Brighton Park Crossing

Location

An unusual and busy crossing, Brighton Park (also known as "Panhandle Junction") is located southwest of downtown near the intersection of Archer Road and Western Avenue. To get here by auto, take the Stevenson Expressway to Damen and head south to Archer. Turn right and proceed to Western. Cross both Western traffic lanes (there are two parallel thoroughfares here, "Western Avenue" on the west and "Western Boulevard" to the east); ahead of you is an overhead rail line. Turn right just before the bridge and park. An access path climbs up to the southeast quadrant of the junction. The path is just beyond the parking lot of a Burger King restaurant on the northwest corner of Archer and Western.

The northwest quadrant can be reached from 35th Street by heading south on Maplewood Street until it dead ends--about two blocks. An access path leads up to the junction.

You can also get here by taking a Chicago Transit Authority Orange Line train from downtown to the Archer/35th Street station. Walk southwest on Archer past Western to the southeast quadrant access point. The Orange Line trains travel the elevated "loop" in the downtown area. For more on the Orange Line and its rail significance, see the Bridgeport page.

The Railroads

Three north-south lines are crossed by an east-west route. The double track north-south line nearest you was originally the Chicago Junction, a New York Central affiliate built to enable the western railroads to access the stockyards. The CJ was later merged into the Chicago River & Indiana, a terminal road also controlled by the Central. The line became a major artery for NYC traffic being interchanged with the western roads. The CR&I was folded into Conrail in 1976 and is now the property of Norfolk Southern. Paralleling NS is another double track line, CSX's former B&OCT main line that comes north from Blue Island Crossing and passes through 75th Street Junction. Paralleling CSX to the west is a single track branch owned by NS that serves some nearby industries. At one time this was the triple track main line of the Pennsylvania's Panhandle route, but the line was downgraded by Penn Central and Conrail with two of the tracks being removed. Entering the junction from the north is a single track that comes off BNSF's ex-Santa Fe trackage and feeds into the NS line. It provides NS with access to BNSF's Corwith Yard, and enables BNSF road trains to reach Ashland Avenue Yard and NS's Chicago Line.

Crossing all of these tracks is a double track line now owned by Canadian National from here to Joliet. From there to St.Louis it belongs to Union Pacific. This route has a complex history of ownership. The portion to Joliet was owned by Illinois Central until the CN/IC merger, and the Joliet-St.Louis segment by Southern Pacific until the UP/SP merger. Before that, the Joliet-St.Louis part belonged to the shortlived Chicago, Missouri & Western. Before that, the entire Chicago-St.Louis line was the property of Illinois Central Gulf, who was preceded by the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio, whose predecessor in turn was the Alton Road, which for part of its existence was controlled by Baltimore & Ohio. Got it? (There'll be a test in 20 minutes.) Anyway, traffic now consists mostly of CN and UP trains, along with Amtrak's St.Louis trains and a limited number of "Heritage Corridor" commuter trains that operate between Union Station and Joliet. Unlike the ex-Rock Island Joliet commuter line, service on this route is limited to rush hours on weekdays with no trains on weekends.

Traffic is usually heavy here--more than 80 trains a day. NS and CSX are the busiest lines, although CN sees a fair amount of traffic also. There are only occasional movements on the Panhandle and the BNSF feeder line. Augmenting the traffic, however, is the overhead CTA Orange Line viaduct that enters from the east paralleling CN. It curves to the south, crosses the NS and CSX lines, and then parallels them on the west. CTA trains run frequently--about every 10 or 15 minutes.

Brighton Park before 2007

Until July of 2007, Brighton Park was a unique spot, one of the most fascinating--and antiquated--rail locations anywhere. Despite all the trackage, it was not an interlocking, but was run by a "switchtender" who occupied a ramshackle cabin between the CSX and Panhandle tracks. All trains approaching the junction were required to come to a full stop; they were allowed to proceed only when signalled by the switchtender, who used manually operated semaphores to convey his messages. The switchtender was also responsible for the manually operated switches allowing trains on the BNSF connection to access NS. Going to Brighton was like going back to the 1940s--one of the few places where semaphores actuated by rods could still be found.

It's much different now. The semaphores and cabin have been removed, and Brighton has become a genuine interlocking plant controlled remotely by Norfolk Southern dispatchers at Ashland Avenue Yard just southeast of here. The photos on this page show Brighton Park as it was before the upgrading. While it's no longer the intriguing relic it once was, Brighton remains an important and interesting location.

Frequencies

NS: 160.800, 161.070, 160.980
CSX: 160.230, 160.320
CN/IC: 160.920

Accessibility

Do not venture beyond the access paths described above. Doing so will put you on railroad property. A halfway decent view of the diamonds can be had in each case. The surrounding neighborhood is fairly benign, but a little caution is not a bad idea.

For more on CSX (ex-B&OCT, ex-B&O) junctions, see Blue Island Crossing, Dolton Junction, State Line Crossing and Willow Creek Junction. See also Calumet Park at Other South Suburban Junctions, and Calumet and Pine at Other Northwest Indiana Junctions. See also 75th Street at Other South Side Junctions.

For more on CN's line to Joliet, see Joliet Station and 21st Street Crossing.

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