History of the Champaign, Havana & Western Railway of 1879
By T.E. Scott Jr. 30-January-2018
.pdf version available here
The Monticello Railroad (MRR)
The Havana, Mason City, Lincoln & Eastern Railway (HMCL&E)
The railroad began as two separate railroads:
1) The Monticello Railroad (MRR), incorporated on 21 February 1861 to build from Champaign, Illinois through Monticello, to Decatur. No work was commenced until after the Civil War, although at least one right-of-way parcel was acquired as early as 1863.
2) The Havana, Lincoln & Champaign Railroad (HL&C), incorporated on 9 March 1867, to build eastward from Ipava in Fulton County, Illinois through the named towns to an “Eastern connection which would form a route to New York City.” The charter of the HL&C was amended on 27 March 1869, allowing it to construct to a connection with a railroad in either Missouri or Iowa, bypassing Ipava if necessary, and changing the name to the Havana, Mason City, Lincoln & Eastern Railway (HMCL&E).
The Monticello Railroad started building from Champaign about June 1868. An interesting story about the “Sheriff’s cow” appears on a right-of-way map of the railroad. Apparently, the Monticello Railroad and the Indianapolis, Bloomington & Western (IB&W – later, the Peoria & Eastern) were both under construction in Champaign at the same time in 1868. The two railroads crossed each other at grade just West of Randolf Street. The MRR had secured the right-of-way through the crossing point and was laying track westward from their junction with the Illinois Central’s Chicago Branch (now the CN Chicago-New Orleans mainline). The IB&W did not have right-of-way at the crossing point, but laid a temporary track for three rail lengths across the MRR’s surveyed centerline at the crossing point and then secured an injunction restraining the MRR from taking up the rails. The sheriff, whose duty it was to serve the injunction, owned a cow which just at this time broke its tether and went astray. Instead of serving the injunction promptly, the Sheriff went looking for his cow. While he was away, the MRR tracklayers took up the IB&W’s rails and built their own permanent track through the crossing point just twelve hours after the IB&W had laid their track. The injunction was never served. While the story may seem a bit juvenile on the part of the players, it was important to be first at the crossing point. While not always true, typically it was the “junior railroad’s” responsibility to pay for and maintain the crossing frogs where one railroad crosses another at grade. Additionally the junior railroad usually had the burden and expense of providing and operating an interlocking tower (or other suitable traffic control arrangement) to regulate trains using the crossing. Providing the crossing and its ongoing protection was a significant expense and it was often a great incentive to opposing railroads to be “first” at the crossing point to avoid these expenses for their line.
The Monticello Railroad and the Havana, Mason City, Lincoln & Eastern were joined at White Heath, Illinois and were consolidated on 28 June 1872, the H,MC,L&E Ry being the surviving corporation. The new H,MC,L&E Ry was then consolidated, a few hours later on the same day, into the Indianapolis, Bloomington & Western Railway, becoming the IB&W “Extension Railway.” After the consolidation, the IB&W took up the rails East of the MRR-IB&W crossing point in Champaign, eliminating the crossing, but leaving the ties in place. Later, the ICRR would lay track back down on these ties and re-establish the IB&W crossing when they took over the lines in 1887.
Indianapolis, Bloomington & Western Railway
The IB&W completed the “Extension Railway” to Havana (June 1873) and Decatur (October 1873), but there was already trouble on the horizon. The Panic of 1873, an economic depression which began in Europe with the collapse of the Vienna Stock Exchange on 9 May 1873 and had spread to the United States by September, put the brakes on most railroad expansions and new construction for about 6 years. It had a devastating effect on railroad business in the United States, especially Western roads like the IB&W, which had been over-capitalized expanding into areas that had not yet developed much locally-originated traffic and could not generate immediate returns on investment. Approximately one-quarter of U.S. railroads went bankrupt. The main hope for the “Extension Railway” was that it could attract bridge traffic from a connection with a Western railroad at the Mississippi River. Had the connection been completed, it was said that the “Extension Railway” would have formed the central link in the shortest rail route from San Francisco to New York City. Although a railroad bridge was constructed over the Illinois River at Havana – prior to end of 1873 – and the railroad owned right-of-way some distance West of Havana, the necessary connection to a “Western Road” was never completed – in part due to the Panic of 1873 and subsequent collapse of the IB&W.
