The Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad, "Speed-Efficiency-Service"

The Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad was a small, Midwestern road situated almost entirely within Illinois.  Running southward out of the Windy City its main line split at Woodland to reach Evansville and St. Louis.  The railroad once maintained a network of over 1,000 miles and proved a vital connection for the Louisville & Nashville, Floridian passenger services, the movement of coal, and a connection to the Gateway City.  For these reasons, and others, it became a prime target of the much larger trunk lines from the 1870's until disappearing a century later.  Poor management under two such owners left it in bankruptcy at various points until a final reorganization during World War II.  When not under another's control the railroad did just fine.  By the postwar period a well-maintained and well-managed C&EI showed strong profits, boasting a diversity of traffic that included intermodal by the 1960's.  The company's final chapter was written that decade when the L&N acquired its main line north of Evansville and Missouri Pacific took over the remainder.

The earliest component of the modern Chicago & Eastern Illinois system was the Evansville & Illinois Railroad chartered on January 2, 1849.  According to Willard Anderson's article, "The Century-Old C&EI...," from the August, 1949 issue of Trains Magazine the E&I was formed to connect Evansville, Indiana (located along the north bank of the might Ohio River) with Vincennes.  The 53-mile route was complete and ready for service by 1853.  The corporate history after this point can become a bit messy or unclear.  Thankfully, the railroad released a small booklet in 1957 that helped explain its corporate heritage.   As the E&I was under construction the Wabash Railroad (carrying no connections to the well-known Wabash) was chartered on February 6, 1851 to link Vincennes with Terre Haute.  On November 18, 1852 the Wabash and E&I merged carrying the latter's name as the Evansville & Illinois.  This was short-lived when on March 4, 1853 it was renamed as the Evansville & Crawfordsville.  That same year service opened to Terre Haute on November 24th.

There were hopes of reaching Chicago at this time but the needed funded was never obtained.  The future C&EI's southern component saw no additional construction (there was an Evansville belt line, the Evansville & Terre Haute Company incorporated on May 9, 1881, which joined the C&EI in July of 1911).  The northern segment was originally the Chicago, Danville & Vincennes Railroad organized on February 18, 1865 to complete a route from Chicago into the southern Indiana coal fields. It began operations between Chicago (running via trackage rights over a Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis subsidiary [PRR] from Lake Street and Western Avenue to Dolton) and Danville in 1871.  In 1875 the road opened its primary engine terminal and maintenance facilities in Danville, which remained so into the C&EI era (Known as the Oaklawn Shops they were closed in 1970 under MP.  During the facility's peak years it featured rip tracks, cars shops, paint shop, locomotive back shop, and a 50-stall roundhouse).  Unfortunately, financial hardships found the CD&V and the road fell into bankruptcy.  In 1877 it became the Chicago & Nashville Railroad and during August was again renamed as the Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad.  Two years later, in 1879, the C&EI established a direct connection with the Evansville & Crawfordsville at Terre Haute when it leased the Evansville, Terre Haute & Chicago (Danville - Otter Creek/Terre Haute) and directly purchased the property on December 27, 1899.

That same year it added the E&C and thus established a through route under common ownership from Chicago to Evansville.  The western leg of the railroad to St. Louis and southern Illinois was also built or acquired in stages.  There were four primary components.  The first was the Danville & Grape Creek Railroad which opened a short segment from Danville to Westville in 1880.  During March of 1881 the C&EI took possession of the property and quickly opened an extension to Sidell.  Here, it met the Chicago, Danville & St. Louis building towards Tuscola.  The C&EI purchased this road in November of 1887 and then extended it to Shelbyville, Illinois during December of 1891.  Five years it had reached Altamont.  Between February of 1897 and January of 1899 there were two final additions; the Chicago, Paducah & Memphis extended rails from Altamont to Marion while the Eastern Illinois & Missouri was pushing towards Thebes.  After the C&EI takeover it reached the latter city in 1900.  Once a bridge opened across the Mississippi River direct interchange was established with the Illinois Central, Missouri Pacific, St. Louis-San Francisco Railway (Frisco), and St. Louis Southwestern Railway (Cotton Belt) as well as trackage rights to Chaffee, Missouri.  At the same time a short branch from Cypress to Joppa was opened.

