Illinois Central Railroad
Combined route map of the Chicago Central and Pacific (red) and Illinois Central (blue) railroads in 1996.[1]
Two Illinois Central EMD SD70s lead a train at Homewood, Illinois
HeadquartersChicago, Illinois
Reporting markIC
LocaleMidwest to Gulf Coast, United States
Dates of operation1851–1999
SuccessorCanadian National Railway
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Previous gauge5 ft (1,524 mm)
Length3,130.21 mi (5,037.58 km)

The Illinois Central Railroad (reporting mark IC), sometimes called the Main Line of Mid-America, was a railroad in the Central United States, with its primary routes connecting Chicago, Illinois, with New Orleans, Louisiana, and Mobile, Alabama, and thus, the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. A line also connected Chicago west to Sioux City, Iowa (1870). There was a significant branch to Omaha, Nebraska (1899), west of Fort Dodge, Iowa, and another branch reaching Sioux Falls, South Dakota (1877), starting from Cherokee, Iowa. The IC also serviced Miami, Florida, on trackage owned by other railroads.

Beginning in 1850, IC was the first U.S. railroad in which construction was partially financed through a federal land grant - such financing became a key to building U.S. railroads in the 19th century. The Canadian National Railway acquired control of the IC in 1998, and merged its operations in 1999. The Illinois Central Railroad maintains its corporate existence as a non-operating subsidiary.


The IC was one of the oldest Class I railroads in the United States. The company was incorporated by the Illinois General Assembly on January 16, 1836.[2] Within a few months Rep. Zadok Casey (D-Illinois) introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives authorizing a land grant to the company to construct a line from the mouth of the Ohio River to Chicago and on to Galena.[3] Federal support, however, was not approved until 1850, when U.S. President Millard Fillmore signed a land grant for the construction of the railroad.[4] The Illinois Central was the first land-grant railroad in the United States.[5]

Illinois Central ad (1870)
Illinois Central Rail Road share, issued 1899

The Illinois Central was chartered by the Illinois General Assembly on February 10, 1851.[6] Senator Stephen A. Douglas and later President Abraham Lincoln were both Illinois Central men who lobbied for it. Douglas owned land near the terminal in Chicago. Lincoln was a lawyer for the railroad. Illinois legislators appointed Samuel D. Lockwood, recently retired from the Illinois Supreme Court (who may have given both lawyers the oral examination before admitting them to the Illinois bar), as a trustee on the new railroad's board to guard the public's interest. Lockwood, who would serve more than two decades until his death, had overseen federal land monies shortly after Illinois' statehood, then helped oversee early construction of the recently completed Illinois and Michigan Canal.

Upon its completion in 1856, the IC was the longest railroad in the world. Its main line went from Cairo, Illinois, at the southern tip of the state, to Galena, in the northwest corner. A branch line went from Centralia (named for the railroad), to the rapidly growing city of Chicago. In Chicago, its tracks were laid along the shore of Lake Michigan and on an offshore causeway downtown, but land-filling and natural deposition have moved the present-day shore to the east. Track from Centralia north to Freeport would be abandoned in the 1980s, as traffic to Galena was routed via Chicago.

In 1867, the Illinois Central extended its track into Iowa. During the 1870s and 1880s, the IC acquired and expanded railroads in the southern United States. IC lines crisscrossed the state of Mississippi and went as far south as New Orleans, Louisiana, and east to Louisville, Kentucky. In the 1880s, northern lines were built to Dodgeville, Wisconsin; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Omaha, Nebraska. Further expansion continued into the early twentieth century.

The Illinois Central, and the other "Harriman lines" owned by E.H. Harriman by the twentieth century, became the target of the Illinois Central shopmen's strike of 1911. Although marked by violence and sabotage in the southern, midwestern, and western states, the strike was effectively over in a few months. The railroads simply hired replacements, among them African-American strikebreakers, and withstood diminishing union pressure. The strike was eventually called off in 1915.

Revenue freight ton-miles (millions)
IC (incl Y&MV, G&SI) Vicksburg, Shreveport, & Pacific Alabama & Vicksburg
1925 15,050 239 159
1933 7,776 (into Y&MV) (into Y&MV)
1944 24,012
1960 17,171
1970 22,902
Revenue passenger-miles (millions)
IC (incl Y&MV, G&SI) Vicksburg Shreveport & Pacific Alabama & Vicksburg
1925 982 22 20
1933 547 (into Y&MV) (into Y&MV)
1944 2225
1960 848
1970 764

The totals above do not include the Waterloo RR, Batesville Southwestern, Peabody Short Line or CofG and its subsidiaries. On December 31, 1925, IC/Y&MV/G&SI operated 6,562 route-miles on 11,030 miles of track; A&V and VS&P added 330 route-miles and 491 track-miles. At the end of 1970, IC operated 6,761 miles of road and 11,159 of track.

