Illinois Central Railroad

The Illinois Central Railroad (reporting mark IC), sometimes called the Main Line of Mid-America, was a railroad in the central United States, with its primary routes connecting Chicago, Illinois, with New Orleans, Louisiana, and Mobile, Alabama. A line also connected Chicago with Sioux City, Iowa (1870). There was a significant branch to Omaha, Nebraska (1899), west of Fort Dodge, Iowa, and another branch reaching Sioux Falls, South Dakota (1877), starting from Cherokee, Iowa. The Sioux Falls branch has been abandoned in its entirety.

Illinois Central Railroad
Combined route map of the Chicago Central (red) and Illinois Central (blue) railroads in 1996.[1]
Two Illinois Central EMD SD70's leading a train at Homewood, Illinois
Reporting markIC
LocaleMidwestern to Gulf Coast, United States
Dates of operation18511999
SuccessorCanadian National Railway
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Previous gauge5 ft (1,524 mm)
Length3,130.21 mi (5,037.58 km)
HeadquartersChicago, Illinois

The Canadian National Railway acquired control of the IC in 1998.


Riding on the City of New Orleans
Illinois Central Monday morning rail
Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders
Three conductors and 25 sacks of mail...
Good morning America, how are you?
Say, don't you know me? I'm your native son.
Steve Goodman, "City of New Orleans", 1970

The IC was one of the oldest Class I railroads in the United States. The company was incorporated by the Illinois General Assembly on January 16, 1836.[2] Within a few months Rep. Zadok Casey (D-Illinois) introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives authorizing a land grant to the company to construct a line from the mouth of the Ohio River to Chicago and on to Galena.[3] Federal support, however, was not approved until 1850, when U.S. President Millard Fillmore signed a land grant for the construction of the railroad.[4] The Illinois Central was the first land-grant railroad in the United States.[5]

The Illinois Central was chartered by the Illinois General Assembly on February 10, 1851.[6] Senator Stephen A. Douglas and later President Abraham Lincoln were both Illinois Central men who lobbied for it. Douglas owned land near the terminal in Chicago. Lincoln was a lawyer for the railroad. Illinois legislators appointed Samuel D. Lockwood, recently retired from the Illinois Supreme Court (who may have given both lawyers the oral examination before admitting them to the Illinois bar), as a trustee on the new railroad's board to guard the public's interest. Lockwood, who would serve more than two decades until his death, had overseen federal land monies shortly after Illinois' statehood, then helped oversee early construction of the recently completed Illinois and Michigan Canal.

Upon its completion in 1856, the IC was the longest railroad in the world. Its main line went from Cairo, Illinois, at the southern tip of the state, to Galena, in the northwest corner. A branch line went from Centralia (named for the railroad), to the rapidly growing city of Chicago. In Chicago its tracks were laid along the shore of Lake Michigan and on an offshore causeway downtown, but land-filling and natural deposition have moved the present-day shore to the east.

In 1867 the Illinois Central extended its track into Iowa, and during the 1870s and 1880s, the IC acquired and expanded railroads in the southern United States. IC lines crisscrossed the state of Mississippi and went as far as New Orleans, Louisiana, to the south and Louisville, Kentucky, in the east. In the 1880s, northern lines were built to Dodgeville, Wisconsin, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Omaha, Nebraska. Further expansion continued into the early twentieth century.

The Illinois Central, and the other "Harriman lines" owned by E.H. Harriman by the 20th century, became the target of the Illinois Central shopmen's strike of 1911. Although marked by violence and sabotage in the south, midwest, and western states, the strike was effectively over in a few months. The railroads simply hired replacements, among them African-American strikebreakers, and withstood diminishing union pressure. The strike was eventually called off in 1915.

Revenue freight ton-miles (millions)
IC (incl Y&MV, G&SI)Vicksburg, Shreveport, & PacificAlabama & Vicksburg
1925 15,050239159
1933 7,776(into Y&MV)(into Y&MV)
1944 24,012
1960 17,171
1970 22,902
Revenue passenger-miles (millions)
IC (incl Y&MV, G&SI)Vicksburg Shreveport & PacificAlabama & Vicksburg
1925 9822220
1933 547(into Y&MV)(into Y&MV)
1944 2225
1960 848
1970 764

The totals above do not include the Waterloo RR, Batesville Southwestern, Peabody Short Line or CofG and its subsidiaries. On December 31, 1925, IC/Y&MV/G&SI operated 6,562 route-miles on 11,030 miles of track; A&V and VS&P added 330 route-miles and 491 track-miles. At the end of 1970, IC operated 6,761 miles of road and 11,159 of track.

Illinois Central Gulf Railroad (1972–1988)

On August 10, 1972, the Illinois Central Railroad merged with the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad to form the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad (reporting mark ICG). On October 30 that year the Illinois Central Gulf commuter rail crash, the company's deadliest, occurred.

