A CTA Red Line train exiting the State Street subway.

(User:JeremyA, CC BY-SA 2.5 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Chicago Transit Authority log. Blue circle with red ring, white lower case letters CTA in Italics.

CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is the operator of mass transit in Chicago, Illinois, United States, and some of its suburbs, including the trains of the Chicago "L" and CTA bus service. In 2023, the system had a ridership of 279,146,200, or about 908,400 per weekday as of the fourth quarter of 2023.

The CTA is an Illinois independent governmental agency that started operations on October 1, 1947, upon the purchase and combination of the transportation assets of the Chicago Rapid Transit Company and the Chicago Surface Lines streetcar system. In 1952, CTA purchased the assets of the Chicago Motor Coach Company, which was under the control of Yellow Cab Company founder John D. Hertz, resulting in a fully unified system. Today, the CTA is one of the three service boards financially supported by the Regional Transportation Authority and CTA service connects with the commuter rail Metra, and suburban bus and paratransit service, Pace.

 

A trolley bus serving route 85-Central in 1968.

(David Wilson from Oak Park, Illinois, USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Operations

The Chicago Transit Authority provides service in Chicago and 10 surrounding suburbs. The CTA provided a total of 532 million rides in 2011, a 3 percent increase over 2010 with ridership rising to levels not seen for 20 years.

The CTA operates 24 hours each day and on an average weekday provides 1.7 million rides on buses and trains. It has approximately 1,800 buses that operate over 140 routes traveling along 2,230 miles (3,590 km). Buses provide about one million passenger trips a day and serve more than 12,000 posted bus stops. The Chicago Transit Authority's 1,450 train cars operate over eight routes and 222 miles (357 km) of track. Its trains provide about 750,000 customer trips each weekday and serve 145 stations in Chicago and seven suburbs.

Currently, the CTA provides regular service within Chicago and the neighboring suburbs of Forest Park, Evanston, Skokie, Oak Park, Summit, Cicero, Berwyn, North Riverside, Rosemont, Evergreen Park, Oak Lawn, Park Ridge, Harwood Heights, Norridge, Lincolnwood, and Wilmette.

 

L trains used to allow passengers to put arms out of window.

(David Wilson from Oak Park, Illinois, USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

History

In 1953, the CTA placed an order for Flxible buses after the latter's absorption of the Fageol Twin Coach Company.

Until 1973, CTA's fleet included a large number of electric trolley buses – or "trolley coaches", as they were commonly known at the time. In the 1950s, the fleet of around 700 trolley coaches was the largest such fleet in the U.S., and represented about one-quarter of CTA's total number of surface-transit vehicles (motor bus, trolley bus and, until 1958, streetcar). Due to the January 26–27, 1967 Chicago Blizzard, in which CTA trolley buses were unable to maneuver around abandoned automobiles without de-wiring, the crucial decision was made to discontinue trolley bus service. Trolley bus service was phased out in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and trolley buses ran for the last time on March 25, 1973.

CTA buses were known as the "green limousine" or the "big green" — buses were one or more shades of green from the CTA's establishment until the end of the 1980s. With the delivery of the TMC RTS buses in 1991, a more patriotic color scheme was adopted, and the green scheme was fully phased out by 1996. A notable color scheme was the "Bicentennial" of about 1974 to 1976.

CTA bought very few buses between the mid-1970s and the end of the 1980s. During this time, purchases were only made in 1979 (20 MAN/AM General SG 220 articulated buses), 1982-83 (200 Flyer D901 buses and 125 additional MAN articulateds), and 1985 (362 MAN Americana standard-length buses). Another aspect of this period was that with the exception of the 1979 and 1983 MAN orders, none of those buses had air-conditioning, a budget saving move by the CTA. The 1972-76 fleet of GM "New Look" buses, 1870 total, which were originally air-conditioned (although there were problems with the air-conditioning systems, eventually being disabled and sliding windows installed in the buses), composed the majority of vehicles in service into the early 1990s.

In 1995, the CTA placed an experimental order of their first 65 low floor transit buses from New Flyer Industries D40LF. In 1998, the CTA placed an order for 484 new low floor transit buses from Canadian bus-building firm Nova Bus. This executed move billed the CTA as Nova's American launch customer for the latter's signature product, the LFS series. This was also done to meet the "Buy American" requirements for buses in the United States transit bus market, since General Motors ceased bus production and Flxible went out of business. Lastly, these buses replaced buses that were built in 1983 and 1985 as these buses both lack air conditioning, aging, and not ADA compliant.

