Dolton Junction

Location

Located south of Chicago in the blue collar suburb of Dolton, this hottest of hotspots
is adjacent to the town hall and police station. Coming from the north on I-94--the Bishop Ford (formerly the Calumet) Expressway--exit at Dolton Avenue (it soon becomes "142nd Street"). Head west for a mile or so to Lincoln Avenue. Turn right and proceed about a half mile to a four-track rail crossing. Do not cross the tracks but turn left into the Dolton City Hall parking lot and park.

Coming from the south on I-94, take the Sibley Boulevard west exit. Turn right at the first stoplight (Michigan City Road, which quickly becomes Lincoln Ave.). The four-track crossing is a little over a mile.

The Railroads

Anyone who has been to this junction has surely placed it in their top ten list of rail hotspots. A typical day sees about 120 trains rumble over the diamonds, which averages out to a train every 12 or 15 minutes. It is not uncommon to have two--or even three--trains passing through simultaneously. Two double track east-west main lines, the Indiana Harbor Belt and, just to its north, CSX (B&OCT), are crossed by the double track Union Pacific main line (ex-MP, ex-C&EI). This line is actually owned jointly by UP and CSX but is operated and maintained by UP. In the old days this line became the Chicago and Western Indiana just north of the junction but is now a UP operation. The CSX line heads northwest to nearby Barr Yard after crossing UP while the IHB continues west to Blue Island Yard about a half mile away. There is also CSX traffic on the UP line (used by trains on its ex-C&EI Evansville and ex-Monon Lafayette routes), and a connector leads off UP south of the diamonds, then crosses the IHB and joins the CSX main just west of the junction. In addition, there are connector tracks between UP and IHB in both the southwest and southeast quadrants, and after the Conrail split a connector was built in the northeast quadrant between CSX and UP.

At one time, the Pennsy's double track Panhandle main line also passed through the junction, entering from the northwest alongside the CSX main, and then crossing the IHB and UP tracks going southeast. This line has been abandoned except for a short stretch that runs northwest from the junction off the IHB main. Traffic consists primarily of Dolton's most unusual denizen, the "bottle train", carrying molten iron from area blast furnaces to a steel-making mill in nearby Riverdale. Older bottle cars have ten axles while newer ones have twelve, and you can sometimes feel the heat from a distance of over 20 feet. The train's original owner, Acme Steel, shut down in October, 2001, and for awhile the train was out of service. The Riverdale plant was reopened in 2003 and the bottle trains are back in operation, running from the former LTV plant in East Chicago (now Arcelor-Mittal Steel) to Riverdale. Unfortunately, the trains do not operate as frequently as the Acme trains did. For a bottle car photo, go to Other South Suburban Junctions and scroll down to the last paragraph of the Calumet Park description.

The interlocking tower still stands and continues in operation. It is located alongside the Panhandle right-of-way and was manned by Pennsy operators back in the old days. It is now operated by IHB. A great variety of trains can be observed here: Canadian Pacific trains use both the IHB and CSX tracks, and Canadian National transfers are common here too. A few runthroughs from BNSF and can be seen, as well as an occasional Norfolk Southern local. As if all this weren't enough, Metra Electric and CN's ex-Illinois Central main line pass over the IHB about a half-mile west of the junction, and are clearly visible from the diamonds. While not a scenic location by any means, Dolton is nonetheless one of the very best places to view trains in the Chicago area, or anywhere else for that matter.

Frequencies

Given the plethora of trains here, you may not feel the need for a scanner.
CSX: 160.230, 160.320, 160.290
IHB: 160.980, 161.070, 160.485
UP: 160.410, 160.470

Accessibility

The southeast quadrant is an open area that has long been used for observing the action. However in August, 2004, IHB posted a trespass sign at the entrance, so it is now off limits. Fortunately, the city hall parking lot just off Lincoln Avenue provides a legal viewing area. You have a front row seat for trains on IHB and CSX, but the UP line is nearly 100 yards away. In addition, the junction's northwest quadrant lies in a city park and can be accessed by a road leading off Lincoln Avenue that runs along the west side of the UP line. An excellent view of both the diamonds and the UP line can be had here, but photography is difficult.

A third location would be "Mount Dolton," a huge mound of excavated dirt about 35 feet high located just west of the Dolton police station. It gives a legal birds-eye view of the entire junction, but be prepared to expend a little effort climbing to the top. See below for a photo from this spot.

For more on CSX (ex-B&O, B&OCT) junctions, see Brighton Park Crossing, Blue Island Crossing, State Line Crossing and Willow Creek Junction.

For more on IHB main line junctions, see Blue Island Crossing, LaGrange / Congress Park, Franklin Park and Hohman Avenue.

For more on UP (ex-C&EI) junctions, see Chicago Heights.

The CSX main also passes through Calumet Park, Pine and Calumet, the IHB main through Calumet Park, Gibson, Argo and Chicago Ridge, and the UP main through Thornton. For more on Calumet Park and Thornton, see Other South Suburban Junctions. For Calumet, Pine and Gibson, see Other Northwest Indiana Junctions. For Argo and Chicago Ridge, see Other West / Southwest Suburban Junctions. For 75th Street, see Other South Side Junctions.

View from Mt. Dolton. Photo by Doug Kaniuk.

DOLTON AND BLUE ISLAND

Dolton Junction and Blue Island Crossing form a matched pair. Each features heavy traffic on CSX and IHB with a third major railroad crossing them--UP at Dolton, CN at Blue Island. Dolton is the eastern gateway to CSX's Barr Yard and IHB's Blue Island Yard, while Blue Island is the western gateway. Both junctions are among the busiest anywhere, with Dolton having a slight edge. Both feature a wide variety of trains, with Blue Island having a slight edge.

The junctions are only about five miles apart. To get to Blue Island from Dolton, head north on Lincoln Avenue to the first stop sign, 138th Street. Turn left and proceed about two miles to Ashland Avenue. Turn right and go under the CSX overpass to Broadway, the first stoplight. Turn left, Blue Island Crossing is a little over a mile. It should be noted that 138th Street is paralleled by Barr Yard a half mile to the north and by Blue Island Yard a half mile to the south. To get a bird's eye view of the two yards, turn at Halsted Street (right for Barr, left for Blue Island), which crosses both of them on viaducts. Halsted is about a mile from the Lincoln/138th intersection.

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