Afternoon Train on Carroll Avenue

Every weekday afternoon between 1:30pm and 2:30pm, a string of 5-6 boxcars loaded with newsprint makes its way east to the Sun-Times Building. Let's follow UP 1730 as it makes its way over a vintage drawbridge, under huge downtown buildings, and down Carroll Avenue's street tracks.

Towering over the North Branch of the Chicago River, this classic drawbridge is the starting point for our trip today. The bridge is just west of the Apparel Center at Kinzie and Franklin.

As the train approaches the bridge begins to lower, surprisingly quietly given its massive bulk! With only a couple of squeaks, the huge structure drops to within a few feet of the opposite shore and then very slowly moves into position.

With a ground-shaking THUD, the bridge firmly touches down. Although only one track is active now, the double tracked deck speaks of busier days goneby.

Pushing its load ahead, UP 1730 makes its way across the river. Note the low clearance beneath the bridge, about 4 feet, shortest of any Chicago River bridge.

As traffic waits patiently, the locomotive crosses the driveway between the bridge and the Apparel Center and disappears beneath the building. It will emerge two blocks further east at Wells Street.

Here the train has just come out from under the Merchandise Mart and is now entering Carroll Avenue. Downtown Chicago skyscrapers dwarf the engine, and parked cars are everywhere!

One of the most interesting aspects of street running is avoiding vehicles along the right-of-way. Slowing to a crawl, the engineer peers nervously to the left as he clears the parked truck by a matter of inches. Whew!

The train stops beneath the Quaker Building at Clark Street while switches are thrown ahead for the moves at the Sun-Times. The Quaker Building is just a few years old, and the neatly paved double-railed trackage looks brand new.

This shot shows the area on Carroll Avenue where the new double-rail and the older single rail tracks meet. The older tracks use timbers instead of the guardrails to create a flangeway in the asphalt paving.

As the train finishes its switching chores, we turn around to look west down Carroll and ahead to the tunnel entrance beneath the huge Merchandise Mart building. The truck parked at the right looks a bit close to the tracks...will we make it?

With a burst of power and a cloud of dust, the engineer opens up the throttle and pulls out from the under Clark Street overpass. It appears that the owner of that truck ignored the yellow parking lines. It'll be close...

Made it! Lights blazing, the locomotive heads back toward the river with its string of empties from the Sun-Times' loading docks.

As the train approaches, the drawbridge is again lowered into position. This shot shows the massive base of the bridge's mechanism.

Westbound UP 1730 rolls out of the Apparel Center and onto the drawbridge. Both the Apparel Center and Merchandise Mart have plenty of security staff to guard the tracks as the train wends its way through the area.

As the train heads across the bridge, we realize that this sight will soon be only a memory. Next year, a new Sun-Times printing plant opens on the South Side. The Carroll Avenue job will cease and the bridge will likely be torn down.

The end of the last boxcar fades in the distance. These scenes will be repeated tomorrow and for months to come...but soon these photos will be the only reminders of a very special piece of Chicago's railroad history.

All photos, Copyright © 1999 J. Mika. All Rights Reserved.

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