Today CTA's current fleet of buses is mostly dominated by New Flyer's D40LF, numbered 1000–2029, which replaced buses that were built in 1991 and 1995. In 2014, CTA ordered 400 new buses from Nova. The number increased to 425 after it exercised an option. The buses are numbered 7900–8324. The CTA exercised another option for an additional twenty-five buses, numbered 8325–8349, from Nova Bus. Currently, CTA is delivering additional 600 new buses (numbered 8350-8949) from Nova Bus which replaced the remainder of the older Nova buses that were delivered between 2000-2002, in addition to starting the retirement of New Flyer D40LF buses delivered between 2006-2009.

The rail orders of the CTA include the last railcar stock built by the Budd Company and rail cars built by Boeing-Vertol and Morrison-Knudsen.

The most recent order was from Bombardier who built the 5000-series from 2009 to 2015. Ten (10) prototypes of the 5000-series were received in 2009, and entered passenger testing in April 2010, with 396 more ordered once the tests were completed. On July 20, 2011, CTA announced the order of 300 more railcars, bringing the total ordered to 706 at a cost of about US$1 billion.

In 2014, the CTA received their first electric buses from New Flyer, making the CTA the first major U.S. transit agency to use the new wave of electric buses as part of a regular service.

 

A Pink Line train approaches Randolph/Wabash.

(Douglas Rahden, Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Chicago "L"

The Chicago "L" (short for "elevated") is the rapid transit system serving the city of Chicago and some of its surrounding suburbs in the U.S. state of Illinois. Operated by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), it is the fourth-largest rapid transit system in the United States in terms of total route length, at 102.8 miles (165.4 km) long as of 2014, and the third-busiest rapid transit system in the United States. In 2016, the "L" had 1,492 rail cars, eight different routes, and 145 train stations. In 2023, the system had 117,447,000 rides, or about 373,800 per weekday in the fourth quarter of 2023.

The "L" provides 24-hour service on the Red and Blue Lines, making Chicago, New York City, and Copenhagen the only three cities in the world to offer 24-hour train service on some of their lines throughout their respective city limits. The oldest sections of the Chicago "L" started operations in 1892, making it the second-oldest rapid transit system in the Americas, after New York City's elevated lines.

The "L" has been credited for fostering the growth of Chicago's dense city core that is one of the city's distinguishing features. It consists of eight rapid transit lines laid out in a spoke–hub distribution paradigm focusing transit towards the Loop. The "L" gained its name because large parts of the system run on elevated track. Portions of the network are in subway tunnels, at grade level, or in open cuts.

In a 2005 poll, Chicago Tribune readers voted it one of the "seven wonders of Chicago", behind the lakefront and Wrigley Field, and ahead of Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), the Water Tower, the University of Chicago, and the Museum of Science and Industry.

 

A Map of the CTA "L" System.

(Wikimedia maps | Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors)

 

History of the Chicago "L"

Pre-CTA era
The first "L", the Chicago and South Side Rapid Transit Railroad, began revenue service on June 6, 1892, when a steam locomotive pulling four wooden coaches, carrying more than a couple of dozen people, departed the 39th Street station and arrived at the Congress Street Terminal 14 minutes later, over tracks that are still in use by the Green Line. Over the next year, service was extended to 63rd Street and Stony Island Avenue, then the Transportation Building of the World's Columbian Exposition in Jackson Park.

In 1893, trains began running on the Lake Street Elevated Railroad and in 1895 on the Metropolitan West Side Elevated, which had lines to Douglas Park, Garfield Park (since replaced), Humboldt Park (since demolished), and Logan Square. The Metropolitan was the United States' first non-exhibition rapid transit system powered by electric traction motors, a technology whose practicality had been demonstrated in 1890 on the "intramural railway" at the World Fair that had been held in Chicago. Two years later the South Side "L" introduced multiple-unit control, in which the operator can control all the motorized cars in a train, not just the lead unit. Electrification and MU control remain standard features of most of the world's rapid transit systems.

