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  • The Peoria & Pekin Union Railway Part I

    prototype profile: Can't decide on a favorite prototype? Here's a solution.


    Left: Peoria & Pekin Union SW9 605 and NW2 mate 603 move a cut of hoppers near 91 yard in Peoria in 1985. Dubbed by some as the " Pee-poo," P&PU is a fascinating terminal railroad which offers numerous modeling possibilities, from full-size layouts to compact shelf pikes.

    Right top: The beauty of modeling the P&PU or similar terminal roads is that other railroads can be represented through trackage rights arrangements. P&PU tenants line up at the East Peoria facility in September 1972: IC, N&W. C&IM and IT. By this time, C&IM-represented in this specially arranged lineup by half their rare fleet of EMD RS1325's-rarely came into EP, yard, with coal-train interchange now being made on the double track west of the yard.

    Right bottom: After TP&W's own bridge upstream was damaged by a wayward barge in 1970, P&PU granted the carrier trackage rights from P&PU Junction to Iowa Junction via the P&PU Illinois River bridge. An afternoon westbound "Tip-Up" train crosses the old bascule span in spring 1983 which has since been replaced by a lift span.
    Prototype Modeler - July 1986 - Page 20 Prototype Modeler - July 1986 - Page 21

    Most model railroaders have no trouble naming their favorite prototype line. Many more have two, three or even more favorites, and if any of these happen to run in vastly different regions of the country, any attempt to include them on the same model layout might be ludicrous.

    There's a satisfying solution to the problem: Model a terminal or connecting railroad as the basis for a layout, and you can realistically have any number of different railroads operating over its trackage. You could pick a specific prototype, as we have done here, or you could create a fictitious operation that would graciously allow you to model your favorite prototypes on the same layout. If you choose that method, you'll still want to study this Peoria & Pekin Union feature for ideas.

    Although terminal railroads typically are located in large cities, such as the Indiana Harbor Belt in Chicago and Kansas City Terminal in K. C., some are found in communities of intermediate size, especially when a town is in a "gateway" region. Illinois (don't pronounce that "s," please!) has been a railroad gateway for almost 100 years. The Prairie State is, almost without exception, the western end of most Eastern carriers and the east end of several Western roads. Even in the 1980's era of mega mergers, a connecting line in gateway territory offers un limited operating and modeling potential, whether the road is a pure prototype or freelanced and based on prototype operating practices.

    A perfect example of a busy terminal road is the Peoria & Pekin Union Rail way-it is in fact a "union" railway connecting its namesake cities of Peoria and Pekin in central illinois. Neither city is large (like a Chicago or St. Louis), but there is more than enough rail activity involving several railroads to please any modeler interested in multiple prototypes.


    The formation of the Peoria & Pekin Union Railway ended a five-year rail road war over the rights to serve the growing city of Peoria and local central Illinois markets. Twelve companies had been fighting for right-of way and switching rights, and at times the conflict erupted into deliberate derailments, other sabotage and even gun battles. Each railroad wanted a piece of the action, and when at empts at peaceful settlement via the courts failed, more violence occurred.

    Common sense dictated a solution be found to end the chaos, so a council was formed by the Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific (which became Toledo, Peoria & Western, now part of Santa Fe), the Indiana, Bloomington & Western (later Peoria & Eastern New York Central System) and now part of Conrail), the Peoria, Decatur & Evansville, which became part of Illinois Central (now Illinois Central Gulf) and the Peoria, Pekin& Jacksonville (now Chicago & Illinois Midland) to establish a terminal line that would serve each road.

    Left: P&PU SW7 604 and SW9 605 pull a cut of empty hoppers westward on old Rock Island track along the Peoria riverfront in 1985. After the demise of the Rock in 1980, P&PU took over some switching on CRI&P lines in metro Peoria. In the background at left is the former Rock Island passenger station, now a fine restaurant. The bridge in the distance is the I-74 span over the Illinois River.

    Right: A portion of the former Rock Island RI&P line that once connected Peoria with Rock Island, III., was purchased by the cities of Peoria and Peoria Heights, who contracted P&PU to switch it. The line has been dubbed Peoria, Peoria Heights and Western, as stated on the sign above the crossbucks in this summer 1985 scene.

    Right: In their wheezing final weeks of service, two Rock Island Geeps move a grain train west past the restaurant-to-be passenger station early in 1980. The transfer may be enroute to Corn Products (now Pekin Energy), which would require a trip over the P&PU bridge-the Peoria Terminal bridge having been out of service since 1973.

