Elkhart Branch (Michigan Air Line)

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Elkhart Branch (Michigan Air Line)

Unread postby berkmeister » Sat Oct 15, 2011 4:12 am

:?: It has always intrigued me that the New York Central spent lots of scarse money on re-habbing the former MAL from Three Rivers to Jackson to create a short cut from Jackson to Elkhart Yard in Indiana. Yet what was good for NYC and Penn Central was not good for Conrail after 1980. Did this line suffer the fate like a few other Conrail mainlines under Chairman Stanley Crane's eliminating excessive trackage or was it changing traffic patterns and economics? After all it had heavy stick rail, deep ballast and CTC signaling along with numerous sidings. Apparently a more efficent route than going north to Kalamazoo to turn on the old Michigan Central mainline to Detroit. Berkmeister
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Re: Elkhart Branch (Michigan Air Line)

Unread postby CSX_CO » Mon Oct 17, 2011 12:20 pm

berkmeister wrote::?: It has always intrigued me that the New York Central spent lots of scarse money on re-habbing the former MAL from Three Rivers to Jackson to create a short cut from Jackson to Elkhart Yard in Indiana. Yet what was good for NYC and Penn Central was not good for Conrail after 1980. Did this line suffer the fate like a few other Conrail mainlines under Chairman Stanley Crane's eliminating excessive trackage or was it changing traffic patterns and economics? After all it had heavy stick rail, deep ballast and CTC signaling along with numerous sidings. Apparently a more efficent route than going north to Kalamazoo to turn on the old Michigan Central mainline to Detroit. Berkmeister


Probably more efficient, but efficiency doesn't equal profitability. Just like efficiency doesn't equal productivity. Plus, just because PC thought it was a good idea should be the first clue it wouldn't last. Conrail had way to much capacity, and not enough money to keep it all. Have to rationalize the physical plant. With the traffic generated out of K-zoo, and the Michigan Central, no sense in keeping a parallel route between two points. PRR across Indiana was downgraded in favor of the NYC. The same can be said of the ex-PRR east of Indianapolis. Traffic could move via the B Line, and the Union City connection. Later, the traffic just went to Ridgeway and south. There are cases of reducing parallel capacity all across Conrail's map. If the railroad was in 'good' shape, they could take that good rail, and reuse it on lines that needed work.

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Re: Elkhart Branch (Michigan Air Line)

Unread postby AARR » Mon Oct 17, 2011 12:29 pm

CSX_CO wrote:Conrail had way to much capacity, and not enough money to keep it all. Have to rationalize the physical plant.

The six railroads that formed ConRail had petitioned the ??? Board for years to eliminate lines and reduce costs. But the ??? board would not let them do it. Yet, when CR was formed and allowed to eliminate duplicated lines it was a HUGE step toward CR succeeding. I am glad (and amazed) that they could cut through the massive buearacracy and make the right decision for CR.
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Re: Elkhart Branch (Michigan Air Line)

Unread postby berkmeister » Mon Oct 17, 2011 1:04 pm

CSX_CO; if you noted my post, it was NYC, not PC, who upgraded this line. I will add this was during the era of NYC President Al Perlman who started rationalizing NYC mains and branches whereever he could considering how much harder it was to abandon rail lines during the regulated era (read ICC). This section of line in question was upgraded at the time, (i believe it was 1958) to allow NYC to downgrade the MC mainline between Kalamazoo to Porter, IN. It was either NYC or PC who single-tracked the MC west of Kazoo in the 1960's. This downgrading coincided with the major downgrading of the big yard in Niles, MI. This forced Niles yard employees with enough seniority to transfer to Elkhart Yard, which was being expanded and modernized about the same time as the MAL upgrade. The "bumping" of NYC employees between Niles and Elkhart caused major friction between Indiana and Michigan railroaders to the point that it made one disgruntled IN. railroader to murder several former MI. railroaders who had bumped him and others from IN. at Elkhart Yard. So, this was NYC's attempt to rationalize what they could during the era of heavy-handed regulation. Berkmeister
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Re: Elkhart Branch (Michigan Air Line)

Unread postby berkmeister » Mon Oct 17, 2011 1:15 pm

AARR wrote:
CSX_CO wrote:Conrail had way to much capacity, and not enough money to keep it all. Have to rationalize the physical plant.

The six railroads that formed ConRail had petitioned the ??? Board for years to eliminate lines and reduce costs. But the ??? board would not let them do it. Yet, when CR was formed and allowed to eliminate duplicated lines it was a HUGE step toward CR succeeding. I am glad (and amazed) that they could cut through the massive buearacracy and make the right decision for CR.

