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Wabash Railroad

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Wabash Railroad

Wabash Railroad
Wabash Railroad
Wabash system map, early 20th century
The Wabash's City of St. Louis streamliner in the 1950s.
Reporting mark WAB
Dates of operation 1837 (1837)–1991 (1991)
Successor Norfolk and Western Railway
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Length 2,524 miles (4,062 kilometres)
Headquarters St. Louis, Missouri

The Wabash Railroad (reporting mark WAB) was a Class I railroad that operated in the mid-central United States. It served a large area, including trackage in the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and Missouri and the province of Ontario. Its primary connections included Chicago, Illinois, Kansas City, Missouri, Detroit, Michigan, Buffalo, New York, St. Louis, Missouri, and Toledo, Ohio.

The Wabash's major freight traffic advantage was the direct line from Kansas City to Detroit, without going through St. Louis or Chicago. Despite the Wabash name disappearing in the 1960s, the company continued to exist on paper until being merged into the Norfolk Southern Railway in 1991.

At the end of 1960 Wabash operated 2,423 miles of road on 4,311 miles of track, not including Ann Arbor and NJI&I; that year it reported 6,407 million net ton-miles of revenue freight and 164 million passenger-miles.


19th century

1887 route map of the Wabash Railroad.

The Wabash Railroad's history, like that of many large U.S. railroads, is one of mergers, consolidations, and leases, though it seems to have gone through more reorganizations and name changes than most railroads its size.[1]

The oldest part of the Wabash was the Northern Cross Railroad, chartered in 1837 to run from Quincy, Illinois, east to the Indiana state line. In 1851 the Northern Missouri Railroad was chartered to build northwest from St. Louis to the Iowa border at Coatsville, Missouri. The line, completed in 1858, required a ferry crossing of the Missouri River at St. Charles, 19 miles (31 kilometres) from St. Louis, until a bridge was completed in 1871. In the 1860s the railroad acquired a branch to Brunswick; the town of Moberly was established at the junction and became the location of the railroad's shops. The Brunswick line was extended to Kansas City in 1868. The main route was extended north to Ottumwa, Iowa in 1870, and construction of a line from Brunswick to Omaha was begun that same year (it reached Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1879). These extensions were built by separate companies and leased to the North Missouri. The North Missouri ran into financial difficulty in 1871; it was succeeded in 1872 by the St. Louis, Kansas City & Northern Railroad.[1]

In 1853 two railroads were organized: the Toledo & Illinois to build from Toledo, Ohio to the Ohio-Indiana state line, and the Lake Erie, Wabash & St. Louis to continue the line across Indiana to Attica, following the route of the Wabash & Erie Canal. The two were merged as the Toledo, Wabash & Western Railroad in 1856, succeeded in 1858 by the Toledo & Wabash Railway. By then the line had absorbed the Great Western of Illinois (a successor to the Northern Cross) and reached all the way from Toledo to the Mississippi River at Quincy, Illinois and Keokuk, Iowa.[1]

In 1879 Butler, Indiana to Detroit. The Detroit line soon became the main route; the Toledo line lapsed into secondary status.[1]

Gould continued to add [1] The 1889 consolidation was largely backed and guided by John Whitfield Bunn, an industrialist out of Springfield, Illinois, and Chicago, and one of the principal Midwestern railroad developers.

20th century

The St. Louis Flyer at Toledo ca. 1900

In 1898 Wabash acquired trackage rights from Detroit through southern [1]

The automobile industry was growing and Wabash found itself in the middle of it. One of the railroad's biggest assets was its direct line from Detroit to Kansas City, bypassing Chicago and St. Louis. The key portion of the route was the Decatur, Illinois-Moberly, Missouri line. (Decatur was the hub of the Wabash system and the site of its principal shops.) The Hannibal-Moberly portion of the line was built by the Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad, but in 1894 the Wabash made arrangements to operate the line jointly, with costs proportionate to use. Wabash found itself paying 90 percent of the costs and leased the line in 1923.[1]

In 1925 the Wabash acquired control of the Ann Arbor Railroad, and by the end of 1962 Wabash owned all but a few shares of Ann Arbor's stock. In 1928 the Pennsylvania Company (a holding company created by PRR) gained control of the Wabash, largely to protect itself after Wabash and the Delaware & Hudson Railway bought control of the Lehigh Valley Railroad (LV).

