Chicago residents have listened to the sound of the city’s overhead trains for over 125 years. During those 125 years the well-known sounds included screeches, rumbles, and roars. To celebrate the amazing anniversary of this train, the city has decided to offer all city riders an opportunity to ride on an original Chicago L train during the month of June 2017. The Chicago L train has a proud history and it is the second oldest above the street network of trains in the United States. It connects this vibrant city through the Metra system all the way to Chicago’s O’hare International Airport.
On June 6, 1892 the very first Chicago L train traveled from 39th Street to a well-known destination called Congress Street. This length of track would eventually be known as the Green Line. The only other elevated train that is older than the one in Chicago is in New York. Traveling by an elevated train was a form of transportation that was quickly caught on by the residents of the Windy City. As years went by, private companies continued to extend additional routes an elevated rail stations. Historians often say that the Chicago L train was primarily responsible for the mixing and connecting of Chicagoans who had differing backgrounds and socioeconomic classes.
It was not until the 1890s that the coal-fired steam engines and gas-lit cars became electrified. This technology was demonstrated at the Chicago World Fair in an exhibit called the Intramural Railway. The primary feature of this exhibit was the elimination of a dedicated engine car. Rather than using a dedicated engine car the innovative Intramural Railway utilized evenly distributed braking and motor cars that were run by a single operator.
This new concept resulted in increased train performance and also eliminated the normal requirement of rotating the trains in roundhouses that were located at the end of the line. The concept was the new gold standard for future urban metro rail and the standard was adopted throughout the world. During the next few decades the Chicago L continue to be upgraded and expanded.
There were however also years where the train line faced serious challenges of which one challenge called for its removal. Some of these challenges were the result of the severe material shortages of World War II and the Great Depression. To confront these challenges, the struggling private firms who were responsible for operating these various elevated lines began to consolidate. They did so in 1947 under the umbrella of the CTA, Chicago Transit Authority.
Under this authority the famous Chicago L survived and even thrived. The Chicago L is the 2nd busiest mass transit rail line in the United States. It has been, and continues to be, responsible for supercharging many new real estate developments along the line.
If you were fortunate enough to have been in Chicago to celebrate this 125 year milestone then you probably had an opportunity to take a few spins around the loop on one of the classic trains. The two vintage cars used made stops at all of the Loop stations. Sad to say however that they never used the 1892 fares but rather charged the current standard ride fares. Take the “L” to Wrigley Field!