Partial de-regulation of the American railroad industry in 1980 made it much easier for railroads to abandon either mainlines or branches. The ICC was forced by this legislation to seriously examine a lines' profitability and the cost to the railroad to operate on a line they no longer wished to keep. Berkmeister
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Re: Elkhart Branch (Michigan Air Line)

Unread postby GP30M4216 » Thu Oct 27, 2011 11:13 pm

The New York Central had lots of routes to take it between Chicago and Detroit in the early 1950s. At the time, the railroad was developing a monumental new switching yard, on the west side of Elkhart, five miles in length and with 72 classification tracks. An operational plan was developed which would route all traffic bound from the west to Michigan through Elkhart, and as was previously said, the classification yard at Niles was quickly downgraded as a result once Elkhart opened. While the old MC mainline west of Kalamazoo still hosted some freight, most trains now turned south to get to Elkhart via the old LS&MS. But Kalamazoo was a busy junction with several yards, not to mention Battle Creek, and a train going from Detroit to Elkhart via Kalamazoo must also cross the very busy GTW mainline two times. In an effort to avoid the GTW, Battle Creek, and Kalamazoo, AND speed up the travel time of important goods between eastern Michigan and Elkhart, the NYC elected to upgrade the route between B Junction in Elkhart and Jackson, which comprised the western part of the Old Road, a portion of the Kalamazoo Branch, and the Air Line between Three Rivers and Elm Street in Jackson. Through trains between Jackson or Detroit and Elkhart didn't have to tangle with many trains by avoiding BC, Kzoo and the GTW to the north, and Toledo to the south. The busiest non-NYC junction on the route was the PRR diamond at Wasepi, and even this didn't provide many trains to slow the NYC down.

Fast forward to Conrail. Michigan traffic has declined considerably over the past 20+ years. Amtrak now owns the MC west of Kalamazoo, and the Old Road is being partially operated by a short line and some of it has been removed. Most Detroit to Elkhart traffic now goes via Toledo or Kalamazoo, and there is capacity to allow the last of the Air Line hotshots to join them. Further, the Air Line didn't pass through any major cities and by this point had few if any on-line customers. It generated virtually no revenue for Conrail. Apparently the trains formerly using the Air Line could still get to Elkhart fast enough via Toledo or Kalamazoo, so the Air Line was abandoned. Rather sad, really, considering how state-of-the-art the late 1950s rebuild was.

A few vestiges remain as a result of this. The CTC signalling system on the Old Road to White Pigeon Jct., and up the Kalamazoo branch to CP-Park (just north of Three Rivers) remains in place. Until several years ago, a large deck girder bridge carried the old grade over M-86 just south of Three Rivers, where the super-elevated curve connected the Kzoo branch with the Air Line. An old Coal Tower remains on the line west of Homer, although this dates from before the 1950s upgrade.

I've not seen too many photos of trains along this line, although there are a few out there. The one that stands out the most in my mind is from the 1986 cover of Trains Magazine, the Michigan Issue, which shows an overgrown Air Line near Wasepi with rails still in place, code line still up, and signal heads turned. The image is still rather striking in my mind.
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Re: Elkhart Branch (Michigan Air Line)

Unread postby Ben Higdon » Fri Oct 28, 2011 3:02 pm

The Air Line was one of the few lines in Michigan that the Penn Central actually spent some money maintaining. I think additional factors in it lasting as long as it did were 1)the amount of traffic already running between Three Rivers and Kalamazoo and 2)avoiding investing in upgrading the LSMS between Three Rivers and Kalamazoo. In Conrail's early years, there were still a few hotshots routed over the Air Line (the DC/CD trains and LS2(?)). I've heard Conrail invested money in upgrading the Air Line early on, though I don't know that for sure. CR definately revamped Jackson Yd, which is almost as strange as putting money into the Air Line, when you consider that by the early 90s, three quarters of the yard was torn up.

Between Three Rivers and Kalamazoo were two trains each way between Grand Rapids and Elkhart, at least one each way that turned east at Kzoo, and a local. Keep in mind many of the trains coming up into Michigan carried GM auto parts and were time sensitive. On a side note, PC and Conrail actually used the GR&I from Kalamazoo to Wasepi and Air Line west to Three Rivers as an alternate routing. There was a passing siding west of the diamond in Wasepi... PC took out the diamond, removed the east switch to the siding, and tied the siding in to the GR&I. The Constantine Turn from Kalamazoo used to do a loop, using both routes between Kzoo and Three Rivers. I don't know if through trains ever regularly took this route. By the time the Air Line was dropped, there was just one pair of Grand Rapids trains, and Conrail had the cash to put in welded rail on the Kalamazoo Secondary and put in the passing siding on the north side of Three Rivers. This project involved putting new ties in on the GR&I to handle the through traffic while work was done on the LSMS.

