Tag Archives: railways

Twin Cities & Western is “neutral” on reroute issue

Returning St Paul turn with ILSX GP 39 2 1389 and two TCW units crossing 21st street west Minneapolis April 3rd 2009
The Twin City and Western’s St. Paul Turn –bound for Hopkins after interchanging traffic with Twin City railroads– tip toes across 21st Street in Minneapolis as the train slowly rumbles along the jointed rails of the old Minneapolis & St. Louis main line on a gorgeous April 3, 2009. The train is right in the heart of a corridor contested between Minneapolis and the suburb of St. Louis Park as to whether or not freight rail can co-exist here with Light Rail Transit plus the Kenilworth Trail. Photo by Tony Held.


In January of 2013, Minnesota regional railroad Twin Cities & Western announced its opposition to being re-routed out of Minneapolis and into St. Louis Park for the Southwest LRT line.  But the railroad had done an apparent about-face from this stance by July.  “We could bring our trains through there safely,” TC&W president Mark Wegner told the Star Tribune in this article in regard to two new proposals that routed the TC&W through SLP.  “We can’t crimp capacity for freight,” Wegner told the newspaper when he expressed concerns that shipments of large loads such as wind turbine blades could not navigate a corridor that shared LRT with it. (This also indicates Wegner would be against the 29th Street corridor being reopened as well, due to the limited clearance beneath the many bridges along it.)

This begs the question: Is the Twin Cities & Western opposed to the re-route, or not?  Mark Wegner gave the answer in an August 3, 2013 Star Tribune guest editorial: “We have not sought to be relocated. We have emphasized the need to continue safe and economic freight service to our customers as we have for the past 22 years. Despite suggestions to the contrary, we have avoided taking sides with one community or another as they have sought allies for or against various options.”

And so the TC&W has declared itself “neutral” on the issue.  However, Wegner does not indicate his willing to let the trains be moved about at the whim of local governments, which is a good sign.

The only way this issue will be resolved ultimately boils down to whether Minneapolis will force St. Louis Park to abandon their stance on the re-route, or vice versa, not what the TC&W wants.   I do hope, however, their trains can stay where they are.  It is a much better option than having to beef up the Canadian Pacific’s MN&S spur –the former Minneapolis, Northfield, and Southern main line– in an expensive rebuild that would carve a swathe through St. Louis Park which dislocated home and business owners.


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:


More Zumbrota Branch Archeology

At the time it was built, the Milwaukee Road’s Zumbrota branch was a good addition to the system.  But what had once been a viable line which linked Faribault with Wabasha (as well as the Milwaukee’s I&M and River divisions) had become a truncated red ink factory to Zumbrota by the 1970s, with poor track and light traffic the norm.   In 1979, the Milwaukee pruned the line from its system and it faded into history.   However, traces of the line remain today.   Most notably in the form of the remarkably intact bridge S-844B in Kenyon discussed in a recent blog post.

Aside from the large chunk of grade encompassing Bridge S-844B on the southeast side of Kenyon, the only other remnant of the branch still recognizable in town is between Highway 56 and Red Wing Avenue, though some of it has eroded to the point it is impossible to walk on it entirely.


The beginning of the Zumbrota branch grade on the west side of Highway 56 in Kenyon, MN. For a stretch west of here the roadbed has had a bite taken out of it down by a local business. Photo by the author.


Just west of Highway 56 the grade has eroded to the point it cannot be walked on. We are by a local business in this shot. Photo by the author.


Looking towards Red Wing Avenue in Kenyon along the grade of the Zumbrota branch. Photo by the author.



Looking east up Zumbrota branch grade from Red Wing Avenue in Kenyon. Photo by the author.


On the east side of the grade at Red Wing Avenue is a wooden abutment for a long-gone bridge carrying the branch across the street.


The start of the Zumbrota branch grade on the east side of Red Wing Avenue in Kenyon. Note the leftover wooden bridge abutment.  Photo by the author.



A close up of the wooden bridge abutment on the east side of the former crossing of the Zumbrota branch over Red Wing Avenue in Kenyon. Photo by the author


Looking west across where the Red Wing Avenue bridge used to stand. The chunk of grade on the other side is but an island in the sea of post-abandonment development. Photo by the author.


Nothing much is left west of Red Wing Avenue save for a small chunk on what is now residential property.


The fragment of grade from the Zumbrota branch on the west side of Red Wing Avenue in Kenyon, some of which now is framed by a wood rail fence put up by the owner of the property it is on. Photo by the author.


Alas, such scenes of complete annihilation are commonplace along the Zumbrota branch today.  While chunks of grade remain here and there, the farmer’s plow and developers in towns such as Kenyon and Faribault have cut up the line to the extent that the branch will not ever be rebuilt.  Nor indeed is there any economical need for rebuilding even if all grades and bridges remained intact.   The only chance for any of it to have remained in operation would have been a major industry locating along the route at some point before 1979 which would have reversed the tide of red ink.