At the end of 1980 ICG operated 8,366 miles of railroad on 13,532 miles of track; that year it reported 33,276 million ton-miles of revenue freight and 323 million passenger-miles. Later in that decade, the railroad spun off most of its east–west lines and many of its redundant north–south lines, including much of the former GM&O. Most of these lines were bought by other railroads, including entirely new railroads such as the Chicago, Missouri and Western Railway, Paducah and Louisville Railway, Chicago Central and Pacific Railroad and MidSouth Rail Corporation.

In 1988 the railroad's then-parent company IC Industries spun off its remaining rail assets and changed its name to the Whitman Corporation (which became PepsiAmericas in 2000 and was acquired outright by PepsiCo in 2010). On February 29, 1988, the newly separated ICG dropped the "Gulf" from its name and again became the Illinois Central Railroad.

Canadian National Railway (1998–present)

On February 11, 1998 the IC was purchased for approximately $2.4 billion in cash and shares by Canadian National Railway (CN). Integration of operations began July 1, 1999.


Passenger train service

The Illinois Central was a major carrier of passengers on its Chicago to New Orleans mainline and between Chicago and St. Louis. IC also ran passengers on its Chicago to Omaha line, though it was never among the top performers on this route. Illinois Central's largest passenger terminal, Central Station, stood at 12th Street east of Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Due to the railroad's north-south route from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes, Illinois Central passenger trains were one means of transport during the African American Great Migration of the 1920s.[7]

Illinois Central's most famous train was the Panama Limited, a premier all-Pullman car service between Chicago and New Orleans, with a section breaking off at Carbondale to serve St. Louis. In 1949, it added a daytime all-coach companion, the City of New Orleans. In 1967, due to losses incurred by the operation of the train, the Illinois Central combined the Panama Limited with a coach-only train called the Magnolia Star.

On May 1, 1971 Amtrak took over intercity rail service. It retained service over the IC mainline, but dropped the Panama Limited in favor of the City of New Orleans. However, since it did not connect with any other trains in either New Orleans or Chicago, Amtrak moved the route to an overnight schedule and brought back the Panama Limited name. However, it restored the City of New Orleans name in 1981, while retaining the overnight schedule. This was to capitalize on the popularity of a song about the train written by Steve Goodman and performed by Arlo Guthrie: Willie Nelson's recording of the song was #1 in 1984.

Illinois Central ran several other trains along the main route including The Creole and The Louisiane.

The Green Diamond was the Illinois Central's premier train between Chicago, Springfield and St. Louis. Other important trains included the Hawkeye which ran daily between Chicago and Sioux City and the City of Miami eventually running every other day between Chicago and Miami via the Atlantic Coast Line, the Central of Georgia Railroad and Florida East Coast Railway.

The Illinois Central was also a major operator of commuter trains in the Chicago area, operating what eventually became the "IC Electric" line from Randolph Street Terminal in downtown Chicago to the southeast suburbs. In 1987, IC sold this line to Metra, who still operates it out of the renamed Millennium Station as the Metra Electric District. In honor of the Panama Limited, the Electric District appears as "Panama Orange" on Metra system maps and timetables.

Amtrak presently runs three trains daily over this route, the City of New Orleans and the Illini and Saluki between Chicago and Carbondale. Another Illinois corridor service is planned for the former Black Hawk route between Chicago, Rockford and Dubuque. Amtrak, at the state of Illinois' request, did a feasibility study to reinstate the Black Hawk route to Rockford and Dubuque. Initial capital costs range from $32 million to $55 million, depending on the route. Once in operation, the service would require roughly $5 million a year in subsidies from the state.[8]

On December 10, 2010, IDOT announced the route choice for the resumption of service to begin in 2014 going over mostly CN railway.[9]

List of Illinois Central Named Trains

Train End point End point
Cannonball Express
Chickasaw St. Louis New Orleans
City of Miami Chicago Miami
City of New Orleans Chicago New Orleans
Creole Chicago New Orleans
Daylight Chicago St. Louis
Delta Express Memphis, Tennessee Greenville, Mississippi
Green Diamond Chicago St. Louis
Governor's Special Chicago Springfield, Illinois
Hawkeye Chicago Sioux City, Iowa/Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Illini Chicago Champaign, Illinois
Iowan Chicago Sioux City, Iowa
Irvin S. Cobb Louisville, Kentucky Memphis, Tennessee
Kentucky Cardinal Louisville, Kentucky Memphis, Tennessee
Land O'Corn Chicago Waterloo, Iowa
Louisiane Chicago New Orleans
Magnolia Star Chicago New Orleans
Mid-American Chicago St. Louis/Memphis, Tennessee
Miss Lou Jackson, Mississippi New Orleans
Night Diamond Chicago St. Louis
Northern Express Chicago New Orleans
Northeastern Limited Shreveport, Louisiana Meridian, Mississippi with continuing sleepers to New York City on the Southern Railway's Pelican
Panama Limited Chicago New Orleans
Planter Memphis, Tennessee New Orleans
Seminole Chicago Jacksonville, Florida
Shawnee Chicago Carbondale, Illinois
Sinnissippi Chicago Freeport, Iowa
Southern Express Chicago New Orleans
Southwestern Limited Meridian, Mississippi with continuing sleepers from New York City on the Southern Railway's Pelican Shreveport, Louisiana

