The Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroad was charted in both states in 1848 to build from Allegheny City, PA, west to Crestline, OH. Allegheny City was just across the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh. It was annexed by Pittsburgh in 1907. Crestline was on the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad, which was charted in 1836, and its construction progressed during the 1840s.
Construction of the O&P began on July 4, 1849. (Note that the tradition of starting major projects on July 4 was still practiced.)
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The Ohio and Indiana Railroad was chartered in Ohio on Mar. 26, 1850 and in Indiana on Jan. 15, 1851 to extend the line west to Fort Wayne, IN.
Construction on the O&I began in Feb. 1852, and Fort Wayne was reached Oct. 31, 1854.
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On July 26, 1856 the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railway was formed as a consolidation of the above 3 railroads and construction continued from Columbia City to Chicago. All of the dates below are in 1858.
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The long red line near Chicago represents Englewood, IL. It is now a neighborhood of Chicago. Obviously they were constructing at least some of the segments in parallel since the stretch between Plymouth and Englewood opened just 19 days after the tracks reached Plymouth. The delay between Columbia City (Feb. 1856) and Warsaw (Sep. 1858) reminds me that there was an economic panic in 1857.
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The Pennsylvania Railroad was involved with the PFW&C project. It not only supplied funds, but the track west of Plymouth was built with rails removed from the New Portage Railroad. Once the Fort Wayne Railroad Bridge at Pittsburgh was finished in 1857, trains began to run through from Philadelphia. In 1858 PFW&C shared the first Union Station in Pittsburgh with PRR. And on January 1, 1859 trains started running to Chicago, with a terminal at the future location of Union Station. On Jan. 1, 1918 Pennsylvania Railroad assumed operational control of the PFW&C until PRR was merged with Penn Central on Feb. 1, 1968. The PFW&C stayed separate until it became part of Conrail on Apr. 1, 1976. Since Aug. 1, 2004, the track between Gary, IN, and Crestline is now operated by Chicago Fort Wayne and Eastern Railroad. Tracks east of Crestline went to Norfolk Southern when Conrail was broke up in 1998.
Richard Parks has a summary of timetables that indicates the distance from Chicago to Pittsburgh was 468.4 miles. Of the 11 trains he lists, the fastest was the Broadway Limited at 7:52 run time and the slowest was The Rainbow at 10:07. The Baltimore and Ohio was 471.4 miles with 5 trains, the fastest of which was 9:04. The NYC-Eri-P&LE was also 471.4 miles and had 3 trains with the fastest at 9:50. Richard's page states:
Fort Wayne, Indiana could have been described as the "Speed Capital of the Steam Powered Passenger Trains of the 30's and 40's". In November of 1941, there were no less than 30 daily arrivals or departures from the Fort Wayne Union station, on the Pennsylvania Railroad, with average speeds to or from their next destination of 60 miles per hour or greater. If we add the Wabash Railroad's single 60+ run from Adrian to the Fort Wayne station our total 60+ movements are 31. The above chart shows the Pennsy movements. The track from Englewood to Fort Wayne and Crestline, Ohio could have best been described as a Race Track. It was almost dead straight, with few hills, and was well ballasted with 152# rail, heaviest in use at that time. The Detroit Arrow was the fastest of all with an average speed of 76.9 mph from Gary to Fort Wayne. Seven of these movements were at averages of 70 mph or higher. No other city in the USA matched this raw display of steam train speed.In the late 1960s, I used to ride Pennsylvania trains from Fort Wayne to Union Station to go back to college. One Thanksgiving vacation, it was standing room only. But the conductor opened up the baggage car so that we were able to set on bundles of newspapers for the trip. The car was chilly, but we stayed there so that we could have a seat.
I once rode from Fort Wayne to Englewood on the Detroit Arrow. It left Fort Wayne 10 minutes late and arrived in Englewood on the advertised. We traveled 141 miles in 105 minutes for an average speed of 80.6 mph. I timed mileposts at 90 mph.
Conrail downgraded the line because they chose to use the NYC tracks across Indiana. They reduced the double track to a single track in 1983 (Trains). Because the maintenance level was reduced, the speed limit was soon reduced. Amtrak then moved their Pittsburgh trains to the Baltimore & Ohio and provided bus service between Fort Wayne and Garret, IN. The original corporate heritage turned out the be significant when NS and CSX carved up Conrail. The O&P part went to NS and the O&I and Fort Wayne & Chicago parts went to CSX. The CSX part is now leased to Chicago, Fort Wayne and Eastern (CFE).
When I used to drive to the Chicago area along US 30, it was rare to make the whole trip without seeing at least one train. I don't drive that stretch very often anymore, but I have not seen a train on those tracks for decades. Meanwhile we keep hearing about how trains have to be held on the BNSF and UP tracks because the eastern railroads don't have enough capacity to accept them.