In 1960, the railroad retired its last steam locomotive, 2-8-2 Mikado #1518. On August 31, 1962, the railroad was incorporated as Illinois Central Industries, Inc. ICI acquired Abex Corporation (formerly American Brake Shoe and Foundry Co.) in 1968.[7]

Illinois Central Gulf Railroad (1972–1988)

ICG logo
ICG hopper with ACI plate

On August 10, 1972, the Illinois Central Railroad merged with the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad to form the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad (reporting mark ICG). October 30 of that year saw the Illinois Central Gulf commuter rail crash, the company's deadliest.

At the end of 1980, ICG operated 8,366 miles of railroad on 13,532 miles of track; that year it reported 33,276 million ton-miles of revenue freight and 323 million passenger-miles. Later in that decade, the railroad spun off most of its east–west lines and many of its redundant north–south lines, including much of the former GM&O. Most of these lines were bought by other railroads, including entirely new railroads such as the Chicago, Missouri and Western Railway; Paducah and Louisville Railway; Chicago Central and Pacific Railroad; and MidSouth Rail Corporation.

In 1988, the railroad's parent company, IC Industries, spun off its remaining rail assets and changed its name to Whitman Corporation.[8][9] On February 29, 1988, the newly separated ICG dropped the "Gulf" from its name and again became the Illinois Central Railroad.

Canadian National Railway (1998–present)

On February 11, 1998, the IC was purchased for about $2.4 billion in cash and shares by Canadian National Railway (CN). Integration of operations began July 1, 1999.


Passenger train service

Illinois Central 1850 planned Route Map
Illinois Central 1892 Route Map

Illinois Central was the major carrier of passengers on its Chicago-to-New Orleans mainline and between Chicago and St. Louis. IC also ran passengers on its Chicago-to-Omaha line, though it was never among the top performers on this route. Illinois Central's largest passenger terminal, Central Station, stood at 12th Street east of Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Due to the railroad's north–south route from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes, Illinois Central passenger trains were one means of transport during the African American Great Migration of the 1920s.[10]

Illinois Central's most famous train was the Panama Limited, a premier all-Pullman car service between Chicago and New Orleans, with a section breaking off at Carbondale to serve St. Louis. In 1949, it added a daytime all-coach companion, the City of New Orleans, which operated with a St. Louis section breaking off at Carbondale and a Louisville section breaking off at Fulton, Kentucky. In 1967, due to losses incurred by the operation of the train, the Illinois Central combined the Panama Limited with a coach-only train called the Magnolia Star.

On May 1, 1971, Amtrak took over intercity rail service. It retained service over the IC mainline, but dropped the Panama Limited in favor of the City of New Orleans. However, since it did not connect with any other trains in either New Orleans or Chicago, Amtrak moved the route to an overnight schedule and brought back the Panama Limited name. However, it restored the City of New Orleans name in 1981, while retaining the overnight schedule. This was to capitalize on the popularity of a song about the train written by Steve Goodman and performed by Arlo Guthrie. Willie Nelson's recording of the song was #1 on the Hot Country Charts in 1984.

Illinois Central ran several other trains along the main route including The Creole and The Louisiane.

The Green Diamond was the Illinois Central's premier train between Chicago, Springfield and St. Louis. Other important trains included the Hawkeye which ran daily between Chicago and Sioux City and the City of Miami eventually running every other day between Chicago and Miami via the Atlantic Coast Line, the Central of Georgia Railroad and Florida East Coast Railway.

The Illinois Central was also a major operator of commuter trains in the Chicago area, operating what eventually became the "IC Electric" line from Randolph Street Terminal in downtown Chicago to the southeast suburbs. In 1987, IC sold this line to Metra, who operates it as the Metra Electric District. It still operates out of what is now Millennium Station, which is still called "Randolph Street Terminal" by many longtime Chicago-area residents. In honor of the Panama Limited, the Electric District appears as "Panama Orange" on Metra system maps and timetables. Additionally, the IC operated a second commuter line out of Chicago (the West Line) which served Chicago's western suburbs. Unlike the electrified commuter service, the West Line did not generate much traffic and was eliminated in 1931.

