The Alton Railroad's new EMD E-7 locomotives, 1945. Click to enlarge.

(Minneapolis Trubine, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


Alton Railroad herald


"The Only Way"

The Alton Railroad (reporting mark A) was the final name of a railroad linking Chicago to Alton, Illinois; St. Louis, Missouri; and Kansas City, Missouri. Its predecessor, the Chicago and Alton Railroad (reporting mark C&A), was purchased by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1931 and was controlled until 1942 when the Alton was released to the courts. On May 31, 1947, the Alton Railroad was merged into the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad. Jacob Bunn had been one of the founding reorganizers of the Chicago & Alton Railroad Company during the 1860s.

Main lines included Chicago to St. Louis and a branch to Kansas City. The former is now part of Union Pacific, with Metra Heritage Corridor commuter rail service north of Joliet (owned by the Canadian National Railway but used by UP). Today, the Kansas City line is part of the Kansas City Southern Railway system.

A standard coal car. Click to enlarge.

(Detroit Publishing Company, Library of Congress, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)



The earliest ancestor to the Alton Railroad was the Alton and Sangamon Railroad, chartered February 27, 1847, in Illinois to connect the Mississippi River town of Alton to the state capital at Springfield in Sangamon County. The line was finished in 1852, and as the Chicago & Mississippi Railroad extended to Bloomington in 1854 and Joliet in 1855. Initially trains ran over the completed Chicago and Rock Island Railroad to Chicago.

The Joliet and Chicago Railroad was chartered February 15, 1855, and opened in 1856, continuing north and northeast from Joliet to downtown Chicago. It was leased by the Chicago & Mississippi, providing a continuous railroad from Alton to Chicago. In 1857 the C&M was reorganized as the St. Louis, Alton and Chicago Railroad, and another reorganization on October 10, 1862, produced the Chicago and Alton Railroad. The C&A chartered the Alton and St. Louis Railroad to extend the line to East St. Louis, opened in 1864, giving it a line from Chicago to East St. Louis.

In 1925 Chicago & Alton carried 2143 million revenue ton-miles of freight and 202 million revenue passenger-miles on (at year-end) 1056 miles of road and 1863 miles of track. Same numbers for 1944 were 2596, 483, 959 and 1717. By 1950, all of the Alton's steam locomotives were replaced by diesel locomotives.


The Chicago and Alton Railroad Depot at Dwight, Illinois, is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Click to enlarge. (IvoShandor, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Gold Bond of the Chicago and Alton Railroad Company, issued 1. October 1899. Click to enlarge.

(Unbekannte Autoren und Grafiker; Scan vom EDHAC e.V., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


1886 trade card and calendar from the Chicago and Alton Railroad. Click to enlarge. (Chicago and Alton Railroad, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Railroad family tree

Kansas City line

  Springfield-Kansas City and Godfrey-Roodhouse

    Gateway Western Railway

      1997–present Gateway Western is a Kansas City Southern Railway subsidiary

        1990-1997 Gateway Western was an affiliate of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway

          Chicago, Missouri and Western Railway 1987-1989

Chicago-St. Louis line

  Union Pacific Railroad 1996–present Chicago-St. Louis line

    SPCSL Corporation 1989-1996 a subsidiary of Southern Pacific Transportation Company

      Chicago, Missouri and Western Railway 1987-1989

Early years of Alton

  Chicago, Missouri and Western Railway 1987-1989

    Illinois Central Gulf Railroad 1972-1987

      Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad 1947-1972

        Alton Railroad 1931-1947 Subsidiary of Baltimore and Ohio Railroad

          Chicago and Alton Railroad 1906-1931 took over line from Peoria-Springfield

              Chicago and Alton Railway 1900-1906 controlled by UP & Rock; later NKP

                Chicago and Alton Railroad 1861-1900

                Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago Railroad 1878-1950 leased by Alton RR Mexico-Kansas City

                Louisiana and Missouri River Railroad 1870-1950 leased by Alton RR Louisiana-Springfield, Missouri

                Joliet and Chicago Railroad 1864-1950 leased by Alton RR Joliet – Chicago

                St. Louis, Alton and Chicago Railroad c.1857-1861 Alton – Joliet

                     Alton and Sangamon Railroad 1847-c.1857 Springfield – Alton


Postcard promoting the Alton Railroad's Alton Limited. Seen here is the coach car Joliet, 1907. Click to enlarge. (Chicago and Alton Railroad, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Postcard promoting the train The Alton Limited. This is a card picturing the lounge car Springfield, 1906. Click to enlarge. (Alton Railroad, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Postcard of a passenger car of the Alton Limited. This is the coach car Peoria, 1907. Click to enlarge. (Alton Railroad, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Passenger service notables

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. 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.

In 1932 the Alton was the first Chicago-St. Louis Railroad to install air conditioning on its passenger trains.

Notable named passenger trains
The Alton Limited
Abraham Lincoln
Ann Rutledge
The Hummer
The Midnight Special


Postcard view of the Alton Railroad's streamlined train, the Abraham Lincoln. Click to enlarge.

(By Alton Railroad, Public Domain,


Postcard depiction of the Chicago and Alton Railroad shops in Bloomington, Illinois. Click  to enlarge.

(Read & Co. Bloomington, Il., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


Stations in Chicago

First entry of C&A passenger trains from Joliet into Chicago was over the Chicago & 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 and 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.


Chicago and Alton Railroad system as of 1918, including the Toledo, St. Louis and Western Railroad (Clover Leaf) in orange, parent of the Alton until 1921. Click to enlarge. 

(No machine-readable author provided. NE2 assumed (based on copyright claims)., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)



Headquarters: Chicago, Illinois
Reporting mark: A, C&A
Locale: Chicago to St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri
Dates of operation: 1847 (Alton and Sangamon Railroad)–1947
Successor: Gulf, Mobile and Ohio
Track gauge: 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge


An 1885 map of the Chicago & Alton Railroad. Click to enlarge.

(Chicago & Alton Railroad, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)


See also:

Railroads A-Z