The extension to St. Louis was launched in 1903 following Frisco's involvement, which had acquired control a year earlier.  This was not the first time a larger road had taken an interest.   According to Gary Dolzall's article, "The Case For The C&EI" from the January 1990 issue of Trains Magazine, going back to 1875 the Illinois Central had courted predecessor Chicago, Danville & Vincennes.  Building southwestward from the Chicago main line at Woodland rails connected with the Chaffee/Joppa branch at Villa Grove and were then extended from Findlay to Pana.  As work continued an agreement was reached with the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis (the "Big Four," a New York Central subsidiary) to use its tracks as far as Granite City.  From there, additional rights granted over the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis (TRRA) provided the C&EI direct access into the Gateway City.  At its peak the railroad operated an 1,175 network (including trackage rights); 909 miles were deemed main line while 266 carried secondary status.  The Dolton Junction (Chicago) to Clinton, Indiana section was later double-tracked, protected by automatic train stop and the remainder to Evansville guarded by Centralized Traffic Control (CTC).

The Frisco's involvement began a tough stretch for the C&EI.  It was generally profitable but grand schemes by others sank it into bankruptcy twice.  The Frisco, of course, wanted its Chicago connection but its collapse in May of 1913 also brought down its subsidiary.  Once reorganized and independent in 1920 the road enjoyed a few years of relative success, in part thanks to coal.  The southern Indiana fields at this time generated some 10 million tons annually.  However, a 1922 strike greatly hurt its market price, which never truly recovered.  In addition, tonnage was slashed by two-thirds.  While black diamonds continued to play an important aspect of the C&EI's business it did not exceed more than one-third annually following the strike.  For instance, Mr. Anderson's article notes that for 1948 its traffic (comprising 10.9 million total tons) was as follows: coal 35.8%, manufacturing 34.3%,  agriculture 10%, and the remainder various miscellaneous movements.  In 1928 the C&EI was again acquired when the Van Sweringen's growing railroad empire, through their Chesapeake & Ohio affiliate, took over the property.

Principal Chicago & Eastern Illinois Passenger Trains And Through Services

The C&EI did operate its own streamliners although is best remembered for the through services to Florida which operated in tandem with the L&N, Florida East Coast, Atlantic Coast Line, Central of Georgia, and Nashville, Chattanooga & St.  Louis.  In 1946 it took delivery of two, lightweight trainsets from Pullman for its own streamlined operations; one was a four-car consist named the Meadowlark (mail-baggage-grille car with three coaches) and the other the seven-car Whippoorwill (combine, four coaches, diner, and parlor-lounge-observation).  They were clad in a striking blue livery with gold/orange trim.  The railroad's history with streamlining actually dated years before either of these trains launched.  In 1940, as part of the Dixie Flagler service hosted by the C&EI/L&N/NC&StL/Atlanta & Birmingham Coast/ACL/FEC the railroad unveiled a modest but striking shroud worn by 4-6-2 #1008 (K-2), a product of its own Oaklawn Shops (carried out for just a modest $2,300).  The Pacific featured a mostly aluminum/stainless-steel look with black trim and red-pinstripes.  Mr. Dolzall notes that a 1941 grade-crossing incident changed the front-end to a bullet-nose appearance and the locomotive lost its shrouding entirely by 1943. The C&EI's passenger business remained strong through World War II as it average more than two-million train miles.  But after the war that changed.  In 1949 it discontinued service to St. Louis and by 1960 losses were seriously mounting, in part due to the L&N's growing disinterest in the service. In 1968 the combined Humming Bird/Georgian were discontinued.  The last remaining train still running before L&N's takeover was the Chicago-Danville local consisting of only a few cars.

All C&EI trains used Chicago's Dearborn Station.

