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NRHS Iowa Northern Railway Cedar Rapids to Waterloo 6/23/2012

by Chris Guenzler

I arose at 4:30 AM and after preparing myself for the day, I saw on that Nathan's video was the video of the day and he was really happy. I walked over to the Clarion Hotel and walked straight onto the crew bus for the train.

Iowa Northern Railway History

The Iowa Northern route between Cedar Rapids and Manly has an interesting history, common of many granger railroads. The oldest part of the line was built in the late 1860's by the Cedar Rapids and Saint Paul Railway Company, incorporated on October 2, 1865. It was incorporated "for the purpose of constructing, owning and operating a railroad and branches extending northwesterly from Cedar Rapids in the County of Linn in the State of Iowa, up the Cedar Valley in said State." However, the line was only built from Cedar Rapids to Vinton, Iowa (24 miles) via Linn Junction, Palo, Shellsburg and Greasers.

A second railroad was chartered on October 7, 1867, "to construct and operate a railroad extending from Cedar Rapids to Burlington, via Iowa City, via Wapello, to connect with a road from Burlington via Keokuk and St. Louis." This railroad, the Cedar Rapids and Burlington Railroad Company, never built any track. Both lines were consolidated into the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Minnesota Railway Company on June 30, 1868. The Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Minnesota Railway Company was created to "consolidate the Cedar Rapids & Burlington Railroad Company and the Cedar Rapids and St. Paul Railway into one organization; to acquire all the franchises, property and rights of both of said Companies; to locate, construct, maintain and operate a railway with double and single track and with all necessary branches, fences, bridges, warehouses, elevators, steamboats, lands and such other appendages as may be deemed necessary for the convenient use and profitable management of the same, from the City of Burlington, via Wapello, West Branch, Cedar Rapids, Vinton and Waterloo, to and into the State of Minnesota."

Construction started from Burlington, Iowa in early 1869 and the line reached Columbus Junction (41 miles of track) by the end of 1870, and Cedar Rapids (98 miles) in late 1871. Additionally, the railroad extended the line from Vinton to Waterloo by Christmas of the same year. In 1872, the line was further extended on to Plymouth Junction. However, all construction stopped by September 1873 due to the financial panic and the company defaulted on its bonds during November 1873. On May 19, 1875, the company fell into receivership and was sold to the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern Railway Company in June 1876. The Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern Railway Company of Iowa was incorporated in June 1868 "to carry into effect a plan heretofore adopted for the reorganization of the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Minnesota Railway Company".

The railroad finished the line from Plymouth Junction to Manly, Iowa (5 miles) by July 5, 1877. On July 15, 1885, the railroad became controlled by Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway Company through majority stock purchase. On June 1, 1902, the railroad was leased to Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway Company for 999 years. Finally, on June 15, 1903, the BCR&N was sold to Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway Company.

As the Rock Island system matured, this route became a key component of the system, hosting numerous freights, especially during the harvest season. The route may be most famous for being part of the route of the Zephyr Rocket, a passenger train jointly operated by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy and Rock Island between St. Louis and Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota. Because of this, much of the line was double-tracked and signalized. Although the last Zephyr Rocket operated on April 8, 1967, the line remained under ABS control until the end of the railroad. For example, the CRIP Illinois Division Employee Timetable #9 (August 21, 1977), indicated that ABS signals were in effect from milepost 97.6 (Cedar Rapids) to milepost 225.1 (Manly).

The line remained in Rock Island ownership until bankruptcy in 1980. On August 7, 1981, Iowa Northern service between Cedar Rapids and Vinton and from Shell Rock to Nora Springs started, owned by on-line shippers. By mid-1982, the operations had been connected and expanded to the present size. In July 1984, Iowa Northern Railway purchased its line from the bankrupt Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad estate for $5.4 million. Iowa Northern Railway was incorporated in 1984 and was one of the first short-line railroads in the state of Iowa. The line was sold in 1994 to the Iron Road Railway Company, which was headquartered in Livonia, Michigan. In July 1994, IANR abandoned a 14-mile branch from Vinton to Dysart, Iowa.

Iowa Northern Railway

The Iowa Northern Railway operates 163 miles in Iowa between Cedar Rapids in eastern Iowa and Manly in north central Iowa. The railroad connects with the Cedar Rapids & Iowa City Railway in Cedar Rapids; with the Canadian National Railway in Cedar Rapids and Waterloo; with the Canadian Pacific Railway subsidiary Iowa, Chicago and Eastern Railroad in Nora Springs; and with the Union Pacific Railroad in Manly, Waterloo and Cedar Rapids. The railroad is headquartered in the old Paramount Theatre Building at 305 Second Street in Cedar Rapids. Iowa Northern also has Customer Service and General Offices located in Greene and its Bryant Yard Shops are located in Waterloo.

After the short line was established in 1984, the railroad handled 12,000 revenue cars and the average track speed was less than 10 mph. By 2006, traffic had surged to 40,000 revenue cars and the average track speed was now 30 mph. Currently, traffic handled by the IANR includes grain, ethanol and other biofuels related commodities, chemicals, food products and machinery. Today, nearly 200 million bushels of grain, corn and soybeans are loaded each year at approximately 20 online elevators. Currently, most grain and corn traffic loaded along the IANR is destined to Cedar Rapids for processing into sweeteners, alcohol and corn starch at plants operated by ADM and Cargill.