The Wabash was unique in extending through the imginary line dividing the country — a line from Chicago through Peoria to St. Louis, then down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. It was more a bridge railroad than an originator of traffic, a paradoxical situation in that most railroads had to shorthaul themselves to turn over traffic to the Wabash. The major railroads that could give the Wabash the long haul without sacrifice were the Union Pacific (UP) and the Kansas City Southern at Kansas City, UP at Council Bluffs, Iowa, the Missouri Pacific and Frisco at St. Louis, ATSF, Milwaukee, C&NW, a Chicago, and the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western and the LV.[1]

At the end of 1963 the Pennsylvania Company owned nearly 87 percent of Wabash's stock. When the PRR and New York Central Railroad planned their merger as the Penn Central (PC), it was clear that PRR would not be allowed to include Wabash — PC was large enough, and the ICC would most likely deny it anyway. Wabash found a niche in the Norfolk & Western-Nickel Plate merger, but Wabash subsidiary Ann Arbor was kept in the PRR family (N&W had no interest in the Ann Arbor) by selling it to the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton Railroad on August 31, 1963.[1]

Wabash was leased to the expanded Norfolk & Western (N&W) in October 16, 1964.[2] By March 31, 1970, N&W acquired control from the Pennsylvania Company; by the end of 1980 N&W had almost complete ownership of the Wabash.[1] The N&W and the Southern Railway merged in 1982, although the N&W continued to exist on paper. The Norfolk Southern formally merged the Wabash into the N&W in November 1991.[3]:93-94

Major routes


The Toledo to Hannibal Line was constructed in 1855. The line out of the Illinois River valley from Griggsville to Baylis had the steepest ruling grade on the Wabash, almost 2%, which required helpers in steam era. After World War II, the line was relocated to ease the grade. In 1955, passenger service was discontinued, and by 1989, the line from Maumee to Liberty Center, Ohio was abandoned. The portion from Liberty Center to the western border of Ohio is operated by a shortline railroad. The abandoned section was converted for use as the south fork of the Wabash Cannonball Trail.[4]

The Maumee-Montpelier, Ohio section was abandoned by NS in 1990, and makes up the North fork of the Wabash Cannonball Trail. It is the longest rail-trail in Ohio.

After breakup of Conrail in 1998, NS connected the small remaining segment from Maumee to its Chicago Main, allowing it to access Maumee via a shorter route. This caused the abandonment of the west side of the Toledo Terminal Railroad.


This line covers the third district (Montpelier-Detroit) and fourth district (Montpelier-Clarke Jct.–B&OCT+SC&S–State Line–C&WI).

The Wabash was part of the Union Belt of Detroit, a joint switching operation started with the Pere Marquette and later the PRR joined.

Detroit-Saint Louis passenger trains:

  • Detroit Limited (Pullman)
  • St. Louis Limited (Pullman) (westbound counterpart to the Detroit Limited)
  • Cannon Ball

Detroit-Chicago passenger Trains:

  • Detroit Arrow (joint with PRR)
  • Chicago Arrow (joint with PRR) (westbound counterpart to the Detroit Arrow)

The Montpelier-Chicago line was started in the early 1890s, allowing the Wabash to give up trackage rights over the Erie (Chicago and Atlantic).

Chicago–St. Louis

The Blue Bird's "Vista-Dome" dome parlor-observation car in the 1950s.

Completed in 1880 from Bement to Chicago, using the Chicago & Western Indiana as a terminal line. The Wabash became a joint owner of the C&WI along with founder Chicago & Eastern Illinois and others. It comprises the 6th, 7th and 13th districts of the Decatur Division. Trackage between Manhattan and Gibson City was abandoned by NS, for rights on CN(IC).

