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End of the line for EJ&E

Nearly 105 trains make their way through Elburn daily basis. | File Photo

Nearly 105 trains make their way through Elburn on a daily basis. | File Photo

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Updated: February 4, 2013 2:48PM

As of Tuesday, for the first time in more than a century, not a single railroad has the word “Elgin” in its name.

The last one — the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway — has been owned and operated by the Canadian National Railway since 2009. But under CN’s official corporate structure, it continued to be technically called the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern subsidiary of the Canadian National.

But CN announced that as of Jan. 1, the EJ&E subsidiary will become part of CN’s Wisconsin Central Railway subsidiary.

According to CN’s official statement, that reorganization will improve efficiency by allowing crews who work on the Wisconsin Central to be assigned to trains on the former EJ&E and vice versa.

At one point, at least four railroads bore the Elgin in their names. The Chicago, Aurora & Elgin — nicknamed “The Third Rail” by its riders — operated electric-powered commuter service from Elgin and Aurora to downtown Chicago from the turn of the century until 1957. Most of the Illinois Prairie Path biking and hiking trail was built on the CA&E’s former roadbed.

Another electric-powered line, the Belvidere & Elgin, carried passengers between those two cities for several decades in the early 20th century.

Finally, the Aurora, Elgin & Fox River line carried passengers from 1896 to 1935 up and down the Fox Valley, as far north as Carpentersville through Elgin and Aurora, and as far south as Yorkville. From 1935 to 1972, its last remnants delivered coal to the Elgin Mental Health Center’s power and heating plant. Two miles of its former line still survive in South Elgin, housing the Fox River Trolley Museum.

A steel belt

The EJ&E runs in an arc around the Chicago area, from Waukegan through Barrington and the eastern fringe of Elgin to Bartlett, West Chicago, Aurora, Joliet and finally Gary, Ind. Through much of its existence, the EJ&E was owned by U.S. Steel Co. It was used to deliver the ingredients for steelmaking from Kane County quarries and Waukegan ship docks to U.S. Steel’s blast furnaces in Indiana.

In recent decades, the EJ&E has served mainly as a “belt” railway, allowing the bigger east-west and north-south railroads to shuttle freight trains between each other.

The Wisconsin Central’s line in Illinois originally was part of the Chicago, Minneapolis & Sault Ste. Marie Railway, or “Soo Line,” and the Soo actually was a subsidiary of CN’s arch-competitor, the Canadian Pacific Railroad. But when the Soo bought what was then called the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad — nicknamed “the Milwaukee Road” — in 1985, Soo execs preferred to use the former Milwaukee Road’s mainline from Chicago to Minneapolis. So the Soo spun off its own former Chicago-Minneapolis mainline as a new independent company called the Wisconsin Central, and Canadian National bought the Wisconsin Central in 2001.

Aurora, Naperville and several other area towns argued against federal approval of the CN taking over the EJ&E in 2008-09, largely on grounds that increasing the number of trains on the EJ&E would cause traffic tie-ups at street crossings in the Fox Valley and far-west suburbs. But CN officials argued that the acquisition would decrease traffic problems in inner suburbs such as Des Plaines and Oak Park by allowing Wisconsin Central trains bound for eastern or southern destinations to go around the edge of the Chicago area instead of through the heart of it.

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