Central Station (Chicago terminal)

Central Station in February 1971, with signs for the Illinois Central and Big Four

Central Station was an intercity passenger terminal in downtown Chicago, Illinois, located at the southern end of Grant Park at Roosevelt Road and Michigan Avenue. Owned by the Illinois Central Railroad, the former terminal also served other companies via trackage rights. The station opened in 1893, replacing the Illinois Central Depot (on the site of the current Millennium Station), and closed in 1972 when Amtrak rerouted the last services to Union Station.

Adjoining platforms also served the suburban trains of the Illinois Central, electrified in 1926 (now called the Metra Electric Line), as well as the South Shore Line interurban railroad. Both lines continued north to the terminals at Randolph Street.



Trains into Central Station ran over the tracks of the Illinois Central Railroad.

The Romanesque structure, designed by Bradford L. Gilbert and built by the Illinois Central Railroad, opened April 17, 1893 to meet the traffic demands of the World's Columbian Exposition. The nine-story building featured a thirteen-story clock tower and also housed the general offices of the railroad. It also boasted the largest train shed in the world at the time, which measured 140 by 610 feet.

The station was built, owned and used by the Illinois Central Railroad (intercity trains only; commuter trains continued to the old Illinois Central Depot). It was also used by the Illinois Central's Chicago, Madison and Northern Railroad, merged into the IC in 1902, which reached the station via the St. Charles Air Line Railroad, meeting the IC main line just south of the station.

Also sharing the station was the Michigan Central Railroad, part of the New York Central Railroad system, which had shared the IC's terminal from its opening in 1852. The Michigan Central connected with the Illinois Central at Kensington. The Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway (Big Four), also a New York Central line, joined the IC at Kankakee and also used Central Station. Finally, using the station from the beginning was the Chicago and West Michigan Railway, consolidated into the Pere Marquette Railroad in 1900. At the time it used the Michigan Central west from New Buffalo, Michigan.

On the other hand, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which had used the Illinois Central Depot, moved into Grand Central Station rather than relocate to the new Central Station further from downtown. [1]

The Wisconsin Central Railway (part of the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railway (Soo Line) after 1909) switched from Grand Central Station to Central in 1899 due to disagreements with the Chicago Terminal Transfer Railroad, which owned Grand Central. To get to Central it used a portion of the recently-opened Chicago, Hammond and Western Railroad (later the Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad) from Franklin Park to Broadview, and the Illinois Central's Chicago, Madison and Northern Railroad from Broadview to the terminal. On December 15, 1903, the Pere Marquette Railroad's line to Porter, Indiana opened, and its trains were rerouted from Central to Grand Central.

The Soo Line switched back to Grand Central Station in 1912. On March 1, 1925 the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway began using Central, switching from Dearborn Station. Its new alignment used the allied New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad (Nickel Plate Road) from Hammond, Indiana north to Grand Crossing, Illinois, where it joined the Illinois Central to its terminal. In 1965 the Soo Line once again switched stations, moving back into Central for its final years of passenger service.

The New York Central Railroad moved its Michigan Central Railroad trains from Central to the NYC's own LaSalle Street Station on January 18, 1957. The Illinois Central Railroad sued the Michigan Central, which had used the Illinois Central's Chicago terminal since 1852, for breach of contract, settling out-of-court for $5 million.

The back side of Central Station in February 1971, showing the large Illinois Central sign

By May 1, 1971, the startup date of Amtrak, Central was used only by trains of the Illinois Central Railroad (including the City of Miami, City of New Orleans and Panama Limited on the line south from Chicago, and the Hawkeye on the line to the west) and the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway (Big Four) (including the James Whitcomb Riley and South Wind). Amtrak continued only the City of New Orleans, James Whitcomb Riley and South Wind, as well as the IC's local Shawnee.

On January 23, 1972 Amtrak moved the Floridian (renamed from the South Wind in November 1971) to Union Station due to poor track conditions on its route in Indiana. The rest of the trains - the George Washington/James Whitcomb Riley, Panama Limited (renamed from the City of New Orleans, also in November 1971), and the Shawnee - last served Central Station March 5, 1972, after which they too were rerouted to Union Station as the final stage of moving all intercity trains to Union. The Panama Limited and Shawnee continued to use the IC to just south of Central Station, where they turned west onto the St. Charles Air Line as a realigned junction and ran west to Union Station, including at least one direction reversal to reach the station. That route is now used by the City of New Orleans and Illini, though there are plans to eliminate it (and the St. Charles Air Line) with a new connection at Grand Crossing.

In late 1973, the Illinois Central relocated its general offices to the newly constructed Illinois Center. Central Station and its train shed were demolished in 1974. The commuter platforms remained until Spring 2009, serving the Metra Electric Line and NICTD's South Shore Line, when they were completely replaced with more modern structures and renamed Museum Campus/11th Street. The railyards south of the station are the site of ongoing redevelopment as the Central Station project.


Central Station served as a terminal for the following lines and intercity trains:

Although the actual terminal for commuter rail services was Randolph Street Terminal (now Millennium Station) approximately 1.5 miles to the north of Central Station, the following commuter rail services also operated through the station (electrified after 1926):

  • Illinois Central Railroad - operated commuter trains from Randolph Street Terminal serving mostly local stops within Chicago's south side to three branch end points: South Chicago, Blue Island and Richton Park
  • Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad (beginning August 29, 1926) - operated interurban electric trains from Randolph Street Terminal to South Bend, Indiana

Today, the former Illinois Central electric commuter service is operated by Metra as their Electric Line and the former South Shore interurban is operated by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District.


External links

Preceding station   Illinois Central Railroad   Following station
Main Line Terminus
toward St. Louis
St. Louis – Chicago
toward Sioux City
Sioux City – Chicago

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