IC's City of New Orleans at Kankakee, Illinois in 1964.

(Lawrence and David Barera, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons, cropped)


Illinois Central herald.


The Illinois Central Railroad (reporting mark IC), sometimes called the Main Line of Mid-America, was a railroad in the Central United States, with its primary routes connecting Chicago, Illinois, with New Orleans, Louisiana, and Mobile, Alabama, and thus, the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. A line also connected Chicago west to Sioux City, Iowa (1870). There was a significant branch to Omaha, Nebraska (1899), west of Fort Dodge, Iowa, and another branch reaching Sioux Falls, South Dakota (1877), starting from Cherokee, Iowa. The IC also serviced Miami, Florida, on trackage owned by other railroads

Beginning in 1850, IC was the first U.S. railroad in which construction was partially financed through a federal land grant - such financing became a key to building U.S. railroads. The Canadian National Railway acquired control of the IC in 1998, and merged its operations in 1999. The Illinois Central Railroad maintains its corporate existence as a non-operating subsidiary.


Combined route map of the Chicago Central and Pacific (red) and Illinois Central (blue) railroads in 1996.

(Sean Lamb, Slambo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


IC logo, modern


The IC was one of the oldest Class I railroads in the United States. The company was incorporated by the Illinois General Assembly on January 16, 1836. Within a few months Rep. Zadok Casey (D-Illinois) introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives authorizing a land grant to the company to construct a line from the mouth of the Ohio River to Chicago and on to Galena. Federal support, however, was not approved until 1850, when U.S. President Millard Fillmore signed a land grant for the construction of the railroad. The Illinois Central was the first land-grant railroad in the United States.

The Illinois Central was chartered by the Illinois General Assembly on February 10, 1851. Senator Stephen A. Douglas and later President Abraham Lincoln were both Illinois Central men who lobbied for it. Douglas owned land near the terminal in Chicago. Lincoln was a lawyer for the railroad. Illinois legislators appointed Samuel D. Lockwood, recently retired from the Illinois Supreme Court (who may have given both lawyers the oral examination before admitting them to the Illinois bar), as a trustee on the new railroad's board to guard the public's interest. Lockwood, who would serve more than two decades until his death, had overseen federal land monies shortly after Illinois' statehood, then helped oversee early construction of the recently completed Illinois and Michigan Canal.

Upon its completion in 1856, the IC was the longest railroad in the world. Its main line went from Cairo, Illinois, at the southern tip of the state, to Galena, in the northwest corner. A branch line went from Centralia (named for the railroad), to the rapidly growing city of Chicago. In Chicago, its tracks were laid along the shore of Lake Michigan and on an offshore causeway downtown, but land-filling and natural deposition have moved the present-day shore to the east. Track from Centralia north to Freeport would be abandoned in the 1980s, as traffic to Galena was routed via Chicago.

In 1867, the Illinois Central extended its track into Iowa. During the 1870s and 1880s, the IC acquired and expanded railroads in the southern United States. IC lines crisscrossed the state of Mississippi and went as far south as New Orleans, Louisiana, and east to Louisville, Kentucky. In the 1880s, northern lines were built to Dodgeville, Wisconsin; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Omaha, Nebraska. Further expansion continued into the early twentieth century.

The Illinois Central, and the other "Harriman lines" owned by E.H. Harriman by the twentieth century, became the target of the Illinois Central shopmen's strike of 1911. Although marked by violence and sabotage in the southern, midwestern, and western states, the strike was effectively over in a few months. The railroads simply hired replacements, among them African-American strikebreakers, and withstood diminishing union pressure. The strike was eventually called off in 1915.


Two Illinois Central EMD SD70s lead a train at Homewood, Illinois.

(Nate Beal, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)


Revenue freight ton-miles (millions)

Year IC (incl Y&MV, G&SI) Vicksburg, Shreveport, & Pacific Alabama & Vicksburg
1925 15,050 239 159
1933 7,776 (into Y&MV) (into Y&MV)
1944 24,012
1960 17,171
1970 22,902

Revenue passenger-miles (millions)

Year IC (incl Y&MV, G&SI) Vicksburg Shreveport & Pacific Alabama & Vicksburg
1925 982 22 20
1933 547 (into Y&MV) (into Y&MV)
1944 2225
1960 848
1970 764

The totals above do not include the Waterloo RR, Batesville Southwestern, Peabody Short Line or CofG and its subsidiaries. On December 31, 1925, IC/Y&MV/G&SI operated 6,562 route-miles on 11,030 miles of track; A&V and VS&P added 330 route-miles and 491 track-miles. At the end of 1970, IC operated 6,761 miles of road and 11,159 of track.

