Right Place, Wrong Time


Sometimes it's not hard to imagine the way things were as we stand in the presence of what remains.  It's an uneasy feeling: to know that everything is set and right - but for the timing.  The location is right: the corn grows in the fields as it seemingly always has, warm summer days roll across the lands and in the distance, the Erie Railroad RX Round Lake Interlocking stands against the sky.  The only thing wrong is the year on the calendar.  Right place, wrong time.

Standing above these cornfields of a late summer in Indiana, near the town of Laketon, rise these remains of the RX Round Lake Interlocking.  It's the haunt of old passenger trains like the Lake Cities and Phoebe Snow, the place where 20 cylinder SD45s hauled piggybacks with supporting E8s that were kicked down from passenger service when that ended.  Instead of an east-west mainline beneath the great signals there are only weeds, trees, and a familiar empty feeling.

It's not just the tracks and trains that are gone here.  Gone too, a UPS preferred New York - Chicago connection, small daily things like friendly waves of a crew and the "always there" presence of another train rumbling by somewhere in the night.  The crew changes, the passengers - all of it just gone.  This forgotten NY-CHI connection recedes daily into the Indiana farmlands.  

Perhaps that is what makes things like RX Round Lake so especially disturbing.  Standing as it has for decades it still throws its shadow across a world that has moved on without it.  Looking out across the corn field, one can't tell the right of way is consumed by trees and neglect.  It seems ready, as it always has been, to see something special roll quickly across the scene, making a run to Chicago like a shot across these flat lands.   Right place, wrong time.


Fred M. Cain said…

There is another place in Indiana, I think it’s along State Route 15, where the Erie mainline can be seen approaching from the west on a huge, overgrown fill. As it approaches S.R. 15, it just suddenly “disappears” into thin air! Apparently it was “mined”.

Forty years ago I vaguely remember hearing about a plan whereby someone was proposing to merge the Milwaukee Road and the Erie together to create one, long transcontinental railroad. It’s intriguing to ponder “what might’ve been”. I don’t remember what happened but the plan did not come to fruition. What a terrible shame it didn’t.

The Erie was similar to the Milwaukee in that it was one of the last mainlines to be built in the East. Therefore it was also built to one of the highest standards in the East. After Conrail took over, there were several duplicate lines between the Northeast and Chicago. They decided they needed to rationalize in order to survive. The Erie did not make the cut because it didn’t have nearly as much online business as the ex-NYC route.

The irony of it all is that in 21st Century railroading, lineside businesses aren’t as important as they used to be. What seems to be gaining business are long-distance intermodal routes where long-distance containers can move fast. That would tend to describe both the Erie and the Milwaukee. They would fit that bill.

What a terrible shame they were abandoned. There were also incompetent and inept politicians in Washington who were no help. I won’t mention any names but now today, it is what it is, I guess.

Fred M. Cain
LinesWest said…
Fred, thanks for the thoughts and recollections here. I hadn't heard much about a MILW-Erie combination, but I know that the Rock and the Erie were pretty serious about it in the mid-sixties. As I recall this was the time when the Rock was also courting the UP (and stopped spending on things like maintenance to help their balance sheets). When that merger fell apart, I don't think the Erie-Rock was ever pursued again. The Rock Island, at least, was in bad enough shape that the focus was on other things. I'll have to go back and see if I can pull any real info on that.


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