The Chicago Union Transfer Railway commenced operations on October 31, 1888 and was billed as a switching operation to collect and sort cars among all the trunk railroads converging on Chicago. Its central location just away from Lake Michigan allowed easy connections with other terminal railroads such as the Belt Railway of Chicago, the Indiana Harbor Belt, and Baltimore and Ohio Chicago Terminal railroads. At its extent, with only 5.35 miles of right-of-way, but packed with multiple tracks and sidings along with spurs to various nearby industries, nearly 100 miles of CUT trackage was counted. In 1912, after 24 years of operation, the CUT was acquired by the Belt Railway of Chicago.
The primary feature of the CUT was a circular yard track, 0.9 miles in diameter, to which feeder spurs connected. While the master plan included miles upon miles of these feeders radiating outwards from the circle (see map photo), only three feeder tracks were built, as depicted on the map. By 1928, the circle track had been replaced by a traditional hump switching yard. The grading of the former circle is evident in aerial photography as late as 1983. By 1988, the massive BRC Clearing Yard that occupies the site today had grown large enough to obliterate all evidence of the circle.
Chicago Union Transfer Railway locomotive No. 100, an American Locomotive Company 2-8-0 steam locomotive, later Illinois Central Railway No. 790, is the only surviving locomotive of the CUT, and is preserved at the U.S. Steamtown National Historic Site.