Illinois Central Station: Recollections

Text and captions by Art Peterson. All photos from the Krambles-Peterson Archives

The Illinois Central (IC) opened Central Station in 1893, as the road was expecting to handle a great deal of Columbian Exposition-related traffic, both intercity passenger rail and suburban train traffic, since the Fair was located directly on the IC in Chicago. Designed by Bradford L. Gilbert, the style of the station was decried by some (Louis Sullivan zeroed in on it in his Kindergarten Chats). Despite this, the station served a great deal of rail traffic for nearly 80 years, with Amtrak being the last user of the facility, with these services being moved to Union Station in March 1972. IC had vacated the adjacent office building, and the facility was demolished starting in June 1974, making it just past its 80th birthday.

Credit Barney Stone for this September 14, 1941 time exposure of Central Station.
(Right photo) After the 1926 electrification of the principal IC suburban service to Richton Park and the two branches (to Blue Island and to South Chicago), the last steam-powered IC suburban trains were on the line west to Addison, IL. On May Day 1931 AW Johson shot train 145 alongside the Meadow Gold Building at 16th and State Streets. This train had left Central Station at 2:45 pm and would cover the 24 miles to Addison in 50 minutes. The one-way fare from Central Station to Addison was $0.88. This was the last year in which the Addison line trains ran.

(Left photo) A good time was had by all. On May 16, 1936 the company photographer has captured the crowd on-hand for the dedication of the Green Diamond trainset. This was the era when folks would turn out to see a new streamlined train; this train in striking two-tone green must have made quite an impression. The five-car train operated in the Chicago-St. Louis service between 1936 and 1947, when it was replaced by a conventional train. After that it was reassigned to the Jackson-New Orleans Miss-Lou service and ran there until 1950, after which it was retired and scrapped.
(Right photo) IC 2500 (a 4-8-2) was the power for a company-sponsored fantrip to/from Clinton, IL on September 26, 1937. The big boiler had come from an IC 2900-series Lima-built 2-10-2. Paducah shops used these boilers to create the 55 members of the 2500-series, which were built between 1937 and 1942. AW Johnson walked up front to capture this image with Central Station as the backdrop. Today, the 2500 is preserved at a park in Centralia, IL.

(Left photo) Also on-hand at Central Station on the morning of September 26, 1937 was New York Central J1B 5353, leading Train 4 the New York Special. The train was due out of Central Station at 9:45 am and would operate via Detroit and the Canada Southern line, arriving in New York at 6:57 am the following morning. This engine was built as Michigan Central (MC) 8208 (in late 1927) and had been renumbered (and repainted) to NYC 5353 just the previous August. It was one of four Hudsons that remained active on the former MC lines through the end of the year in 1955.

MC line trains would run out of Central Station until the last day of 1957. The next day, they were moved to LaSalle Street Station, though the NYC paid the IC a fine for breaking their agreement early. The former Big Four line trains continued to run out of Central Station, using the IC to access their home rails via Kankakee. Amtrak trains running via the former Big Four trackage continued to operate out of Central Station until March 5, 1972, though by that time, the ex-Big Four line was in such bad shape that alternate routings had to be used.

(Right photo) Scenes like this Coach Yard moves were a routine part of Central Station operations. George Krambles shot this move from the 18th Street pedestrian bridge. Thanks to help from Phil Gosney, the presence of the C&O and Southern cars in this consist identify these cars as having come off NYC Train 415 the Chicago Special. The C&O car had originated in Phoebus, VA, while the SR lightweight came from Charleston. The SR heavyweight originated in Asheville. The IC baggage-RPO will be spotted at the mail platform after this yard move is completed.

(Left photo) For a road that held onto some of its E6s until the start-up of Amtrak, the relationship with its E7s was different. E7 4006 had been built by EMD in September 1946. It and three sister E7s were retired and traded to Precision Engineering in May 1969 for five ex-FEC E9s. Still other IC E7s had been retired during 1956-58 and were traded in to EMD for IC E9s 4036-4043. Credit JW Vigrass for catching this otherwise-typical scene of immaculate chocolate and orange equipment alongside the station in July 1963.
(Right photo) For a two-year period, between January 1963 and the January 15, 1965 discontinuance of the Laker, the Soo was a tenant at Central Station. JW Vigrass caught these handsome maroon head-end cars laying over at the station in July 1963. Baggage-RPO car 1514 in the center of the image was built by Barney & Smith in 1914. The Soo Laker was scheduled out of Central Station at 6:45 pm and arrived in Superior at 8:30 am.

(Left photo) On October 29, 1967, the IC began a new train, the Magnolia Star. Here, passengers and luggage are in place to board IC 2613, a 1947 48-seat P-S coach, assigned as car MS-2. The Magnolia Star lasted slightly over one year, as the IC revised its train listings to reveal that the Star was just coaches and a cafe car that had been added to the consist of the Panama Limited, with the objective of preserving the all-Pullman status of the Panama. JW Vigrass documented this brief-lived charade during October 1968.
(Right photo) From May 20, 1968 the IC operated the Governor Special on a truncated Chicago-Springfield run. Previously, this had been the Green Diamond operating all the way to/from St. Louis. On April 13, 1971, steam generator-equipped (and 83 mph-geared) GP9 9201 (part of a 20-unit order built in January 1957) is in command of the Special. This train was discontinued with the start-up of Amtrak on May 1, 1971.

(Left photo) The first Amtrak timetable scheduled the following services in/out of Central Station:
(Right photo) Stranger in a strange land! An SCL E8 is ready to lead Amtrak Train 90 the South Wind out of Central Station on September 3, 1971 in this view by BF Berzins. SCL 598 had been built in December of 1952 as Seaboard 3059. The SCL roster numbered the ex-ACL E8s between 574 and 587, with the ex-SAL units numbered from 588 to 599. The 598 would later assume the identity of Amtrak 254. At this time, the South Wind was still using the PC line between Kankakee and Louisville.

With the November 14, 1971 timetable, the train name would change to the Floridian, though the routing would remain unchanged. The name and routing remained in effect for the January 16, 1972 timetable, but by March 6, 1972, all Amtrak operations in Chicago were shifted to Union Station.

Acknowledgements: X2200 South and various on-line sources were used to research the locomotives and trains appearing in this feature. In addition, Official Guides and railroad timetables were also consulted. Know Thy Niagaras by Tom Gerbracht and Rock Island Diesel Locomotives by Lou Marre were invaluable resources. I would be remiss if I did not mention the help that both Shel Lustig and Rich Stoving have given in identifying NYC trains and locations over the years. Also, Tony Koester provided details on the NKP steam trip run with locomotive 965. The PRRT&HS Chronologies also were of assistance.

New: 1 October 2023