In 1960, the railroad retired its last steam locomotive, 2-8-2 Mikado No. 1518. On August 31, 1962, the railroad was incorporated as Illinois Central Industries, Inc. ICI acquired Abex Corporation (formerly American Brake Shoe and Foundry Co.) in 1968.


Illinois Central Gulf Caboose No. 199431.

(Gary Todd from Xinzheng, China, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)


ICG logo.

Illinois Central Gulf Railroad (1972–1988)

On August 10, 1972, the Illinois Central Railroad merged with the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad to form the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad (reporting mark ICG). October 30 of that year saw the Illinois Central Gulf commuter rail crash, the company's deadliest.

At the end of 1980, ICG operated 8,366 miles of railroad on 13,532 miles of track; that year it reported 33,276 million ton-miles of revenue freight and 323 million passenger-miles. Later in that decade, the railroad spun off most of its east–west lines and many of its redundant north–south lines, including much of the former GM&O. Most of these lines were bought by other railroads, including entirely new railroads such as the Chicago, Missouri and Western Railway; Paducah and Louisville Railway; Chicago Central and Pacific Railroad; and MidSouth Rail Corporation.

In 1988, the railroad's parent company, IC Industries, spun off its remaining rail assets and changed its name to Whitman Corporation. On February 29, 1988, the newly separated ICG dropped the "Gulf" from its name and again became the Illinois Central Railroad.


Canadian National Railway (1998–present)

On February 11, 1998, the IC was purchased for about $2.4 billion in cash and shares by Canadian National Railway (CN). Integration of operations began July 1, 1999.



An IC steam locomotive taking on coal at a Chicago rail yard in November 1942. (Jack Delano, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

IC 1234, an EMD SW9, switching at Tuscola, Illinois in 1966. (Roger Puta, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons)

A preserved Illinois Central EMD GP11 locomotive on static display in downtown Carbondale, Illinois. (Wisekwai, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Illinois Central 1018, an EMD SD70, leads a Norfolk Southern mixed freight. (jpmueller99 from Columbus, OH, USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

IC 3115, an EMD GP40R, sitting in Waukesha, Wisconsin. (Cr4410, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

The City of New Orleans at Champaign, IL station on October 27, 1962.

(Roger Puta, courtesy Marty Bernard, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


Passenger train service

Illinois Central was the major carrier of passengers on its Chicago-to-New Orleans mainline and between Chicago and St. Louis. IC also ran passengers on its Chicago-to-Omaha line, though it was never among the top performers on this route. Illinois Central's largest passenger terminal, Central Station, stood at 12th Street east of Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Due to the railroad's north–south route from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes, Illinois Central passenger trains were one means of transport during the African American Great Migration of the 1920s.

Illinois Central's most famous train was the Panama Limited, a premier all-Pullman car service between Chicago and New Orleans, with a section breaking off at Carbondale to serve St. Louis. In 1949, it added a daytime all-coach companion, the City of New Orleans, which operated with a St. Louis section breaking off at Carbondale and a Louisville section breaking off at Fulton, Kentucky. In 1967, due to losses incurred by the operation of the train, the Illinois Central combined the Panama Limited with a coach-only train called the Magnolia Star.

On May 1, 1971, Amtrak took over intercity rail service. It retained service over the IC mainline, but dropped the Panama Limited in favor of the City of New Orleans. However, since it did not connect with any other trains in either New Orleans or Chicago, Amtrak moved the route to an overnight schedule and brought back the Panama Limited name. However, it restored the City of New Orleans name in 1981, while retaining the overnight schedule. This was to capitalize on the popularity of a song about the train written by Steve Goodman and performed by Arlo Guthrie. Willie Nelson's recording of the song was No. 1 on the Hot Country Charts in 1984.

Illinois Central ran several other trains along the main route including the Creole and the Louisiane.

The Green Diamond was the Illinois Central's premier train between Chicago, Springfield and St. Louis. Other important trains included the Hawkeye which ran daily between Chicago and Sioux City and the City of Miami eventually running every other day between Chicago and Miami via the Atlantic Coast Line, the Central of Georgia Railroad and Florida East Coast Railway.