Passenger trains:

  • Blue Bird
  • Banner Blue
  • Wabash Banner Limited

Council Bluffs–Brunswick

This line has the highest point on the Wabash at Dumfries, Iowa (1242'). Most of the line was abandoned by N&W in 1984.[5]


The Iowa Southern Railroad (ISR) took over 61.5 miles of the Wabash in Iowa to the Missouri stateline between Council Bluffs and Blanchard, Iowa. On August 22, 1988 the line was cut back to serve only Council Bluffs. In August 1990 the remaining Iowa Southern line in Council Bluffs was sold to the Council Bluffs & Ottumwa Railroad. In May 1991 the CBOA was sold to the Council Bluffs Railway, an OmniTrax subsidiary. Iowa Interstate purchased CBR on July 1, 2006.[6] The 66-mile route is abandoned between Council Bluffs and Blanchard and was converted for use as the Wabash Trace Trail.[7]


A 93-mile portion of the Council Bluffs–St. Louis line in Missouri between Blanchard, Iowa and Lock Springs was sold to the Northern Missouri Railroad and began operations on February 13, 1984. Operations on that line were discontinued in June 1986.

The Wabash Railroad ran their passenger trains that came into St. Louis on a 7-mile stretch of track that ran from Grand Ave (through a rail yard near Vandeventer Ave), through University City (at Delmar Station) to a junction at Redmond Ave. in Ferguson, where the Ferguson station (now an ice cream parlor) was at North Florissant and Carson Ave., and where it met up with the current Norfolk Southern mainline. After passenger service discontinued in 1960, trains on this stretch were reduced to one westbound freight and one local per day. Norfolk Southern, who took over the line after the merger, abandoned the stretch in 1988. Bi-State Development Agency purchased the line which is now operated by Metrolink. The light rail trains run on the portion from north of UMSL to Grand Ave., while the north portion is now the Ted Jones Trail, which runs from Florissant Road at UMSL to Redmond Ave where the old junction was.

Norfolk & Western abandoned the track between Lock Springs and Chillicothe in 1983, and salvaged this portion of the line in 1985.

Thirty-seven miles of track between Chillicothe-Brunswick Rail Maintenance Authority (CBRM) on July 24, 1987. On April 1, 1990 the line was leased to the Wabash and Grand River Railway. The Wabash & Grand River Railway's lease was terminated on December 1, 1993 due to severe flood damage on the line and the line reverted to the Chillicothe-Brunswick Rail Maintenance Authority.

In 2003, during a dispute caused by inter-community rivalries and jealousies over industrial development along the line, the owner, Green Hills Rural Development, Inc. "sold" the railroad to the City of Chillicothe, MO, (all real estate, rails, tools, rolling stock and locomotives) for $32,500. Thereafter, the line immediately appraised for $1.53 million, not including rolling stock or other tools or equipment and inventory of the short line railroad.

On December 8, 2006, the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune reported that the city of Chillicothe sold the majority, about 30 miles (48 km), of the railroad to Seattle, Washington, based Montoff Transportation, LLC for $976,000. The part of the railroad that was sold had been embargoed since 2004. The city still owns the railroad to the city's industrial park and to a location just east of Chillicothe where future development is planned. Today, the part of the railroad south of Norville has been abandoned and dismantled, and the city has pocketed a large sum of cash. On January 29, 2008, The Chillicothe City Press reported that the city council had voted to buy back the right of way previously sold to Montoff Transportation, paying $10 to acquire the 100' wide by 29-mile long corridor. The stated intention was to gradually develop a trail. The report further stated that, though Montoff had the right as part of salvaging the rails to remove the bridges along the right of way, the cost to do so had been excessive. Instead, the deteriorated decks, which were sufficient for light duty use such as a trail, were being left.

