power lines on the right of the below picture will help indicate the location of the next picture.

The last photo shows the power lines. It also shows that the north side of the WSP parking lot is used to store container chassis. There also appears to be a gas pipeline sharing the right-of-way with the electric company. And on the right is the south side of the UPS CACH.

Mike Blaszak, who worked as a lawyer at Santa Fe, gave a presentation at the Blackhawk Railway Historical Society. One of the interesting tidbits was that they bought a lot of land Willow Springs to create a new hump yard because their Corwith Yard was too small. The new hump yard would also be more efficiently laid out along the mainline rather than an appendage off to the side. But shortly after they bought that land along the Des Planes River, their Argentine Yard in Kansas City flooded, and it was unusable for a month. So they decided to help relocate and buy industries adjacent to their Corwith Yard rather than build another yard in a potential flood plain. Much of their land in Willow Springs was turned into an industrial park. But they did retain the land along the GM Fischer Stamping Plant.

But when the stamping plant was bought by UPS, Santa Fe wanted to build an intermodal yard in this area. At the same time, the Deep Tunnel Project was underway. Drilling 30-foot tunnels through bedrock creates a lot of rock debris. Mike signed the contract for $4-million dollars so that some of that rock debris could be used to raise the height of their mainline and intermodal yard an additional four feet above the Des Planes River. He showed a slide of fresh limestone spread out as far as you could see.

Mike also mentioned that Santa Fe worked with a crane company to design the orange cranes you see in these photos. Before that, they were doing "circus loading," which is quite slow.

Ramon Rhodes posted nine photos with the comment:
Willow Springs Yard near Chicago
A tour of this yard back in 2000 is what convinced me to switch from modeling Santa Fe in the 90's to BNSF. A few years later in 2009, I was able to get another tour where I photographed the straddle-cranes and their repair area up close.
After seeing Michael Brusky's amazing model at the 2017 SFRH&MS Convention in Tulsa, I thought I would share these photographs from a vantage point rarely seen by the railfan and modeling community.
If you've ever seen these cranes moving, they remind you of big orange elephants!








While studying the McCook Yard, I noticed there were a few long tracks along the Vulcan Materials Quarry. It is long enough that this satellite image is just a partial. It shows that empty piggyback cars are stored there. When I asked what was the name of this yard, Jacob Metzger responded: "those are 1500 numbered tracks on the Willow Yard map."

Facebooked as a reply to Brad Baker.


  1. I lived on Elm Avenue in Unincorporated Hinsdale, IL and there were tracks at the end of that street alongside where Santa Fe Speedway used to be where did these train travelled to? I also saw an old passenger train similar to the one one that carried President's Lincoln to Springfield back in 2006 as I was going to work, where was that train going? it had passengers dressed in period clothing

  2. Can you send a reply to that's my email address..Thanks Grace Hirmer