In the beginning of the end of the IB&W’s control over the “Extension Railway”, a suit was filed in State court in Clinton, Illinois against the IB&W Ry for non-payment of mortgages in 1874 and it soon moved to Federal court. George B. Wright of Indianapolis was appointed Receiver on 1 December 1874.
In another move that may have lead to the eventual formation of the Champaign, Havana & Western, the bondholders of the “Extension Railway” apparently had a series of meetings concerning the financial problems of the IB&W. The New York Times reported on one of these meetings in an article appearing Saturday 16 October 1875. Sumner R. Stone, who later was an incorporator and first president of the CH&W, presided over the meeting. The newspaper reported that a committee of the bondholders of the “Extension Railway” had been appointed to investigate the IB&W’s finances, specifically as they regarded the operations of the “Extension Railway.” Because the IB&W had commingled its operating expenses, the committee had great difficulty trying to sort out the operating revenues and expenses of the “Extension Railway” from those of the “Main Line” (i.e. the Indianapolis-Champaign-Pekin line). As best they could tell from the receiver’s report for the seven month period ending 1 July 1875, the net profit on the operations of the “Extension Railway” had been about $4000 in that time period. They also concluded that of the $5.5 million dollars worth of bonds that had been issued for the “Extension Railway,” most of it had actually been spent on the Indianapolis-Champaign-Pekin “Main Line” and not for the completion of the “Extension Railway” to Keokuk as it was intended. Nonetheless, it was generally felt that continued cooperation with the IB&W was the best course of action to resolve their financial problems.
The IB&W Ry went bankrupt and its assets were sold at foreclosure. The IB&W Railroad was incorporated in 1878 to purchase the assets of the former IB&W Railway. It appears that the IB&W “mainline” (Indianapolis-Champaign-Pekin line) and the “Extension Railway” were sold separately. The charter of the new IB&W RR mandated that it purchase the “mainline,” but purchasing the “Extension Railway” was optional at the discretion of the Board of Directors. The “Extension Railway” was sold at a sheriff’s auction at the Federal Courthouse in Springfield, Illinois in January 1879 to a Purchasing Committee headed up by Sumner R. Stone. So far, research has not turned up whether or not the IB&W RR had a representative at the auction bidding for the “Extension Railway.”
Champaign, Havana & Western Railway of 1879 (CH&W)
The Champaign, Havana & Western Railway was incorporated on 30 January 1879 by a mix of Northeastern and local interests. Sumner R. Stone and Frederick Tappen of New York City and John Welsh of Philadelphia, PA represented Northeastern investment and banking interests. William H. Smith and Simeon H. Busey (co-founder of Busey Bank) were both from Urbana, IL and Luther Dearborn (a lawyer and State Senator) was from Havana, IL representing local interests. It would be the last time local residents had any significant control of the railroad. One of the first orders of business was to purchase the “Extension Railway” from the Purchasing Committee that obtained the railroad at the IB&W foreclosure auction. This was accomplished by trading shares of CH&W stock to the members of the committee who had put up the money to buy the railroad. More research will be needed to discover what was really going on, but it appears the CH&W could have just been a “front” railroad company for Jay Gould’s Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific Railroad. One of the things discussed at the CH&W’s first stockholders meeting was a lease or consolidation with the Wabash. It also could be that the stockholders and Board of Directors felt it best for the railroad to be a part of a larger railroad, instead of trying to make it as an independent, and they thought the Wabash (being an East-West railroad like the CH&W) was the strongest contender. Whatever the case, the CH&W had a very short tenure as an independent railroad. There were some right-of-way purchases made in the CH&W’s name, so they were independent for at least a little while. Of particular interest are the properties the CH&W acquired upon which the interchange connections were constructed at Lodge, Illinois with the Wabash’s Chicago & Paducah (C&P) line running from Bement to Chicago. Clearly, this was done in anticipation of Wabash operation and control because Lodge became the Wabash’s Division Point for the line. The connection formed a complete wye on the West side of the C&P (Wabash) line allowing whole trains to be turned if necessary. Under Wabash control, Lodge became the Division Point on the railroad with trains originating in Danville on the East and Havana on the West. Trains from the East ran through to Lodge, then went through the interchange and headed south to Monticello on the C&P where it then returned to the Decatur Branch for the trip to Cisco and Decatur. The Decatur Branch trackage between White Heath and Monticello was not used, except as an emergency bypass when the Sangamon River was in flood stage or to store freight cars to relieve congestion in the Decatur yards. Although the connection in the Northwest quadrant of the intersection of the two lines was abandoned many years ago, the connection in the southwest quadrant existed until abandonment. It was used by the Lodge grain elevator as a load out track.
Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific Railroad (W,StL&PRR)
Most sources say the CH&W was leased to Jay Gould’s Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific Railroad in 1880. However, there are documents that discuss a consolidation and stock exchange – $400 Wabash stock for $500 CH&W stock. If a stock exchange took place, it was probably a consolidation with the Wabash, rather than a lease, and the CH&W would have been absorbed into the W,St.L&PRR. There are a couple of right-of-way deeds in Monticello that were purchased by the W,St.L&PRR, rather than the CH&W.
Once the Wabash had secured control of the CH&W, they constructed a branch from their East-West mainline at Sidney to Urbana and Champaign specifically to connect with the Eastern end of their new railroad. The branch was constructed by the Champaign and Southeastern Railroad (C&SE) – a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Wabash. Once the C&SE reached Urbana, it paralleled the IB&W (and its successor, the Peoria & Eastern) into Champaign where it crossed the ICRR’s North-South mainline and made a connection to the East end of the CH&W. It is interesting to note how long-lived that connection actually was. Until very recently, the ICRR (now CN) still used the ex-Wabash (former C&SE) tracks from the interchange with their North-South mainline to connect to the East end of the old CH&W – ICRR’s “Havana District.” Wabash – now its corporate successor, the Norfolk Southern – owned and had to maintain these tracks, which was costing them a lot of money due to expensive crossing and signal maintenance at several downtown Champaign crossings. ICRR was using the track at little to no cost and had no incentive to change the arrangement. Finally, within the last couple of years, NS got the ICRR to agree to use their ex-Peoria & Eastern (ex-IB&W) interchange and trackage to access the East end of the old CH&W so they can still get to their industrial customers on the West side of Champaign and the last remnant of the Havana District trackage out to the grain elevators at Bondville and Seymour. The NS has ripped out the former Wabash (C&SE) track connection and CN now accesses the CH&W via the original IB&W connection. Only goes to show that the more things change, the more they stay the same!
Association with the Wabash only lasted to 1885 when the Wabash went into bankruptcy. A New York Times article, dated Thursday 14 May 1885, reported that the Federal Court in Springfield, Illinois had appointed Mr. A. J. Thomas of New York as receiver of the Champaign, Havana & Western Railway, severing it from Wabash management, and ordered all CH&W property to be returned to the railroad. The “Champaign and Havana Line Railroad” report submitted to the Illinois Annual Report of the Railroad and Warehouse Commission, 1-December-1886, indicates it had been operated under the Receiver since 17 May 1885. So it would appear that the railroad emerged from Wabash bankruptcy being independently operated by a receiver for at least short time. More research is needed to determine what name the railroad was using during this interim period. The named source indicates the report was filed under the name of “Champaign and Havana Line Railroad,” but it is unknown by the author at this time if this was the official name, or simply the name used by the Receiver to file the report. There are survey plats recorded in Piatt County in the mid-1880 time period referring to the line between Monticello and White Heath as the “C&H,” i.e. “Champaign & Havana.”
