The Illinois Central (IC) Railroad began operating commuter train service to the south side of Chicago and the southern suburbs in 1856. The service struggled until the growth of the south side began after the Chicago Fire of 1871. It received a boost after the World’s Columbian Exposition opened in 1893, when this photograph was taken, as the IC line was one of the major ways in which tourists and Chicago residents reached the fair from points north. Randolph Street was the original terminus for all IC trains in Chicago, but in anticipation of the fair, the railroads intercity service was moved to the newly constructed Central Station. Randolph Street became the terminus solely for the IC’s commuter rail service. The photograph shows both the pollution generated by the steam trains and the vulnerability of passengers as they embarked or disembarked from the trains. The Plan of Chicago cited both the poor aesthetics of the open-air stations and concerns for health and safety of passengers as reasons to reduce the concentration of train traffic in the city by covering over train tracks and constructing modern stations.
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Carlson, Norman. “Trains From Randolph Street.” First & Fastest (Summer 2006). http://www.transportation.northwestern.edu/docs/2006/2006.07.17.Carlson....
“Illinois Central Railroad steam locomotives at Randolph Street Station.” Photographic print. 1893. Chicago History Museum, ICHi-31457