A drawback of early "L" service was that none of the lines entered the central business district. Instead trains dropped passengers at stub terminals on the periphery due to a state law at the time requiring approval by neighboring property owners for tracks built over public streets, something not easily obtained downtown. This obstacle was overcome by the legendary traction magnate Charles Tyson Yerkes, who went on to play a pivotal role in the development of the London Underground, and who was immortalized by Theodore Dreiser as the ruthless schemer Frank Cowperwood in The Titan (1914) and other novels.

Yerkes, who controlled much of the city's streetcar system, obtained the necessary signatures through cash and guile—at one point he secured a franchise to build a mile-long "L" over Van Buren Street from Wabash Avenue to Halsted Street, extracting the requisite majority from the pliable owners on the western half of the route, then building tracks chiefly over the eastern half, where property owners had opposed him. Designed by noted bridge builder John Alexander Low Waddell, the elevated tracks used a multiple close-rivet system to withstand the forces of the passing trains' kinetic energy.

The Union Loop opened in 1897 and greatly increased the rapid transit system's convenience. Operation on the Yerkes-owned Northwestern Elevated, which built the North Side "L" lines, began three years later, essentially completing the elevated infrastructure in the urban core although extensions and branches continued to be constructed in outlying areas through the 1920s.

After 1911, the "L" lines came under the control of Samuel Insull, president of the Chicago Edison electric utility (now Commonwealth Edison), whose interest stemmed initially from the fact that the trains were the city's largest consumer of electricity. Insull instituted many improvements, including free transfers and through routing, although he did not formally combine the original firms into the Chicago Rapid Transit Company until 1924. He also bought three other Chicago electrified railroads, the Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad, Chicago Aurora and Elgin Railroad, and South Shore interurban lines, and ran the trains of the first two into downtown Chicago via the "L" tracks.

This period of relative prosperity ended when Insull's empire collapsed in 1932, but later in the decade the city with the help of the federal government accumulated sufficient funds to begin construction of two subway lines to supplement and, some hoped, permit eventual replacement of the Loop elevated; as early as the 1920s some city leaders wanted to replace the "ugly" elevated tracks and these plans advanced in the 1970s under mayors Richard J. Daley and Michael Bilandic until a public outcry against tearing down the popular "L" began, led by Chicago Tribune columnist Paul Gapp, and architect Harry Weese. Instead, then new Mayor Jane Byrne protected the elevated lines and directed their rehabilitation.

The State Street subway opened on October 17, 1943. The Dearborn Subway, on which work had been suspended during World War II, opened on February 25, 1951. The subways were constructed with a secondary purpose of serving as bomb shelters, as evidenced by the close spacing of the support columns (a more extensive plan proposed replacing the entire elevated system with subways). The subways bypassed a number of tight curves and circuitous routings on the original elevated lines (Milwaukee trains, for example, originated on Chicago's northwest side but entered the Loop at the southwest corner), speeding service for many riders.

 

A train on the "L" in 1949 as photographed by Stanley Kubrick for Look magazine.

(Stanley Kubrick, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

CTA assumes control

By the 1940s, the financial condition of the "L", and of Chicago mass transit in general, had become too precarious to permit continued operation without subsidies, and the necessary steps were taken to enable a public takeover. In 1947, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) acquired the assets of the Chicago Rapid Transit Company and the Chicago Surface Lines, operator of the city's streetcars. Over the next few years CTA modernized the "L", replacing wooden cars with new steel ones and closing lightly used branch lines and stations, many of which had been spaced only a quarter-mile apart.

The CTA introduced fare cards for the first time in 1997. Rail service to the O'Hare International Airport first opened in 1984 and to the Midway International Airport in 1993. That same year, the CTA renamed all of its rail lines; they are now identified by color.

 

Skip-stop service

Later, after assuming control of the "L", the CTA introduced A/B skip-stop service. Under this service, trains were designated as either "A" or "B" trains, and stations were alternately designated as "A" stations or "B" stations, with heavily used stations designated as both – "AB". "A" trains would stop only at "A" and "AB" stations, and "B" trains would stop only at "B" and "AB" stations.

Station signage carried the station's skip-stop letter and was also color-coded by skip-stop type; "A" stations had red signage, "B" stations had green signage, and "AB" stations had blue signage. The system was designed to speed up lines by having trains skip stations while still allowing for frequent service at the heavily used "AB" stations.