Amtrak presently runs three trains daily over this route, the City of New Orleans and the Illini and Saluki between Chicago and Carbondale. Another Illinois corridor service is planned for the former Black Hawk route between Chicago, Rockford and Dubuque. Amtrak, at the state of Illinois' request, did a feasibility study to reinstate the Black Hawk route to Rockford and Dubuque. Initial capital costs range from $32 million to $55 million, depending on the route. Once in operation, the service would require roughly $5 million a year in subsidies from the state.[11]

On December 10, 2010, IDOT announced the route choice for the resumption of service to begin in 2014 going over mostly CN railway.[12][better source needed]

Illinois Central named trains

The City of New Orleans at Champaign, IL station on October 27, 1962.
IC's City of New Orleans at Kankakee, Illinois in 1964
Train End point End point
Cannonball Express
Chickasaw St. Louis New Orleans
City of Miami Chicago Miami
City of New Orleans Chicago New Orleans
Creole Chicago, Louisville and St. Louis New Orleans
Daylight Chicago St. Louis
Delta Express Memphis, Tennessee Greenville, Mississippi
Floridan Chicago and St. Louis Miami
Green Diamond Chicago St. Louis
Governor's Special Chicago Springfield, Illinois
Hawkeye Chicago Sioux City, Iowa/Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Illini Chicago Champaign, Illinois
Iowan Chicago Sioux City, Iowa
Irvin S. Cobb Louisville, Kentucky Memphis, Tennessee
Kentucky Cardinal Louisville, Kentucky Memphis, Tennessee
Land O'Corn Chicago Waterloo, Iowa
Louisiane Chicago and Louisville New Orleans
Magnolia Star Chicago New Orleans
Mid-American Chicago St. Louis/Memphis, Tennessee
Miss Lou Jackson, Mississippi New Orleans
Night Diamond Chicago St. Louis
Northern Express Chicago New Orleans
Northeastern Limited Shreveport, Louisiana Meridian, Mississippi with continuing sleepers to New York City on the Southern Railway's Pelican
Panama Limited Chicago New Orleans
Planter Memphis, Tennessee New Orleans
Seminole Chicago and St. Louis Jacksonville, Florida
Shawnee Chicago Carbondale, Illinois
Sinnissippi Chicago Freeport, Iowa
Southern Express Chicago New Orleans
Southwestern Limited Meridian, Mississippi with continuing sleepers from New York City on the Southern Railway's Pelican Shreveport, Louisiana
Sunchaser (winter only) Chicago and St. Louis Miami, Florida

Company officers

Presidents of the Illinois Central Railroad have included:

This transport-related list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items. (August 2008)


IC 201 preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum.
IC 333 preserved at Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad Company Depot

Some historic equipment owned and used by Illinois Central can be found in museums across the United States, including:

Mississippi Central (1852–1878)

The original Mississippi Central line was chartered in 1852. Construction of the 255 miles (410 km) 5 ft (1,524 mm)[20] gauge line began in 1853 and was completed in 1860, just prior to the Civil War, from Canton, Mississippi to Jackson, Tennessee.[21] The southern terminus of the line connected to the New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern Railroad at Canton. It also connected to the Memphis and Charleston Railroad at Grand Junction, Tennessee and the Mobile and Ohio Railroad at Jackson, Tennessee. The Mississippi Central was the scene of several military actions from 1862 to 1863 and was severely damaged during the fighting.[22] Company president, Absolom M. West succeeded in repairing the damage and returning it to operating condition soon after the end of the War.

By 1874, interchange traffic with the Illinois Central Railroad was important enough that the IC installed a Nutter hoist at Cairo, Illinois to interchange between its standard gauge equipment broad gauge used by the Mississippi Central. This allowed the trucks to be exchanged on 16-18 freight cars per hour, and one Pullman car could be changed in 15 minutes.[23] The original Mississippi Central line was merged into the Illinois Central Railroad subsidiary Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans Railroad in several transactions finally completed in 1878.[24][25]

Mississippi Central (1897–1967)

Mississippi Central Railroad passenger train in Sumrall, Mississippi, early 1900s.

A line started in 1897 as the "Pearl and Leaf Rivers Railroad" was built by the J.J. Newman Lumber Company from Hattiesburg, to Sumrall. In 1904 the name was changed to the Mississippi Central Railroad (reporting mark MSC). In 1906 the Natchez and Eastern Railway was formed to build a rail line from Natchez to Brookhaven. In 1909 this line was absorbed by the Mississippi Central.

