From Belt Junction the C&WI extended more or less due north as it passed through Englewood and squeezed along the narrow stretch of land above 18th Street between the Chicago River's South Branch and Lake Michigan. In the process it crossed the Rock Island; Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago (PRR); and the St. Charles Air Line. The angle of the river pushed its alignment briefly to the northwest before turning north again and finally terminating at Dearborn Street. In addition, because of the heavy business anticipated and the potentially dozens of grade-crossings encountered the C&WI elevated its right-of-way from Oakdale to Dearborn Street as well as a stretch from 81st Street to Pullman Junction. By 1882 the C&WI was largely complete and a year later work began on a terminal at the south side of Polk Street. Dearborn Station's headhouse was designed by architect Cyrus L. W. Eidlitz and built by J. T. Alton, who constructed the building in the Romanesque Revival style. Eidlitz used pink granite and primarily red brick for the building's exterior, which featured a beautifully centered clock tower which rose more than 200 feet above the ground. Additionally, the building was 212 feet wide with a train shed that extended more than 700 feet behind the head-house. As an added touch Eidlitz gave the building dormer windows and louvered roofs, which were fashioned after the architecture of those found in Luxemberg.
Dearborn opened on May 8, 1885 and while the C&WI was given actual ownership the Santa Fe is the most closely associated with it. The transcontinental carrier first began using the facility in 1887, initially via its own tracks, and then later over the C&WI. During the streamliner era one could find the most prestigious trains
calling there such as the Super Chief, El Capitan, Pere Marquette (later moved to Grand Central Station), Whippoorwill, Hoosier, Tippecanoe, Erie's Erie Limited and Pacific Express, Maple Leaf, International Limited, Banner Blue, and Bluebird. As Ms. Ogorek's and Mr. Molony's book notes, into the 20th century the C&WI maintained a sprawling network that included a 14-track yard at 83rd Street, coach yard at 51st Street, and team tracks at 26th and Canal Streets. The importance of the coach yard (containing repair shops, storehouses, and even a power plant) demonstrates the C&WI's primary role of handling passenger trains. It was C&WI's subsidiary, the Belt Railway, which was largely responsible for freight services.
According to Jerry Pinkepank's article, "How The Belt Came To Be" from the October, 1966 issue of Trains Magazine, the Belt Railway of Chicago's history began in early 1881 when Brown chartered what was then known as the Belt Division, Chicago & Western Indiana Railroad. Subsequently, the rest of the C&WI became known as the Terminal Division. Eventually, the Belt Division was renamed as the Belt Railway of Chicago in 1882. The BRC would grow into a 152 mile network (including through routes, yards, and sidings) that served the most railroads within the Windy City. Into the early 20th century Chicago's railroads realized that working together via shared trackage presented the most efficient means of interchange. As a result, in 1912 the Belt Operating Agreement was signed providing the BRC with more new owners including the Burlington; Chesapeake & Ohio; Chicago & Alton; Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha (C&NW); Illinois Central; Pennsylvania; Rock Island; Santa Fe; and Soo Line. The C&A and CStPM&O later sold their stakes. In addition, the Pere Marquette purchased an interest in 1924 but was then acquired by the C&O in 1947. Of these new owners, only the Chesapeake & Ohio and Pere Marquette used Dearborn as its Windy City passenger terminal. This changed during the 1960's when the C&O acquired the Baltimore & Ohio, which owned nearby Grand Central Station and Chessie moved operations to that facility.
Diesel Locomotive Roster
During the steam era it operated nearly 100 locomotives with the largest power being 2-10-2 Santa Fe's (it owned just five of these, however). It began replacing its steamers in 1947 with diesel switchers and light road switchers, mostly from the American Locomotive Company (Alco) products, which predominantly were RS1's. Interestingly, the line also even sported its own livery of black and yellow.
At the peak of operation the C&WI maintained fourteen different interlocking towers and owned a total of 327 track miles, which again included all through routes, yards, sidings, spurs, etc. At the height of rail travel the company dispatched 61 passenger and 135 freight trains daily. Of note were the C&WI's own commuter services, hosted between Dearborn Station and Dolton until these ceased on July 26, 1963. The railroad's primary role was predominantly to switch passenger trains and keep rail operations flowing smoothly in and out of
Dearborn. During its final days as an independent operation, around 1970, the C&WI's ownership had dwindled to just the Santa Fe, Erie Lackwanna (Erie successor), Grand Trunk Western, Louisville
& Nashville (C&EI successor), and Norfolk & Western (Wabash successor) as all other carriers had
either ended passenger operations, switched terminals, or were merged out of
existence. With the terminal's closing as major hub in 1971 following
the creation of Amtrak on May 1st that year the C&WI's role shrunk
After that point the company mostly functioned on paper only as its
entire property was taken over by the Belt Railway for freight services only. It carried on as a separate, corporate entity until 1994
when the company was formally dissolved.
Related Reading You May Enjoy
Chicago & Western Indiana