Lincoln-Way West teacher utilizes backyard railroad to teach history
Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Canadian National (CN) Railroad cuts through the southern portion of Lincoln-Way District 210 boundaries. According to Social Science Department Chair and U.S. History teacher Eric Byar at Lincoln-Way West, its history “is taken for granted by most residents.” The railroad line--formerly the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway (EJ&E)--is a vibrant and diverse railroad.

On Wednesday, October 5, Byar gave his students an up-close look at the tracks and trains while discussing its vital history and economic impact on the area. Students of Mr. Byar walked out to the southern fence boundary of the school, which borders the line, to see first-hand the trains and to learn about its past.

“Many of my students see the CN railroad and their trains every day, yet know nothing about what it carries, where it’s going, and its past,” states Byar. “Being a ‘closet train-fan,’ I felt that I had a perfect opportunity to meld the past with the present and future by taking them to the trains and having them learn about what they do and where they came from.”

Byar spoke to the students regarding the history of early American railroads, the building of the EJ&E line in 1887, its ownership by the U.S. Steel Corporation for nearly a century, and the buying of the line by the Canadian National in 2007. “Most of my students are so young that they knew nothing of the community resistance 10 years ago to the buying of this railroad by CN and the subsequent safety improvements along roadways in the Lincoln-Way District that the railroad had to install,” says Byar.

Byar also stated, “The Canadian National EJ&E bypass is unusual for the fact that it does not go directly into Chicago (the country’s railroad center), but acts as an outer belt line that bypasses Chicago and its rail congestion. The increase in rail traffic by the CN after its takeover of the EJ&E reflects the need for the railroad to more efficiently get their trains around the city and to their destinations. It also hosts other railroads’ trains that use their bypass for important shipments around the city. This makes this line highly prized by CN.” During their visit to the tracks, students also learned some railroad technological improvements, such as hotbox detectors, gate-crossing sensors, and new railroad track light signals.