The Illinois Terminal Railroad, The Road Of Personalized Services
The Illinois Terminal Railroad had a relatively short lifespan.
However, it turned out to be the largest interurban railroad in the
country and a history that was as colorful and interesting as any of the
other classic fallen flags. The IT or “the Traction”, as it was
known by locals, served small cities and towns throughout Illinois with
its major hubs at St. Louis and Peoria (it had hopes of reaching
Chicago but never made it that far north). What started out as a
hodgepodge of interurban railroad lines turned into a quite profitable
freight railroad operation by the time the railroad was taken over by
the Norfolk & Western Railway in 1980. Today, the IT is long gone
but a portion of its old interurban system remains in use for freight service under Norfolk Southern today.
One of the first models of road-switcher the IT ever owned was EMD's GP7. Seen here is #1506 switching the yard in Springfield on January 3, 1981.
What ended up as the Illinois Terminal was the dream of William
McKinley, which began purchasing streetcar systems in Illinois as early
as the late 19th century and operating them under the name, Illinois
Traction System. McKinley had hopes of stretching his system of
interurbans to Chicago but only ever made it as far north as Peoria.
Still, he was able to put together an impressive webbed system of lines
in central Illinois. What transpired into the IT began in 1925 when Illinois Power & Light was formed by the
Illinois Traction Company (which was also the parent of ITS) to oversee
the company’s rail assets. The IP&L then purchased two small
railroads the St. Louis, Troy & Eastern and St. Louis & Illinois
These railroads along with the ITS were then combined into the
now-classic Illinois Terminal Railroad. After another acquisition of
two more small railroads, the St. Louis & Alton and Alton &
Eastern the IT became a 400+ mile system that stretched
eastward and northward out of St. Louis. Not only was the railroad now
the country’s largest interurban it also found itself as a profitable
freight carrier as well. Prior to the Great Depression most of the IT’s
lines were electrified so as to properly serve its large commuter base.
While it used standard interurban cars for its passenger services,
built from such companies as American Car & Foundry and the St.
Louis Car Company, the railroad also had a sizeable fleet of electrics
used primarily for freight service.
These motors included the
Class A "Steeple Cab" switchers, 800-hp Class B (1910), 1,000-hp Class C
(1924), and hefty 1,750-hp Class D (1930) locomotives, the latter of
which was more powerful than any diesel-locomotive model of the day!
However, following the Great Depression the Illinois Terminal’s
passenger operations were hit hard, although it was able to weather the
blow much better than most other smaller interurbans across the country
who were not as fortunate. Twenty years later the IT decidedly gave up
on the increasingly money losing passenger business and called it quits
An IT SW1200 takes a short break from switching duties at the Springfield yard on May 28, 1977.
Two years prior in 1956 the IT had also lost its
independence when it was purchased by eleven railroads serving St.
Louis to help them more efficiently move freight around the city. Those
railroads included the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O); Chicago
& Eastern Illinois Railroad (C&EI); Chicago, Rock Island &
Pacific Railroad (Rock Island or CRI&P); Chicago, Burlington &
Quincy Railroad (CB&Q); St. Louis-San Francisco Railway (Frisco or
SLSF); Gulf, Mobile & Ohio Railroad (GM&O); Illinois Central
Railroad (IC); Litchfield & Madison Railroad (L&M); New York
Central (NYC); New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad (Nickel Plate);
and Wabash Railroad.
The IT did not own many Alco models although it did roster seven RS1s (as well as twelve S2s), one of which is seen here rolling light through Springfield on August 25, 1966.
Also in the 1950s the IT was facing a dilemma concerning its remaining
electrified operations for freight service. Two years prior to the
railroad bailing out of the passenger business it shut down its
electrified lines for freight service and replaced them with an eclectic
assortment of diesel-electric power from Alco and EMD which included
like the S2 and RS1 (Alco), and SW8, GP7, F7, and SW1500 (EMD). These
first generation diesels also replaced the IT’s small fleet of steam
locomotives (used for freight service) as well. Later, in the late
1960s to help keep up with the demands of freight service
the Illinois Terminal purchased the largest and most powerful diesels
it ever owned, second-generation SD39s and GP38-2s from EMD. By the
early 1980s most of the IT’s principle owners were no longer
interested in the railroad, save for the Norfolk & Western.
Diesel Locomotive Roster
The American Locomotive Company
Not surprisingly for its once-held status as an interurban, the IT owned many diesel switchers. Seen here is SW1200 #783 at rest in Grandview, Illinois on August 15, 1965.
Electric Locomotive Roster
The below electric locomotive roster is not
complete although it does list several of the motors the IT operated.
If you may have more information or corrections to add to this roster please let me know, I would be very grateful.
American Locomotive Company/General Electric
Class A/Steeple Cab (Ex-Danville Street Railway & Light)
Danville Car Company
Class A/Steeple Cab
Illinois Terminal Railroad
70, 72, 74
St. Louis Car Company
Norfolk Southern's nod to the Illinois Terminal, SD70ACe #1072 at the heritage celebration in Spencer, North Carolina during early July of 2012.
Three IT Geeps led by GP7 #1505 are waiting to move through Decatur, Illinois on January 3, 1981.
should also be noted that by this time the IT had largely abandoned its
web of branch lines, including its line serving Danville, and in other
instances was using trackage rights over neighboring railroads to move
its freight. In any event, because of the others’ disinterest in the IT
and the fact that the N&W already owned the Nickel Plate Road and
Wabash, two roads with controlling interest in the IT, the railroad
decided to merge the system into its own during May of 1982. Today,
while many of the Illinois Terminal Railroad’s former
lines have been abandoned some continue to remain in use under N&W
successor Norfolk Southern, while others have been turned into
rail/trails. Of interest it should also be noted that a number of IT's
former substations, used when the railroad featured electrically
operated lines, still stand, although most are abandoned and in poor