The Railroads of Will County
Elgin, Joliet & Eastern
The Joliet, Aurora & Northern Railroad was organized on March 22nd, 1884 to build a railroad between Joliet and Aurora. It began operations on August 15, 1886, providing both freight and passenger service.
In April 1888, the Joliet, Aurora & Northern Railroad was sold to the newly formed Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway. Officially, Elgin, Joliet & Eastern operations began on January 1, 1889.
Although the EJ&E built a new depot in downtown Clinton Street in 1892, its commitment to passenger train service was short-lived. When the EJ&E took over the JA&N, it acquired the latter’s passenger train service between Joliet and Aurora. In 1907, however, the EJ&E discontinued scheduled passenger train service to Aurora, due in part to competition from the interurban electric line operated by the Joliet, Plainfield & Aurora Railroad Company.
In 1898, Illinois Steel and the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern both come under the control of the Federal Steel Company. Then in 1901, J. P. Morgan acquired Andrew Carnegie’s steel holdings and combined them with the Federal Steel Company to create the United States Steel Corporation, of which the EJ&E became a subsidiary. Although the EJ&E serviced numerous industrial customers over years, its fortunes as a railroad were more closely linked to the rise and fall of regional steel production that to any other economic factor.
The Joliet Division of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway included the East Joliet Yard with its vast complex of switching facilities and buildings. The yard began to take shape in the late 1880’s when a roundhouse, a machine shop, and a water tank were built on the Henry Farm on the east side of Joliet. Before long, the facility boosted a blacksmith shop, a wood car shop, a locomotive shop, cinder pits and more. Not only were locomotives overhauled and freight cars repaired, but the EJ&E employees also built new freight cars and cabooses at the East Joliet Yard.
By 1909, the EJ&E had completed its Rockdale Line, which extended 6.46 miles south from Rockdale Junction in Crest Hill through the west side of Joliet to Rockdale.
For many years, the EJ&E was one of the area’s major employers, providing jobs for thousands of newcomers to Joliet. Countless immigrant families were attracted to Joliet by the prospect of finding jobs on the railroad. Many of these employees were not only grateful to the EJ&E for their jobs, but also extremely loyal to the company that had hired them.
Historically, the EJ&E prided itself in being a progressive railroad that embraced innovation and pioneered new ideas. The railroad was an early proponent of diesel locomotives and steel freight cars. It illuminated its yards with floodlights and experimented with concrete ties. After World War II, the EJ&E adapted continuous welded rail as a standard. By the mid-1950’s, the EJ&E had over one hundred miles of welded rail.
The Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway was commonly known as the Chicago Outer Belt, because it went “Around – Not Thru – Chicago.” While the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern was a common carrier hauling freight of all kinds, it was owned for decades by United States Steel and its main focus was on providing freight service to the steel industry.
In 1988, United States Steel organized Transtar, Incorporated to own U.S. Steel’s railroad and other subsidiaries, including the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern.
In 1991, the EJ&E discontinued service on its 6.46-mile Rockdale Line – between Rockdale Junction in Crest Hill and Rockdale, after a fire severely damaged a wooden trestle. In 1994, the newly founded Joliet Junction Railroad acquired the Rockdale Branch from the EJ&E.
On September 26th, 2007, the Canadian National Railway announced that it planned to purchase the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway. The U.S. Surface Transportation Board approved the purchase on December 24, 2008, and the deal was completed on February 1st, 2009.
The EJ&E was merged into CN’s Wisconsin Central Ltd. subsidiary on January 1st, 2013. Later in 2013, Canadian National constructed and opened for business an intermodal terminal on the site of the former Elgin, Joliet & Eastern East Joliet Yard.