City of New Orleans
Lake Shore Limited
Chicago has long been one of the most essential – if not the most essential – rail hubs in the country, and certainly the biggest one in the Midwest. The first rail line to go through Chicago was the Chicago & Northwestern in 1848. Rail growth in Illinois exploded during the middle of the 19th century – between 1840 and 1880, 8,000 miles of rail were built in the state of Illinois, almost all of the service Chicago.
Chicago Union Station, therefore, was a highly necessary construction in order to impose some sense of order on the spaghetti mess of rail. Four railroads joined together to form the station, a grand Beaux Arts structure completed in 1925.
The original of Chicago’s “L” trains also stem from these early railroads. The large variety of Amtrak lines passing through this station illustrates Chicago’s (and Union Station’s) positioning as a hub for national rail networks.
Originally, competing railroads began to create elevated passenger lines within the city in the late 19th century. The South Side Rapid Transit Railroad has the distinction of being the first line, and originally its founders expected to have a link extending all the way to Indianapolis. Alas, this was never completed, but the line was eventually incorporated into a unified passenger rail company in Chicago in 1924, which eventually became a government agency by an act of the State of Illinois in 1945. The Chicago Transit Authority, as it is known, receives partial oversight by both the state and the city, since both the governor and mayor appoint board members to the agency. The CTA is also required to collect 50% of its operating budget from fares, which causes funding issues to this day.
Today, the CTA is the second largest transit system in the country, and serves the large Chicago metropolitan area. On an average weekday, the system serves about one and a half million riders. It incorporates a network of buses, heavy rail serving the main Chicago area, and suburban rail (known as METRA) serving the outlying areas.
Although CTA operates a fairly extensive network of transit options, certain areas of the city (mostly on the South and West side) suffer from a lack of transportation options both into and out of those areas, which makes it difficult to locate high concentrations of people
with the job centers in which they can work. One of the solutions is a proposed extension of the L’s red line into the Far South Side, with four new stations along the route.
One of the major problems with having an older rail passenger rail network is accessibility, and CTA is no stranger to that issue. In 2010, they created a Infrastructure Accessibility Task Force, which found that only about two thirds of all L stations were ADA compliant. The CTA hopes to eventually make all stations accessible over the course of the next 15-20 years, as funds become available.