The Chicago and North Western Railway, Route of the "400"


Of all the many granger roads which sprawled out across the Midwest, the Chicago and North Western Railway is likely the best remembered of all. When the railroad was merged unto the Union Pacific in 1995 it was one of the oldest railroads in the Midwest, its name unchanged since 1859. Because of its age the C&NW actually has the distinction of being the first railroad to operate a train out of Chicago, the Pioneer. The North Western's main line into that city is also a key link in the Union Pacific’s empire today. While its eye-catching green and yellow paint no longer adorns locomotives today the 'North Western's legacy certainly continues to live on.  Today, large sections of the C&NW have been abandoned or severed while others remain important corridors under UP.

A tired and dirty Chicago & North Western E8A #508 was relegated to commuter service by the date of this photo as it rolls through Western Avenue in Chicago on May 26, 1981.

The very familiar 'North Western name has its roots dating back to the late 1840s when the Galena & Chicago Union was chartered to reach Freeport, Illinois and the Mississippi River from Chicago, which it accomplished via two separate lines. The other railroad to make up the original C&NW was the Chicago & Fond du Lac, chartered to build throughout northeastern Illinois and the UP of Michigan. The C&NW was born in 1859 when the C&FL was reorganized as the Chicago and North Western and then merged with the G&CU in 1864.  After the CN&W’s formation it began to aggressively expand and grow, mostly in the form of acquisitions and mergers although it did construct a number of its own lines, particularly branch lines to serve the Heartland and agricultural regions.

By the late 1860s the railroad had completed its most important line, which connected Council Bluffs, Iowa with Chicago, essentially a straight shot across Illinois and Iowa (this is the line used today by Union Pacific to reach and serve Chicago, it sees dozens of trains daily).  Throughout much of the C&NW’s life it did two things; serve the Heartland and northern Great Lakes regions as well as ferry traffic to and from Chicago, particularly the Union Pacific, a close ally for years. The railroad’s final growth period came during the late 1950s when it acquired the Litchfield & Madison giving the CN&W entrance to St. Louis. Other acquisitions included the much larger roads of the Minneapolis & St. Louis in 1960 and Chicago Great Western in 1968, totaling nearly 3,000 miles in additional trackage.

A C&NW GP9 and slug BU-2 are doing some switching work at the yard in Superior, Wisconsin during August of 1976. By this date much of the road's motive power had a dusty and dirty appearance due to financial troubles.

While this swelled the railroad’s size to over 10,000 total rail miles it lost much of this in the 1970s when America’s breadbasket could no longer support so many railroads and thus the C&NW dumped many of these unprofitable lines.  Aside from the North Western’s freight operations it was quite successful with its passenger operations as well, both its own and those of the Union Pacific. It’s most famous was its fleet of ”400”’s, streamlined trains which competed with the likes of the Milwaukee Road’s Hiawathas and the Burlington’s Zephyrs. While never quite as successful as the other competitors’ trains it did hold its own and did well enough that the Chicago and North Western operated an entire fleet of ”400”’s, ranging from the Twin Cities “400” and Dakota “400” to the Flambeau “400” and Peninsula “400”. These trains served all of the railroad’s largest markets although they slowly began to disappear as intercity passenger rail travel dwindled starting in the 1950s and 1960s.

Aside from its long-distance trains the C&NW also operated a number of commuter operations, particularly around the Chicago and Milwaukee regions. To accomplish this it used bi-level cars and was one of the first to implement the “push-pull” method of commuter operations to save both time and money. It would, eventually, however, rid itself of even this and turn the commuter operations over to local and state governments.  Although the railroad was no longer in the passenger business by the 1970s and 1980s it began to streamline operations and earn healthy profits. One way it did this was by opening a modern new rail line into the lucrative Powder River coal basin in the mid-1980s allowing it to tap the highly demanded low-sulfur coal found in the region. It also renewed its partnership with the Union Pacific at this time and for the next decade the road prospered.

Diesel Locomotive Roster

The American Locomotive Company

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
C425401-40419663
RS3690419621
S21003-1015, 1025-1035, 1083-10921942-195034
RS11066-1069, 1080-10811944-19536
S41077-1079, 1093-10991951-195510
S11200-1205, 1213, 1223-1229, 1232-1236, 1247-12581941-194831
S31262-126719516
RS2150319481
RSD41515-1517, 1619-16201951-19525
RS31551-1555, 1613-1618, 1621-16241951-195315
RSD51665-1667, 1684-16901953-195410
DL1075007A19411

C&NW GP7 #1591 leads two other counterparts as all three power a freight through Van Dyne, Wisconsin on May 19, 1979.

The Baldwin Locomotive Works

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
DR-4-4-10001018-102219495
VO-10001024, 1037-10471944-194612
S121073-1076, 1106-1109, 1117-1121, 1126-11281951-195416
VO-6601237-1246194510
DS-4-4-6601259-126119493
DRS-6-4-1500150419481
DRS-6-6-15001500-1502, 1505-15091948-19498
AS6161560-156119522
DR-6-2-10005000A19481

Freight duty calls as C&NW Class H 4-8-4 #3031 pulls an extra through the yard at DeKalb, Illinois on August 23, 1952 towards the end of the railroad's steam operations.

