Sunday, March 22, 2015

PVTX --- Private Railroad of Buzzi Unicem Cement

(Update: see LaSalle IC Railyard for pictures of the yard during better days. John Eagan has some Flickr photos of operations on this railroad starting with pulling a cut from the former ICG yard. Harold J. Krewer has posted a set of photos of t he railroad operation.)

When the Illinois Central abandoned its original charter route up the center of the state, the Buzzi Unicem Cement Plant bought the part that was needed to connect it with the IAIS|CSXT/Rock Island. A comment by Ron Johnson on BridgeHunter says it better than I can:
La Salle Railroad Bridge
Posted February 27, 2010, by Ron Johnson (mfpd24 [at] yahoo [dot] com)
This bridge hasn't been operated by the Illinois Central for many years. It was on the I.C.'s original charter line from Galena IL. to Cairo IL., nicknamed "Gruber line", that was abandoned from Freeport to Heyworth in 1986, the last I.C. train ran on this line on December 21 1985. The bridge, and a few miles of track south of the river are operated by Buzzi Unicem (formerly Lonestar Cement) and are the only section of the Gruber Line remaining. The north end terminates at the remains of I.C.'s LaSalle yard and connects with the CSX/Iowa Interstate (former Rock Island) tracks that pass underneath it. Quite a few lost and abandoned bridges can be found along the 100+ mile length of the line.

See a photo of PVTX's 80-ton GE industrial switcher pulling a cut of eight 2-bay covered hoppers over an approach to the Illinois River Bridge. Unlike many of the 2-bay covered hoppers in the Utica area, these would carry cement instead of sand. Below we see the 80-ton GE pulling a small cut across the Illinois River Bridge. This must have been taken from IL-351 because the arch bridge in the background would be I-39. So the train is headed south to the cement plant.

Photo from Ray's Lasalle County Online Museum

Photo from Rays Lasalle County Online Museum
The foreground of an aerial photo looking east at the Illinois Cement Plant has the IC yard in the foreground. Now just two of the tracks of this yard remain as interchange tracks with IAIS|CSXT/Rock Island. Those tracks end south of 4th Street.

Note that the connector that curves to the west goes about a 1000 feet before it actually connects with the former Rock Island. That is because the IC is up on the river's bluff and the Rock Island is down in the river's valley. That is, the connector has to go down a significant grade. (Update: in comments on a posting by William Wozniak of a photo I already have below, he indicates the grade is 2.8% and that IAIS shoves 18-20 cars up that grade. And the official contract when they started back in 2008 was 300 loads a month.)

Bing and Google road maps disagree where the south side terminates. In this case, I think Bing is correct --- it ends a little south of the east end of Deerfield Estates Road.

While I was following the track, I noticed an engine painted yellow. In the satellite image to the right you can see the 80-ton GE near the top-middle. But you can also see a yellow Geep in the lower-right corner. CSXT engines are blue and IAIS seems to be black, so is this a unit they are leasing? I notice that one of the bridge photos also has a yellow locomotive. But the resolution is not good enough to read the reporting marks.

Conversion of the plant from a mill to a distribution center may have been good for the railroad. Given the 3- and 8-car cuts in the photos above, it looks like most of the cement it produced was shipped by truck. (Note that we have already seen that the Illinois Cement Company now ships all of its production by truck.) But now all of the cement for the 40 to 80 trucks it ships everyday is delivered by the railroad. So the cuts are now around 25 cars. Since it owns the railroad, it can guarantee that its railroad expenses go into maintenance instead of some shortline's pockets. Looking at a satellite map, the "mainline" from the plant to the bridge has fresh white ballast.

On the other hand, the mill needed to be located on the south side of the river because that is where the quarries are. But a distribution center can be located in any rail-served industrial park. I wonder when they will build a couple of silos closer to their market and close this location entirely.

Update: William Wozniak posted on Feb 1, 2016, that IAIS dropped off 40 loaded cars. The engine almost stalled taking a cut of 20 cars up the hill to the former IC yard.

William Wozniak posted
William's comment: "ICG Mendota Road Switcher....Just got its shipment of Cat equipment on the OLE ICG/RI connector Track at LaSalle IL in 1981.Dave Woz photo."

