Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Late Train

Due to the extended hiatus my blog posts have been on I couldn’t think of a better title. Truthfully, I’ve been on the road managing a new program with a major client of my employer. Extended days, working weekends and 1000-mile commutes tend to put a crimp on any hobby – model railroading not excepted. Actually, working remotely likely impacts our hobby more as it’s hard to make it down to the basement when you’re three states away versus other more mobile pursuits.
I have been doing some daydreaming… err, thinking… about the erstwhile C&NW layout concept while sitting out flight delays and the like. Kato’s recent Metra train set release in N scale (and rumors of an HO-scale version) has rekindled my interest in the secondary-line concept. However, in this case it’s a bit south-of-the-border – the Wisconsin-Illinois state line that is. Should the above rumors bear fruit I might just base a proto-freelance concept off of the former C&NW McHenry branch as idea fodder toward the layout.
Union Pacific’s short branchline from Crystal Lake, Illinois to Ringwood – a distance just over 11 miles – was once part of a much-longer secondary line on the Chicago and North Western Railway running from West Chicago to Williams Bay, Wisconsin – in the Lake Geneva resort area. During the retrenchment period in the railroad industry from 1960 into the ‘80s this line – like many others – was cut back in sections, piece by piece over the years. First to go was the southern portion between Elgin and Crystal Lake, which was freight-only. Next, came cutbacks on the north end.
With the transfer of commuter obligations from the C&NW to the newly-formed RTA – funded by Illinois taxpayers – operation of the commuter lines across state lines became problematic. As the Wisconsin Assembly declined to subsidize the short portions that extended into the Badger State the passenger routes were quickly pruned back to the Illinois side of the border. In the case of the McHenry branch, that ended up being McHenry after a couple of iterations – with freight service continuing to a couple of industrial sites just a few miles further to the north.
Metra eventually became the designated branding for the former C&NW commuter operations, and today Union Pacific crews, dispatches and maintains the lines within its territory. In the case of this short stub, three inbound and three outbound Metra trains traverse this branch each weekday morning and evening – with freight operations temporally separated by running during the mid-day period. It’s really a neat operation – single-track, dark territory run by TWC with both freight and passenger business over a short distance, a very model-able proposition.
With my limited scope approach of an out-and-back, point-to-point shelf layout I think the McHenry branch of Union Pacific-Metra makes for an excellent prototype. Like many British modelers, I tend to like passenger trains and want to include them on my simple layout. The rub is the relative dearth of passenger operations on N. American railroads, in comparison to our cousins across the pond. Yet, here is a great example of limited freight and passenger operations on a short, single-track branch, and in the modern heavy-haul era. Hmmm…
We’ll have to see what Mr. Kato-san has up his sleeve, won’t we? ;)

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