Alton Railroad

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Alton Railroad
Alton Railroad (logo).png
Chicago and Alton Railroad system map (1918).svg
C&A system map, circa 1918
Reporting mark C&A
Locale Illinois
Dates of operation 1847–1947
Successor Gulf, Mobile & Ohio Railroad
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Length 1,028 miles (1,654 kilometres)
Headquarters Chicago, Illinois

The Alton Railroad (reporting mark C&A) was a Class I railroad that operated in the states of Illinois and Missouri.[1] It was initially purchased by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in 1931 and later re-purchased by Gulf, Mobile & Ohio Railroad in 1947.


The Alton & Sangamon Railroad was chartered on February 27, 1847 to build a railroad connecting the agricultural area centered on Springfield, Illinois, with Alton, on the east bank of the Mississippi River 20 miles (32 kilometres) north of St. Louis. The railroad opened in 1851. During the ensuing decade it was extended north through Bloomington to Joliet and was renamed the St. Louis, Alton and Chicago Railroad (StLA&C). The Chicago & Alton Railroad (C&A) was organized in 1861 to purchase the StLA&C.[2]

In 1864 C&A leased the Joliet and Chicago Railroad (J&C) to gain access to Chicago. Timothy Blackstone, president of the J&C, became president of the C&A. In 1870 the C&A leased the Louisiana & Missouri River Railroad (Louisiana, Missouri, to the north bank of the Missouri River opposite Jefferson City) and in 1878 it leased the Kansas City, St. Louis & Chicago Railroad (Mexico, Missouri-Kansas City), creating the shortest Chicago-Kansas City route. (The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway line, 20 miles (32 kilometres) shorter, was not opened until 1888.)[2]

C&A system map, circa 1885

By the end of the 19th century the railroad had attracted the notice of railroad barons Jay Gould, John D. Rockefeller, and E. H. Harriman, each of whom could find a place in their respective railroad empires for the C&A. Harriman formed a syndicate of railroad financiers who were able to meet Blackstone's terms (essentially $175 per $100 share of common stock and $200 per share for preferred; Blackstone controlled one-third of the stock), and in 1899 the syndicate purchased 95% of the stock. [3]The C&A then issued bonds, which the stockholders bought cheap and resold dear to the public, and the railroad used the proceeds of the bond sale to issue a 30% cash dividend on its stock.[2]

The C&A Railroad became reincorporated as the C&A Railway on April 2, 1900, to take over a line from Springfield to Peoria; the following day it leased the C&A Railroad. The two companies were consolidated as the C&A Railroad in 1906. In 1904 control passed to the Union Pacific Railroad and the Rock Island, and in 1907 to the Toledo, St. Louis & Western Railroad (part of the Nickel Plate). In 1912 the C&A began a string of deficit years that continued almost unbroken to 1941. It lost much of the coal traffic it had carried to Chicago, and the cattle trade from Kansas City disappeared (Blackstone had been one of the developers of the Chicago Union Stock Yards). In 1922, the C&A entered receivership.[2]

The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) purchased the C&A at a foreclosure sale in 1929. B&O incorporated the Alton Railroad on January 7, 1931, and on July 18 of that year the Alton purchased the property of the C&A Railroad. For 12 years the Alton Railroad was operated as part of the B&O, but on March 10, 1943, B&O restored its independence (Alton had filed for reorganization on November 25, 1942).[2]

Several midwestern railroads considered purchasing the Alton but declined; the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio Railroad (GM&O) offered merger. In 1945 GM&O paid B&O approximately $1.2 million for all its claims against the Alton and all its Alton stock. The effective date of the merger was May 31, 1947.[2]


Passenger cars[edit]

Postcard depiction of the C&A's Bloomington shops

The first sleeping car designed by George Pullman was built in the C&A's Bloomington shops and introduced on September 1, 1859 on the Chicago-St. Louis route.[4] Sleeping cars were operated over most routes between Chicago, Peoria, Bloomington, St. Louis and Kansas City in principal train consists. Successor Gulf, Mobile & Ohio operated Chicago-St. Louis sleeping car service until December 31, 1969, the last railroad to do so between the two cities.

The first dining car, the Delmonico, named for the famous New York restaurant, was built by Pullman in the Aurora, Illinois shops of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy. The car first appeared in regular service over the C&A's Chicago-St. Louis mainline. Two other Pullman diners built at the same time, the Tremont, and the Southern, were leased, providing dining car service on all three principal C&A Chicago-St. Louis trains. Dining cars were a part of Chicago-St. Louis train consists until May 1, 1971, with the takeover of passenger service by Amtrak.

Passenger train names[edit]

Chicago stations[edit]

First entry of C&A passenger trains from Joliet into Chicago was over the Rock Island to that railroad's depot (later La Salle Street Station). Briefly, passenger trains were moved over to the Illinois Central depot. On December 28, 1863, the leased J&C and Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago Railway came to an agreement where the J&C would use the PFW&C's terminal at Madison Street, later becoming a tenant of Union Station, which opened in 1881. In 1924, with the completion of a new Union Station between Adams and Jackson streets, C&A became a tenant and its successors used Union Station until the takeover by Amtrak.


Blues musician Big Bill Broonzy recorded the song "C & A Blues" about the famed railroad.


  1. ^ Railway Equipment and Publication Company, The Official Railway Equipment Register, June 1917, p. 553
  2. ^ a b c d e f Drury, George H. (1994). The Historical Guide to North American Railroads: Histories, Figures, and Features of more than 160 Railroads Abandoned or Merged since 1930. Waukesha, Wisconsin: Kalmbach Publishing. pp. 17–18. ISBN 0-89024-072-8. 
  3. ^ See Kennan, George. The Chicago and Alton Case: A Misunderstood Transaction (1916).
  4. ^ See "Bloomington's C & A Shops: Our Lives Remembered," edited by Michael J. Matejka (McLean County Historical Society, 1988), ISBN 0943788048.

Further reading[edit]

  • Glendinning, Gene V. (2002). The Chicago & Alton Railroad, The Only Way. DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press. ISBN 0-87580-287-7. 

Matejka, Michael G. "Bloomington's C&A Shops: Our Lives Remembered." (McLean Country Historical Society, 1988)(ISBN 0943788048)(oral history of the C&A shops).

External links[edit]