|The Illinois Central was one of the earlier Class I railroads in the US. Its roots stretch back to abortive |
attempts by the Illinois General Assembly to charter a railroad linking the northern and southern parts of the
state of Illinois. On September 20, 1850, President Millard Fillmore signed a land grant for the construction of
the railroad, making the Illinois Central the first land-grant railroad in the United States.
The Illinois Central was officially chartered by the Illinois General Assembly on February 10, 1851. Upon its
completion in 1856, the Illinois Central was the longest railroad in the world. Its main line went from Cairo,
Illinois, at the southern tip of the state, to Galena, in the northwest corner. A branch line went from Centralia
to the rapidly growing city of Chicago. In Chicago, its tracks were laid along the shore of Lake Michigan and on
an offshore causeway downtown, but land-filling and natural deposition have moved the present day shore east.
In 1867 the Illinois Central extended into Iowa which resulted in the following branches, the Dubuque & Sioux
City Railroad (Dubuque to Iowa Falls), 142 miles, the Iowa Falls & Sioux City Railroad, (Iowa Falls to Sioux City),
183 miles and the Cedar Falls & Minnesota Railroad, (Cedar Falls to Minnesota Line) 75 miles. Throughout the
1870s, and 1880s the Illinois Central acquired and expanded railroads throughout the southern United States.
The Illinois Central lines crisscrossed the state of Mississippi and went as far as New Orleans, Louisiana to the
south and Louisville, Kentucky in the east. In the 1880s, northern lines were built to Dodgeville, Wisconsin,
Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Omaha, Nebraska.
Further expansion continued into the early twentieth century. On August 10, 1972 the Illinois Central Railroad
merged with the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad to form the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad. On October 30th
1972 the Illinois Central Gulf commuter rail crashed, becoming the company's deadliest. In the 1980s, the
railroad spun off most of its east-west lines and many of its redundant north-south lines, including much of the
former GM&O. Most of these lines were bought by other railroads, including entirely new railroads, such as the
Chicago, Missouri & Western Railway, Paducah & Louisville Railway and the Chicago Central & Pacific Railroad.
On February 29, 1988, the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad dropped the "Gulf" from its name and again became
known as the Illinois Central Railroad. On February 11, 1998 the Illinois Central was purchased by the Canadian
National Railway (CN) with the integration of operations beginning on July 1, 1999.
The Illinois Central is now controlled by CN's holding company Grand Trunk Corporation. The Illinois Central
name continued to be used until after the railroad's sesquicentennial in 2001, after which the Illinois Central
corporate identity slowly faded through CN's maintenance and repainting programs. Illinois Central locomotives
repainted into the CN paint scheme retain "IC" reporting marks and sub-lettering on the sides of locomotives.
The Illinois Central was a major carrier of passengers on its Chicago-New Orleans mainline and between Chicago
and St. Louis. IC also ran passengers on its Chicago to Omaha line, though it was never among the top
performers on this route. Illinois Central's largest passenger terminal, Central Station, stood at 12th Street
east of Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Due to the railroad's north-south route from the Gulf of Mexico to the
Great Lakes, Illinois Central passenger trains were one means of transport during the African American
Great Migration of the 1920s.
Illinois Central's most famous train was the Panama Limited, a premier all-Pullman car service between
Chicago, St. Louis, Missouri, and New Orleans. In 1967, due to losses incurred by the operation of the train, the
Illinois Central combined the Panama Limited with a coach-only train called the Magnolia Star. On June 1, 1971
Amtrak took over the operation of the service, but shortly afterward dropped the name in favor of the City of
New Orleans, a daytime streamlined coach train that had been operated by the Illinois Central whose name was
popularized by a song written by Steve Goodman and performed by Arlo Guthrie. Illinois Central ran several
other trains along the main route including The Creole and The Louisiana.
The Green Diamond was the Illinois Central's premier train between Chicago, Springfield and St. Louis. Other
important trains included the Hawkeye, which ran daily between Chicago and Sioux City and the City of Miami
eventually running every other day between Chicago and Miami via the Atlantic Coast Line, The Central of
Georgia Railroad and Florida East Coast Railway.
The Illinois Central was always a major Chicago commuter line operating electrified trains from its Michigan
Avenue stations to the southeast suburbs until this traffic was assumed by Metra.
After 1971 Amtrak operated the Panama Limited, later re-named City of New Orleans, over the Illinois
Central mainline and the Shawnee between Chicago and Carbondale, Illinois. Amtrak presently runs three trains
daily over this route, the City of New Orleans and the Illini and Saluki between Chicago and Carbondale.
Another Illinois corridor service is planned for the former "Blackhawk" route between Chicago-Rockford and
Dubuque. This service, subsidized by the State of Illinois is slated to begin in 2009.