Cuyler Shuttle &
Randolph Street branch


Service Notes:

Date of Opening: 1899

Date of Abandonment: .

1903 (Randolph branch)

1912 (Cuyler Shuttle)

Length of Route: .

1.6 miles (approx.) (Randolph branch)

3.0 miles (approx.) (Cuyler Shuttle)

Number of Stations: 5 stations
(plus street corner stops on the Cuyler Shuttle)



On December 20, 1898, a franchise was awarded to the Cicero & Harlem Railway (in place of the Lake Street Elevated, due to its shaky finances) for a rapid transit extension from 52nd to 72nd Avenues. The franchise allowed for the construction of several lines and branches, including a two-block extension south in Lombard Avenue to connect to the Suburban Railroad's Randolph Street line and a branch south from the Randolph Street line in Cuyler Avenue to Harrison to link with another Suburban Railroad line in 64th (Ridgeland Avenue) to reach 22nd Street.

Following the extension of service to Wisconsin Avenue via Randolph Street in May 1899, the Lake Street Elevated exercised another one of their options by building a single-track branch from the Randolph trackage to the Cuyler Avenue streetcar line. It was not intended for local service, however: it was meant to be a connection for Lake Street trains to access the Harlem Race Track at Roosevelt and Hannah Avenue in the Village of Harlem (now Forest Park). Cuyler service began on May 30, 1899.

The race track specials ran express from the Loop to the track for the benefit of race fans. Expresses overtook locals at Rockwell and only round-trip tickets were sold. The trip took just 25 minutes. Trains were routed via Lombard, Randolph, Cuyler, and Harrison, where they continued south on the tracks of the Suburban Railroad (which was also owned by Lake Street owner Charles Tyson Yerkes) to the track. While the race track specials were operating, the "L" had obtained a secondhand streetcar and operated on Cuyler during non-race days to satisfy the franchise's requirements.

The residents of Cicero were not fond of the Harlem Race Track, believing it was a place of poor morals and low character. Gambling was, after all, technically illegal. But, as the track was located in Proviso Township, there was little the residents of Cicero could do. They could, however, take out their displeasure on the Lake Street Elevated, who was willing to provide express service to the track, but not to the residents of Austin and Oak Park.

As it turned out, national events rather than local would stop the race track trains. A national backlash against gambling led the track to close in 1904 and service there was suspended in June of that year.


The Randolph Street Branch

The Lake Street Elevated still had a franchise to operate on Cuyler Avenue, however, and did not want to let that franchise lapse. Beginning October 1, 1900, the Suburban Railroad routed its trains on Harrison to the Lombard & Randolph "L" station via Cuyler.

Use of the trackage on Cuyler, as well as the Suburban's Randolph branch (which the "L" also used), was erratic, however, and would prove to be short-lived. The beginning of the end for both branches came in 1902, when the Suburban Railroad entered receivership. The receiver annulled the Suburban Railroad's lease agreement from the Chicago Terminal Transfer to use the Randolph tracks (the CTT owned the Randolph branch, the Suburban just had a lease for its use). This, by extension, canceled the agreement for the Chicago & Oak Park Elevated (successor to the Lake Street Elevated) to use the Suburban's Randolph branch. These factors, combined with increasing community opposition to the railroad's presence, led to the suspension of service by both the "L" and the Suburban Railroad on the Randolph Street branch on December 21, 1903.

Suspension of train service, however, is not the end of the story of the Randolph and Cuyler branches. The next day, December 22nd, service on Randolph was replaced with a streetcar (operated by the Suburban Railroad), operated between Wisconsin Avenue and the Lombard/South Blvd. "L" station (essentially the same service the C&OP had run). Some suspected that the C&OP was backing this service to maintain whatever rights they might have to occupy Randolph Street.