The Electro-Motive Corporation/Electro-Motive Division

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
E2ALA1, SF119372
E2BLA2-LA3, SF2-SF319374
E6ALA4, SF4, 5005A-5006A, 5005B-5006B19416
E6BLA5-LA6, SF5-SF619414
SW155, 1207-1212,1214-1215, 1268-12791940-195321
NW27019401
SW8126-129, 8011951-19525
SW900144-14519602
GP7151-161, 1518-1550, 1556-1559, 1562-1603, 1625-16591949-1953123
SW1200316-32119626
GP30802-8231963-196822
GP35824-8661964-196543
SD40867-8961966-196730
SD45901-920, 937-9771967-196961
NW190119391
E7A907A, 927A, 5008A-5020A, 5007B-5019B1945-194928
E7B908B-909B, 928B-929B1946-19494
SW91101-1105, 1122-11251952-19539
SW120119391
SW6001280-128119542
MP15DC1302-1316197515
GP91711-1720, 1725-17731954-195959
TR22000A-2001A, 2000B-2001B (Calfs)19494
FP94051A-4054A19554
F3A4051C-4055C, 4055A-4066A, 4056C-4066C194728
F3B4055B, 4056B-4066B194712
F7A4067A-4102A, 4067C-4102C, 6500A-6505A, 6500C-6505C1949-195084
F7B4067B-4094B1949-195228
GP15-14400-4424197625
GP38-24600-4634197935
E3A5001A-5002A, 5001B-5002B19394
E8A5019B, 5021A-5031A, 5021B-5030B 1950-195323
GP505050-5099198050
FTA5400A-5401A, 5400D-5401D19454
FTB5400B-5401B, 5400C-5401C19454
SD38-26650-6659197510
SD40-26801-69351973-1976135
SD507000-7034198535
SD608001-8055198655

A C&NW manifest freight is powered by three Electro-Motive units including SD40 #885 as it rolls through Necedah, Wisconsin on September 18, 1982.

Fairbanks Morse

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
H10-441036, 1048-1065, 1070, 10821944-195021
H12-441071-1072, 1110-11161950-19539
H16-66 (Baby Trainmaster)1510-1514, 1605-1612, 1668-1683, 1691-1700, 1901-19061951-195645
Erie Built6001A-6002A, 6001B-6002B19474

General Electric

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
U30C930-93619547
C40-88501-85771989-199178
C44-9W8601-87301993-1994130
AC4400CW8801-8835199435

One of the C&NW's large Class H 4-8-4s #3014 rests in Chicago during September of 1934.

Steam Locomotive Roster

Class Type Wheel Arrangement
A Through A-5American4-4-0
B Through B-4American4-4-0
C Through C-6American4-4-0
DAtlantic4-4-2
D-1 Through D-1bAmerican4-4-0
D-2aMogul2-6-0
D-3American4-4-0
D-7Switcher0-4-0
D-10American4-4-0
D-11Mogul2-6-0
D-12 Through D-14Ten-Wheeler4-6-0
E Through E-2Pacific4-6-2
E-4Hudson4-6-4
E-4, E-10American4-4-0
E-7, E-8Ten-Wheeler4-6-0
F-1American4-4-0
GTwelve-Wheeler4-8-0
H, H-1Northern4-8-4
H-1American4-4-0
J, J-AMikado2-8-2
J-1Union0-10-2
J-4Berkshire2-8-4
K Through K-5Switcher0-6-0, 0-4-0
LPacific4-6-2
M Through M-4Switcher0-6-0, 0-8-0
Q, R, S (Various)Ten-Wheeler4-6-0
ZConsolidation2-8-0

Notable Passenger Trains

Ashland Limited: (Chicago - Green Bay - Ashland)

Dakota "400": (Chicago - Madison - Huron)

Duluth-Superior Limited: (Chicago - Madison - Duluth)

Flambeau "400": (Chicago - Green Bay - Ashland)

Kate Shelley "400": (Chicago - Boone, Iowa)

North Western Limited: (Chicago - Twin Cities)

Peninsula "400": (Chicago - Green Bay - Ishpeming)

Shoreland "400": (Chicago - Milwaukee - Green Bay)

Twin Cities "400": (Chicago - St. Paul - Minneapolis)

Valley "400": (Chicago - Green Bay - Menominee, Michigan)

Until 1955 the C&NW also forwarded the Union Pacific's City fleet to Chicago, after which time the Milwaukee Road handled such duties.


Pictured here is one of the final locomotives the C&NW ever owned; C44-9W #8724 leads a unit coal train through the open farmland of Lombardville, Illinois on June 18, 1995.

Alas, however, the inevitable happened in the 1990s, like so many roads before it the Chicago and North Western became another part of the Union Pacific in 1995. Although the C&NW is no longer an independent company almost all of its main lines continue to serve as important arteries under the UP banner, especially its Powder River coal basin line. The Union Pacific also recently paid homage to its predecessor by painting one of its new EMD SD70ACe locomotives into a version of the railroad’s famous green and yellow company livery and numbered 1995 after the year the C&NW was merged into its system. Today, aside from the new EMD in heritage C&NW colors, there are still a few in original colors although they are now few and far between so be on the lookout for them!

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