On May 18, Metra Electric shut down the 67th Street control tower and transferred its function to the Central Control Facility downtown. The 67th Street tower, technically known as an interlocking, was the last of its breed on Metra Electric, and probably the last on all lines of the former Illinois Central Railroad. The electro-mechanical operation embodied in the 83 year old tower has been long surpassed by generations of electronics and communications technology.
I suppose this was an insignificant event, as events go. However, because this last remaining old workhorse happened to be in our neighborhood, its passing may carry with it a bit of a local historical edge. Ok, I worked there in the 1960s, so its passing also carries a bit of a personal edge.
Facilities like the 67th Street interlocking were responsible for controlling and routing train traffic through railroad crossings and junctions like the track complex at 67th Street. Through a tangle of manual levers, steel blocks, rods, mechanical relays, and small electric motors, operators would move switch points and set signals to keep the railroad fluid. The “interlocking” feature prevented the operator from clearing conflicting train movements and from moving switch points under a train.
The 67th Street tower is a nondescript two-story brick building on the west edge of the right-of-way near 67th Street. Its companion building, closed 46 years ago, sits on the west side of the tracks at 51st Street. The 51st Street building now serves as a store room, and 67th is expected to do the same. You’ve probably seen and barely noticed one or both of these structures. Unremarkable though they may appear, they have been immensely important to the mobility of people and goods through the years.
Towers, I miss ye.