The streetcar shuttle service was very short-lived, however. The shuttle last ran on December 24, 1903. Noting that the streetcar was taking the holiday off and not running on Christmas Day, Oak Park village president Allen Ray felt it was a golden opportunity to declare the franchise void (on grounds of not operating service) and tear up the tracks. During the early morning hours of December 26th, the police severed the tracks at Harlem and Lombard avenues with crowbars, cutting off the Randolph branch from any other connecting line. On January 7, 1904, the village officially ordered the removal of the branch's tracks and stations. The Wisconsin station was torched by vandals. The rest of the structures were either demolished or moved onto private property for adaptive reuse. The only section of track not removed was a two block stretch connecting the Cuyler Avenue line with the C&OP main line along South Boulevard.


The Cuyler Line

Following the annulment of the Suburban's franchise to occupy Randolph Street in 1902 and the order by the Village of Oak Park for the removal of the branch's tracks and stations on January 7, 1904, the connection between the Cuyler Avenue branch and the C&OP main line was in a precarious position. The two were connected by a short section along Randolph and Lombard, which were now technically in place without a franchise. This two block section was not demolished with the rest of the Randolph branch in early 1904, but C&OP president Clarence Knight recognized that is existed only by the good graces of the village (a group that did not extend a great deal of good will to the C&OP).

Knight requested that the village allow him to build an additional block's length of trackage on Cuyler between Randolph and South Boulevard to connect the Cuyler branch and C&OP main line, thus allowing the two blocks of track on Randolph and Lombard to be abandoned and removed. To sweeten the deal, Knight also promised to build a long-promised station on the "L" at East Avenue. But the village played hardball and demanded not only the station but the paving of Cuyler Avenue as well. Knight refused and finally the Chicago Terminal Transfer (who owned the Randolph tracks) got tired of waiting, removing the Randolph tracks on July 7, 1905 and cutting the Cuyler line off from the C&OP main line on South Boulevard.

A week later, the Oak Park police began tearing up more track, this time at Cuyler and Washington, on the grounds that failure to provide service constituted a forfeiture of the franchise. The company got a court injunction, but then the village tried to simply annul the C&OP's franchise to operate the line. To preserve their right to the line, the elevated company operated one of their standard, high-level platform wood elevated cars on the streetcar line, running it back and forth but carrying no riders. Finally, after more legal haggling, the C&OP simply let the line become inactive and the village seemed content to let the tracks sit unused.

The rusty tracks remained inactive until 1909, when the C&OP decided to borrow a Chicago Union Traction Co. streetcar and resume operations on July 23. Dubbed the "Phantom Car" and the "Grassville Special" because it appeared and disappeared among the tall weeds along part of the tracks, the car carried no standard on its letterboard. The car simply made the two block trip from Randolph to Madison, back and forth, since the tracks to the north had been torn up and a kink in the rail to the south was found to repeatedly derail the streetcar (the police refused to allow repairs). This short operation is believed to have been short-lived.

Finally, in 1911, the village and C&OP finally came to a compromise and repairs were allowed. Oak Park also relented in allowing the C&OP to reconnect the tracks to their main line along South Boulevard. The elevated, on the other hand, agreed to built some waiting shelters at a few locations and provide 6-day a week service on the Cuyler Line (Sunday service was eventually added). Service resumed on January 10, 1911, serving as a feeder line to the "L" station at Lombard. Service was operated with two "L" cars (one of which was 3128) retrofitted with swingable stairs to reach the ground. This was quickly realized to be an undesirable situation, so the two "L" cars were replaced by streetcars obtained from the Chicago City Railway.

Even this proved to be short-lived, however. Another argument arose between the village and the elevated over whether the C&OP should pave the street around their tracks. Finally, Samuel Insull (acting as receiver for the now-bankrupt company) rendered the whole point moot by filing a petition for abandonment of the line with the U.S. District Court. The court consented and service was abandoned at the end of the day on July 4, 1912. The tracks were subsequently removed.


The majority of information on this page was drawn from The "L": The Development of Chicago's Rapid Transit System, 1888-1932 by Bruce Moffat (CERA Bulletin 131, Chicago: Central Electric Railfans' Association, 1995).