Another item of interest is the use of the Illinois River Bridge at Havana by the Fulton County Narrow Gauge Railroad. The Fulton County Narrow Gauge – a 61-mile 3-foot narrow gauge line – was being constructed from Havana to Lewistown, then north through some coal fields in the Fairfield and London Mills area, to Galesburg (info from “American Narrow Gauge Railroads” by George Hilton). At least part of the reason the FCNG was constructed as a narrow gauge was the anticipation that the Havana, Rantoul & Eastern, a 3-foot narrow gauge line being constructed East and West through Rantoul, would be able to connect to it. However, the HR&E never built trackage West of LeRoy, Illinois, on the IB&W mainline to Pekin. According to Hilton, the FCNG made an agreement with the “TP&W” 1 January 1882 to lay narrow-gauge track across the railroad bridge over the Illinois River at Havana. The Toledo, Peoria & Warsaw (later, Toledo, Peoria & Western) was another of W,StL,&P’s holdings at the time, but they crossed the Illinois River at Peoria, not at Havana, and did not have trackage anywhere near Havana. By 1882, the W,StL&P would have been in control of the CH&W, so it would have been the Wabash that leased the bridge to FCNG. Wabash also controlled the HR&E, although HR&E was not extended any further West during Wabash control. The Wabash may have thought it in their best interest to allow the FCNG into Havana as a potential connection for their HR&E. Although I have not seen the article, I have been told there is a good history of the FCNG in “Railway & Locomotive Historical Society Bulletin #61A.” According to the author’s recent research, the article said the CH&W owned the bridge over the Illinois River at Havana and they leased it to the FCNG.
Failure to connect their tracks to the Havana, Rantoul & Eastern was the reason given in the Hilton book for the FCNG ceasing operations over the Illinois River Bridge at Havana on 1 November 1886. After that, they terminated trains on the West side of the River at the improvised station of “West Havana.” That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. So what if HR&E never made it to Havana? Havana was, and still is, the economic center of the immediate region around it. Seems to me that pulling out of Havana would not be a good business decision. The West Havana-Lewistown portion of the FCNG was standard gauged in early 1905, with the rest of the line being widened by 1906. The Lewistown to “West Havana” line was abandoned in 1935. I’m now speculating here, but I’m guessing that the bridge over the Illinois River at Havana could have been wooden Howe Truss bridge spans, similar to the ones that had been originally constructed over the Sangamon River West of White Heath (on the Havana line) and Monticello (on the Decatur branch). The wooden Howe Truss bridges over the Sangamon were replaced by steel truss bridges in 1891 and are still in place today. If the Illinois River Bridge was a wooden structure, the likely cause of service cessation could have been increasing maintenance costs and/or deterioration of the wood spans. FCNG, its only user, probably couldn’t cough up the money to maintain the bridge. An online article concerning the FCNG indicated that “Government Engineers” (research hasn’t confirmed it, yet, but may have been the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) condemning the bridge piers was the reason the FCNG stopped using the bridge. That seems to be a very likely explanation, although it would indicate pretty shoddy workmanship on the part of the bridge builders. A bridge over the Illinois River would be a major structure and for the piers to last less than 15 years does not speak well of the builders. In contrast, the Eads Bridge in St. Louis, constructed in 1874, is still in service today after 144 years. Another possibility lies in the date FCNG gave up operating over the bridge – i.e. late 1886. That roughly corresponds with the end of Wabash/CH&W control of these lines and the beginning of CHICAGO, Havana & Western (ChgoH&W) ownership of the railroad. The Chicago, Havana & Western was owned by Illinois Central Railroad (ICRR) interests. If the FCNG did not offer any advantage to the ICRR at Havana, the lease was probably either not renewed or canceled. Although the ICRR also acquired the narrow gauge HR&E line out of Rantoul, ICRR moved quickly to standard-gauge it and had no intention of extending it west in either gauge.
Chicago, Havana & Western Railroad (ChgoH&W)
Edward Harriman of the Illinois Central Railroad purchased the Champaign, Havana & Western Railway on 30 December 1886 from Anthony J. Thomas, Receiver, and incorporated the CHICAGO, Havana & Western Railroad to own and operate it. More research is needed, but it would appear that the Illinois Central Railroad probably started operating the lines from Day One of ChgoH&W ownership and this was merely formalized by a lease two years later in 1888. The trackage was officially sold to the ICRR by the ChgoH&W in 1902 for “$1 and other valuable considerations,” along with a number of other shortline railroad properties over which the ICRR had acquired control over the last several years.
Illinois Central Railroad (ICRR)
The CHICAGO, Havana & Western Railroad was officially leased to the ICRR in 1888 and the rail lines were formally absorbed into the ICRR system in 1902. The Champaign to Havana line, via White Heath, became ICRR’s Havana District while the line from White Heath to Decatur, via Monticello became the Decatur District. The former CH&W lines seem to have been a good fit with ICRR’s system. Acquisition by IC finally pulled the lines out of the cycle of receivership, bankruptcy, and foreclosure that plagued their first 25 years of existence. ICRR primarily used the lines as an East-West feeder for their Charter Mainline at Clinton and the Chicago Branch at Champaign. The Chicago Branch became ICRR’s mainline in modern times. Trains were primarily operated by crews out of IC’s Division Point at Clinton. Per labor union agreements, Champaign crews could operate as far west as Staley on the west side of Champaign and switch their industrial customers out to that point. ICRR and its corporate successor, the Illinois Central Gulf (ICG), owned and operated the lines until abandonment in the 1980’s.
Rather than being abandoned all at one time as some branch line operations are, the former CH&W lines were abandoned piecemeal in a “Death by 1000 Cuts.”
The first segment to go was the Cisco-Decatur line in 1977. The last major maintenance of the Decatur District occurred in the 1950’s when many ties and most of the timber trestles were renewed. ICRR had previously replaced the original (?) rails with 75# A.S.C.E. rail on the Decatur District in the early 1920’s. They upgraded much of the rail again in the late 1950’s to 90# ARA-A rail, although significant stretches of 75# ASCE rail remained – mostly between Monticello and Decatur. By 1977, the track between Cisco and Decatur had deteriorated to the point that it was embargoed for track conditions under the new Federal Railroad Administration’s Track Safety Standards. Two years later, Cisco Cooperative Grain Company purchased 13.42 miles of this track – from Cisco to Green’s Switch (on the Northeast edge of Decatur) – to preserve their direct connection to Decatur. With both A.E. Staley and Archer Daniels Midland located in Decatur, it was (and continues to be) the agribusiness center of the region – and the World. Purchase price was about $25K per mile. Unfortunately for Cisco Grain, ICG would not sell them the last mile or so into Cisco to get to their elevator, so the track sat unused and neglected for 10 years until final abandonment in 1987 when Cisco Grain was finally able to purchase the track the rest of the way into town, plus tail track for loading.
Severing the Decatur District had an interesting effect on the operation of the Illinois Terminal Railroad (ITC) in its final years. After it tore out its own interurban tracks and became a freight-only railroad, the Illinois Terminal established trackage rights on parallel railroads to continue service. ITC had trackage rights on the Illinois Central’s Decatur District from Decatur to White Heath and on the Havana District from White Heath to Champaign. When the ICG embargoed the line between Decatur and Cisco (effectively making the White Heath to Cisco line, via Monticello, a dead-end stub), the ITC began to use the Norfolk & Western line (ex-Wabash) from Decatur, via Bement, to Lodge in order to connect back to the ICG for the journey into Champaign. Because the only interchange track remaining at Lodge was the South leg, ITC trains would pull through the interchange from south to west, and then back up the train at 10mph the remaining 19 miles to Champaign. ITC trains from Champaign to Decatur would back out of Champaign to Lodge so they would be running forward on the N&W when they went through the Lodge interchange and turned south for the run to Decatur. This operation ended in 1981 when the ITC was absorbed into the N&W. The last Illinois Terminal train to operate east of Decatur ran on 21-June-1981 to deliver Canadian Pacific wedge snow plow #400654 from Decatur to the Monticello Railway Museum, located on the Decatur District at MP P-3.3 (White Heath being MP P-0.0).
Up until the Federal Clean Air Act of 1962 was passed, the line from Clinton to Havana – the “West End” – was mainly used to haul coal from mines in the Pana area to the Illinois Power Company power station at Havana and for interchange to the Chicago & Illinois Midland for barge loading on the Illinois River at Havana. Daily trains, sometimes as long as 150 cars, made the trip from Pana, up the ICRR’s Charter Mainline through Decatur to Clinton where they would tie up in the North Yard. The next day, the train would proceed on to Havana on the old CH&W. When high-sulfur Illinois coal fell from favor, the coal traffic which had been the life-blood of the West End ceased. Although there was some industrial traffic remaining at Lincoln and Havana, the majority of the remaining traffic was agricultural and not enough to sustain the line. With the Illinois River port of Havana providing a close destination for barge shipment of agricultural products, trucking soon replaced rail service as the preferred mode of transport. The “West End” of the railroad was doomed. One of the line’s “last hurrahs” was the transport by special move of the Clinton Nuclear Power Station’s reactor vessel from a barge on the Illinois River at Havana to Clinton.
The next segment to be abandoned was Havana to New Holland, West of Lincoln, in 1981.
Only a year later in 1982, the line from West Junction (west side of Clinton), through Lincoln, to New Holland was torn out, except for a short piece of track serving industry on the West side of Lincoln. This remains, as of this writing, to serve industry and is operated by the Union Pacific.
In 1984, the ICG ripped out four miles of track from Seymour (MP C-11.0) to White Heath (MP 15.0) using the new “Out-of-Service” abandonment procedure contained in the Staggers Rail Act. The new procedure allowed a railroad to abandon a line on 30 days’ notice if there had been no local traffic on the line in two years. Through traffic was not counted because this was a matter of routing which was controlled by railroad management. The only “shipper” on the four mile line between White Heath and Seymour was an old crib-style grain elevator, owned by Monticello Grain, at Caldwell Spur (MP 12.7) where a short double-ended siding still existed. There had been no shipments out of the Caldwell elevator since the 1960’s. ICRR filed the 30-day notice (ICC Docket AB-43, Sub 112X, 25-Apr-1984) and before anyone could organize and mount a protest they speedily ripped out the track along with two bridges. This action was challenged by the United Transportation Union and the Illinois Commerce Commission in a lawsuit filed in Federal court (D.C. Circuit – Illinois Commerce Commission vs ICC 84-1185, filed 15-Feb-1985), but the damage was done. The Seymour-White Heath abandonment cut the remaining CH&W lines in two and created an uneconomical “dog-legged” operation for the remaining portion to the west. Service to Cisco and Monticello was conducted by crews originating out of Clinton. Trains ran from Clinton to White Heath (25 miles), then from White Heath back down through Monticello and Cisco (14 miles) and return. Taking local switching into account and with train speeds limited to 10 mph by track condition, this turned into a long day’s work – sometimes requiring two crews due to limitations on hours of service. By Federal law, a train crew could only serve for 16 hours (later shortened to 12 hours) before having to be off duty for at least 8 hours. Having to call two crews for work that was borderline at making money in the first place became intolerable.
Remaining East End traffic from Champaign to Seymour was fairly simple and straightforward. Champaign crews worked the remaining 11 mile line out to Seymour, but due to delays working through the interchange trackage in downtown Champaign and industrial switching at industries on the west side of Champaign, crews could “time-out” on hours of service going out to Bondville and Seymour.
Abandonment of the remaining western portion of the lines followed quickly on the heels of the Seymour-White Heath abandonment. In February 1985, ICG instituted a $550 per car surcharge on freight moving on the western portion of these lines. That drove off the remaining business to trucking. The last move on the line made by the ICG occurred in 1985 when the railroad sent a single locomotive and crew to pick up cars at Cisco and other points stranded along the line. On the return trip from Cisco to White Heath, the train picked up ex-Wabash locomotive #1189, which had been sitting on the Monticello interchange with the N&W for over a year, and Wabash coach #1238 for delivery to the Monticello Railway Museum three miles north of town. While this was the last train by an ICG locomotive and crew, it was not the last train run under ICG ownership on the Decatur District. In 1986, not wanting to send out a locomotive over the deteriorating track between Lane and Weldon, the railroad allowed the Monticello Railway Museum to take its own diesel locomotive (former Lincoln Sand & Gravel #44) into Monticello to retrieve an ex-Long Island ALCo RS-3, #1559, and CTA car set #53, which had recently been delivered by the N&W on a specially equipped flatcar and unloaded on the team track by the grain elevator. ICG called, and paid, a union train crew for the move, but told them to “stay home.” Instead, ICG sent a locomotive foreman to the Museum to oversee the Museum’s crew and operation. He had hoped the Museum would be using steam locomotive #191 (a 90-ton ALCo 0-6-0), but MRM wanted the move to be “low-key,” so used the diesel instead.
