Illinois - One of the best railfanning hotspots
Railfanning In Centralia
Centralia proper are CN, BNSF and NS – ex-IC,
CB&Q and SOU,
with three daily Amtraks each way on the CN. 35-40 trains
per day, weighted towards weekdays. A BNSF switch
job runs M-F and influences traffic patterns midday.
Saturdays can be good days, but traffic is variable
on Sundays and often light.
track is restricted to 20 mph, as it is within yard
limits through the entire downtown area. The CN #2
track is good for 45 mph for passenger trains and
expediters. NS has a 10 mph curve as they diverge
from the BNSF south of the CN diamonds, so NS trains
will creep through town.
has 35% of the business passing through, usually
around 12 trains a day. Their line is the
ex-Southern Railway line between St. Louis and
Princeton, IN (Louisville, KY area). NS trains run
north-south on the BNSF through downtown. NS trains
have to get permission (via radio) from both BNSF
and CN dispatchers before coming into town. Trains
are predominately containers and autos/auto parts,
with some mixed-commodity haulage. NS has a local
based here, a weekday-only operation going east
Tuesday and Thursday, and then west the other three
two crossovers to the south of the station, one from
BNSF to the CN siding, and another from the CN
siding to the main. Both of these crossovers are
hand-thrown, are not signal controlled and play no
role in signal indications at the interlocking.
These are used for southbounds from BNSF to CN, and
northbounds from CN to BNSF, which includes coal
trains, the weekly transfer between locals, and
seasonal grain transfer traffic. Use of the CN
crossover for CN mainline trains would be very
runs six trains north and south on the CN, the City
of New Orleans, #58/59, and the state-sponsored
Illini/Saluki service between Chicago and
Carbondale, train #'s 390-393. The state trains currently consist of a new Siemens Charger and seven
four or five
revenue cars and the
others filler for grade crossing activation. These
tend to be full between Chicago and Champaign on
weekends, with ridership levels influenced by
college calendars. The City of New Orleans schedule
runs close to the Illinois Central's pre-Amtrak
Panama Limited overnight timetable, and offers
sleeper accommodations between Chicago and New
NOTE: The state-sponsored
southbound trains, #391 and #393, now tend to
run 45 to 75 minutes late consistently. This
is apparently due to recent speed restrictions
imposed by CN on the lightweight
equipment. #58/59 with
regular long-distance equipment is not
subject to these limits and
tends to be more or less on time
of course subject to Amtrak's usual
On older maps or online maps with old data (such as Bing) you might notice a line going to the southwest. It is a former MP (ex-Missouri-Illinois RR) connection, and has been gone for 30 years. It used to connect with the C&EI (now UP) in Salem.
north of Centralia is the CSX, an ex-B&O
major-appearing mainline was
taken out of service indefinitely starting in 2015.
This line crossed
the BNSF in Shattuc, the CN in Odin and the UP in
at grade level. These diamonds were removed in 2016.
miles south in Ashley, the Evansville Western
branchline (truncated ex-L&N main to St. Louis)
with a train that runs to the line's end at
Okawville when the grain elevators there or in
Addieville or Nashville have loads to ship. When in
operation it runs three days a week, out Monday, in
Tuesday, etc. When the train is large it usually
draws CSX power.
Area Railfan Interest
National Railway Equipment
(NRE) is located in Mt. Vernon, 20 miles southeast
of Centralia. A distant descendant of American
Locomotive Company ("ALCO"), they are most recently
known as the manufacturer of the fuel-efficient
"Genset" locomotive. Located southeast of downtown
Mt. Vernon, they can be easily spotted from public
streets by their acres and acres of retired
locomotives and locomotive parts.
NRE also generates a
little bit of interesting locomotive traffic through Centralia,
of retired units, or
locomotives beyond repair such as the
(It was dropped from a crane during delivery.)
NRE's outgoing shipment of Gensets or other rebuilt
locomotives is via UP's ex-C&EI line.
Aside from NRE's
occasional odd locomotive delivery, CN ships the
unusual from time to time,
usually as non-operating trailing units
in the consist. Recent eye-catchers have
been F- and E-units in
transit to or from a shortline, and
even a very
rare Bombardier (nee Montreal
If you have not visited
Centralia since 2016... well,
things have changed. Significantly.
Signaling on all lines
changed in 2017 due to PTC implementation.
On CN, the
south of Calumet St. remain
a slight change:
the signals now illuminate on the CN
side in advance of crossing
movements on the BNSF/NS.
There are new constant-lit
intermediate signals on both tracks
north of downtown for
northbound traffic. Both display flashing
yellow (advance approach) when
there is no activity, other
predictive of train
Signals on the BNSF and NS are constant-lit. There is a "D"-placarded ("distant") signal in front of the station which is a fixed yellow in both directions and never changes - ignore it. The former Type SA searchlight for northbound trains with just the red and lunar (restricting) indications was replaced by a double-mount with 3-color heads; the lower head put into operation on 9/3/2018 after being "bagged" for seven months. Flashing-red-over-red (restricting) will be immediate advance notice for a BNSF movement. Red-over-green (diverging clear) or red-over-yellow* (diverging approach) indicates junction alignment for NS westbounds. The southbound BNSF signal controlling the IC crossing is now reversed from prior practice: lunar indicating BNSF, yellow for NS.
for NS westbounds at the east
end of Shattuc siding is red
(stop). If the
westbound train at the
downtown junction is not on the tail
of another NS train,
red-over-yellow is confirmation
of a meet at
predictive of an
two-indication signal (red and yellow) just to the
south of the station controlling trains entering the CN from
the BNSF was removed on
If you spend
any time around the interlocking where 13th Street
makes the turn onto Wabash Ave., just west of the
BNSF and NS connections, you might notice a
three-aspect color signal on the NS facing into the
interlocking, on the backside of the junction
control signal. It is an ABS signal for the block.
It remains green unless there is a train (either
direction) between Centralia and Walnut Hill. NS has installed PTC on this line,
although ABS and warrants remain
Same thing goes for radio -
BNSF and NS frequencies have changed.
CN - 161.190. Little advance notice on CN trains due to CTC, but all NS and BNSF trains have to talk to the CN dispatcher ("CN RTC Homewood Desk 3") on this frequency, generally before you see them since trains cannot wait for the junction in town due to crossing blockage. Amtrak is on this freq. Two hotbox detectors can be heard, one just south of Irvington and another north of Odin, the latter requiring a pretty good antenna to hear from Centralia. Yard activity on 161.280.
& 161.100. Also yard activity on
161.160 and 161.460. NS trains are required to
contact the BNSF DS ("Beardstown Dispatcher") for
warrants on 161.340
before calling CN for permission to cross, and frequently the
too-busy BNSF DS may take a while before answering.
Line is ABS and requires track warrants.
Road (Ch. 1) and 160.245
Dispatcher (Ch. 2). Lots of radio activity with some
NS crews a little too chatty (railroad CB?), so there's plenty
of advance notice. NS's line is also ABS and
requires track warrants. There is a hotbox detector
near Walnut Hill, southeast of Centralia. Common
control points or siding locations heard on the
radio are New Baden (40 mi. west), Shattuck
(4 mi. west) and Golden Gate (near
Fairfield, about 50 mi. east-southeast), as well as
Mt. Vernon. The
former road channel, 160.950, is not
active in Centralia.