Cardinal: (Chicago - St. Louis)

Century of Progress: (Chicago - St. Louis)

Chicago-Nashville Limited (L&N): (Chicago - Nashville)

Chicago Express (L&N): (Chicago - Birmingham)

Chicago-St. Louis Express: (Chicago - St. Louis)

Chicago-St. Louis Limited: (Chicago - St. Louis)

Chicago-St. Louis Special: (Chicago - St. Louis)

Curfew: (Chicago - St. Louis)

Danville-Chicago Flyer: (Chicago - Danville)

Dearborn: (Chicago - St. Louis)

Dixiana (L&N/NC&StL/A&BC/ACL/FEC): (Chicago - Miami)

Dixie Express (L&N): (Chicago - New Orleans)

Dixie Flagler (L&N/NC&StL/A&BC/ACL/FEC): (Chicago - Atlanta - Miami)

Dixieland (L&N/NC&StL/A&BC/ACL/FEC): (Chicago - Atlanta - Miami)

Dixie Limited (L&N/NC&StL/CoG/ACL): (Chicago - Jacksonville)

Egyptian Zipper: (Danville - Cypress - Joppa)

Evansville-Chicago Express: (Chicago - Evansville)

Georgian (L&N/N&CStL): (Chicago - Atlanta)

LaSalle: (Chicago - St. Louis)

Meadowlark: (Chicago - Cypress)

Nashville-Chicago Limited (L&N): (Chicago - Nashville)

New Dixieland (L&N/NC&StL/ACL/FEC): (Chicago - Miami)

New Orleans Special (L&N): (Chicago - New Orleans)

St. Louis-Chicago Express: (Chicago - St. Louis)

St. Louis-Chicago Limited: (Chicago - St. Louis)

St. Louis-Chicago Special: (Chicago - St. Louis)

Shawnee: (Chicago - Evansville)

Silent Knight: (Chicago - St. Louis)

Spirit of Progress: (Chicago - St. Louis)

Whippoorwill: (Chicago - Evansville)

Zipper: (Chicago - St. Louis)

The above passenger service listing is courtesy of Gary Dolzall's article, "The Case For The C&EI" from the January 1990 issue of Trains Magazine.

This time the onset of Great Depression brought financial ruin and the company again found itself in bankruptcy by 1933.  It slowly recovered from these lean years, then witnessed record traffic during World War II that saw net profits reach nearly $3 million according to William Gregory and Robert St. Clair's article, "You Can't Keep A Good Railroad Down!" from the October, 1954 issue of Trains Magazine.  On January 17, 1941 it officially emerged from receivership.  While wartime traffic helped immensely so did the efforts of receiver John Walker Barriger III (best known for his years ahead of the Monon) who helped restructure its debt and financing.  Into the 1950's it fought sagging coal traffic by looking for other traffic, notably agriculture, trailer-on-flatcar (TOFC) business (the so-called Piggyback Flyers were hotshots which ran overnight from Chicago to the L&N connection), manufacturing.  These efforts did help in curbing immediate postwar losses into strong profits within just a few years but the road's regional status continued to leave it vulnerable.  One way in which the road enhanced its postwar situation was through the retirement of steam, quietly carried out on May 5, 1952 when 2-8-2 #1944 finished up switching chores that day.  The iron horse was replaced largely with Electro-Motive products as well as a few examples from Baldwin and Alco.

Diesel Locomotive Roster

American Locomotive Company

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
S1103-105, 106 (Ex-StL&OF)1941-19464

Baldwin Locomotive Works

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity

Electro-Motive Corporation/Electro-Motive Division

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
GP9221 (Second), 229 (Second), 233-2381956-19588
E9A1102 (Second)19581
F3A1200-1205, 1400-14091948-194916
F3B1300-1301, 1500-150419487

Steam Locomotive Roster (All-Time)











Road Number(s)










Wheel Arrangement




















Date Built










The above steam roster is courtesy of Willard Anderson's article, "The Century-Old C&EI...," from the August, 1949 issue of Trains Magazine.

The possibility of merger heated up again with discussions concerning a marriage with everyone from the Louisville & Nashville, Illinois Central, and Missouri Pacific to even the Monon and Chicago Great Western.   Things remained unchanged until 1967 when the Missouri Pacific's stock control over the system grew.  This time there would be no return to independence.  By 1970 it had majority ownership and formally consolidated the C&EI into its network during 1976.  In 1969 the L&N gained its long-coveted entry into Chicago by picking up the Woodland Junction - Evansville segment (206 miles) then utilized MoPac trackage rights to reach the Windy City.  For a such a small road with numerous twists and turns throughout its corporate history the C&EI held an important place within the industry thanks to its Chicago connection.  Today, the MP has since been acquired by the vaunted Union Pacific.  However, the principal C&EI lines still play an important part in the UP’s network today, including the Evansville segment which is presently utilized by L&N successor CSX Transportation.

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