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Thursday, December 4, 2014

14-12-04 PHOTOS: Aurora Express

Early last December I was presented with an oppurtunity to take a supplimentary trip to Chicago and since it involved a rare (for me) weekday hotel stay I finally had a chance to get some video of a METRA Aurora Line express run. Like the LIRR and NJT, METRA now runs a zoned express service on its popular Aurora Line. The outermost zone starts at Aurora and makes only two additional stops at Route 59 and Napperville before running express all the way into Union Station. Of course getting out to Aurora in time for even the final such express departure at 8:06am takes a bit of doing, especially when I was coming in from near O'Hare airport. Fortunately, in order to position sufficient trainsets for its aggressive service MERTA must make use of frequent reverse peak express trains and the 7:01am departing outbound train departing Union Station which would turn for the 8:06 ran express all the way to Downers Grove giving me two runs for the price of one.

Of course I didn't stop there. After arriving back in Chicago I hoofed it over to the Van Buren St station where I caught an Electric Line train to the Riverdale stop which was then only a short walk away from the famous Dolton Junction, a manned tower with the last pure mechanical interlocking machine in North America. Capping everything off I managed to get quite a bit of railfan view action on the return METRA Electric train.

You can find the exciting full set of photos here.

We begin with a reverse railfan view of the outbound express run between Cicero and Dowers Grove.

At Belmont we pass an inbound train on Track 3 with F40PH-3 #112 pushing on the rear.

Lisle is the first station in the second service zone and an empty trainset with two F40PHM-2's providing power is loading passengers beofre its scheduled departure.

In the Eola yard area, some of the few remaining CBQ era searchlight signals on the line are slated for removal. The signal on track 3 is displaying Stop and Proceed after the passage of another inbound METRA train. Trains not short turning at one of the intermediate terminals run empty from the Yard in Aurora.

My ride for the inbound and outbound trips was gallery cab car #8588.

I had originally planned to use my new GoPro, but I forgot some of the mounting hardware and my normal camera provides for nicer looking videos. I filmed the entire run from Aurora, cutting out the dwell time at Route 59 and Naperville. Upon departing Naperville the train developed a fault in the MU line between the cab car and the engine and had to reboot the locomotive to clear it up. From there the ride was uneventful, but the late am departure meant a derth of conflicting traffic and we were routed straight 3 all the way into the Union Station complex.

After getting back I made my way across town to the Van Buren St station on the Electric Division. Having previously used the Randolph Street terminal, I was surprised by the ornate decoration and passenger flow infrastructure located at a station that is completely invisible from street level.

My electric train of classic Highliners soon arrived and I was off to Riverdale.

DOLTON JCT is a large at-grade crossing of the Indiana Harbor Belt, B&O Chigaco Terminal, the PRR's Panhandle Route and the Chicago and Eastern Indiana. Today the PRR Line has been ripped out and the C&EI is owned by Union Pacific. Here we can see the tower looking east along the B&O route. 

When I arrived, a train on the Union Pacific with CSX power was waiting to proceed over the 2x4 set of diamonds. In short order it resumed its journey with C40-8W #7764 and #7802.

The large interlocking tower was constructed in 1943 using a 172 lever US&S mechanical lever frame salvaged from elsewhere as a war emergency measure. In it's prime the plant could boast 20 diamonds, and although that number has since shrunk to 10, it is still enough to resist the forces of automation. More information about the interlocking tower and plant can be found here

IHB MoW forces were out repairing the switches and diamonds which seemed to be the principle source of delays for movements through the interlocking. In recent years the IHB had taken a few chunks out of DOLTON JCT's territory. One such new interlocking, CP-107, directly abuts the older interlocking. Here CP-107's westbound signal displays Approach Medium to a Medium Approach for a movement that never materialized.

What did show up was a CSX local freight with GP15T #1504 on the lead and a number of steel coil cars behind.

Behind #1504 was GP38-2 #2627, seen here passing under DOLTON JCT's westbound signal bridge on the B&O/IHB axis.

The gods were smiling on me as an eastbound BNSF run-through Powder River coal train rounded the curve on the B&O line passing the westbound local. Power on the coal train consisted of BNSF SD70ACe #9038 and SD70MAC #9406 in BN colors.

Video of the two trains passing over the 2x4 diamonds.

I proceeded to climb up onto the famous Dolton Jct berm to get a better view of the interlocking plant. The berm that was deposited on the former PRR RoW east of the diamonds by the city of Dolton and is useful for getting good camera angles of the Junction from a location that is generally safe from harassment by the tower operator or adjacent police station. Here in the photo one can make out the old PRR alignment running to the immediate left of the tower. This route would shorlty cross over the B&OCT at Barr Yard, running diagonally through the city until it rejoined the B&OCT at 75th St Jct before eventually reaching the famous Brighton Park and Ash St crossings.

MoW forces as seen from the berm.

Searchlight dwarfs and a derail protecting some of the northbound C&EI tracks with MoW crews working in the background.

South of Dolton Jct was the entrance to UP's Yard Center.

Pulling out of the massive IHB Blue Island yard complex was an NS train with SD40-2 #3398 in the lead.

Upon returning to Riverdale I was lucky enough to snag an inbound Electric Division train with an unobstructed railfan view out the front. Here is the view approaching the CSB&SS junction at KENSINGTON interlocking.

The Electric Line was mostly built with high level island platforms so express trains actually cross over to the outer tracks to run express on the 4-track section.

The Illinois Central once sported 8 tracks inbound to Chicago. Today those not covered by catenary are part of Canadian National's route to the Gulf of Mexico.

67TH ST junction is where the South Chicago branch splits off.

The interlocking tower closed in 2009 leaving behind a plant that still features such oddities as a 4-track double slip scissors crossover. 

I spotted an outbound train of new style gallery type Highliners at the 59th St station. These cars with their full railfan window will be a welcome upgrade on the line.

I disembarked at Roosevelt and took this picture of METRA #1601 passing into the un-signaled yard area between there and Randolph Street Station. To save on the expense of interlocking complex terminal trackage, the IC just made it a Restricted speed yard. Features of the yard limits include this hand throw doubleslip switch.

METRA Highliner #1618 making a stop at Roosevelt as seen from above.

Video of #1618 and frieds as they head into the yard and towards Randolph St. The rusty roof is a pattented feature of the Saint Louis Car Company's construction process.

I'll finish things off with some photos of a specially painted VW Type 2 Bus that had driven all the way in from Manitoba for a Bears home game.

Tune in next time as we take a look at the Phase III High Line.

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