Where else on the planet can you find all of these within a half-mile of each other: a busy rail junction, two rail yards, a marina just off a major body of water, a steel mill and a casino? They're all here at Indiana Harbor in East Chicago, Indiana, one of the most fascinating junction sites anywhere. Mittal (formerly Inland) Steel's huge mill and Resorts casino are both near the junction, and to top it off, everything can be viewed safely from a pedestrian bridge above railroad property. (However, see the Accessibility remarks below.) The bridge also offers a fine view of Lake Michigan.
From Chicago, take I-90 (the Dan Ryan Expressway, then the Chicago Skyway and later the Indiana Toll Road) to the Indiana Rte. 912 exit in Hammond (exit 3). Head east about four miles and take the exit titled "Inland Steel Plant 2, Pastrick Marina, Jeorse Park." You will circle upwards to an overhead road; once there take the exit that reads "Pastrick Marina, Jeorse Park". You will circle downward to a stoplight. Turn right, go under the bridge and turn left immediately. Go to the end of the road, get off the pavement and park in the area between the pavement and a chainlink fence. To your left you will see a walkway that winds upward to a pedestrian overpass. Walk up to the overpass and you're there.
Alternatively, follow the directions to Pine Junction but instead of exiting at 5th Avenue, continue north on Ind. Rte. 912 and take the exit that reads: "Pastrick Marina-Jeorse Park". Turn left at the first stoplight (Resorts' hotel and casino will be on your right) and continue past the next stoplight and under the bridge just beyond it. Turn left immediately after the bridge, go to the end of the pavement and park as described above.
Norfolk Southern's busy, triple-track Chicago Line (ex-Conrail, ex-NYC) is just below you. Just north of and parallel to NS is a single track line--known as the "lakefront branch"--belonging to Elgin, Joliet & Eastern ("the J" for short) which was acquired by Canadian National in January, 2009. To its north is the huge Arcelor-Mittal steel mill (formerly Inland Steel). The walkway provides an excellent bird's eye view of the plant, its rail yard and its rebuilt switchers that handle traffic within the mill. The switchers have Caterpillar engines and most are controlled remotely by an operator who serves as both engineer and brakeman.
About 100 yards west of the overpass, the Indiana Harbor Belt's Kankakee Line (formerly the Danville Secondary) crosses NS to access the mill. At one time this route was known as the "Egyptian Line" since it went south to Cairo, Illinois, and the area known as Little Egypt. Nowadays, it runs to Schneider, Indiana, where it connects with NS' ex-Conrail, ex-NYC Kankakee Belt line (from Schneider south to Danville, Illinois, the track remains but most of it is out of service). IHB operates the line from here to Osborn interlocking in Hammond, where it crosses the NS ex-Nickel Plate main. South of there, it was once a New York Central property but now belongs to NS, who inherited it from CR. There are wye tracks in both the southeast and southwest quadrants of the junction. To the east the IHB has a yard that services the mill and also provides an interchange point for CN/EJE. Unfortunately your view of the yards is blocked by the overhead highway you used to get here.
At one time a CSX ex-B&OCT line passed through here paralleling the Chicago Line just to the south. It eventually crossed NS west of here, and then ran between NS and the J into Chicago. It is abandoned at this point but still exists to the west. CSX uses trackage rights on NS to reach the segment still in use. In the old days B&O passenger trains traversed this line, but now it is just a lightly used industrial branch.
If you enjoy switching activity, this is your place. IHB and NS movements occur fairly often, and there is also activity by the Inland switchers. Naturally, there are plenty of road trains on NS, including all Amtrak trains to and from Detroit, Grand Rapids, Port Huron and the east coast. A few CSX and Canadian Pacific trains exercising trackage rights can also be seen. The CN/EJE line sees occasional traffic, including coal trains that serve a generating plant to the west and transfers that interchange with the Belt Railway in South Chicago.
For an urban industrial setting in large scale, CP 502 is hard to beat. The view from the pedestrian bridge is awesome--an urbanophile's Grand Canyon. And for those who believe that smokestack America is a basket case, CP502 will convince them that it is still very much alive.
The pedestrian walkway provides a great view while being off railroad property. Parking is prohibited on the road leading to the walkway, so drive to end of the paved road and park in the area just beyond the pavement and in front of a chainlink fence that marks the beginning of railroad property. However, while this is not railroad property, it does belong to Mittal Steel. Recently, a couple of visitors have been told by Mittal security guards that they cannot park in this area, although most people, including myself, have had no problems. Your only alternative would be the parking lot at Resorts casino, but it's nearly a half-mile walk from there to the pedestrian bridge. On rare occasions, visitors have been told that they cannot take photos here. This seems to be EPA-related. So in the unlikely event you see black smoke pouring from a smokestack, you might think about leaving your camera in the car.
For more on Norfolk Southern's Chicago Line, see 21st Street Junction, Porter Junction and Willow Creek / Burns Harbor. See also Other South Side Junctions.
For more on IHB's Kankakee line, see the descriptions of Calumet, Grasselli, Gibson and Osborn junctions at Other Northwest Indiana Junctions. Also, see Pine Junction on this page for more on CN/EJE's branch and the NS main.
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