    A view of the P&PU East Peoria engine terminal in 1979 catches IT power on layover for servicing. By this time, IT had built its own yard outside of Peoria. Normally they only ran switcher powered transfers from the new facility to East Peoria yard, but a wrecked IT bridge had forced detours of IT road freights into E.P. yard via ICG when this picture was taken.

    ICG train 291rolls past the old icehouse and Pekin tower at Big Four Junction in Pekin.
    Prototype Modeler - July 1986 - Page 22 Prototype Modeler - July 1986 - Page 23

    The P& PU was incorporated on Sept. 28, 1880, and immediately assumed ownership of Pekin and Peoria area trackage belonging to the four founding railroads. On Oct. 19, 1981, the P&PU received its first engine from Portland Locomotive Works and the second arrived on the property eight days later. A union depot was completed in 1883, and by then the line had acquired 12 locomotives and 100 freight cars. The road also purchased a few passenger cars to transport commuters between Peoria and Pekin.

    Over the first 20 years of operation, traffic on the P&PU increased heavily. In 1881 there were 28 daily passenger trains using Union Station, including P&PU's own trains, and the number grew to 90 per day by 1898. Freight traffic was also booming.

    Soon, other area railroads saw the advantages of the new terminal line and were quick to join the existing group of owners. By World War L the following had also become involved in the P&PU: Lake Erie & Western (later part of Nickel Plate, now Norfolk & Western); Iowa Central (later, Minneapolis & St. Louis. absorbed by Chicago & North Western in 1960); Chicago & Alton (which later became Alton Railroad, then Gulf, Mobile & Ohio, then ICG); the Vandalia (which later became part of the Pennsylvania Rail road, then Penn Central-the line into Peoria was sold to Illinois Terminal in 1976); Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific (now defunct); Rock Island & Peoria (later part of Rock Island); Illinois Traction System (later, Illinois Terminal, absorbed by Norfolk & Western in the early 1980's); and the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (now Burlington Northern).

    CB&Q, CRI&P, IT, M&StL and TP&W had (and BN and Santa Fe ex-TP&W still have) their own yards, so they relied on P&PU to transfer connect ing traffic to the other roads if there was not a direct connection; the remaining roads, of course, operated into the main P&PU yard. With the exception of Rock Island and Illinois Terminal, both of which had their own passenger stations, the passenger trains of all the Peoria roads that ran varnish operated into Union Depot. By 1900, there were 102 daily arrivals and departures there. In 1955, after following the typical nationwide passenger traffic pattern of rise and then decline, Union Depot was abandoned. The last road to use it was P&E, which cut back its Peorian run to Pekin that year (necessitating a name change to Corn Belt Express), and a few years later the station was torn down.

    Historically, freight traffic had been centered around the "90 and 91" yard on the Peoria (west) side of the Illinois River. There were also some small satellite yards, roundhouses No. 1 and 2, and Union Roundhouse near Union Depot. Construction started on P&PU's East Peoria yard (across the river) in 1906, and upon completion, operations were divided between it and the 90/91 yard. Built as a hump yard, the East Peoria facility is still referred to by some as "The Hump" even though it was converted to a flat-switching yard in 1911.

    In 1958, completion of a new diesel house at East Peoria brought about the abandonment of the roundhouses in Peoria. At the same time, nearly all switching was transferred to East Peoria. The facility there is really two yards in one, labeled "A" and "B" yards. Together, there is a capacity of some 2500 cars. On the other side of the yard from the locomotive servicing facility is a $1.4 million car repair shop capable of handling about 75 cars a day. The biggest user of the yard's piggy back ramp is Norfolk & Western (NKP).

    P&PU's 20-mile main line connects Pekin, East Peoria, Peoria and Bartonville (ironically, the Pekin and Bartonville ends of the line are but a couple miles apart because the railroad folds back on itself; the Illinois River separates them). The main is double tracked for about half its length and has 132-pound welded rail through out. It also features reverse-signaled CTC, controlled by the dispatcher's office in Peoria. Bridge Junction tower (BJ, on the west bank of the river at the P&PU bridge) is in charge of the bridge itself and any traffic on non-signaled trackage.

    Operations on the P&PU

    P&PU switchers are busy most of the week servicing on-line industries and performing blocking, break-up and build-up of trains in the East Peoria yard. All Peoria-area railroads use P&PU trackage to some extent, either to reach the East Peoria yard as a terminus for trains, to reach train-ex change points (more on that later) or simply to get through town.

