|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.
In 1850 U.S. 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 to the east.
In 1867 the Illinois Central extended its track into Iowa. Throughout the 1870s, and 1880s the
Illinois Central acquired and expanded railroads throughout the southern United States. 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 locomotive cabs.
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
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.