Monday, November 10, 2014

Snowflake Special Report

Frank writes...

The Snowflake Special traction fan trip is an IRM tradition dating back to the 1970s.  Most have been run on the CTA, starting with 4000s, then spam cans, and most recently Budd and Boeing cars.  A couple were run on the Illinois Central and maybe even on the South Shore, but none has ever been run on Metra since the agency was created 30 years ago.  None, that is, until now!

With retirement of the 1970s-vintage Highliners looming, IRM volunteers led by Richard Schauer lined up a unique fan trip with four cars covering the entire Metra Electric district.  The electrified district includes the main line, with Randolph Street at the north end and University Park at the south end, and two branches, the South Chicago branch east of the main line and the Blue Island branch to the west.
The trip began at Randolph Street and headed south with a photo stop at 53rd-55th-57th before proceeding down the South Chicago branch.  This is an interesting line; at one point it paralleled the B&O, had a now-abandoned (but still easily identified by the derelict catenary bridges) yard, and in the good old days was flanked for part of it length by a CSL car line.  See here for a CERA photo of a streetcar crossing the South Chicago branch at 79th.  The above photo was taken at the line's terminus at 93rd.
A number of friends from the Car Department were there including Ray Cook, who just retired in September after 49 years working with the Illinois Central and later Metra.  In recent years he had been running trains on the electric district and provided a lively commentary.  Above he is shown pointing out the most noticeable difference between Highliners built by St. Louis (left) and Bombardier (right): the collision posts, which were I-beams on the earlier St. Louis cars but following the 27th Street wreck were changed to solid steel columns on the Bombardier cars.
The train then retreated back up the South Chicago branch and proceeded at speed down the main line all the way to University Park, the southern end of the electric district.  Above can be seen a BNSF freight train sitting over on the freight tracks waiting for a delayed northbound Amtrak train to clear.
And just south of the platform in the storage track was one of the most recent Highliner II gallery cars, 1308.  At this point there are still about 80 of the old Highliners in service but they are being retired weekly.
And then it was north to Richton Park where the train stopped for lunch.  Our train headed north while we grabbed food; above is a quick video of it coming back into the platform.

And then we took the train down the Blue Island branch, which normally doesn't have any service on Sundays.  We couldn't go all the way to Blue Island, because they park trains at the platform there on Sundays, but we did go to Burr Oak.  And before that there was a photo run-by at Racine Avenue.
The Blue Island branch is not what you think of when you think of mainline electrification; the area is very residential for most of its length and the entire branch is single-track with just one passing siding.  Racine Avenue used to feature a Dutch Boy paint factory north of the branch but that site is now a solar panel field, visible in the background of the photo below.
And then it was on to Burr Oak, where I took the photo at the top of this post.  After that we headed back to Randolph Street, stopping for photos at 11th Street before calling it a day.  Overall the trip was wonderfully planned and very ably executed.  Missed the trip?  Well never fear, you can you can still help out with acquiring a pair of Highliners for IRM by sending in a donation to the Highliner fund.  Every little bit helps!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice write up. The first photo stop was at 55-56-57 Street station (Museum of Science & Industry). 53rd Hyde Park has its own platform 2 blocks North. Bill Wulfert