The ex-Minneapolis & St. Louis between Cedar Lake Junction and Bass Lake yard

Today nothing much remains of the former main line of the Minneapolis & St. Louis in either Minnesota, Iowa, or Illinois.    This photo essay focuses on one of the bits that remains stretching from Cedar Lake Junction in Minneapolis on the former main line of the Great Northern (now the BNSF Wayzata sub) to where it is spliced into the former Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific transcontinental main line by Bass Lake in St. Louis Park.   Sadly, this bit of track is on borrowed time, for while it is operated by short line Twin Cities & Western, the corridor it occupies is slated to become the Southwest Corridor light rail line.   While rails will still grace the right-of-way, heavy freight will no longer rumble along it like in the glory days of the “Tootin’ Louie.”

In this photo essay we will tour the line.



Cedar Lake Junction as viewed on a partly sunny April 3rd, 2009. Interstate 394/Highway 12 looms in the background behind the signals and “Cedar Lake” sign. Once this was the site of the Cedar Lake yard and shops of the Louie plus a neighboring Great Northern yard. Now only these two tracks remain, with the jointed rail of the Louie on borrowed time. Photo by the author.


Despite the temporary routing of TC&W trains over the corridor, sights like these are for sore eyes indeed! Also taken on April 3rd, 2009, here we see the TC&W St. Paul Turn tip-toeing along the line at 10 MPH across the 21st Street West grade crossing. In lead is ILSX GP39-2 1389 with two more GP39-2s behind it, TC&W 2301 and 2300. Photo by the author.
The Saint Paul Turn heads down the old Louie past the sight of another yard, Kenwood. Currently the Kenilworth Trail occupies the site. Burnham Road crosses the bridge in the distance. Photo by the author.


The next set of photos was taken on November 5th, 2011. Here we are looking up the Louie main from the Cedar Lake Parkway grade crossing. Kenilworth Trail is to the right. Photo by the author.
The Cedar Lake Parkway grade crossing looking east.   How will it look once heavy rail is out and light rail is in?  Photo by the author.
Even the trail along Cedar Lake Parkway has its own grade crossing. Photo by the author.


This signal stands proud on the south side of the Cedar Lake Parkway grade crossing. It must date back to the days of the North Western if not the Louie. Photo by the author.


A view south along the Louie from the Cedar Lake Parkway grade crossing reveals the concrete base of a signal mast that once faced north as well as an old telephone box. Photo by the author.


Here is where the rails of the Louie are spliced into those of the Milwaukee Road in what once was the Milwaukee’s Bass Lake yard in St. Louis Park. The Southwest LRT trail takes over the Louie at this point. Photo by the author.



The ex-Chicago Great Western trackage in Faribault

The Chicago Great Western Red Wing-Mankato line passed through Faribault once upon a time. Today, after abandonments in 1973 and 1975 that clipped the route north and west of town, 1.4 miles of track remain in operation on the city’s northern side thanks to CGW successor Chicago & North Western finding traffic to and from Faribault to be so profitable that when deferred maintenance on the CGW between Northfield and Faribault made the line impassible by 1975, the C&NW arranged for trackage rights on neighboring Milwaukee Road, moved its Faribault traffic over to its rails, and promptly abandoned the CGW between the two points, resulting in the remaining CGW track becoming an industrial spur. The trackage rights arrangement remained in place when the Milwaukee Road gave way to the Soo Line in 1985 and the C&NW to the Union Pacific in 1995. Today Progressive Rail operates the line after assuming operations on it and UP’s former CGW Northfield-Cannon Falls line (another Red Wing-Mankato route survivor) in November of 2004 via a lease.

In this photo essay we will explore these surviving CGW rails.



Looking west down the former Chicago Great Western from Franklin Avenue. The Hulet Avenue grade crossing is in the distance. Beyond Hulet the line finally ends at Lyndale Avenue S. Past Lyndale the right-of-way is used by the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail on the portion of the route abandoned west of Faribault in 1973.  Note the switch in the foreground for the connecting track to the outside rail world. Photo by the author.


Looking east now up the former CGW, we now see in full the connecting track to the former Milwaukee Road I&M Division north-south main line which the CGW crosses in the far distance; the connection is made up in part of a surviving piece of a spur that once belonged to the Milwaukee that went west to the now long-gone Sheffield Flour Mill.  The switch itself was not installed until well after the passing of the Great Western.  At first when successor Chicago & North Western assumed trackage rights over the Milwaukee from Northfiled to Faribault, their trains took a routing around the south and east sides of town via a combination of Milwaukee/ex-CGW track that took trains past the Milwaukee Road depot to the south of this location on what was dubbed the “Grand tour of Faribault.” Finally, this switch was installed in 1976, eliminating the 6.5 mile, nearly hour-long “grand tour” for C&NW trains bound for the industries on Faribault’s northeast side. Photo by the author.


A short ways east of the Milwaukee/CGW connection, the old Great Western line borders South Alexander Park and crosses 7th Avenue Northwest. Photo by the author.


A view east up the CGW from the 7th Avenue NW grade crossing. The first on-line industry is accessed by the switch seen in the distance. Photo by the author.


Despite this bit of track now being on its fourth operator, Union Pacific signs adorn the cross bucks posts at the 7th Avenue NW grade crossing since technically Progressive Rail  leases but does not own the tracks. Photo by the author.
But the UP signage is not alone on the 7th Street NW cross bucks; C&NW US Department of Transportation plates also are present. Photo by the author.


Moving beyond West 7th Street NW, we are now looking west down the old CGW from near 2nd Avenue NW.  Note the blue Progressive Rail boxcars parked in the distance.  Photo by the author.


The old CGW crosses 2nd Avenue NW and into Faribault Foods, the customer at the end of the line. Photo by the author.
Another view of the grade crossing at 2nd St NW by Faribault Foods. Photo by the author.
The old CGW curves into Faribault Foods, the industry at the line’s end. Trail on left is the City of Faribault’s Straight River trail. Photo by the author.


Looking east towards 2nd Avenue NW by Faribault Foods. A track leading to the CGW’s yard and depot in downtown Faribault used to exist here; perhaps the city trail on the right occupies the right-of-way at least in part? CGW rails once stretched across the background sweeping north to Dundas and Northfield. Photo by the author.



The CGW crossed the Cannon River near its junction with the Straight River on a pair of wooden trestles, both of which remain today and are used as part of a city trail. This is the one closest to Faribault Foods. Rails last graced the trestle in 1978 when they were finally pulled up after the Faribault-Northfield part of the line was officially abandoned in 1975.  Photo by the author.



Facts in this article are from the book More Chicago Great Western in Minnesota, and More Milwaukee Road in Minnesota, both by John C. Luecke, and the Union Pacific’s webpage on Progressive Rail’s Cannon Valley line: