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
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.
IHB SW7 #8877 carries a single wooden caboose through Chicago's 75th Street Station during a cold March day in 1964.
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%.
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.
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
Steam Locomotive Roster
U-1 Through U-4 (Various)
H-5, H-6 (Various)
Another of the IHB's many NW2s performs switching work at La Grange on August 2, 1965.
Today, with the mergers, bankruptcies,
and acquisitions which have occurred since the Harbor Belt'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.