A Publication of WTVP

Wherever you live in the Peoria metropolitan area, you’re in close proximity to railroad tracks. You may not often notice a moving train on those tracks—except the one stopping you at a crossing when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere—but they’re there, faithfully moving raw materials and finished goods into and out of the area.

You won’t see any passenger trains, though; Peoria’s railroads are freight-only. It’s been that way for years, so their purpose is to haul freight for area industries. In an age of interstate highways, commercial airline travel and the private automobile, rail freight is, with limited exception, the reason for the survival of the nation’s rail system. Of course, it more than survives—it prospers. Not a single major railroad has entered bankruptcy court in two decades.

Passenger trains, however, are making a comeback. High fuel prices drove Amtrak’s ridership to an all-time high of 28,716,407 passengers in FY 2008. In the not-too-distant future, Amtrak may begin service between Chicago and Peoria. As this is written, a feasibility study was due for release this summer.

Peoria’s Railroads and Industry
So how do railroads contribute to the Peoria-area economy? Eleven railroads own or operate track in the Peoria metro area. These range from large carriers such as BNSF, Canadian National, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific, to one “regional” (Iowa Interstate) and a half-dozen shortlines—Central Illinois Railroad, Illinois & Midland Railroad, Keokuk Junction Railway, Pioneer Industrial Railway, Tazewell & Peoria Railroad and the Toledo, Peoria & Western Railway. Their lines serving the Peoria area are supported by a diverse collection of industries.

Our electricity primarily comes from coal delivered by rail to AmerenCILCO’s E.D. Edwards Station, located south of Bartonville. Coal trains arrive daily at Midwest Generation’s Powerton Station, which supplies Chicago-area consumers.

The region has long been known for construction and mining machinery manufacturing. Its largest employer, Caterpillar Inc., ships bulldozers and pipelayers assembled at East Peoria to all parts of the world, making rail transportation important due to volume and shipping distances to ports. Raw materials used at the company’s Mapleton foundry and the rubber components facility located on Peoria’s south side arrive by railcar. Another mining equipment manufacturer, Komatsu America International, ships off-highway mining truck chasses by rail from its Peoria plant.

The Peoria area is a major center for metals industries. Keystone Steel & Wire receives raw materials (mainly scrap metal) for its Bartonville steelworks and wire-making complex, much of which arrives by rail. The company also uses rail for some shipments of finished coiled wire rod. Local scrap yards such as Allied Iron & Steel, Alter Metal Recycling and Behr Peoria receive scrap metal and junk, process it and then ship it to buyers. Due to the quantity and weight of these shipments, rail is vital, even for short distances. Hanna Steel Corporation uses rail to ship coil steel to its Pekin processing facility. O’Brien Steel Service Co. receives much of its steel products by rail.

The Peoria area is also a major center for manufacturing renewable fuels, and those firms with local plants rely on railroads for much of their transportation needs. These are Archer Daniels Midland in Peoria, and Aventine Renewable Energy and MGP Ingredients of Illinois in Pekin (As this was written, MGP’s local plant has temporarily shut down and will no longer produce fuel-grade alcohol). Alcohol and livestock feed are shipped from these plants to destinations throughout North America, and rail transportation is vital for moving these bulk commodities over long distances. Carbon dioxide gas generated by the two ethanol producers is piped to processors for conversion into a refrigerated liquid. Two of these processors, BOC Gases and Praxair, have rail shipping facilities.

In addition to being a grain processing center, the Peoria area is a major delivery point for grain and grain products due to its location along the Illinois River. Rail-hauled grain arrives from sources in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa. Increased activity comes during the winter months as processors and elevators ship here when the Upper Mississippi River is closed to navigation. ADM Grain Company and Tomen Grain Company are among those with area rail-to-barge transfer facilities.

Centered in a vast grain-growing region, Peoria-area farmers need large quantities of dry and liquid fertilizers. Phosphate fertilizer arrives by barge at local river terminals owned by CF Industries and Mosaic, from where it can be transferred to railcar for final distribution. Entire trains of Canadian potash are delivered to these same facilities for storage and eventual transfer to barges or regional distribution.

Chemical plants operated by Evonik Degussa Corporation and Lonza, Inc. at Mapleton are major users of rail transportation. Mapleton’s industrial area developed due to efforts of the Toledo, Peoria & Western Railway, which purchased hundreds of acres during the 1950s to sell to industrial users.

Building materials such as lumber and plywood are needed for local construction projects, and shipping distances to central Illinois from mills in Canada, the Pacific Northwest and the Southeastern United States make rail transportation vital. Major recipients of building materials include Amerhart Ltd. and Morton Buildings, which manufactures timber-framed metal buildings. Other types of materials shipped here by railcar include bricks and telephone poles.

Area food processing industries also use rail. Corn Products International manufactures sugarless sweeteners at its Mapleton facility, where rail is used for the receipt of raw material and shipment of finished product. Nestle USA ships Libby’s pumpkin products by rail from its Morton cannery. PMP Fermentation Products in Peoria receives raw material by railcar to manufacture its line of food additives.

PMP is one of several firms that have installed new rail-related facilities during the past several years. Others are Amerhart Ltd.’s Pekin warehouse, Aventine Renewable Energy’s new dry corn mill, East Peoria Materials’ aggregates facility, Peoria River Terminal’s asphalt storage facility, and Reed Minerals’ roofing granules plant near Pekin.

Railroads as an Economic Development Tool
Access to rail transportation is used as a selling point for industrial development projects in the area. It has been used successfully by Pekin’s Riverway Business Park. Rail service provided by Canadian National helped attract Hanna Steel Corporation and Amerhart Ltd., which opened facilities there in 1999 and 2006, respectively. Recent acquisition of additional land by the City of Pekin will enable the park to lure more businesses.

Formed in 2003, the Heart of Illinois Regional Port District, or TransPORT, is working to create new industrial and transportation jobs in Fulton, Marshall, Mason, Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties. Their first project is to redevelop the site of Caterpillar’s original Mapleton foundry. The Toledo Peoria & Western will serve any businesses locating there that require rail access. Peoria’s Southern Gateway Revitalization Project includes development of the Eagle View Biotech Park, for which rail access will be a major selling point.

Peoria-Area Railroads and Future Growth
In 2007, the U. S. Department of Transportation projected 88-percent growth in demand for rail freight service by 2035. Billions of dollars will be needed to expand key rail freight corridors. While present economic conditions have temporarily reduced rail traffic and may temper growth for the foreseeable future, investment will
prove necessary.

What’s more, the Peoria area may have a role in railroads’ future capacity expansion. Traditionally, Peoria was known among railroad officials and shippers as the “Peoria Gateway,” an alternative to congestion and delays at Chicago area rail terminals. Alas, the Peoria Gateway mostly died with railroad industry transformation through mergers, diversion of time-sensitive freight to the highways and partial deregulation.

Implementation of the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program (CREATE) will be slow, and rail congestion will worsen. Peoria is a connection point for several railroads that also serve Chicago, and some interchange of freight traffic could be shifted here if railroads deem it economically viable. What that means for Peoria is better rail service, and better rail service enhances the area’s economic development prospects, which leads to job growth. iBi

David P. Jordan is a co-author of Toledo, Peoria & Western Railroad In Color. He writes about transportation issues on his blog Peoria Station, at