As some of you know, my wife and I original hail from Davenport and Walcott, IA, respectively - about ten miles apart. Every year, around the Christmas and New Years holidays, we make our way back to eastern Iowa to be around most of our family. Needless to say, I'm not going to pass up nearly two weeks off and not pick up the camera. Eastern Iowa, especially around the Quad Cities area (Davenport, Bettendorf, Rock Island, Moline) presents plenty of railfanning opportunities, mostly all regionals. The downside is, of course, that winter in Iowa is very often overcast - not really snowing or blowing or anything else, just cloudy and dreary.
The best established of the Quad Cities regionals is, of course, Iowa Interstate. IAIS has been around since the mid-1980s, providing service over the former Chicago, Rock Island, & Pacific mainline between Blue Island on the east end (near Chicago, running over Metra from Blue Island to Joliet and CSXT from Joliet to Bureau) and Council Bluffs on the west. For those interested, Michael Petersen (a fellow Iowan) and I have been maintaining an Iowa Interstate website for almost eight years now. Be sure to check out the Operations section - it will give you a quick overview of how and when (roughly) the railroad operates.
The Quad Cities is a great place to start exploring the IAIS, since there's both the Rock Island Switcher (RISW) as well as the westbound road train, Blue Island-Council Bluffs or BICB, running in daylight. One of my goals for this trip was to catch the RISW out on what's known as the Milan Branch - a former interurban main that's now become a sevenish mile stub of excepted track, leading from the Rock Island yard down to the far west end of Milan, IL. The other goal was to actually chase a few from Rock Island west, and maybe even get one of the Peoria (RIPE) trains. You'll see the results of the first two in this trip report - the third didn't happen until the day before we left for Colorado, and I was headed to Iowa City instead.
The other major regional in the QC is a relative newcomer, and its route has a rather turbulent history in the last few decades. After the failure of the Rock around 1980, the Milwaukee put its main from Chicago together with the Rock Island's Missouri Division to create a mainline from Chicago to KC. Then, with the collapse of the Milwaukee a few years later in 1985, the Soo Line came into the picture, taking over operations on the Chicago-KC main. Also in this period, the SP started using trackage rights over the line to complete its eastward connection from the Rio Grande's Tennessee Pass main, through Kansas on the former MP mainline, and KC over to Chicago over the Soo. By 1990, Canadian Pacific took control of the Soo, and rumors abounded that they considered the KC main to be on the sale block. In April of 1997, that rumor became fact, as the Washington Group (parent company of MRL) purchased the line and other pieces of the former CP/Soo/Milwaukee system. Lasting again about five years (like many of its predecessors), the IMRL bowed out on 30-Jul-2002, when the system was sold to create the Iowa, Chicago, & Eastern - basically a sister road of the DM&E.
In this trip report, we'll be taking a brief look at the IC&E between Le Claire, IA (near the I-80 Mississippi River bridge) and Nahant Yard (near the I-280 bridge). Essentially we'll be looking at a couple afternoons of operations inside the freeway ring around the QC. Based on what I saw on this trip, the IC&E still seems to do things the IMRL way - monster freights plying the line. However, things aren't as similar as they seem. What I remember of the IMRL wasn't much, but I never saw as many freights on it as I saw on the IC&E while I was home for Christmas. Also, instead of the ragtag motive power fleet that IMRL used, the IC&E has a nice, shiny fleet of newly rebuilt SD40-2s. That's not to say that's all you'll see, though. The IC&E also still operates a small fleet of ex-Soo, ex-IRML first generation geeps. For those intersted in learning about railfanning on the IC&E, I'd recommend Joel Kirchner's excellent Iowa, Chicago & Eastern Unofficial Web Page. There's also the ICErail list on YahooGroups, which is a source for more up-to-the-minute information.
Special thanks on this trip go to Erik Rasmussen for information about QC operations these days (including the heads up on the DRGW GP30 at Silvis) and to Al Hunt, both for lunch and for dropping helpful IAIS tidbits outside his official capacity at IAIS. Things wouldn't have gone nearly as well, or at all, without their assistance. I'd also like to note that while I've made my best effort to get the history of the lines and the area correct, if anybody finds errors, I'd be glad to know about them so that I can correct them.