Since 2015, I have lived on or near the BNSF’s former Santa Fe Topeka Subdivision. This proximity has allowed me to watch firsthand the replacement of the searchlights, color light signals, and the code lines that have governed the subdivision for decades. All over the country, on busier lines, the old signals have been falling, rapidly replaced by Positive Train Control (PTC) and the new, “Vader” style color light signals. The BNSF’s former Santa Fe Topeka Sub is no exception. Running from Holliday to Emporia, Kansas (KS), this portion of the BNSF has acted as a relief valve for the busy Emporia Sub. It also hosts Amtrak’s #3 and #4, the east and westbound Southwest Chiefs. While the signals on many lines have been upgraded on many parts of the BNSF system, the Topeka Sub has largely been untouched. That is until now. Read more
Railroad interlocking towers once dotted the landscape so much that it seemed like they would always be there. Many towers still stand and watch silently as their human operators and the interlocking levers they controlled have been replaced by new technologies controlled from afar. Many other towers have vanished completely, with only a patch of gravel marking the spot where the tower once stood.
In the small, central Illinois town of Shattuc stood one of these towers. For years Shattuc Tower stood as a silent sentinel, watching the trains of many railroads roll by its broken and boarded up windows, its interlocking levers frozen in place from when the tower was decommissioned and the tower operator walked out of the tower at the end of the very last work shift. In its heyday the tower controlled the movements of the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroads. In later years the tower stood guard over the Burlington Northern and Chessie System, before being closed sometime in the 1980s. After being closed, CSX and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) trains rolled past the unused tower on the CSX’s Illinois Subdivision and the BNSF’s Beardstown Subdivision.
Today the tower is gone, and one of the two rail lines it once controlled is no longer a through route. Shattuc Tower was torn down in December 2014, after having stood as an empty, silent sentinel for many decades. In 2015, in a filing to the Surface Transportation Board under STB Docket No. AB-55 (Sub-No. 748X), CSX requested and received approval to discontinue service on its Illinois Subdivision between Caseyville, Illinois and Aviston, Illinois. Because of this, the rest of the subdivision now lies dormant with an uncertain future. However, BNSF trains still ply the rails of the Beardstown Subdivision, rolling past the empty spot where the tower once stood.
When I came across Shattuc Tower back in 2005, the abandoned railroad tower grabbed my attention more than the previous abandoned railroad towers, depots, and stations I had come across. Previous to coming across Shattuc Tower I had never thought much about these by-gone structures disappearing, which is a shame because so few of them are still standing and even fewer are being used. Shattuc Tower made me realize just how important it is to document the railroading environment as a whole, rather than just locomotives and the rail cars they move. The tower had stood watch along with its operators for so many years and then in the blink of an eye it was abandoned. This abandoned state was to me a reminder of just how quickly life can change after being the same for so long. The tower was a reflection of life and how the advancement of technology changes how people interact with their world. Before being torn down, Shattuc Tower taught me the valuable lesson to get out and document what I can because what is standing today may not be standing tomorrow.
Tom Gatermann – Photographs and text Copyright 2016