History of the Milan Branch

One of Iowa Interstate's few remaining branches is the little-noticed Milan Branch operation. With the Audubon Branch dismantled, the Hancock Branch amounting to little more than a large storage track, and the Pella Line steadily being clipped back towards the mainline junction at Altoona, most of IAIS's branch operations have ceased. The exception to this is a rather short stretch extending south and west from the Rock Island yard, serving several industries in Rock Island and Milan, IL.

The branch started life as the Rock Island and Mercer County Railroad Company in 1876, and track was completed as far as Sherrard. The purpose of this line, in addition to helping open up markets for agricultural products in Mercer County, was really built to tap the coal deposits around Cable, IL. The line went south from Rock Island to Milan, then turned west and then south to run through Taylor Ridge and Reynolds. At Preemption, the original line apparently went to the mines at Cable in the 1876 timeframe. A year later, the little railroad became part of the Rock Island & Peoria Railway, the latter already having a line from Rock Island to Peoria (per a 1898 Rand, McNally & Co. map). (For reference, the RI&P main diverged at Milan, proceeding through Coal Valley, Orion, Osco, Cambridge, Galva, Wyoming, and Prince.) While the line was under the control of the Rock Island & Peoria, the Preemption Eastern Railroad built a line from a connection at Preemption to the coal mines at Sherrard in 1894. Both of these little railroads eventually succumbed and, a decade and a half later, on 11-Jun-1903, were sold to the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific.

The Rock Island then turned around in 1905 and leased the Rock Island to Cable/Sherrard lines to the Rock Island Southern. The RIS was a newly formed interurban company that had recently acquired the former Western Illinois Traction line from Monmouth to Galesburg. With the lease, the RIS began putting together a line from Monmouth up to Rock Island. In 1910, the road completed the new trackage, probably joining at what I believe was called Southern Junction, about halfway between Reynolds and Matherville. This new line was electrified with AC power, making it incompatible with the road's previous 600V DC Galesburg line. This northern extension, roughly 50 miles in length, only was under wire for about eight years. Electric operations on the Monmouth-QC line ceased sometime near the end of World War I, being replaced by a pair of steam locomotives. Gradually, as traffic declined and the line fell in to disrepair, it was cut back starting from the Monmouth end. In February 1952, operations on the RIS ceased entirely, and most of the line was torn up.

However, at least part survived as part of the Rock Island. I'm not sure how much of the CRI&P section survived, but as of today, the former RIS main is intact out to just out past 92nd Avenue West in Rock Island, a distance of about 3.5 miles from the Milan Junction or ~8 miles from the Rock Island yard. In addition, what I assume is the former Rock Island & Peoria main survives for a mile or so, branching from the line at the Milan depot and heading east to serve a few small industries. With the fall of the Rock in the early 1980s, the line was eventually sold, along with the Rock's Chicago-Omaha mainline, to Iowa Interstate, who today continues to provide service. A map showing both today's branch and a rough approximation of where the original Rock Island Southern mainline ran can be seen here.

The Milan Branch today receives service via IAIS's RISW, the Rock Island Switcher. This is the local RI job, and it seems to typically go on duty at RI around 1000h. Since I've never gotten the opportunity to photograph this train in action, I made it one of my top goals while home in the Quad Cities. On Tuesday, 23-Dec-2003, I happened to be over at the Rock Island yards at just the right time to see the local, headed by IAIS 468, head out along the line at about 1100h. Despite having decent lighting in the early morning, noon and the afternoon weren't looking so good, with grey cloud cover and light snow from time to time. Still, I had the train and I had the time, so I figured it was as good of a day to chase the local as any.

The first mile or so of the branch (from where the former Omaha main splits to cross the Mississippi) is shared with BNSF and the Iowa, Chicago & Eastern. These two roads cross over the river via the Crescent Bridge and use joint trackage with IAIS up through Rock Island and Moline. I believe BNSF mainly uses it to connect the Clinton local job to its yard at Barstow, and the IC&E uses it to service the former Milwaukee/Soo line up the east side of the Mississippi, through East Moline, Hampton, and Port Byron. At the south end of the Crescent Bridge, however, the Milan Branch breaks off, and it's pure IAIS all the way to the end. For more information about the line, as well as a look at a typical 2003 local job, see Nathan's Christmas 2003 in Iowa trip report.

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  Last modified on March 23, 2013, at 08:59 PM
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