Moberly–Des Moines

The Moberly to Des Moines line had a good traffic base up until the early 1970s, when traffic started to fall off precipitously. Freight traffic included coal mined in Iowa (prior to 1960), agricultural goods, farm machinery, and paper products. A change of personnel in customer service at Des Moines brought about a resurgence in business in the late 1970s and into the 1980s – so much so that the Norfolk Southern largely re-built the line with newer, heavier steel and continuous welded rail in the mid-1980s. The Moberly to Des Moines line had few local industries shipping on it in the 1980s in either northern Missouri or southern Iowa, however, and served primarily as a "bridge" to get the NS to the Des Moines market.

During the early 1990s the NS began to look for ways to save on track outlays and maintenance, and a deal was hammered out with the BN to share access to Des Moines over the old CBQ "K Line" which paralleled the Mississippi River from Hannibal, Mo. north to Burlington, Iowa. From there, haulage rights were secured to Des Moines over the BN mainline to Albia, then northward to Des Moines on the old Albia joint trackage. A portion of the line north of Moulton, Iowa, was saved in order to provide access to the national rail system by the Appanoose County Community Railroad (APNC).

The last train on the Moberly to Des Moines line ran in 1994. Interestingly, the Moberly to Moulton Iowa line segment was used extensively in 1993 during the Midwestern Floods of that year, as many observers noted that it was one of the few north-south through routes that were "above sea level" during the flooding. Unfortunately, this was not a factor that could have been used to save the line. Today the line's right-of-way has not been preserved, and is quickly being consumed by other land uses.

Major Freight Customers 1960

Wabash box car assigned to the Studebaker plant in South Bend, Indiana.
  • Ford - Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Toledo, Kansas City, Buffalo
  • Pillsbury Company - Springfield, Illinois
  • A. E. Staley - Decatur, Illinois
  • A. P. Green Firebrick - Mexico, Missouri
  • Archer Daniel Midland Company - Decatur, Illinois
  • Detroit Union Produce Terminal
  • Lauhoff Grain Company - Danville, Illinois
  • International Salt - Detroit, Michigan
  • Central Stone - Huntington, Missouri
  • Granite City Steel - Granite City, Illinois
  • Acme Fast Freight - Detroit, Kansas City[8]
  • Studebaker-South Bend, IN (via the subsidiary New Jersey, Indiana, and Illinois Railroad)[9]
  • Torrington Company (Bantam Bearings)-South Bend, IN (via the Wabash subsidiary NJI&I)

Passenger trains

Observation car of the St. Louis-Colorado Limited.

The Wabash had a fleet of passenger trains, including several streamliners:

  • Blue Bird (train), inaugurated in 1938
  • Banner Blue
  • City of Kansas City, built by ACF
  • City of St. Louis (in partnership with UP)
  • Des Moines Limited
  • Detroit Arrow (in partnership with PRR)
  • Detroit Limited
  • Kansas City Express
  • Midnight Limited
  • Omaha Limited
  • Pacific Coast Special
  • Red Bird
  • St. Louis-Colorado Limited (in partnership with UP)
  • St. Louis Limited
  • St. Louis Special
  • Cannon Ball

The first passenger trains to be dieselised used EMD E7 locomotives, and later ALCO PAs and EMD E8s.

Wabash Cannonball

The name of this legendary train became famous with the 1904 revision of an 1882 song about the "Great Rock Island Route." Yet the name was never borne by a real train until the Wabash Railroad christened its Detroit-St. Louis day train as the Wabash Cannon Ball in 1949.[2] The train survived until the creation of Amtrak in 1971, when it was discontinued. On October 26th and 27th, 2013, Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society's Nickel Plate Road 765, in conjunction with the Norfolk Southern Railway's "21st Century Steam" program, pulled a 225 mile round-trip excursion, retracing the Cannon Ball's former route between Fort Wayne and Lafayette, Indiana.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j 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.  
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ Burns, James B. Railroad Mergers and the Language of Unification. Westport, CT:  
  4. ^ Wabash Cannonball Trail
  5. ^ ICC Decision AB-10 (SUB NO. 27)
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^
  8. ^ Principal Industries showing 1960 Carloads and Interchanges; Collection of Wabash Railroad Historical Society[2]
  9. ^ New Jersey, Indiana and Illinois Railroad


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