The Railroads of Will County
Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe
On May 10th, 1882, the Chicago, St. Louis & Western Railroad Company was chartered to establish a railroad from Chicago to St. Louis. Construction began shortly thereafter, and by the end of 1883, this company had laid track between Coal City and Chicago with a route through Joliet. The Chicago, St. Louis & Western was reorganized as the Chicago & St. Louis Railway in March 1885.
The line was opened for traffic between Chicago and Pekin on December 21, 1886, but the management had run out of funds when their tracks had reached Pekin. The Chicago & St. Louis was a promoter’s railroad, and was poorly engineered and poorly built. It had numerous grades, was laid with inferior rails and had a defective roadbed, making it wholly inadequate for the traffic of a transcontinental system.
The 154-mile Chicago & St. Louis Railway was acquired on December 15th, 1886 by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway for use as part of its route between Chicago and Kansas City. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe completely rebuilt the Chicago & St. Louis; heaver steel rails were put down and maximum grades were reduced, making it suitable for heavy traffic. By the close of 1887, through service between Chicago, Kansas City and Los Angeles on the Santa Fe was a reality.
The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway tracks through downtown Joliet were realigned and elevated in 1908-1010, and they participated in the construction of Joliet Union Station in 1911-1912 and UD interlocking tower in 1912-1913.
By the late 1950’s freight revenue was far outstripping passenger revenue, but a procession of sixteen streamlined Santa Fe passenger trains pulled by red and silver diesel locomotives passed through Joliet each day. From Joliet Union Station, travelers could take such trains as the Super Chief, the El Capitan and the Grand Canyon to Los Angeles, the San Francisco Chief to San Francisco, the Texas Chief to Houston, and the Kansas City Chief and the Chicagoan to Kansas City.
Amtrak, the new National Railroad Passenger Corporation, took over all passenger train service on the Santa Fe on May 1st, 1971. Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, operating daily between Chicago and Los Angeles, continued the Santa Fe’s tradition of passenger service in Joliet.
In 1995, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway merged with the Burlington Northern Railroad to create the new Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, and began the process of meshing the operations of the two former rival railroads. One of the first changes was to link the two railroads just west of Galesburg, which shortened the route between Chicago and Kansas City and also moved Amtrak Southwest Chief to the former Burlington line between Chicago and Galesburg. Burlington Northern Santa Fe changed their name to BNSF in 2005 and along with Union Pacific is serves the massive CenterPoint Intermodal Center south of Joliet, in Elwood.