I always thought it was interesting that as late as 1994, the freight train speed limit on the Kalamazoo Branch (former Elkhart Branch) between Elkhart and Three Rivers was 60. I may be wrong but I think this was the only stretch of 60mph freight speeds on Conrail in Michigan. Was this standard for CTC territory, or due simply to the maintenance of the roadbed?
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Re: Elkhart Branch (Michigan Air Line)

Unread postby SD80MAC » Fri Oct 28, 2011 4:12 pm

Wouldn't the Michigan Line between Kalamazoo and Detroit have been 60 mph for freight in some spots?
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Re: Elkhart Branch (Michigan Air Line)

Unread postby Ben Higdon » Fri Oct 28, 2011 10:28 pm

I just scanned through the speed limits on a 1992 Dearborn Div timetable, and MP 5.3-21.1 and 22-27.4 on the Kalamazoo Branch were the only sections of track rated for 60 mph for freights in the division. Even the Chicago Line didn't have any speed limits over 50.
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Re: Elkhart Branch (Michigan Air Line)

Unread postby ns8401 » Fri Oct 28, 2011 11:17 pm

A couple of questions since I'm going to do some looking around next month:

1) Did this line cross US-12 at some point? If so where?

2) Is there anything that really gives it away that the railroad went through? (Roadbed or signals?)
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Re: Elkhart Branch (Michigan Air Line)

Unread postby GP30M4216 » Sat Oct 29, 2011 1:11 am

Ben, based on the mileposts you listed, the 60mph trackage would be from about the CR19 crossing between Elkhart and Bristol and White Pigeon Junction (south side of the curve), and then again from about the US-12 crossing to someplace between Constantine and Three Rivers. I also wonder why this would be rated for 60mph....the track was good but I didn't think it was THAT good!!

NS8401, this line crosses US-12 in White Pigeon, as the Kalamazoo Secondary. I don't think the western portion of the Air Line, between Three Rivers and Niles, ever crossed US-12. In fact, a segment of M-60 going west from Three Rivers sits on or directly parallel to the old Air Line alignment. Going east from Three Rivers, the Air Line is most directly parallel to M-60, although it only is alongside the road for a short segment going west from Concord. The most unfortunate thing is that this line was not purchased for use as a trail. Private development has taken over portions of the ROW. Going west from Concord, the grade can still easily be seen along the south side of the road. Code line poles used to still be standing along this section (I remember seeing them when I was a kid in the late 90s), but I'm not sure if any are left. You can also easily see the line parallel to M-86 near Colon and again near Three Rivers.

Amazing to think that 40 years ago, two lines crossed at Wasepi, and now you can hardly find a trace of the old PRR, and the Air Line is difficult to see, too. It would have been really interesting, and also very sad, to be in Wasepi in the Mid-70s - early 80s, while both lines were still intact, then when the new connection track was in, and trains were being routed up the GR&I and down the LS&MS (or the other way around), and then all the trains through Wasepi while the LS&MS trackwork was ongoing. Seeing the extra traffic would be awesome, but I don't know if I could stand it knowing the clock was ticking down. The GR&I was gone, and very soon after the Air Line followed. Sad.

The Michigan DeLorme Atlas has the entire Air Line grade clearly marked and will help you find it if you are looking.
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Re: Elkhart Branch (Michigan Air Line)

Unread postby Ben Higdon » Sat Oct 29, 2011 12:39 pm

Here is a Doug Leffler photo I scanned from a Conrail employee newsletter of a train on the Air Line
http://michiganrailroads.com/RRHX/Pictures/Photos/006-010/Photo009A.htm

Also:
http://www.michiganrailroads.com/RRHX/Pictures/Photos/041-050/Photo041D.htm

Photos of the coal tower in Clarendon (towards bottom of page):
http://flickrhivemind.net/Tags/nycrr/Recent
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Re: Elkhart Branch (Michigan Air Line)

Unread postby csxt4617 » Sat Oct 29, 2011 9:36 pm

FYI: Not sure if you did the captioning or not, but the pic of CR 6051 is actually an SD35, not SD40-2 :) Neat photo, also see an SD45 and U25B. Gotta love early CR lashups :mrgreen:
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Re: Elkhart Branch (Michigan Air Line)

Unread postby GP30M4216 » Sat Oct 29, 2011 10:31 pm

I just did a quick search on other threads about the Air Line. Some great history here! I'm linking them so we can all learn a little something new :)

Another Air Line discussion: http://railroadfan.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=13340

Clarendon coaling tower: http://railroadfan.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=13832

GREAT writeup on RRHX complete with some photos, a timetable and lots of history: http://www.michiganrailroads.com/RRHX/Stories/ModernizingNYCAirLineForHighSpeedFreightService.htm
(Interestingly enough, here's a quote from the article, from before the Air Line was modernized: "Dispatching records from October 29, 1908 show seven (7) westbound trains and fifteen (15) eastbound trains on the Air Line on that particular day.") 111 years ago today!!
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Re: Elkhart Branch (Michigan Air Line)