    What follows is a rundown of the railroads serving or having served metro Peoria and how they tie or tied in with the P&PU. We'll describe rail roads as they were about 1960 before the big mergers started-that will help clarify current P&PU operations.

    Left: C&IM 5038-2's lead a southbound C&NW coal train on the P&PU main line in downtown Pekin in summer 1985. The track runs down the street for several blocks.

    A January 1970 scene at East Peoria catches Gulf, Mobile & Ohio F3's laying over next to IT 5D39's and P&PU power. The GM&O units had come in from Bloomington on train 231; the IT units arrived on train 200 from Madison, III. (St. Louis).

    Right: The P&PU double-track main line near North Pekin is nearly at capacity on this May afternoon in 1980. A BN coal train awaits exchange with C&IM and a C&NW coal train (With borrowed Conrail power) arrives to likewise drop a train for C&IM.
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    1. Chicago & Illinois Midland: This coal hauler feeds into the southern-most end of the P&PU main line, which is in Pekin at the converging point of the C&IM and IC. 
    2. Chicago & North Western: C&NW's main line to St. Louis actually by passes Peoria; a stub off the main goes to a small yard at Iowa Junction where connection is made with P&PU. There is an additional connection directly between the C&NW and P&PU near Bartonville.
    3. Gulf, Mobile & Ohio: GM&O served Peoria from a branch up from Spring field (actually, in later years, the train to Peoria came over from Bloomington, switching onto the Peoria branch at San Jose, Ill.), which tied into the P&PU main at Grove. This line was abandoned after the 1972 GM&O-IC merger.
    4. Illinois Central: IC's secondary main from Mattoon and Decatur, Ill., fed into the southernmost end of the P&PU in Pekin at the junction with C&IM. IC trains used P&PU's East Peoria yard.
    5. Illinois Terminal: IT's traction main crossed P&PU at Farm Creek and connected with P&PU through an inter change at this point. After IT abandoned its traction route into town (1965), and after a short stint at using the TP&W yard, IT trains began using P&PU's East Peoria yard through trackage rights over the Pennsy and Nickel Plate.
    6. Minneapolis & St. Louis: M&StL had its own yard west of Iowa Junction and connected with the P&PU at the junction. Following merger with C&NW, the M&StL facilities were abandoned.
    7. Nickel Plate: This former Lake Erie & Western secondary main from Ohio fed into P&PU's easternmost end on the east side of the river at P&PU Junction, East Peoria yard: NKP passenger trains destined for Union Depot bypassed the yard on a stretch of NKP track that is used today by Santa Fe (ex-TP&W).
    8. Pennsylvania: Pennsy's old Vandalia route Terre Haute, Ind., and Decatur, Ill., joined the Nickel Plate at Farmdale Junction east of East Peoria. From there, PRR trains operated via trackage rights over NKP to P&PU Junction and into East Peoria yard. IT bought the old PRR line in 1976.
    9. Peoria & Eastern: P&E's line from Danville, Ill. and Indianapolis bypassed Peoria to the south and tied in with the P&PU at Big Four Junction, Pekin tower, in Pekin. From there, P&E trains traversed P&PU's double track main to East Peoria yard.
    10. Peoria Terminal: PT was a subsidiary of Rock Island and was in effect a competing terminal road which paralleled and connected with P&PU at a number of places. PT even had its own crossing of the Illinois River, at Pekin: the impressive span was removed from service in the 1970's.
    11. Rock Island: CRI&P's "Peoria branch" main followed the Illinois River down from Bureau Junction, Ill. and ended at Rock Island's own station on the river front, not far north from P&PU's Union Depot. Essentially, PT trackage began at Iowa Junction in later years (it used to come all the way downtown Peoria in alley right-of-way). After Rock Island was abandoned in 1980, P&PU became a designated operator of some CRI&P and PT trackage.
    12. Santa Fe: AT&SF's only branch in Illinois terminated at Pekin, tying in with P&PU at Big Four Junction/Pekin tower. Santa Fe had its own yard at Pekin and therefore did not use the East Peoria Yard. Service to Pekin ended in the early 1980's.
    13. Toledo, Peoria & Western: TP&W had its major yard at East Peoria and thus did not use the P&PU yard. West of the TP&W yard, the TP&W main crossed the Illinois River on its own bridge and then entered P&PU then PT trackage to reach its mainline west to Fort Madison, Iowa. The TP&W bridge was damaged by a barge and removed from service in 1970, and since then TP&W (now Santa Fe) trains have used P&PU trackage rights from P&PU Junction to former PT trackage in Peoria. 

