Single Tracking The Illinois Central
It seemed heretical; like Christmas without Santa, toast without butter or America without apple pie. The Illinois Central without double track?
But that was to be the way of it. Under the leadership of Edward Moyers, the Illinois Central was going to whittle itself down from a double track ABS railroad to a single track CTC operation.
Sure, in some ways CTC would be a vast improvement over the previous system. Rather than issuing a written authority to permit a train to occupy or move over the mainline, a dispatcher could directly control traffic for hundreds of miles of railroad with little more than a desktop computer. But that lack of a second main track could become problematic with the potential for bottlenecks developing; not to mention the headaches that ensue whenever a train breaks down on the single track.
On the surface, the move seemed to make some sense. The railroad could save big money on track maintenance by removing one of the main tracks. Add to that the direct control by dispatchers of the passing sidings to remain in place every twenty miles or so, and the level of traffic that existed in the late eighties would be easily handled by a single track railroad.
At the same time, the move was a capitulation. The railroad was, in effect, publicly giving up on the future. It could have been inferred that the railroad was announcing that “we have excess capacity, and we believe that we will never again have the traffic to need that capacity in the future.” Recent history having been what it was, the rebirth of the railroad industry that would come in the next two decades would have seemed like a pipe dream in the minds of dreamers not necessarily strongly grounded in reality.
So as 1990 dawned, the Illinois Central was drawing up plans to remove nearly half of its mainline.
Carbondale, Illinois, was to be the location of one of the passing sidings. The north end of the siding was to be just north of Dillinger Road at the north end of North Yard. The location was to be known as North Carbondale. The south end of the siding, South Carbondale, was to be located just south of Grand Avenue across the street from the campus of Southern Illinois University.
As June became July, it was plain that the changeover was not far away. Just north of Dillinger Road, a shining new metal shack for housing the North Carbondale control circuitry had been put into place.
Just north of what would become North Carbondale, the double track looked as it had for decades. Within two months, the track on the right would be out of service and waiting for the scrappers to pick up the unused rails.
A the soon to be commissioned South Carbondale, the new power switch was in place along with the control box on July first.
The new signals were installed, pointed off to the side to indicate that they were not yet in service.
Just over a week later, on July 9, I photographed my last train heading south out of Carbondale on the southbound main. GP38-2 9622, an Illinois Central Gulf original, and former Gulf Mobile & Ohio SD40 6060 were on the point for one last view of a railroad in the in-between stages, between what it had been and what it would become.
Later that morning a visit to the Dillinger grain elevators found an Illinois Central track crew installing the new switch for North Carbondale.
Ten days later was the day that South Carbondale became an official location on the Illinois Central map. I was unaware that the work was being done that morning, and just happened to be out with my camera loaded with Kodachrome when I noticed what was going on.
By the time I arrived the rails had already been cut and bent over, and connected to the South Carbondale switch. As I watched, track machines cleaned and tamped the ballast as the new junction was readied for service.
Once the track machines finished their work, gang foremen inspected the work before pronouncing the junction fit for service.
As the new junction was being inspected, I placed my camera on the head of one of the now out of service rails that had been shoved aside. To me the odd angle of the shot represented how the traditional railroad scene of Carbondale had be skewed by progress.
The foreman finished inspecting the switch. After a few moments, he went to his truck and called the dispatcher to let him know that South Carbondale was ready for service and the CTC system had been cut in. It wasn’t a moment too soon either, as in the meantime a headlight had appeared on the horizon. Its source had pulled up to a stop in North Yard.
Once it was cleared for service, the dispatcher gave the signal for the first train to pass South Carbondale. It turned out to be something of a bit of irony, as that first train turned out to be a Norfolk Southern train. As GP38-2 5252 led southbound #123 through the junction, the Illinois Central was officially a single track CTC Railroad south of Carbondale, Illinois.
Story and photography Copyright 2010 – Mary Rae McPherson