Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Today's Train of Thought- Of Paramount Concern, July 31st 2013

Today's Train of Thought takes us to the Land of Lincoln, although the focal point is somewhat lost among the urban landscape of one of Chicagoland's biggest suburbs. Aurora, IL is probably best known for being the home of the fictional public-access cable show Wayne's World- a Saturday Night Live skit that would evolve into two movies.

The Illinois Railway (formerly Illinois Rail Net) has been in operation since purchasing 113 miles of former BNSF track throughout northern Illinois in 1997, including the former CB&Q Ottawa branch. By 2005, the line was acquired by Denver-based shortline holding company Omnitrax.

Not too long after Omnitrax entered the picture, locomotives from other Omnitrax properties began showing up on IR property- most noticeably SD50s from the Manitoba-based Hudson Bay Railway painted in a striking green, white and gold scheme.

Here, contributor Chris Guss caught Hudson Bay Railway SD50 #5008 leading a former Burlington Northern/BNSF SD40-2 leaser with a northbound IR unit frac sand train from Ottawa, IL through the heart of Aurora on August 28, 2011. But the train is seemingly dwarfed by some of the buildings in the scene- one notices the marquee for the Paramount Theater or faded 'shoes' sign off on the left immediately. The train soaring across the overpass or cars waiting at the stoplight seem almost secondary.

The train is actually on BNSF trackage rights between Montgomery, IL and the BNSF's Eola yard not too far from downtown Aurora.

With the advent of hydrofracture drilling (or "fracking") in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale natural gas reserves or North Dakota's Bakken oil fields, the sand mined around Ottawa and other northeastern Illinois towns has been in big demand in recent years. This has led to near-daily unit trains of frac sand for lines like the Illinois Railway or Wisconsin Northern, so it's not surprising that to learn that these massive unit trains on these smaller railroads continue to this very day.

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