The era of the packet boat passenger service on the Illinois Michigan Canal lasted between 1848 to 1854. It was replaced by rail service in the Illinois Valley. Rail service was more rapid and ran year round. One of the earliest rail lines was Chicago, Alton & Saint Louis.
The Alton & Sangamon Railroad was chartered by the State of Illinois in February of 1847. It was to be a connection between the agricultural area near Springfield, Illinois and Alton on the east bank of the Mississippi River. It was completed in 1851. Subsequently, it was extended north through Bloomington to Joliet. It was renamed the Saint Louis, Alton & Chicago Railroad. The Chicago & Alton Railroad was organized in 1861 to purchase the Saint Louis, Alton & Chicago Railroad. In 1864, the C & A leased the Joliet and Chicago Railroad. This provided an access to the Chicago area. A Mr. Timothy Blackstone (president of the J &C) also became the president of the C & A. In 1870, the C & A leased the Louisiana Missouri River Railroad (Louisiana, Missouri to the north bank of the Missouri River opposite Jefferson City) and in 1878, it leased Kansas City, Saint Louis & Chicago Railroad (Mexico, Missouri–Kansas City). This resulted in the shortest Chicago–Kansas City Route.
Toward the end of the the 19th century, there was active interest by many parties to purchase the Chicago & Alton Railroad. E.H. Harriman
was able to form a syndicate of railroad financiers that successfully arranged the sale. The C & A Railroad became reincorporated as the C & A Railway on April 2, 1900; this was done to arrange a take over of a line from Springfield to Peoria. The following day it leased the C & A Railroad. Ultimately, the two lines were consolidated as the C & A Railroad in1906.
In 1904 control passed to the Union Pacific Railroad and the Rock Island, and in 1907 to the Toledo, Saint Louis & Western Railroad (part of the Nickel Plate). Beginning in 1912, the C & A began multiple years of deficits. In 1922, it entered receivership. It was purchased and operated by the B & O until 1943. It ultimately became part of the G, M & O in 1947. It operated under this arrangement until 1972. In 1971, passenger service was taken over by Amtrak. From 1972–1987, Alton merged into Illinois Central Gulf. In 1987 Alton Joliet–St. Louis was sold to the Chicago Missouri and Western. In 1989, CM & W acquired by UP. In1990, St.Louis ( & Springfield) to KC sold to Gateway Western Railroad. 1998 Canadian National purchases Joliet–Chicago portion of old Alton. Passenger service operated by Metra. In 1997, KCS obtains St. Louis–KC line from Gateway Western.
The C& A was one of the primary trunk railroads for travel inside and beyond the canal corridor. It’s route paralleled the I and M canal between Chicago and Joliet. It passed the coal fields south of Joliet before heading onto Saint Louis. It’s passenger service improved in the 1880’s and 1890’s. There were 4 daily trains in each direction between Chicago and Joliet in 1881. 5 in each direction in 1884. 6 outbound and 8 inbound in the 1890′ s. Stops included Sag Bridge, Lemont, Mount Forest, 23rd Street (Chicago), Bridgeport (Chicago), Brighton Park (Chicago), Summit, Willow Springs, Lockport, Coal City, Joliet. Trunk lines provided service to Saint Louis and Kansas City.