The ICG filed for abandonment (AB43-134) of the rest of the western section on 30-October-1985. There were several protests to the abandonment from shippers at Weldon, the Illinois Commerce Commission, and the United Transportation Union. The Monticello Railway Museum, located on the Decatur District between Monticello and White Heath, filed a comment but was neutral on the issue of abandonment. ICG and MRM filed a joint stipulation and request for a public use condition which set aside the White Heath to Monticello portion of the line for 180 days from the date of the abandonment for purchase negotiations. The Interstate Commerce Commission agreed with the railroad in a decision on 10-January-1986 allowing the abandonment to take place. Excepted out of the abandonment authorization was the trackage in White Heath and the line from White Heath to Monticello, purchased by MRM in August 1987, and two miles of the line at Cisco, purchased by Cisco Grain. The ICG tore out the remaining Decatur District trackage between Monticello and Cisco and the Havana District trackage between White Heath and Clinton.
There are remnants of the rail line today. A short stub in Decatur, owned by Canadian National-Illinois Central (CN/IC), forms the trunk line of an extensive array of industrial clients, including Archer Daniels Midland, A.E. Staley, and (formerly) Firestone, remains. The stub also connects to the south end of a fourteen mile remnant of the ex-ICRR’s Decatur District to Cisco. The Cisco-Decatur (14 miles) segment is owned and operated by the Decatur Central Railroad, a 50/50 venture of OmniTRAX (a shortline operator) and Topflight Grain. The line serves Topflight Grain’s (successor of Cisco Coop Grain Co) Cisco elevator and OmniTRAX has plans to develop a rail-served industrial park adjacent to the line on the northeast side of Decatur.
There is a short stub end, owned by Canadian National-Illinois Central (CN/IC), in Clinton to serve local industry.
CN/IC still owns the line from Champaign to Seymour (11 miles). The railroad filed for abandonment of the west 3.2 miles from Bondville to Seymour in March of 2015, but after Topflight Grain offered to purchase the line, CN/IC modified their abandonment petition to seek only a discontinuance of service. The Surface Transportation Board granted the discontinuance of service on 16-August-2017. Under the discontinuance, the railroad retains ownership of the line, but does not have to provide service to Seymour or maintain the track; however, the track, bridges, and culverts are left in place. CN/IC also took the track out of service on this branch from the I-57 overpass on the west side of Champaign (MP N-3.8) to Bondville to effect maintenance savings, so there is no rail traffic on the line past the industrial park just east of I-57 at this writing.
There is also a short stub west of the former Chicago & Alton’s Chicago-St. Louis mainline (now Union Pacific) in Lincoln which serves a few local industries.
The Monticello Railway Museum purchased 6 miles of the Decatur District trackage from Monticello to White Heath, including another mile of the Havana District mainline and wye in White Heath, on 29-July-1987 shortly after it was officially abandoned. The Museum maintains and operates the line for its heritage train operation.
Heartland Pathways, a rails-to-trails conservation group, purchased three segments of the Havana and Decatur District right-of-way shortly after the tracks were removed on 15-December-1988. Heartland’s purchase preserved a total of 33 miles of abandoned grade from Monticello to Cisco (6 miles), White Heath to Seymour (4 miles), and White Heath to Clinton (23 miles). Heartland hopes to convert the railroad grades into biking/hiking trails which may form the core of an interconnected system of trails across Central Illinois. In April 2013, Heartland entered into an agreement with the Champaign, Havana & Western Railway Historical Society for a permanent easement on the four-mile White Heath to Seymour segment to create an interim hiking/biking trail with provision to eventually restore the track and reconnect Monticello with Champaign. Reconnection would make possible heritage train travel between Champaign and Monticello, assuming the cooperation of all involved parties.
The rest of the CH&W lines are abandoned. West of Clinton, the former right-of-way is being absorbed into farm ground and by other development. It is still possible to drive along Illinois Rte 10 and see remnants of the grade, but it is slowly disappearing with the passage of time.