Company officers

Presidents of the Illinois Central Railroad have included:


Some historic equipment owned and used by Illinois Central can be found in museums across the United States, including:

Mississippi Central (1852–1878)

The original Mississippi Central line was chartered in 1852. Construction of the 255 miles (410 km) 5 ft (1,524 mm)[16] gauge line began in 1853 and was completed in 1860, just prior to the Civil War, from Canton, Mississippi to Jackson, Tennessee.[17] The southern terminus of the line connected to the New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern Railroad at Canton. It also connected to the Memphis and Charleston Railroad at Grand Junction, Tennessee and the Mobile and Ohio Railroad at Jackson, Tennessee. The Mississippi Central was the scene of several military actions from 1862–1863 and was severely damaged during the fighting.[18] Company president, Absolom M. West succeeded in repairing the damage and returning it to operating condition soon after the end of the War. The original Mississippi Central line was merged into the Illinois Central Railroad subsidiary Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans Railroad in several transactions finally completed in 1878.[19]

Mississippi Central (1897–1967)

A line started in 1897 as the "Pearl and Leaf Rivers Railroad" was built by the J.J. Newman Lumber Company from Hattiesburg, to Sumrall. In 1904 the name was changed to the Mississippi Central Railroad (reporting mark MSC). In 1906 the Natchez and Eastern Railway was formed to build a rail line from Natchez to Brookhaven. In 1909 this line was absorbed by the Mississippi Central.

For a short time during the 1920s, the line operated a service named "The Natchez Route", running trains from Natchez to Mobile, Alabama through trackage agreements with the Gulf, Mobile and Northern Railroad. At Natchez, freight cars were ferried across the Mississippi River to connect with the Louisiana and Arkansas Railway to institute through traffic into Shreveport, Louisiana. In 1967 the property of the Mississippi Central was sold to the Illinois Central Railroad.[20]

See also


  1. Illinois Central Corporation 1996 Annual Report. Illinois Central Railroad. 1997.
  2. "An Act to Incorporate the Illinois Central Rail Road Company," Laws of the State of Illinois passed by the Ninth General Assembly at their Second Session..., Vandalia: J.Y. Sawyer, 1836, p. 129
  3. U.S. House of Representatives,24th Congress, 1st Session, Report No. 1498, 31 March 1836.
  4. Sanborn, John Bell (1897). Railroad Land Grants 1850-1857; a Thesis Submitted for the Degree of Master of Letters in History and Economics. University of Wisconsin. p. 59 via Google Books. The Illinois Central ... law was approved Sept. 20, 1850 ...
  5. Brownson, Howard Gray, Ph.D. (1967) [1915]. History of the Illinois Central Railroad to 1870 (first reprint ed.). University of Illinois. p. 157 via Google Books. The first land grant ever given by Congress to assist in the construction of a railroad ...
  6. Steamtown National Historic Site, Illinois Central Railroad number 790 Archived 2006-05-08 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved February 10, 2006.
  7. Giles Oakley (1997). The Devil's Music. Da Capo Press. p. 76. ISBN 978-0-306-80743-5.
  8. "Amtrak-Illinois dot feasibility study determines most direct route best for service to Rockford, northwestern Illinois and Dubuque, Iowa" (PDF). Amtrak. May 16, 2007. Retrieved 2008-05-02.
  9. "Amtrak Black Hawk Service Restoration Status Updates". Trainorders. April 7, 2011. Archived from the original on June 18, 2018. Retrieved 2011-04-07.
  10. Ackerman, William K., Railroad Historical Company, Illinois Central Railroad Company. History of the Illinois Central Railroad Company and Representative Employes By William K. Ackerman, Railroad Historical Company, Illinois Central Railroad Company. Retrieved 9 February 2009.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. Stover, John F., Purdue University. "The Management of the Illinois Central Railroad in the 20th Century" (pdf). Retrieved 9 February 2006.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. Downey, Clifford J. (2007). Chicago and the Illinois Central Railroad. Images of rail. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing. p. 10. ISBN 0738550744. OCLC 169870743.
  13. "Harrison succeeds Ed Moyers at IC". Railway Age. 194 (3): 14. March 1993.
  14. Boucher, Frederick. "2-8-2 Steam Loco Illinois Central 1518". Retrieved 27 July 2019.
  15. "French Lick West Baden & Southern Rwy Caboose 9422 (Indiana Railway Museum)".
  16. "Mississippi Central Railroad". CSA Railroads. Archived from the original on June 18, 2018. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  17. "Confederate Railroads – History, Maps & Equipment". Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  18. "The Mississippi Central Railroad Campaign". Archived from the original on June 18, 2018. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  19. "A Brief Historical Sketch of the Illinois Central Railroad". Illinois Central Historical Society. Archived from the original on January 11, 2012. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  20. Moody's Transportation Manual (1975), p. xxx
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