Happily, one portion of the line has seen a form of revival in the manner of a rail trail located along a portion of the Zumbrota branch in the city of Faribault.   Here one can walk, jog, roller blade, or bicycle along a portion of the route where steam engines once chuffed and chugged, and orange and black RSD-5s,  SW-1s, SD-7s, and SD-9s hummed and growled.


The Faribault trail which occupies some of the Zumbrota branch. It starts on the east side of 9th Avenue south down by the Kwik Trip. Photo by the author.


Note: My sources for the background information contained in this and the post about Bridge S-844B primarily comes from John C. Luecke’s books Dreams, Disasters, and Demise: The Milwaukee Road In Minnesota, and More Milwaukee Road In Minnesota.  The latter of which is still in print, and can be bought via his website “Como Shops” at: http://www.comoshops.com/  Google and Bing Maps satellite and birds eye view images helped fill in my personal observations as to the current state of the Zumbrota branch.

The Remains Of Bridge S-844B

The southern Minnesota town of Kenyon, Minnesota, once was host to two railroads -the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific, and the Chicago Great Western.   The Milwaukee Road in the form of the Faribault-Zumbrota branch and the CGW in the form of their north-south Twin Cities to Iowa main line.

The CGW gave way to the Chicago and North Western in 1968, but Kenyon stayed a two-railroad town until 1979, when the third time bankrupt Milwaukee pruned the Zumbrota branch from its system.   By 1984, the old CGW was gone too thanks to the C&NW buying the nearby north-south “Spine Line” of the bankrupt and liquidated Rock Island.

An old abutment marks the eastern end of where bridge S-844B once carried the Zumbrota branch of the Milwaukee Road over the Chicago Great Western main line (today the unruly strip of land between the fence and “Welcome to Kenyon” sign.)  Highway 56 is road in foreground.  Photo by the author.


The Milwaukee Road crossed the CGW via a bridge known on the company books as S-844.   Incredibly, much of this span remains intact decades after the last train crossed it!

A closer look at the leftover abutment from the portion of bridge S-844B which spanned the CGW main at Kenyon. Note the leftover bits of trestle posts behind it. Photo by the author.


A side view of the remaining abutment for the section of S-844B which spanned the CGW main. Note again the remaining trestle piles. Photo by the author.

S-844B was originally one long trestle.  The span east of the CGW crossing was later replaced almost entirely by the large embankment that remains visible today, but the farmer who owned the land on both sides of the Zumbrota branch at this location demanded access to both sides of his land, so a portion of the bridge was retained.


Despite the loss of some bridge decking, the remaining portion of bridge S-844B is still imposing-looking even today. Photo by the author.
The surviving part of S-844B is so well preserved even the bridge’s concrete footings remain in good shape. Photo by the author.



It obviously was because of lack of money that the Milwaukee Road left most of S-844B standing and in private ownership.   (An imposing steel span over the Straight River several miles to the west -Bridge S-808- was also left standing after abandonment; alas, the span eventually fell to the scrapper’s torch and only the concrete abutments and piers remain.)  Today the bridge remains as a monument to the glory days when every mile of track in southern Minnesota was deemed important for local commerce.


The Field Of Telegraph Poles

Photo by the author.


The grounds of a business park nestled at the interstate of Highway 55 and Mendota Heights Road in Mendota Heights, Minnesota, used to be bisected by the rails of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific’s “I&M” Division linking the Twin Cities with Austin, Minnesota, and points south into Iowa.   Originally built in the mid 1860’s by a predecessor road -the Minnesota Central- the route originally climbed out of the Minnesota River valley after crossing the Minnesota River below the battlements of Fort Snelling.   When that stretch of track and bridges were abandoned in the 1950s, Milwaukee Road trains continued to access the tracks on the south side via a connection off the Chicago and North Western-owned Chicago, St. Paul, and Omaha railroad (later absorbed entirely into CNW).   But in 1994, the rails were torn up from Cliff Junction up across the bridge spanning Interstate 494 on the Mendota Heights/Eagan border to an industrial park just off of 35E in Eagan, the decision of Milwaukee Road successor Soo Line, which originally kept sending traffic south to Austin after its 1985 purchase of and 1986 merger with the Milwaukee but then ceased operating them; local trains were the last to pass through on this stretch of the I&M.  From Cliff Junction to where the line once crossed Highway 13, the route is now occupied by the Big Rivers Regional Trail.   From Highway 13 to the business park in Eagan is unkempt (but mostly walkable) roadbed.

But when the track removal crews came something odd happened: a lot of railroad-related items were left behind ranging from ties with tie plates attached, ties left behind in the roadbed and a whole plethora of telegraph poles, most notably the bunch pictured above.   And that office park inherited the whole shebang … and decided to keep it all.   Why, I have no clue; but by leaving them standing the owners of that park created a scene best described as the field of telegraph poles.


Another view of the field of telegraph poles from looking up the former Milwaukee Road I & M from the south side of the former grade crossing on Mendota Heights Road. Photo by the author.


Another view of the field of telegraph poles, this time from looking north-northeast down the grassy, tree dotted grade bisecting the office complex’s front yard. Photo by the author.