The train is on the IAIS/CSX tracks. To the right of the engine you can see the inclined connector used to take trains up the river bluff to the former IC yard. It is a rather steep grade. That is why a cut of fully loaded (heavy) cement cars could be a struggle for an engine.
Below, the track on the left is that connector curving North to join the former IC tracks.

20150807,08 3843
The photo to the right is looking in the opposite direction so you can see where the former IC tracks go over the bridge. Buzzi Unicem is on the opposite (south) side of the river.

William Wozniak posted
William added as a comment in response to the question of when does Buzzi come for the loads:
BUZZI Power....they have 2 engines a GE 80 Tonner and a EMD rebuilt GP-9. Mornings .....probably 730 or 8am they should be in town for the 1st cut of cars.
When I asked if CSX or IAIS handles the cement cars, William responded:
The loaded cars Buzzi gets are from its sister plant in GreenCastle Indiana. CSX brings the cars via the old Monon Sub. Then they bring them west onto The New Rock Sub from Barr yard (RiverDale).They travel on the Westbound Borw Train to Ottawa Yard. from there they ride the CSX J742 local to Utica where CSX will set them out for IAIS......then the IAIS BUSW goes to LaSalle to swap out whatever empties are in the yard, then head to Utica to swap empties for loads.
IAIS parks the power for the BUSW train in Bureau Junction.

William Wozniak posted
The interchange yard between IAIS and Buzzi is a fraction of what it used to be.

Thanks to William's heads up that cars were delivered to the yard, John Eagan took and posted three pictures on Flickr of Buzzi getting the cars.

William Wozniak posted
William's comment:
LaSalle and Bureau County on The Rock!!! End of March 1986, LS&BC folded up operations in LaSalle....LS&BC #8 sits on the old siding at LaSalle waiting for Chessie to come back from Henry and haul her away for GOOD!! Dave Woz photo...
In addition to teaching me that there was a shortline that failed, the comment teaches me that Chessie used to run all the way to Henry, IL. Above we learned it takes two CSX trains to get cars just to Utica.

William Wozniak It was a shortline railroad than ran from LaSalle to Ladd...interchanged with all the railroads in town at the of the Carus big shots took all the LS&BC records to Northern Illinois University for safe keeping....Now from what i have need an act OF GOD to view these records...why? i don't know.....That's why there is so little about the Railroad and its history...

William Wozniak They took over some Rock island trackage around Blue Island and Burr Oak Yard....the name changed to Chicago Rai Link.....LS&BC was originated here in LaSalle........

William Wozniak posted
William's comment:
William Wozniak posted
LaSalle IL 1987....B&O New Rock Subdivision.....The double main is gone now.....its been seven years since The Rock shut the door, Local J742 with Chessie and Seaboard System power as seen preparing to take some Lone Star empties up to the Yard......Dave Woz photo.

Just a year after the 1986 Chessie+Seaboard System merger to form CSX and we see southern power pooled with northern power. Note that it is taking empties to the cement company because the company was still making cement 1987 and was named Lone Star instead of Buzzi.

So CSX was still operating to at least  LaSalle in 1986.

Jason Jordan shared William Wozniak's photo
William's comment:
Strangers in town Chessie C&O Power....1981....LaSalle ILDave Woz photo.
Nine years after the 1972 merger of C&O and B&O to form the Chessie system and some high short-hoods are still in C&O paint.
William Wozniak posted
ICG Heading up the hill track at LaSalle after Chessie interchange 1981.
Dave Woz photo.
Rick Powell When I was at IDOT, we replaced the Illinois 351 overhead bridge seen in this pic. We got the overhead clearance requirement waived because it was an interchange track that would never see a double-stack car.
William Wozniak posted
ICG LaSalle Yard......1981...Dave Woz photo.
[Another view of the yard at the top of the river bluff before they tore up most of the tracks and ICG.]
William Wozniak posted, spring 1980, LaSalle IL
Elgin Joliet and Eastern West End Local....End of April, Early May 1980..LaSalle IL....The LONG GONE BN Depot behind this train...Dave Woz photo.
[The comments are fascinating. Since it is a public group, please follow the link.
For example, this is an EJ&E engine because they operated the RI before Chessie leased it in August, 1980.]

safe_image for Flickr Photo
LaSalle Illinois
The Buzzi switcher heads for the Illinois River bridge as BUSW (Bureau Switcher) enters the yard to pick up 8 hoppers, at LaSalle Illinois on June 19, 2020.

Screenshot @ -0:56
While on my way home from work on I-39 I saw a yellow Geep on the old La Salle Railroad bridge which was formerly the Illinois Central. It was a rebuilt GP9? and is used by Buzzi Unicem in Oglesby. Here the GP9 pulls 11 hoppers below Route 351 in Oglesby going up a steep hill. 02/22/19
Harold J. Krewer Buzzi also has a GE 65-tonner center-cab switcher besides the Geep. Since they ceased quarrying and turned the Oglesby plant into a distribution center it's loads going uphill to the plant instead of empties up and loads back down.
The GE is only good for 5-6 cars going south to the plant while the Geep can easily do twice that. They've got something like 40 cars coming from IAIS, so they need to move them in as few trips as possible.

Update from Facebook:
Cement out of Oglesby anyone have information on destinations. Curious why ICG gave up this business
Craig Willett likes this.
David Jordan Hard to say, but I wonder if Modahl & Scott in Bloomington was one?
Harold J. Krewer At the end one of the routings for Oglesby cement was ICG-Dixon-CNW-Milwaukee. Not sure how many cars/week went that way. The cement plant at Oglesby was fighting hard for a shortline to take over the north end of the Gruber, didn't seem too interested in the part going south.
Phil McCall I will never understand it either, the line had enough business on the north end to be self sustaining, and there was a potential for bridge traffic.
LikeReply22 hrs
Chet French Modahl & Scott did received cement from LaSalle/Oglesby. Also the Redi-Mix plant in Forrest, IL., sometimes routed Pontiac/WAB,
LikeReply122 hrs
Phil McCall What about Roanoke Cement in Roanoke on the Santa Fe via Minonk? It is a big one, the main redi-mix company in the area in the 1970s.
LikeReply22 hrs
Chet French Also the Forrest cars were routed Elpaso/TPW. I recall cement going to the NYC at Lostant and an occasional car to the GMO at Wenona. I can't recall cement to the ATSF at Minonk. When the south wye off of the St Charles Airline going toward Markham Yard was opened in 1968, that was the beginning of the end for the Amboy dist.
LikeReply122 hrs
Chet French The biggest part of the cement business went to distribution silos in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas.
LikeReply122 hrs
Phil McCall Is anyone familiar with this company, who were they?

Patrick W. SIMMONS, Petitioner,v.INTERSTATE COMMERCE COMMISSION and United States of America,Respondents.Illinois Central Gulf Railroad Co., Freeport & El PasoRailroad Co., People of the State of Illinois andIllinois Commerce Commission,Intervening-Respondents.PEOPLE OF the STATE OF ILLINOIS, et al.…
LikeReply22 hrs
David Jordan Phil McCall That's probably the outfit that sought to buy part of the Gruber Line after CC&P's offer was rejected.
LikeReply21 hrsEdited
Phil McCall Another issue: ICG thought they would be able to sell the underlying land and keep the money, but becasue it was a land grant they ended up being sued, and had to pay it all back plus penalties to the heirs of the original owners.
LikeReply21 hrs
Ron Wesolowski Thanks for all the info


  1. I'll keep u updated.....buzzi has slowed down but still interchanging

  2. And for IAIS BUSW power.....they can only use the 700 series engines for this job because of the sharp curve at the top past canal st crossing....and they run two 700s for the shove up the grade.

  3. In the ICG LaSalle Yard photo you can see the gray scale house just north of the engine. To the east of the engine a spur went down the bluff, crossed the Little Vermillion River on a wooden trestle and served Illinois Cement (Alpha Cement at the time). Loaded coal hoppers were parked on a slight grade. The plant worker would release the brakes and roll over the opening in the tracks to unload the coal.

  4. I believe CSX leased the Rock Island to Henry Illinois for 99 years. Henry Illinois, south of Bureau Junction on the Peoria branch, had a Mobil Chemical plant which generated enough traffic to keep CSX interested.