Illinois Central Railroad Trail
The Illinois Central Railroad has a distinct history in the Chicago Southland. As the first land-grant railroad in the United States, trains on the Illinois Central, or IC, pulled away from the Chicago terminal and chugged through the Chicago Southland onto its terminus in New Orleans, LA.
The Illinois Central Railroad built what is now referred to as the Metra Electric District in 1865, predating the Chicago Fire of 1871 and World's Columbian Exposition in 1892. Originally, steam trains ran on these tracks, but the tracks were electrified starting in 1926. Nowadays, the commuter line runs from Millennium Station in the north to University Park in the south and takes about an hour to ride between the two stations. The Metra Electric District is the backbone of the Illinois Central Rail Trail. Each attraction on this trail is within a few minutes of stepping off the train at each listed station. Completion of this tour can be anywhere from a half-day or more depending on how much time is spent exploring the attractions and surrounding communities. Other rail-related attractions in the Chicago Southland are listed as well.
Pullman Historic District (111th Street/Pullman Stop)
11141 South Cottage Grove Avenue, Chicago
From the "World's Most Perfect Town" in 1906, to near demolition in the mid-20th century, to a neighborhood revitalized in the present day, the saga of the Pullman Palace Car Company and neighborhood known as Pullman is on display at the Pullman Historic Society Visitors Center. The center sits on the site of the Arcade Building and includes exhibits that feature historic pictures, Pullman related items and a short video that summarizes the town's history.
The Visitors Center is the starting point for your self guided walking tour of the Pullman District. The tour will take you to the historic Greenstone Church, made from the distinct serpentine stone. From there you will travel past neighborhood row houses, through the Market Square, and finally to the grand Hotel Florence. Guided tours are available; contact the Visitors Center for more information.
Homewood Railroad Park (Homewood Station Stop)
Ridge Road and Harwood Avenue, Homewood
Situated between the vibrant downtown area and the majestic Ravisloe Country Club, the Homewood
Railroad Park is in the heart of the action in the Village of Homewood. The handicap-accessible railroad viewing platform gives an elevated view of the three types of tracks that cross Homewood, regional commuter (Metra), intercity rail (Amtrak), and freight. The platform also plays a live audio feed from the switchyard.
The Spanish revival-style train stations were built in 1926, and house the entrances to tunnels under the tracks that lead to the loading platforms. On the west side of the tracks, a refurbished IC engine and caboose are on display.
Near the Railroad Park are a series of 11 murals by artist Richard Haas who uses forced perspective to create three-dimensional images on downtown buildings.
Flossmoor Station Restaurant and Brewery (Flossmoor Station Stop)
1035 Sterling Avenue, Flossmoor
For rail fans, Flossmoor Station Restaurant and Brewery is like a railroad museum that serves great food and craft beer. Located in the historic downtown district, Flossmoor Station serves a diverse heartland style menu with award winning handcrafted beers on tap. The brewpub sits in the original IC Flossmoor Station which was built in 1906. It was meticulously refurbished in the mid-1990s by Dean and Carol Armstrong. From the bar area, you can get an up-close view of the modern Metra Electric line as it stops at the new Flossmoor Station.
Flossmoor Station was named Best Small Brewpub at the Great American Beer Festival in 2006 and has won multiple medals from the World Beer Cup. The great brewery shouldn't scare off families because Flossmoor Station is family, and especially kid, friendly. On the restaurant's patio sits a fully restored IC caboose, called The Old Caboose, that serves gelato and soft serve frozen yogurt seasonally.
Park Forest Rail Fan Park (Matteson Station Stop)
North and Homan Streets, Park Forest
New in 2012 is the Park Forest Rail Fan Park, which features a 35-foot elevated handicapped accessible platform that overlooks a rare "highway cloverleaf" interchange for trains." The platform features eight interpretive signs that describe the history of railroads in Park Forest and the Chicagoland area. A live audio feed allows visitors to listen in on the 30+ trains that pass this platform daily.
The restored Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railroad Caboose #531 was donated as a centerpiece for the park. The #531 was used on EJ&E lines from the 1950s until the 1990s. The Rail Fan Park connects with the Old Plank Road Trail, a paved rails-to-trails conversion that stretches 22 miles from Park Forest to Joliet.
Other Rail Related Attractions and Restaurants in the Chicago Southland:
620 Reed Street, Beecher
A restored Chicago & Eastern Illinois depot sits a block north of downtown Beecher. Also on display next to the depot, is the retired Missouri Pacific caboose #13649. The depot hosts an open house the first Saturday in August.