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Elgin Branch

General Overview:

The Elgin Branch was the Aurora & Elgin’s single track line that connected Wheaton and the Main Line to (as the name suggests) one of the railroad’s principle cities: Elgin. The route was a fairly straight shot out to Elgin, heading northwest from Wheaton, passing through communities such as Wayne as it traversed the open prairie on its way into the sunset.

All initial work as far as obtaining franchises and construction of the line was done under the name of the Elgin & Chicago Railway, a company which was incorporated in 1899 as a smaller affiliate of what became the AE&C. In March of 1902 the Elgin & Chicago Railway was absorbed into the AE&C who then went on to finish all remaining construction work.

Like the rest of the railroad that had opened earlier, the beginning of service on the Elgin Branch was delayed due to various reasons. Service finally started on May 29, 1903 and unlike the previous branch that the Aurora & Elgin opened, the Batavia Branch, this new service warranted trains that operated all the way to Chicago. (At the time, trains terminated at 52nd Avenue. Service to the Loop would not begin for another two years.)

Operations after the opening of the Elgin Branch consisted of trains departing from Chicago alternating in fifteen minute intervals between those going to Aurora and those to Elgin. In later years a single train would leave Chicago and upon its arrival at Wheaton it would be cut into two trains with one bound for Aurora and the other for Elgin. (Cars not needed for trips to the Fox River Valley were sent into the yard.)

On a quick glance it may seem that the Elgin Branch and the Aurora Branch were quite similar. And to some degree it’s true. Both were single track lines and both connected Wheaton and the Main Line to larger cities along the Fox River. Yet at the same time, the Elgin Branch was decidedly different from its sister to the south. The passing sidings (locations where trains heading toward each other could meet and pass one another) were much shorter than the lengthy sections that appeared on the Aurora Branch which in turn meant that the Elgin Branch had a lot less flexibility in terms of scheduling trains. But then, on the other side of the equation, trains on the Elgin Branch never had to deal with any of the slow street running to reach the terminal that trains heading to or from Aurora did. (It wasn’t until 1939 that street running was eliminated on the Aurora Branch.)

Starting September 21, 1909, the Chicago, Wheaton & Western (another third rail interurban) provided service to and from West Chicago. Their line connected with the Elgin Branch at a point near Pleasant Hill (about two miles northwest of Wheaton) known as Geneva Junction. Eventually the Chicago, Wheaton & Western’s line was deeded to the AE&C and became known as the Geneva Branch.

Originally the Geneva Branch operated on headways of one hour. Cars heading to Chicago met with and were coupled to inbound Elgin trains at Geneva Junction and the reverse was followed for outbound trips. As the line continued to operate, it became clear that ridership levels were not going to become spectacular and non-rush hour headways were increased to an hour and a half. Hour headways remained on the Elgin Branch meaning that only every other Geneva Branch train met with cars from Elgin.

In 1937 the Geneva Branch was shut down and rail service was replaced with a bus line which connected to the Elgin Branch at Lakewood.

As the years counted up the western suburbs grew and after the end of WWII the area developed rapidly. What once was open prairie that the Main Line passed through changed and had given way to the beginnings of suburban sprawl. What was once the fastest interurban now felt much more like an electric commuter railroad. Or at least this was so for the Main Line.

The Elgin Branch on the other hand, like the rest of the Sunset Lines west of Wheaton, was still a small single track line crossing rural territory. A branch of one of the last interurbans, it retained its interurban air until its last day.

Full branch profile and history coming soon.