Monday, June 27, 2011

South Shore Double Tracks

Earlier this month, when Dr Desert Flower and I visited Chicago, I took the South Shore train to visit some of my relatives in NW Indiana.  As I waited on the train platform in East Chicago late in the evening Friday night, for the West bound train to arrive and take me back downtown to the hotel, I noticed a double set of tracks.   This was present on both South side (between platform and slope down to the parking lot) and the the North side (between platform and the I-80 Toll Road). 

Now, my father is a train fanatic.  He loves trains more than any other form of transportation - which I think is from his youth growing up in WWII era Germany and Poland, and he taught me that the standard rail gauge is 56 inches in the US.  My father also took this exact same train for dozens of years of his working life, several summer with me in tow to work minimal wage jobs in downtown Chicago with him as he worked at a Unionized bindery shop.  I never remember seeing a double rail in all those years, but here it was, clearly laid out, on rather new rails.  All 4 rails were shiny - so they were being used, regularly.

So I snapped the picture with my dumb phone, and emailed it to my dear wife, who easily forwarded to my blog's gmail (yes, I'll get an iPhone someday, maybe), and I asked my father "what is this?"  I inquired to him if they've introduced a new narrow gauge, or if this was a second set of tracks, running in parallel.  My father explained to me, that the South Shore laid new sets of tracks for the very profitable freight trains that use the same line, after a slightly wider freight train swiped too close to the platform and threatened passengers who were unaware (or perhaps who were trying to get hurt when a massive speeding freight train came past and the blaring announcement to 'STAY AWAY FROM THE EDGE OF THE PLATFORM' were perhaps falling on deaf ears).  So there's the original set of passenger rails, and then there's a 2nd set of freight rails that are another 18 inches farther away from the passenger platform.


  1. Wow, that is really strange. I never would have guessed at the explanation.

  2. As I know a little bit about manufacturing VERY LARGE machinery that is often shipped via rail to customers, I am keenly aware of "shipping envelope" and the things that can happen when 2 trains pass each other, go into tunnels, or 'lean' too much. Same thing goes for passenger platforms. If it is a passenger train coming by, you KNOW the envelope in which it will be traveling (save for the stupid passengers who stick heads and limbs out), and you can offset the platform accordingly. If it is a freight train coming by, sometimes a part of the load of One car will be "sticking out" an extra 6 inches or foot, more than usual.

    Think of all the steel, and the scrap that goes into it, being hauled via rail along the south side of lake Michigan. Now shift, just a lil bit, an old pipe or piece of conduit, off the edge of the hopper car, and you've got yourself an effective human bbq spit traveling at 40 mph past the E.Chicago South Shore stop (in Hammond, they have to slow down for a road crossing, so the danger is lower, me thinks).

  3. almost like an optical illusion. i also did not guess the explanation.


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