The Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad, Connects With All Chicago Railroads


The Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad is another one of Chicago's many terminal railroads which sprang up in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, today the IHB serves more in the role of interchange than re-blocking and classifying trains, given its main line that connects to virtually all of the Class Is and helps to act as a relief valve around busy and congested downtown Chicago. As has been the case since the railroad was formed in the late 19th century, the IHB remains a subsidiary of several Class I railroads although it remains an important rail artery of the Chicago area.

The IHB has owned nothing but switchers since purchasing its first batch of NW2s in the late 1940s. Seen here is SW7 #8871 moving through La Grange, Illinois with a freight train on August 2, 1965.

The Indiana Harbor Belt was formed in 1907 through several smaller systems operating around Chicago. The IHB's earliest predecessor was the East Chicago Belt Railroad, which began operations in 1896 serving the Indiana state line and Grasselli. After the Chicago Junction Railway lost its lease of the ECB in the fall of 1907 the latter railroad acquired the former's interest in the Chicago, Hammond & Western and Terminal Railroads. Thus, the ECB, CH&W, and Terminal railroads came to form the Indiana Harbor Belt (virtually all of which was financially backed in some form by initial parent, New York Central).

This railroad which stretched from west of Tolleston, Indiana (near Gary), essentially operated around the heart of Chicago connecting such communities as Gibson (where the IHB would come to operate a large yard), Blue Island, Chicago Ridge, Argo, McCook, La Grange, Broadview, and Mannheim. Following the creation of the IHB the railroad continued to grow, operating two other railroads, which were located around East Chicago and the Illinois/Indiana state line. First, the NYC leased the IHB the Chicago, Indiana & Southern, which operated the lake front north of Gibson. Soon after it took over operations of the CI&S, the IHB picked up the Gary & Western which served the heavily industrialized area of Gary, Indiana.

The IHB loved NW2s more than any other model, owning nearly 80! Toting a single caboose is #8800 at Hegewisch, Illinois during late March of 1964.

With the addition of these lines the IHB was essentially complete, operating a system that stretched from East Chicago and extreme northwestern Indiana through central/western Chicago and a connection with both the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific (the Milwaukee Road) and Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie (Soo Line) at its Norpaul Yard in the suburb of Mannheim. Overall the railroad covered about 30 main line miles, allowing to function not only as a terminal/interchange line but also as a through, common-carrier railroad.  The IHB's main line through Chicago allowed it to connect with most of the largest Class I systems serving the city including the Pennsylvania, Chicago & Eastern Illinois, Illinois Central, B&O, Rock Island, CB&Q, Norfolk & Western, Chicago Great Western, Chicago & North Western, and of course its parent (the NYC) and two lines previously mentioned (the Milwaukee Road and Soo).


Its positioning allowed the IHB to see significant freight volume, particularly during the overwhelming years of World War II where traffic was so demanding the railroad could hardly keep pace not only interchanging trains/traffic but also serving its large industrial base.  However, following World War II things began to change as traffic slowly retrenched with better highways and air travel available. For the IHB's part it was less affected by the loss of passenger traffic than most other railroads, particularly the Class Is.

However, it still felt the loss of declining freight volumes as interchange declined and the IHB's industrial base dried up. By the mid-1960s its once profitable livestock and icing facilities located at Blue Island had mostly vanished.  Also during this time the Harbor Belt saw a shift in its ownership stake. In the early 1960s the Milwaukee Road picked up the C&NW's shares of the railroad and also purchased a hefty size of the NYC's majority ownership to the point that after the dust settled the NYC owned just 51% and the Milwaukee the other 49%.

IHB SW7 #8877 carries a single wooden caboose through Chicago's 75th Street Station during a cold March day in 1964.

The railroad's toughest years were during the 1970s and 1980s, a time that found the industry in general at its lowest point. With interchange traffic virtually gone the Indiana Harbor Belt became to rely almost exclusively on through, bridge traffic to remain profitable. Interestingly, its main line was situated in just a way to be quite successful at such and today much of its profit are derived in this way.

Today, with the mergers, bankruptcies, and acquisitions which have occurred since the IHB's last ownership shakeup in the early 1960s three railroads now own the company today: the Canadian Pacific picked up a 49% stake with its purchase of the Soo (which purchased the Milwaukee in 1985), and the 1999 buyout of Conrail by CSX and Norfolk Southern gave them each a 25.5% stake. In any event, the IHB remains an important part of the rail infrastructure in the Chicago area with its double-tracked main line that runs nearly the length of its property and 320 total miles of trackage.

Diesel Locomotive Roster

Electro-Motive Division

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
NW28715-8739, 8774-8802, 8811-88341948-194978
SW78836-8879195044
SW99002-900819537
SW15009200-92271966-197028
SW12002256, 2272Ex-SP, Ex-MILW2
SD202920-2925Ex-IC SD18s/24s6
GP38-23801-3802Ex-NS, Ex-Altos Hornos Steel2
SD38-23861-3862Ex-NS, Ex-MILW, Ex-BN SD40-22
GP40-24010-4019Ex-SP10

An idea of the IHB's two different liveries during the 1960s is seen here on two of its NW2s at Franklin Park, Illinois on September 14, 1965.

National Railway Equipment

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
3GS21B (Genset)2140-214320114
3GS21C (Genset)2160-216320124

Fairbanks Morse

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
H10-448904-890519492
H20-447110-71181948-19499

Steam Locomotive Roster

Class Type Wheel Arrangement
B (Various)Switcher0-6-0
E-49/aMogul2-6-0
U-1 Through U-4 (Various)Switcher0-8-0
H-5, H-6 (Various)Mikado2-8-2


Another of the IHB's many NW2s performs switching work at La Grange on August 2, 1965.

For more reading about classic railroads like the Indiana Harbor Belt I would suggest purchasing one, or all three volumes of Mike Schafer’s Classic American Railroads series of books. The publications feature a wealth of information and are loaded with colored photographs covering names like the Baltimore & Ohio, Santa Fe, Pennsylvania, Milwaukee Road, and lots more. If you have any interest in most famous bygone railroads which once operated in the U.S. I would strongly recommend picking up one, two, or even all three of Mr. Schafer’s book. I truly cannot say enough just how enjoyable and fun they are to read and peruse through. If you're interested in perhaps purchasing these books please visit the link below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.

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