A/B skip-stop service debuted on the Lake Street Elevated in 1948, and the service proved effective as travel times were cut by a third. By the 1950s, the service was used throughout the system. All lines used the A/B skip-stop service between the 1950s and the 1990s with the exception of the Evanston and Skokie lines, which were suburban-only lines and did not justify skip-stop service.

On the lines with branches, skip-stop service sent all "A" trains to one branch and "B" trains to another branch. On what became the Blue Line, "A" trains were routed on the Congress branch while "B" trains were sent to the Douglas branch.

On the North-South Line, "A" trains went to the Englewood branch and "B" trains went to the Jackson Park branch. In both cases, individual stops were not skipped beyond the points where those branches diverged. As time went by, the time periods which employed skip-stop service gradually decreased, as the waits at "A" and "B" stations became increasingly longer during non-peak service.

By the 1990s, use of the A/B skip-stop system was only used during rush hour service. Another problem was that trains skipping stations to save time still could not pass the train that was directly ahead, so skipping stations was not advantageous in all regards. In 1993, the CTA began to eliminate skip-stop service when it switched the southern branches of the West-South and North-South Lines to improve rider efficiency, creating the current Red and Green Lines. From this point, Green Line trains made all stops along the entire route, while Red Line trains stopped at all stations south of Harrison. The elimination of A/B skip-stop service continued with the opening of the all-stop Orange Line and the conversion of the Brown Line to all-stop service.

In April 1995, the last of the A/B skip-stop system was eliminated with the conversion of the O'Hare branch of the Blue Line and the Howard branch of the Red Line to all-stop service. The removal of skip-stop service resulted in some increases in travel times, and greatly increased ridership at former "A" and "B" stations due to increased train frequencies. Station signage highlighting the former skip-stop patterns would remain into the 2000s, when it was gradually replaced across the system.

 

New rolling stock

The first air-conditioned cars were introduced in 1964. The last pre–World War II cars were retired in 1973. New lines were built in expressway medians, a technique implemented in Chicago and followed by other cities worldwide. The Congress branch, built in the median of the Eisenhower Expressway, replaced the Garfield Park "L" in 1958. The Dan Ryan branch, built in the median of the Dan Ryan Expressway, opened on September 28, 1969, followed by an extension of the Milwaukee elevated into the Kennedy Expressway in 1970.

 

The "L" today

Since 2014, Chicago "L" trains run over a total of 224.1 miles (360.7 km) of track.

 

Nickname

Chicago's rapid-transit system is officially nicknamed the "L". This name for the CTA rail system applies to the whole system: its elevated, subway, at-grade, and open-cut segments. The use of the nickname dates from the earliest days of the elevated railroads. Newspapers of the late 1880s referred to proposed elevated railroads in Chicago as "'L' roads." The first route to be constructed, the Chicago and South Side Rapid Transit Railroad gained the nickname "Alley Elevated", or "Alley L" during its planning and construction, a term that was widely used by 1893, less than a year after the line opened.

In discussing various stylings of "Loop" and "L" in Destination Loop: The Story of Rapid Transit Railroading in and around Chicago (1982), author Brian J. Cudahy quotes a passage from The Neon Wilderness (1947) by Chicago author Nelson Algren: "beneath the curved steel of the El, beneath the endless ties." Cudahy then comments, "Note that in the quotation above ... it says 'El' to mean 'elevated rapid transit railroad.' We trust that this usage can be ascribed to a publisher's editor in New York or some other east coast city; in Chicago the same expression is routinely rendered 'L'."

As used by CTA, the name is rendered as the capital letter 'L', in single quotation marks. "L" (with double quotation marks) was often used by CTA predecessors such as the Chicago Rapid Transit Company; however, the CTA uses single quotation marks (') on some printed materials and signs rather than double. In Chicago, the term "subway" only applies to the State Street and Milwaukee–Dearborn subways and is not applied to the entire system as a whole, as in New York City where both the elevated and underground portions make up the New York City Subway.

 

"L" train wrapped in pink to mark the start of the Pink Line trial service.

(Tammy Green, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Renovation and expansion plans

Like other large and aging rapid transit systems, the Chicago "L" faces problems of delays, breakdowns, and a multi-billion-dollar backlog of deferred maintenance.

The CTA is currently focused on eliminating slow zones, modernizing the Red, Blue, and Purple lines, and improving "L" stations. In addition, CTA has studied numerous other proposals for expanded rail service and renovations, some of which may be implemented in the future.

Recent service improvements and capital projects

2000–2010
During the 2000s and 2010s, the CTA has completed several renovation and new construction projects.

Pink Line service began on June 25, 2006, though it did not include any new tracks or stations. The Pink Line travels over what was formerly a branch of the Blue Line from the 54th/Cermak terminal in Cicero to the Polk station in Chicago. Pink Line trains then proceed via the Paulina Connector to the Lake Street branch of the Green Line and then clockwise around the Loop elevated via Lake-Wabash-Van Buren-Wells. Douglas trains used the same route between April 4, 1954, and June 22, 1958, after the old Garfield Park "L" line was demolished to make way for the Eisenhower Expressway. The new route, which serves 22 stations, offered more frequent service for riders on both the Congress and Douglas branches. Pink Line trains could be scheduled independently of Blue Line trains, and ran more frequently than the Douglas branch of the Blue Line did.

Fullerton station on the North Side for the Red, Brown, and Purple Lines, midway through reconstruction in December 2007
In late 2007, trains were forced to operate at reduced speed over more than 22% of the system due to deteriorated track, structure, and other problems. By October 2008, system-wide slow zones had been reduced to 9.1% and by January 2010, total slow zones were reduced to 6.3%. CTA's Slow Zone Elimination Project is an ongoing effort to restore track work to conditions where trains no longer have to reduce speeds through deteriorating areas. The Loop received track work in 2012–2013. The Purple Line in Evanston received track work and viaduct replacement in 2011–2013. The Green Line Ashland branch received track work in 2013, prior to the Red Line Dan Ryan branch reconstruction.

The Brown Line Capacity Expansion Project enabled CTA to run eight-car trains on the Brown Line, and rebuilt stations to modern standards, including accessibility. Before the project, Brown Line platforms could only accommodate six-car trains, and increasing ridership led to uncomfortably crowded trains. After several years of construction, eight-car trains began to run at rush hour on the Brown Line in April 2008. The project was completed in December 2009, on time and on budget, with only minor punch list work remaining. The project's total cost was expected to be around $530 million.

 

2010–present

While various mayors of Chicago had recognized the importance of reliable public transit, Rahm Emanuel received credit for making improving service a top priority. In addition to local funding, he managed to secure federal dollars by lobbying.

One of the largest reconstruction projects in the CTA's history, at a cost of $425 million, was the Red Line South reconstruction project. From May 19, 2013, through October 20, 2013, the project closed and rebuilt the entire Dan Ryan branch—replacing and rebuilding all the tracks, ties, ballast and drainage systems—from Cermak-Chinatown to 95th/Dan Ryan. The station work involved renewing and improving eight stations, including new paint and lights, bus bridge improvements, new elevators at the Garfield, 63rd, and 87th stations and new roofs and canopies at some stations. "We are looking forward to providing our south Red Line customers with improved stations that are cleaner, brighter and better than they have been in years," said CTA President Forrest Claypool. Shutting down a portion of the railway instead of relegating work to the weekends enabled the project to be completed in months rather than years.

In 2014, the CTA initiated station and track upgrades on the Blue Line between Grand and O'Hare. This $492 million project will result in modernized stations (some of which were originally built in 1895), rebuilt tracks, station platform replacement, subway water management, subway station water infiltration remediation, and improved access to some stations (by adding elevators). This project, scheduled for completion in 2021, is expected to cut travel time between the Loop and O'Hare by ten minutes.

In late 2015, extensive 4G wireless coverage was added to both Blue and Red Line subways, with the $32.5 million installation cost paid for by T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T and Verizon. Upon the project's completion, Chicago became the largest American city with 4G Internet service in all of its subways and tunnels, a total of 22 miles (35 km). Besides adding to passenger convenience, it also improved security by allowing CTA personnel and first responders to communicate more easily in case of an emergency.

The new Wilson Station officially reopened in October 2017. The century-old station now includes accessible elevators, escalators, new security cameras, three entrances, wider stairwells, additional turnstiles, larger platforms, new lights and signage, as well as bus and train trackers.

FastTracks is a program intended to address the slow zones and to make train rides smoother and more reliable. In order to achieve this, crews would replace worn tracks, rail tires, and ballasts. An upgraded power system along the O'Hare Blue Line branch would enable more trains to operate during peak periods. The Blue, Brown, Green, and Red lines would be worked on. This program was set to begin in early 2018 and would continue through 2021. Funding for this $179 million project comes from a fee increase imposed on mobile app-based vehicle for hire companies in Chicago, the first of its kind in the country. In Mayor Emanuel's 2018 budget proposal, the fee went from 52 cents to 67 cents per trip. First introduced in 2015, this fee rose by another five cents in 2019.