    Left: C&IM road power has just picked up a loaded BN coal train near Hillards as the inbound ICG train from Mattoon makes its final approach to East Peoria yard along P&PU's double-track main between North Pekin and Wesley Road. Dale: summer 1984.

    At the Wesley Road crossing just outside of East Peoria yard, a C&NW coal train with Union Pacific power prepares to move out with a load of empties just delivered by C&IM. Meanwhile, the ICG through freight from Mattoon arrives.

    Right: P&PU runs transfers to the TP&W (now Santa Fe) yard in East Peoria, as depicted in this 1978 scene of a P&PU train having just arrived; a westbound Tip-Up is about to depart.

    Looking down from the center span of P&PU's Illinois River bridge we see an inbound BN coal train en route to the C&IM on the east side of the river. In the background is BJ tower.

    Conrail train PEIN (for Peoria-Indianapolis), the old P&E run, heads westward through Hillards in 1981 -- the train is actually eastbound in Conrail operations. At left is a C&NW-UP empty coal train just delivered by C&IM.
    Prototype Modeler - July 1986 - Page 26 Prototype Modeler - July 1986 - Page 27


    Today's P&PU is owned jointly by ICG, C&NW, N&W and Conrail, with ICG holding the controlling interest. P&PU performs terminal service (switching, blocking and locomotive servicing) and gives trackage rights to ICG, N&W and Conrail; trackage rights are also provided for C&NW, BN, C&IM and Santa Fe.

    P&PU's bridge over the Illinois River has become an extremely important artery in recent years because of the closing of the TP&W and PT bridges (IT's bridge was closed early in the 1950's). The bridge was built in 1910, replacing an 1872 structure. It was rebuilt in 1984, and as such is the world's longest double-track lift span.

    Strangely, for a railroad which has no on-line mines or power plants, coal is the most important commodity carried on P&PU rails. P&PU acts as the vital liaison between C&NW, BN and the C&IM in the flow of Western coal to Illinois. The general coal-traffic pattern is this:

    BN brings many unit trains of Wyoming black diamonds into Peoria via its line from Galesburg, Ill. The trains enter P&PU track at Iowa Junction, cross the Illinois River and halt on the double-track main, usually between Grove and North Pekin. BN power cuts off and returns to the BN locomotive servicing facilities over in Peoria; meanwhile, a block of C&IM power is dispatched from their locomotive facility at Powerton, just south of Pekin, to pick up the BN train and forward it to Powerton yard where it is broken up and shoved into the power plant. And vice versa.

    Chicago & North Western coal trains, also from Wyoming, come down from C&NW's Chicago-Fremont (Neb.) main at Nelson, Ill., and enter the P&PU at 91 Yard. Like BN, the C&NW trains traverse the P&PU across the river to the double-track stretch between North Pekin and Wesley Road. C&NW power comes off and C&IM power forwards the train to Havanna, Ill., where the coal is transhipped to barges for shipment to Chicago (while that sounds circuitous and illogical, the tariff for this routing is much cheaper than a direct rail movement to Chicago!).

    This unit-train forwarding arrangement is carefully coordinated between BN, C&NW, C&IM and P&PU so the main line is not tied up for very long. If the timing is right, C&IM may take an empty coal train up to the P&PU double track and exchange it for a loaded train in waiting; this can save a light power move for BN and C&NW as well as C&IM.

    BN and C&NW also run general merchandise trains in and out of Peoria, some of which go directly into the P&PU yard, and North Western occasionally delivers a unit grain train to P&PU destined for Decatur via the N&W.

    Santa Fe's ex-TP&W operations make good use of P&PU trackage rights. With the loss of the bridge up stream, Santa Fe's only connection be tween the east and west halves of the old TP&W is the P&PU. AT&SF uses it from Iowa Junction to P&PU Junction for all through trains, locals to Peoria industries and the chemical plant at Kolbe and coal trains to the Central Illinois Power Co. (CILCO) power plant at East Peoria.

    Outside of P&PU itself, ICG is probably the most frequent user of the East Peoria yard, with two trains in and out on some days, the through job to and from Mattoon and the local, which works to Decatur or as far south as necessary.