The Illinois Central was also a major operator of commuter trains in the Chicago area, operating what eventually became the "IC Electric" line from Randolph Street Terminal in downtown Chicago to the southeast suburbs. In 1987, IC sold this line to Metra, who operates it as the Metra Electric District. It still operates out of what is now Millennium Station, which is still called "Randolph Street Terminal" by many longtime Chicago-area residents. In honor of the Panama Limited, the Electric District appears as "Panama Orange" on Metra system maps and timetables. Additionally, the IC operated a second commuter line out of Chicago (the West Line) which served Chicago's western suburbs. Unlike the electrified commuter service, the West Line did not generate much traffic and was eliminated in 1931.

Illinois Central 1850 planned Route Map. (Public domain, Wikimedia Commons)


Illinois Central 1892 Route Map. (Illinois Central Railroad, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Amtrak presently runs three trains daily over this route, the City of New Orleans and the Illini and Saluki between Chicago and Carbondale. Another Illinois corridor service is planned for the former Black Hawk route between Chicago, Rockford and Dubuque. Amtrak, at the state of Illinois' request, did a feasibility study to reinstate the Black Hawk route to Rockford and Dubuque. Initial capital costs range from $32 million to $55 million, depending on the route. Once in operation, the service would require roughly $5 million a year in subsidies from the state.

On December 10, 2010, IDOT announced the route choice for the resumption of service to begin in 2014 going over mostly CN railway.


The Illinois Central's IC121 Green Diamond streamlined trainset.

(Illinois Central Railroad, W. Lenheim Collection, cropped)


Illinois Central named trains

Train End Point End Point
Cannonball Express
Chickasaw St. Louis New Orleans
City of Miami Chicago Miami
City of New Orleans Chicago New Orleans
Creole Chicago, Louisville and St. Louis New Orleans
Daylight Chicago St. Louis
Delta Express Memphis, Tennessee Greenville, Mississippi
Floridan Chicago and St. Louis Miami
Governor's Special Chicago Springfield, Illinois
Green Diamond Chicago St. Louis
Hawkeye Chicago Sioux City, Iowa/Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Illini Chicago Champaign, Illinois
Iowan Chicago Sioux City, Iowa
Irvin S. Cobb Louisville, Kentucky Memphis, Tennessee
Kentucky Cardinal Louisville, Kentucky Memphis, Tennessee
Land O'Corn Chicago Waterloo, Iowa
Louisiane Chicago and Louisville New Orleans
Magnolia Star Chicago New Orleans
Mid-American Chicago St. Louis/Memphis, Tennessee
Miss Lou Jackson, Mississippi New Orleans
Night Diamond Chicago St. Louis
Northeastern Limited Shreveport, Louisiana Meridian, Mississippi with continuing sleepers to New York City on the Southern Railway's Pelican
Northern Express Chicago New Orleans
Panama Limited Chicago New Orleans
Planter Memphis, Tennessee New Orleans
Seminole Chicago and St. Louis Jacksonville, Florida
Shawnee Chicago Carbondale, Illinois
Sinnissippi Chicago Freeport, Iowa
Southern Express Chicago New Orleans
Southwestern Limited Meridian, Mississippi with continuing sleepers from New York City on the Southern Railway's Pelican Shreveport, Louisiana
Sunchaser (winter only) Chicago and St. Louis Miami, Florida

IC 201 preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum. (Sean Lamb (User:Slambo), CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

IC 333 preserved at Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad Company Depot. (The original uploader was Evs911 at English Wikipedia., CC BY-SA 2.5 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5>, via Wikimedia Commons)


Some historic equipment owned and used by Illinois Central can be found in museums across the United States, including:

  • 201, a 2-4-4 tank locomotive that participated in the "Wheels A-Rolling" pageant at the Chicago Railroad Fair. Preserved on static display at Illinois Railway Museum.
  • 764, a 651 class 2-8-0 donated to the National Museum of Transportation, St. Louis, Missouri in 1956.
  • 790. Preserved on static display at Steamtown National Historic Site, believed to be in good condition that restoration to operations is feasible.
  • 1518. A 1500 series 2-8-2 Mikado on static display in Paducah, Kentucky. It was built by the Lima Locomotive Works in 1923 and was the last steam locomotive to run on the IC in 1960.
  • 2500. A 2500 class 4-8-2 preserved on static display in the Age of Steam Memorial in Centralia, Illinois.
  • 2542. A 2500 class 4-8-2 preserved on static display at McComb, Mississippi.
  • A yard office and unique coal-fueling tower remain at the Illinois Central yards in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
  • IC 8408 GP10 locomotive/IC 9426 caboose static display Homewood, IL
  • IC-333, a 0-6-0 steam engine, and several passenger cars are on display just outside the historic Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad Company Depot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
  • Illinois Central GP11 No. 8701, along with an IC caboose, preserved on static display at the Carbondale passenger station in Carbondale, Illinois.
  • Illinois Central GP11 No. 8733 preserved at the Monticello Railway Museum in Monticello, Illinois.
  • An Illinois Central caboose and banana car are preserved at the Casey Jones Railroad Museum in Water Valley, Mississippi.
  • An Illinois Central caboose is privately owned and preserved in Raymond, Mississippi at the old train depot in the center of the town.
  • IC combine No. 892, IC Day Coaches 2920 2855 2612, IC Business Car No. 7, IC 10-6 sleeper No. 3531 "Council Bluffs", IC Dorm-baggage No. 1906, IC No. 518 (MAIL STORAGE), IC Panama Limited Observation "Gulfport", ICG cement hopper No. 100040, IC No. 65018, IC bridge crane No. X238,IC No. X1957 Boxcar, IC No. X2000 Idler Flat, IC Nos. X4342 and X4352 tenders, IC X9151 Jordan Spreader, and IC cabooses 9926 9831 9880. All of which are restored and displayed at the Monticello Railway Museum in Monticello Illinois.
  • Illinois Central SD40X No. 6071 (Ex-Gulf, Mobile and Ohio) at the Monticello Railway Museum in Monticello, Illinois
  • Illinois Central Gulf GP8 No. 7738 at the Bluegrass Railroad Museum in Versailles, Kentucky
  • 1974 Illinois Central Gulf caboose (199422) in service as IRM 9422 at the Indiana Railway Museum in French Lick, Indiana.
  • Illinois Central caboose on historic main street in Palestine, Illinois.
  • An Illinois Central Caboose can be seen in Grayville, Illinois. It has recently been painted into a generic red color.


Mississippi Central (1852–1878)

The original Mississippi Central line was chartered in 1852. Construction of the 255 miles (410 km) 5 ft (1,524 mm) gauge line began in 1853 and was completed in 1860, just prior to the Civil War, from Canton, Mississippi to Jackson, Tennessee. The southern terminus of the line connected to the New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern Railroad at Canton. It also connected to the Memphis and Charleston Railroad at Grand Junction, Tennessee and the Mobile and Ohio Railroad at Jackson, Tennessee. The Mississippi Central was the scene of several military actions from 1862 to 1863 and was severely damaged during the fighting. Company president, Absolom M. West succeeded in repairing the damage and returning it to operating condition soon after the end of the War.

By 1874, interchange traffic with the Illinois Central Railroad was important enough that the IC installed a Nutter hoist at Cairo, Illinois to interchange between its standard gauge equipment broad gauge used by the Mississippi Central. This allowed the trucks to be exchanged on 16-18 freight cars per hour, and one Pullman car could be changed in 15 minutes. The original Mississippi Central line was merged into the Illinois Central Railroad subsidiary Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans Railroad in several transactions finally completed in 1878.


Mississippi Central Railroad passenger train in Sumrall, Mississippi, early 1900s.

(http://digilib.usm.edu/cdm/ref/collection/manu/id/13287, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


Mississippi Central (1897–1967)

A line started in 1897 as the "Pearl and Leaf Rivers Railroad" was built by the J.J. Newman Lumber Company from Hattiesburg, to Sumrall. In 1904 the name was changed to the Mississippi Central Railroad (reporting mark MSC). In 1906 the Natchez and Eastern Railway was formed to build a rail line from Natchez to Brookhaven. In 1909 this line was absorbed by the Mississippi Central.

For a short time during the 1920s, the line operated a service named "The Natchez Route", running trains from Natchez to Mobile, Alabama through trackage agreements with the Gulf, Mobile and Northern Railroad. At Natchez, freight cars were ferried across the Mississippi River to connect with the Louisiana and Arkansas Railway to institute through traffic into Shreveport, Louisiana. In 1967 the property of the Mississippi Central was sold to the Illinois Central Railroad.



Headquarters: Chicago, Illinois
Reporting mark: IC
Locale: Midwest to Gulf Coast, United States
Dates of operation: 1851–1999
Successor: Canadian National Railway
Track gauge: 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Previous gauge: 5 ft (1,524 mm)
Length: 3,130.21 mi (5,037.58 km)