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 Illinois . USA

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Chicago has 3 million inhabitants (some 9 million in the metropolitan area) and is the third largest metropolitan area in the USA (after New York and Los Angeles), situated on the western shore of Lake Michigan in the state of Illinois.

Chicago's metro is known as the 'L' as most of its network is elevated. Some stretches of today's system date back to the end of the 19th century when Chicago followed New York's example to construct elevated rail lines. Whereas New York started early in the 20th century to put all elevated lines in Manhattan underground, Chicago maintains most of its original routes. All lines spread out from the city centre where some of them form the famous elevated Loop, now one of the city's landmarks. Two lines, the Blue Line and the Red Line cross the city centre north-south in a subway. Washington/Lake, Monroe and Jackson stations of both subways are connected by a 750 m (Dearborn subway) / 930 m (State St.) long continuous platform.

The entire network is 183 km long and has 152 stations, 18 km lie in tunnel (21 stations) and 62 km are elevated/at grade (90 stations). Most of the rest of the lines and stations are in expressway medians, with the exception of several kilometers at the ends of the Brown Line and Pink Line, which run at grade with some level crossings. The 'L' is operated by CTA (Chicago Transit Authority). Both airports are served by CTA trains, O'Hare Airport by the Blue Line (45 min to city centre) and Midway Airport by the Orange Line (30 min to city centre).


Chicago L Subway Chicago L Subway Chicago L Subway Chicago L Subway
 Early History

from 1892 - four different companies start operating elevated lines north, west and south of the city centre using steam engines during the first years.

1897 - Loop opened around city centre
1924 - all elevated companies united in the Chicago Rapid Transit Company
1943 - State Street subway (7.9 km)
1951 - Dearborn street subway opened (6.4 km)
1958 - Congress line (Blue Line) extended in median strip of Eisenhower Expressway
1969 - Dan Ryan line in middle strip of expressway opened
1984 - Blue Line reaches O'Hare Airport
1993 - Dan Ryan (Red Line) trains rerouted through State St. subway
1993 - Orange Line from Loop to Midway Airport opened (14.8 km), colour scheme introduced for all lines
1996 - Green Line reopened after 2 years of reconstruction

For more details see links below ....

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 Red Line

Howard - 95th/Dan Ryan: 37.7 km - 33 stations; operates 24 hours a day

This busy north-south route combines
- the old main route of the former 'Northwestern L' from Howard to Fullerton opened in 1900 (north to Wilson) and 1908 (all the way to Howard)
- the State Street Subway opened in 1943
- the Dan Ryan line opened in the median of Dan Ryan Expressway in 1969

 Blue Line

O'Hare - Forest Park: 55.7 km - 33 stations; operates 24 hours a day

The former 'West-Northwest Route' combines
- the old Garfield Park branch of the 'Metropolitan L' opened in 1895, but realigned in 1958 in the median and alongside Eisenhower Expressway
- the Wilwaukee-Dearborn Subway opened in 1951
- a northwestern extension completely in the median of Kennedy Expressway opened in three stages: Jefferson Park 1970, Rosemont 1983 and finally O'Hare International Airport in 1984.

 Brown Line

Kimball - Loop: 18.3 km - 28 stations

The Brown Line (Ravenswood Line) runs around the Loop in an anti-clockwise direction
- then north on the original L from 1900 to Belmont, making all stops on the outer tracks between Armitage and Belmont while the Red Line skips some
- then turns west to Kimball on an L route from 1907. Several level crossings exist between Western and Kimball.

 Green Line

Harlem/Lake - Cottage Grove / Ashland/63rd: 32.8 km - 31 stations

The Green Line runs west - south and, since the Pink Line was created, is the only line in Chicago with two branches (served alternately):

- the western leg corresponds to the old Lake Street L opened between 1892 and 1901
- the Loop was completed in 1897
- the southern leg was Chicago's first elevated line, the South Side L, opened between 1892 and 1907

While several stations were closed in the course of the line's history, most lately on the occasion of the Green Line upgrading in 1994-96, the following have been added in recent years:

30-06-2001: Conservatory-Central Park Drive
18-05-2012: Morgan
xx-xx-2014: Cermak-McCormick Place (u/c)

 Orange Line

Midway - Loop: 20.1 km - 17 stations

The Orange Line runs clockwise around the Loop
- then south sharing tracks with the Green Line
- finally southwest to Midway Airport mostly on an alignment at grade or on embankments alongside active railway lines, opened on 31 Oct 1993

 Purple Line

Linden - Howard (-Loop): 6.4 km (+ 19.7 km) - 9 (+ 17) stations

The Purple Line normally runs as a shuttle mostly within the City of Evanston, connecting with the Red Line at Howard
- opened in 1908 all the way to Linden in Wilmette, a few level crossings remain towards the northern end of the line
- during peak hours, the Purple Line runs express on the outer tracks from Howard to Belmont and then as a local together with the Brown Line to the Loop, but running around it clockwise.

 Pink Line

54th/Cermak - Loop: 18.0 km - 23 stations

Though only established on 25 June 2006, the Pink Line only includes older sections of the network:
- the Douglas Park branch of the old 'Metropolitan L' opened between 1896 and 1912 between Polk and 54th/Cermak
- until 2006, this route was part of the Blue Line known as the Cermak branch
- shared with the Green Line, Morgan station was added on 18 May 2012

 Yellow Line

Howard - Dempster-Skokie: 8.2 km - 3 stations

Also known as the 'Skokie Swift', the Yellow Line was introduced as a shuttle in 1964
- using a portion of the abandoned North Shore Interurban
- on 11 Sept 2004, the Yellow Line was converted from partial overhead to third rail power supply
- an intermediate station was added at Oakton-Skokie on 30 April 2012


Several extensions are currently being discussed:

Red Line south to 130th Street
Yellow Line from Skokie to Old Orchard
Orange Line from Midway Airport to Ford City
Circle Line

© Thomas Schunk Chicago L Subway Red Line ramp at Armitage © Thomas Schunk Chicago L Subway Clarke/Lake subway station © Werner Huber
2001 © Photographs courtesy of Thomas Schunk



CTA - Chicago Transit Authority - Official Site

Metra Commuter Rail - Official Site

South Shore Line - Official Site

Chicago 'L' at Wikipedia

Metra at Wikipedia

Graham Garfield's Chicago "L".org - A Comprehensive Chicago Subway and L Page

Jon Bell's Chicago Page with photographs

Yuri Popov's Chicago Rail Transit Site

Bill Vandervoort's CTA TRANSIT RAILFAN'S PAGE incl. history of lines

Shore Line - Interurban Historical Society

BLOG: Read your webmaster's impressions of the Chicago 'L' during a visit in Sept 2014

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Chicago L Subway Chicago L Subway Chicago L Subway Chicago L Subway

Chicago L Subway Chicago L Subway Chicago L Subway Chicago L Subway



Bruce G. Moffat: The "L" (The Development of Chicago's Rapid Transit System, 1882-1932). - 1995, 305 pages, Central Electric Railfans' Association, ISBN 0915348306


Thanks to Yuri Popov!


2007 © Robert Schwandl (UrbanRail.Net)