    N&W's ex-Nickel Plate train from Frankfort, Ind., and Ohio pOints enters P&PU's E.P. yard in July 1985 with a pair of high-nose GP30's.
    Prototype Modeler - July 1986 - Page 28

    N&W operations from Frankfort, Ind., remain essentially unchanged from Nickel Plate days, but the old P&E run-now under the auspices of Conrail -- is a different story. A bridge on the Conrail line between Bloomington and Pekin collapsed a couple years ago and CR chose not to rebuild it. Instead, CR Danville-East Peoria trains now have trackage rights on N&W's former NKP line between Bloomington and East Peoria. For a time after this arrangement was made, CR retained its trackage rights over P&PU to Pekin and kept its locomotives there so it could still service local industries on the west end of the old P&E line isolated by the downed bridge. Then, P&PU assumed the local switching duties once handled by CR.

    Some of the old Rock Island trackage in Peoria is currently operated by P&PU, notably a small segment of the old Rock Island & Peoria line that heads northwest from the Rock main. This track was purchased by the cities of Peoria and Peoria Heights and they have contracted with P&PU to operate it. The city councils have dubbed it the Peoria. Peoria Heights & Western; it serves a small industrial park.

    As you can see, P&PU is a busy rail road. dispatching trains around the clock every day of the year. Its own locomotives work first and second shifts seven days a week to handle the switching and transfer work.

    P&PU equipment

    The latter-day diesel roster is basic, featuring NW2's, SW7's and SW9's. A lone SW 1200 is stored. Past power included P&PU's first diesel, No. 100, an HH600 acquired from Alco in 1936. Two years later a second diesel arrived, No. 200, a unique four-motor monster from Davenport Locomotive Works. The four prime movers were Caterpillar products together generating 760 h.p. Every locomotive on the active P&PU roster has been rebuilt. The first two were done by Morrison Knudsen in 1975, and the remaining by P&PU shops.

    In addition, P&PU maintains a variety of transfer cabooses and maintenance-of-way equipment, including a few goons, four boxcars and an impressive wrecking crane. Equipment wears a conservative scheme of Brunswick green with white safety stripes, yellow handrails and blue/red/white P&PU emblems-in the traditional sense. it's a classic scheme.

    In the next installment, we will present some modeling ideas for the P&PU. The track planning and operational possibilities are virtually endless given the prototype's track complexity and the variety of connecting railroads.

    Keeping track: Mergers affecting Peoria roads

    With so many mergers occurring so fast over the last few years, its sometimes difficult to tell the players without a scorecard. If you have been puzzled over which railroads became what rail roads regarding this P&PU story, perhaps this little rundown of what changes have taken place in the last 25 years will help (only AT&SF, C&IM and C&NW have the same titles): c


    Gulf, Mobile & Ohio merged with Illinois Central in 1972 to become Illinois Central Gulf.


    See the previous item.


    Illinois Terminal was absorbed by N&W in 1981.


    Minneapolis & St. Louis became part of C&NW in 1960.


    Nickel Plate and Wabash merged with N&W in 1964; recently, N&W and Southern have come under control of a holding company known as Norfolk Southern. Though diesels may be lettered NS, technically N&W and SR are still separate which is why we have used the N&W designation in this feature.


    Pennsylvania Railroad merged with New York Central in 1968 to form Penn Central; PC and other Northeast U.S. carriers merged in 1976 to form Conrail.


    Peoria Eastern, once a part of Big Four (Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland & St. Louis), was a subsidiary of New York Central and then Penn Central after 1968. P&E. lost its identity forever when folded into Conrail in 1976.


    Peoria Terminal was a subsidiary of Rock Island; when Rock Island abandoned, some PT trackage was acquired by TP&W and some came under control of P&PU.


    Rock Island went out as the Rock Island; its Peoria area trackage, including that of PT, has been operated by various carriers, including P&PU.


    Toledo, Peoria & Western was merged into Santa Fe effective Jan. 1. 1984. However, that may not be the final chapter of Peoria area TP&W trackage.

    As you can see, mergers and consolidations made some Peoria gateways redundant, which is why ICG closed the old GM&O route, why PC spun off its ex-PRR entrance to IT, why Santa Fe no longer needed the line to Pekin and why North Western closed all M&StL facilities. With proposed mergers such as Norfolk Southern + Conrail on the horizon, the Peoria scene will likely keep changing.

    Article Details

    • Original Author Roger Kujawa, Paul Zack, and Mike Schafer
    • Source Prototype Modeler
    • Publication Date July 1986

    Article Album (9 photos)

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  • John Warren likes this
  • Scott Olson
    Scott Olson I love this article. I have worked a train from Galesburg to Peoria for BNSF and I am sure I will in the future. To know the history behind all of the rails I have worked around is fantastic. Thanks Tasha for putting this article out. I look forward t...  more
    September 20, 2011 - 1 likes this