For a short time during the 1920s, the line operated a service named "The Natchez Route", running trains from Natchez to Mobile, Alabama through trackage agreements with the Gulf, Mobile and Northern Railroad. At Natchez, freight cars were ferried across the Mississippi River to connect with the Louisiana and Arkansas Railway to institute through traffic into Shreveport, Louisiana. In 1967 the property of the Mississippi Central was sold to the Illinois Central Railroad.[26]

See also


  1. ^ Illinois Central Corporation 1996 Annual Report. Illinois Central Railroad. 1997.
  2. ^ "An Act to Incorporate the Illinois Central Rail Road Company," Laws of the State of Illinois passed by the Ninth General Assembly at their Second Session..., Vandalia: J.Y. Sawyer, 1836, p. 129
  3. ^ U.S. House of Representatives,24th Congress, 1st Session, Report No. 1498, 31 March 1836.
  4. ^ Sanborn, John Bell (1897). Railroad Land Grants 1850-1857; a Thesis Submitted for the Degree of Master of Letters in History and Economics. University of Wisconsin. p. 59 – via Google Books. The Illinois Central ... law was approved Sept. 20, 1850 ...
  5. ^ Brownson, Howard Gray, Ph.D. (1967) [1915]. History of the Illinois Central Railroad to 1870 (first reprint ed.). University of Illinois. p. 157 – via Google Books. The first land grant ever given by Congress to assist in the construction of a railroad ...((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ a b Steamtown National Historic Site, Illinois Central Railroad number 790 Archived 2006-05-08 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved February 10, 2006.
  7. ^ ABEX Corporation and asbestos - History. Accessed 9 June 2022.
  8. ^ ICI, Pepsi organization OK merger Railway Age January 5, 1970 page 8
  9. ^ After the divestiture, Whitman's businesses included Pepsi bottling, Hussman commercial refrigeration, Midas auto repair, and Pet Company, makers of Old El Paso, Progresso, and Whitman Chocolates food products. By 2000, Whitman had sold off all of its non-bottling interests, purchased Minnesota-based bottler PepsiAmericas, and assumed that company's name. "Whitman to Acquire Rival Bottler, Names New Ceo". Chicago Tribune. August 22, 2000.
  10. ^ Giles Oakley (1997). The Devil's Music. Da Capo Press. p. 76. ISBN 978-0-306-80743-5.
  11. ^ "Amtrak-Illinois dot feasibility study determines most direct route best for service to Rockford, northwestern Illinois and Dubuque, Iowa" (PDF). Amtrak. May 16, 2007. Retrieved May 2, 2008.[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ "Amtrak Black Hawk Service Restoration Status Updates". Trainorders. April 7, 2011. Archived from the original on June 18, 2018. Retrieved April 7, 2011.
  13. ^ Ackerman, William K., Railroad Historical Company, Illinois Central Railroad Company (1900). History of the Illinois Central Railroad Company and Representative Employes By William K. Ackerman, Railroad Historical Company, Illinois Central Railroad Company. Railroad Historical Company. Retrieved February 9, 2009.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ Stover, John F., Purdue University. "The Management of the Illinois Central Railroad in the 20th Century" (PDF). Retrieved February 9, 2006.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ Downey, Clifford J. (2007). Chicago and the Illinois Central Railroad. Images of rail. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing. p. 10. ISBN 978-0-7385-5074-9.
  16. ^ "Harrison succeeds Ed Moyers at IC". Railway Age. 194 (3): 14. March 1993.
  17. ^ Boucher, Frederick. "2-8-2 Steam Loco Illinois Central 1518". Archived from the original on January 24, 2019. Retrieved July 27, 2019.
  18. ^ "French Lick West Baden & Southern Rwy Caboose 9422 (Indiana Railway Museum)".
  19. ^
    ICRR Caboose in Grayville, Illinois
  20. ^ "Mississippi Central Railroad". CSA Railroads. Archived from the original on June 18, 2018. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  21. ^ "Confederate Railroads – History, Maps & Equipment". Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  22. ^ "The Mississippi Central Railroad Campaign". Archived from the original on June 18, 2018. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  23. ^ Edward Vernon, The Decline in Railroad Construction, Editorial, American Railroad Manual New York, 1874; page li.
  24. ^ "A Brief Historical Sketch of the Illinois Central Railroad". Illinois Central Historical Society. Archived from the original on January 11, 2012. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  25. ^ No. 1737, Grafton T. Nutter, Jersey City, N.J., U.S., 2nd November, 1872, for 10 years: "A Railway Wagon Lifting Machine", The Canadian Patent Office Record, Vol. 1, No. 1 (March, 1873); page 8.
  26. ^ Moody's Transportation Manual (1975), p. xxx