In December 2018, The CTA Board approved $2.1 billion worth of contracts for the modernization of the Red and Purple Lines. The largest and most expensive in CTA history, this project includes the reconstruction of the junction between the Brown Line and Red/Purple line into a flying junction to reduce delays, and the reconstruction of the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn, and Bryn Mawr stations. Construction of the project began on October 2, 2019, and is scheduled for completion in 2025. $100 million in federal funding for the reconstruction of the Red Line was approved September 2019. In the final days of the Barack Obama administration, the federal government agreed to provide $957 million in funding in total; the rest would come from a tax hike on property owners who lived within 0.5 miles (800 m) of the Red Line.

 

The newly rebuilt Wilson Station, September 2017.

(Erik Wolf, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Planned projects

This new rail service proposal under active consideration by CTA is currently undergoing Alternatives Analysis Studies.

These studies are the first step in a five-step process. This process is required by the Federal New Starts program, which is an essential source of funding for CTA's expansion projects. CTA uses a series of "Screens" to develop a "Locally Preferred Alternative", which is submitted to the federal New Starts program.

 

Red Line Extension

An extension of the Red Line would provide service from the current terminus at 95th/Dan Ryan to 130th Street, decreasing transit times for Far South Side residents and relieving crowding and congestion at the current terminus, The CTA presented its locally preferred alternative at meetings in August 2009. This consists of a new elevated rail line between 95th/Dan Ryan and a new terminal station at 130th Street, paralleling the Union Pacific Railroad and the South Shore Line, through the Far South Side neighborhoods of Roseland, Washington Heights, West Pullman, and Riverdale.

In addition to the terminal station at 130th, three new stations would be built at 103rd, 111th, and Michigan. Basic engineering, along with an environmental impact statement, were underway in 2010. Alignment commenting was opened in 2016. The CTA announced the route, 5.3 miles (8.5 km) in length, and four new stations on January 26, 2018, and if the CTA can get the funding for the $3.6 billion extension, construction on the extension would begin in 2025 and would be completed in 2029. Contracts for preliminary work were approved in December 2018.

In August 2022, the Red Line Extension advanced to the Federal Funding Phase. In December 2022, City Council approved the creation of a district that will send nearly $1 billion in tax revenue over the next few decades to extend the Red Line south of 95th Street, a major step toward completing the project after a half-century of false starts. In March 2023, President Biden’s proposed 2024 budget includes $350 million in federal funding for the Red Line Extension project. In May 2023, The CTA reported that it had selected three prequalified teams to submit proposals on the $3.6 billion project to extend rail service to Chicago's Far South Side. Project proposals will be due from the finalists in early 2024 with an expected execution by the end of 2024. Further, The CTA expects construction of the project to begin in late 2025, depending on securing full project funding. In September 2023, The Federal Transit Administration announced $1.973 billion for the extension. In October 2023, The CTA received another $100 million for the extension.

 

Chicago "L" rolling stock

The current rolling stock of the Chicago "L" rapid transit system consists of four series of railcars. The oldest series is the 2600-series which was built between 1981 and 1987 and refurbished between 1999 and 2002. The second series is the 3200-series, built between 1992 and 1994 and refurbished between 2015 and 2018. The third and newest series is known as the 5000-series; built between 2009 and 2015, they feature new technologies such as LED color signs, security cameras, new seating configuration, AC motors, and interior LED signs displaying date and time. The most recent order consists of the 7000-series cars that are planned to replace the 2600-series cars, with options for additional cars that would replace the 3200-series cars.

All cars are 12 ft (3.66 m) tall (from top of rail) and 48 ft 3 in (14.71 m) long (over coupler pulling faces). They are 9 ft 4 in (2.84 m) wide at the window sills but only 8 ft 8 in (2.64 m) wide at the door sills. Currently, most railcars operating on the Chicago "L" are DC power only; the 5000-series and 7000-series feature AC motors although the traction power supply continues to use DC.

