Mainline steam ā€“ Will it play in Peoria?

Posted by Brian Schmidt
on Tuesday, August 29, 2017

An eastbound Toledo, Peoria & Western freight approaches Sheldon, Ind., in August 2015. Could this be the next great home for mainline steam in the U.S.? Photo by Brian Schmidt

What if there was a place where mainline steam locomotives could roam, where railfans could come to see the majesty and might of the rails? While I don't buy into the lore of steam, I do see a need for a spot, a petting zoo of sorts, where mainline steam can congregate, and maybe someone can make a few bucks off it. Steam flourishes in Britain where operators have more freedom on publicly owned rails. Why couldn't that happen in the U.S.?

My proposal is thus: a nonprofit, either newly formed or existing, buys and maintains a rail line for the express purpose of operating mainline steam locomotives. There would be a roundhouse, where the locomotives could rest and where docents could explain the importance of our railroad heritage. Being on an existing rail line, there would be income from the sale of freight service rights. And there could be a space for railroad industry trade show displays. Maybe an opportunity for testing rail equipment without the need to ship it to Pueblo.

And just what railroad should this be? The Toledo, Peoria & Western east of Peoria. Okay, now that you're done laughing, I'll explain.

The line is within day trip range of a number of major cities, such as Chicago, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, and St. Louis; it has multiple rail connections, including two with Amtrak routes, to facilitate the movement of equipment in and out; it has a great chase route in the form of U.S. 24, which follows closely for much of its length; it is convenient to major universities, should it come to use in railroad research and testing; and it seems available for the right price – it has little or no overhead traffic and doesn't function as a trunk line for a larger network.

What's needed to get this going? First, an organization with the motivation and drive to make it happen, and likely deep pockets for insurance policies. Second, a new roundhouse and interpretative facility, probably near Peoria. Third, steam locomotives and crews that are able to spend a few weeks (or months) at a time visiting. Finally, a legion of railfans willing to support it by traveling to visit and ride those trains.

Oh, sure, people will complain. And they'll start in the comments section here. "There's no scenery!" Then go try to buy Tennessee Pass from Union Pacific. "Railfans will never support it!" Well, folks, that's all up to you.

So, will it play in Peoria?

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