Iowa Northern trains, crews and locomotives can be found just about anywhere at any time along the railroad. However, IANR crews are primarily based out of Greene and Waterloo. Crews out of Greene handle the Waterloo to Manly segment using one set of locomotives, normally two to three units. Generally, there are three crews working three shifts daily (7am, 3pm, and 11pm), taking a company vehicle out to the train wherever it happens to be when their tour of duty begins. For service south of Waterloo, a crew called most evenings at Bryant Yard to make a run to Cedar Rapids, arriving there sometime between midnight and 2am. This crew often gets relieved at Cedar Rapids between 3 and 5am and comes back north to Bryant Yard. If time permits, they also operate a transfer to the UP Linden Yard at Waterloo prior to a late-morning tie up. Four to five locomotives are used on this normally long and heavy tonnage train.

When the Fairbank ethanol plant was opened, train service to Oelwein was expanded from a once-per-week routine to every day. A crew is called to work at 11am at Bryant Yard for the run to Fairbank and operates to Oelwein as needed, usually on Tuesday and Thursday, although Saturday service has been known to happen. Several yard crews are also assigned to the yard and transload complex at Manly. The crew normally operates during daylight hours Monday through Saturday.

Besides the freight trains, the Iowa Northern also operates passenger trains. In 2006, the Iowa Northern purchased six former C&NW/Metra Chicago bi-level commuter cars and a former Amtrak F40PHR locomotive for their Hawkeye Express train. The Hawkeye Express is a train designed to haul people to University of Iowa football games in Iowa City. The train operates on the Iowa Interstate, but some special trips are made on the Iowa Northern. Today, the Iowa Northern Railway is under Sabin Family ownership and management.

The Train's Consist

Iowa Northern F40PH 451, NSRX coach 202 "Wenonah" PPCX 800261, NSRX coach 203 " Nokomis" PPCX 800898, NSRX coach 7616 "Lake Pepin" PPCX 800799, NRHX 142 "Franklin Inn" PPCX 800957, "Braddock Inn" PPCX 800854, New York Central tavern lounge 38 PPCX 800655, High Iron dome 60 "Scenic View" (former Santa Fe 551), NSRX "Super Dome" 53 PPCX 800862, NRSX Skytop Lounge Observation 186 "Cedar Rapids" PPCX 800040 and Iowa Northern F40PH 678.

The Deadheading Trip

I walked off the crew bus and made my way to the rear of our train.

Our train at the Smith-Dow Yard.

Iowa Northern F40PH 678, ex. Ferromex 241, nee Amtrak 241 built by Electro-Motive Division in 1977. I started writing the Friday story while we waited to leave for our boarding area for this morning.

The first part of the trip would be the same as yesterday over to the Corn Sweetner wye.

Rain was expected later today.

We took the turn into the Archer-Daniels-Midland plant yard.

The Crandic power waiting for us to clear.

Our train took the curve in the yard.

Our train reached the Corn Sweetner yard wye and we went to the right as we did yesterday morning.

Once we started going this way, my new rail mileage began.

I was now on new rail mileage.

We went under US 30.

The Crandic power set was ready to go to work.

The train crossed Prairie Creek.

The Cedar Rapids Speedway.

The wye at Engleside takes trains east to the Prairie Creek Power Plant, a coal-fired power station owned and operated by Alliant Energy.

We crossed over the former Chicago and North Western mainline, now Union Pacific, on which we came into Cedar Rapids.

The train on the approach to Wilson Yard.

Entering Wilson Yard.

A deer was spotted.

We ran through the yard to its north end and kept going.

Another Crandic power set. Soon we were running behind the Crandic shops.

More Crandic motive power.

Cedar Rapids and Iowa City SW1500 116 nee Tennessee Copper 108 built by Electro-Motive Division in 1970.

Cedar Rapids and Iowa City caboose 725, ex. Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific 17605, nee Lehigh Valley 95135 built by the railroad in 1946.

Cedar Rapids and Iowa City passenger car of unknown history; perhaps Penn Central?

Cedar Rapids and Iowa City SD40T-2 2653, ex. Union Pacific 2653, exx. Union Pacific 8624, nee Denver and Rio Grande Western 5367 built by Electro-Motive Division in 1975.

Leaving the Crandic shop area.

We continued east into Cedar Rapids.

A Morrison Knudsen hopper car.

A few more blocks until we reached our boarding site.

The train has reached the boarding site in Cedar Rapids this morning.

The Trip to Waterloo.

I collected all the passengers' dome class tickets and turned them in to Al Weber. We departed right at 8:00 AM bound for Waterloo.

Passing a local industry on our way to the Cedar Rapids bridge.

The train with the Skytop observation car "Cedar Rapids" crossing the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids.

Ducks in the Cedar Rapids.

We went by the Cedar Rapids barbecue event which was occurring this weekend.

Passing through downtown Cedar Rapids.

The Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern Railway Company office building.

A railfan captures our train.

We reached IC Junction.

The Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific station in Cedar Rapids.

The train headed for Union Pacific's North Yard.

The Quaker Oats plant.

Entering North Yard.

This picture shows the observation car "Cedar Rapids" in its namesake city.

The north end of the Quaker Oats yard.

Leaving Cedar Rapids.

A boat ramp on the banks of the Cedar River.

Views along the Cedar River.

The train crossed the Cedar River with old cement and stone abutments from the former Chicago, Milwaukee St. Paul and Pacific line between Marion (to the east) and Elberon (to the west). We then proceeded through Palo before crossing Bear Creek on a six-span deck plate girder bridge, and into Shellsburg where we stopped for the first photo runby of the day.

Reverse move 1.

Photo runby 1.

Click here for Part 2 of this story