Unread postby GP30M4216 » Sat Oct 29, 2011 11:01 pm

Years ago, there was a discussion on the RRHX board about the Air Line and a derailment that happened near Tekonsha. Apparently, several cars were damaged so badly that they could not be repaired for railroad use. A pair of stock cars were among those too badly damaged, and they were acquired by a local farmer who dragged them to his field and "put them out to pasture." I found these two cars in a field just off M-60 at 12 Mile Road, near Burlington, where they remain today, and took these photos. My photo captions indicate the wreck was in or around 1960. From the same thread, I recall someone saying there was at least one refrigerator car which was also re-purposed in a non-railroad use and was also relocated to somewhere in the Tekonsha/Burlington area, but I was never able to nail down a location or find it/them. Anyone know of anything about this? Here are the photos of the stock cars:

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Re: Elkhart Branch (Michigan Air Line)

Unread postby railroadchoad » Sat Nov 05, 2011 11:30 pm

I "blame" the Air Line for my life-long interest in trains as it was just beyond the fence of my maternal grandparents' backyard. A visit of any length to their home meant that I would likely see a train as about 6 per day ran in the late '70s and early '80's, IIRC.

The lash-ups of power that would be seen on those trains was so interesting. Elkhart enginehouse seemed to have a vendetta against Jackson and Detroit which they expressed by sending a dog's-breakfast of power on most every train. They were, however, a photographer's delight! Imagine early geeps mixed with the occasional F-Unit with some SDs and ALCos mixed-in for good measure. That was your usual Airline freight consist!

I once had a fellow who lived in Quincy, MI in the 1950s tell me that the NYC had CONSIDERED upgrading the Air Line west from Jackson to a point just West of Concord and build a new piece of railroad from that point down to a point just east of Quincy on the Old Road. They would have upgraded the Old Road from Quincy to Elkhart. It would have been more direct but the land acquisition costs obviously are what caused that idea to go down the tubes. Reportedly, the Central went as far as to survey the route.

I have wanted to check local papers from this period to see if there was any mention of it at the time in order to cooberate the story but have not found the time to do so.
Last edited by railroadchoad on Fri Nov 11, 2011 9:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Elkhart Branch (Michigan Air Line)

Unread postby Ben Higdon » Sun Nov 06, 2011 9:31 am

That doesn't sound too far fetched, if you consider that would have negated the need to build a new connection at White Pigeon Jct and the long connection on the outskirts of Three Rivers. If that was the case, they must have also looked at upgrading the Fort Wayne Branch from Jackson to Jonesville and then the Old Road west. That route generated much more online traffic, and I think would have been the most direct.
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Re: Elkhart Branch (Michigan Air Line)

Unread postby railroadchoad » Sun Nov 06, 2011 6:49 pm

I think he had mentioned that, as well, ben. A look at overhead photos will show that quite a bit of construction around the north side of Jonesville would have been needed in order to accomplish this but I guess it would have been a lot less than what was considered between Concord and Quincy. It certainly would have been about the same or less than what was done at Three Rivers and White Pigeon combined.

There would have been quite a grade to connect the two as on the north side of Jonesville there is a bit of difference in elevation between the lines.
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Re: Elkhart Branch (Michigan Air Line)

Unread postby Tim » Wed Nov 09, 2011 9:01 am

The story I got about the speed limits on the Waterlevel and Air Line was that they were both 60mph for freight and were lowered to 50 in the spring and fall until the ground dried out or froze and the track stabilized. One year they lowered it and never raised it back to 60mph on the Waterlevel but did on the Air Line.
There is an unusual Northern Pacific reefer in a field along the north side of M-60 down in the same neck of the woods as the stock cars at least as late as the early 90s. It is/was a door and a half car and I have a slide of it although a quick perusal of my collection didn't turn them up.
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Re: Elkhart Branch (Michigan Air Line)

Unread postby GP30M4216 » Wed Nov 09, 2011 5:50 pm

"From the same thread, I recall someone saying there was at least one refrigerator car which was also re-purposed in a non-railroad use and was also relocated to somewhere in the Tekonsha/Burlington area, but I was never able to nail down a location or find it/them. Anyone know of anything about this? "

There is an unusual Northern Pacific reefer in a field along the north side of M-60 down in the same neck of the woods as the stock cars at least as late as the early 90s. It is/was a door and a half car and I have a slide of it although a quick perusal of my collection didn't turn them up.


I imagine this has to be the one I was remembering from the post way back in 2005. Northern Pacific, eh? Interesting! Anyone have any ideas where more precisely this car is located? I'd be interested to see your photo Tim, if it does turn up, or anyone else's for that matter. For YEARS I drove down M-60 to visit my grandma in Elkhart and never noticed those two stock cars, which are in pretty plain view. I wonder if the reefer is also in fairly plain view?
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