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Chicago, Illinois:
Metra Electric Commuter Rail

History and Description

The Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation (better known as Metra ) operates three electric commuter rail lines in Chicago (in addition to several diesel lines). They originate at Randolph Street station in downtown Chicago.

The Metra Electric lines use bi-level multiple-unit cars built by Bombardier and St. Louis Car Company in the 1970s. Metra plans to order new cars soon. All stations have high platforms, and the cars are designed for high-platform operation exclusively. Most stations are not staffed, and fares are usually collected on board.

These lines were built by the Illinois Central Railroad (Main Line in 1856, South Chicago Branch in 1883, and Blue Island Branch in 1892). They originally used steam locomotives, but were converted to electric operation in 1926 on demand from the city of Chicago, to improve the appearance of the Lake Michigan shoreline. At this time, the electric South Shore Line to Indiana, which formerly terminated at Kensington, began to run its trains through to Randolph Street, via the Illinois Central tracks. In 1987, the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad sold the electric lines to Metra, which now operates them directly.


These were all taken in August 2001.

The Main Line

[picture] The entrance gates to the Metra Electric platforms at the Randolph Street terminal. A Blue Island train is about to leave.

[picture] Down on the platform at Randolph Street, two trains are bathed in an eerie orange light.

[picture] An outbound and an inbound train pass at Van Buren Street, in a view looking northward down the tracks from above.

[picture] An outbound train pulls into the platform at Roosevelt Road, with the lower Michigan Avenue skyline in the background.

[picture] A southbound train approaches 59th Street in the rain, while a northbound train stops on the adjacent track. (These are the center express tracks which are used by University Park and South Chicago trains.)

[picture] The University Park station is the southern terminus of the main line. It opened in 1977 when the line was extended two miles south from its former terminus at Richton Park.

[picture] Turning around about 180 degrees from the view in the preceding picture, we see how isolated the University Park station is. Somewhere beyond the cornfields, a few miles away, is Governor's State University which is linked to the station by a bus route. Otherwise the station serves mainly park-and-ride commuters, with large parking lots on both sides of the tracks.

The South Chicago Branch

[picture] An outbound train stops at the Bryn Mawr station, in the median of 71st Street. This station was typical of most on the South Chicago and Blue Island branches, with its wooden station house and platforms, dating from electrification in 1926. It has since been rebuilt, around 2006.

[picture] A few minutes later, the train shown in the previous picture crawls eastward along 71st Street, while a line of cars waits to turn left across the tracks. (The beauty supply store must be having a big sale today!)

[picture] An inbound train rounds the curve onto 71st Street just after leaving the South Shore station (the brick building just past the end of the train).

[picture] The 93rd Street station is the southern terminus of the South Chicago branch. This is a completely new station which opened in June 2001, replacing the former terminus at 91st Street.

The Blue Island Branch

[picture] The Blue Island terminal, in a view looking north across Vermont Street. The old station house has been torn down and construction on a new one has just started, so we have an unusually unobstructed view of two trains at the end of the tracks. The tracks crossing Vermont are the former Rock Island main line, used by express trains of Metra's Rock Island District. Note the track connecting the two lines.

In fact, we're standing at the north end of the platform of the Rock Island's Vermont Street station, with the station building behind us. Beyond the left edge of the picture, the tracks of the Rock Island local suburban line come in, pass the Rock Island station on the other side from the main line, and join the main line a bit further on. Between the two Rock Island lines, north of Vermont Street, is the yard where the Rock Island trains are stored. An interesting location!

[picture] A view inside the open door of the engineer's cab at the front of a train at Blue Island.

This page was last updated on 10 May 2007, and verified on 3 December 2007.

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