 

Historic/retired Locomotives

Operator Manufacturer Delivered Retired Number built Notes
South Side Elevated Railroad Baldwin Locomotive Works 1892–93 1898 46 Vauclain four-cylinder compound locomotives. Retired when cars were converted to electric operation.
Lake Street Elevated Railroad Rhode Island Locomotive Works 1893–95 1900 35 Retired when cars were converted to electric operation.

Wooden cars

Numbers Original operator Manufacturer Delivered Notes
100s South Side Elevated Railroad Jackson and Sharp Company; Gilbert Car Company; Jewett Car Company 1892–1905 The earliest trains were originally pulled by steam locomotives (Baldwin Locomotive Works Vauclain four-cylinder compound locomotives); the South Side Rapid Transit was the first to use multiple unit electric cars.
1000s Northwestern Elevated Railroad Pullman Company; American Car & Foundry; St. Louis Car Company; Jewett Car Company 1898–1908
2000s Metropolitan West Side Elevated Railroad Pullman Car Company, Harland and Hollingsworth Company; American Car & Foundry, Barney and Smith Car Company; Jewett Car Company 1894–1907
3000s Lake Street Elevated Railroad Gilbert Car Company, Pullman Car Company; St. Louis Car Company and Co. Shop 1893–1909 The earliest trains were originally pulled by steam locomotives, cars subsequently converted to electric operation.

Metal cars

Type Operator Manufacturer Delivered Retired Number built Notes
4000-series Chicago Rapid Transit Company; later Chicago Transit Authority Cincinnati Car Company 1914–1924 1973 455
5000-series Chicago Rapid Transit Company; later Chicago Transit Authority Pullman Car Company (5001–02) and St. Louis Car Company (5003–04) 1947 1985 4 Built with PCC equipment
6000-series Chicago Transit Authority St. Louis Car Company 1950–1959 1992 720 Built with PCC equipment
1–50 series Chicago Transit Authority St. Louis Car Company 1959–1960 1999 50 Built with PCC equipment

High Performance

Type Operator Manufacturer Delivered Retired Number built Notes
2000-series Chicago Transit Authority Pullman-Standard 1964 1993 180 First of High Performance family
2200-series Chicago Transit Authority Budd Company rebuilt by the New York Rail Car Corporation 1990-1992. 1969–1970 2013 150 First stainless-steel CTA cars
2400-series Chicago Transit Authority Boeing-Vertol 1976–1978 2014 200

A pair of 4000-series "Plushie" cars at the Illinois Railway Museum.

(User:JeremyA, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

4000-series

The 4000-series cars were manufactured by the Cincinnati Car Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, between 1914 and 1924. They were the first steel cars on the Chicago "L" system. These cars were built in two distinct variants, with the earlier, metal-roofed cars being known as "Baldies" (due to their smooth iron roofs) and the later, wooden-roofed cars being known as "Plushies" (due to their more comfortable, green plush seats). The "Baldies" were equipped with six doors per car, however the center doors were never used regularly. The "Plushies" were equipped with only the end vestibule doors, but the cars internal structure was arranged to allow for the later addition of the center doors.

These cars were built as the result of several distinct purchases (dates are the date of the order, not the actual production date):

  • December 29, 1913: 128 cars: 66 Trailer (non motorized) cars, numbered (4001–4066) and 62 motor cars, numbered (4067–4128), "Baldies", Longitudinal seating (Car 4005 later motorized and renumbered 4456)
  • December 30, 1914: 122 Motor cars, numbered (4129–4250), "Baldies", Transverse seating.
  • September 1, 1922: 100 Motor cars, numbered (4251–4350), "Plushies", Transverse seating.
  • April 2, 1923: 5 Motor cars, numbered (4351–4355), "Plushies", Transverse seating.
  • December 13, 1923: 100 Motor cars, numbered (4356–4455), "Plushies", Transverse seating.

The 445 cars of the 4000-series were the last Chicago "L" cars purchased with air brakes.

When the State Street Subway opened in 1943, the older wooden cars were not allowed to operate through it for safety reasons. The only cars available to operate in the subway were the 4000-series, which eventually led to production of the 5000-series and 6000-series cars.

The last 4000-series cars were retired in 1973 after being in service for over 50 years. Cars 4271–4272 are retained by the CTA as part of their heritage fleet.

 

Car No. 4439 at the East Troy Electric Railroad.

(Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

5000-series

Not to be confused with the current 5000-series (CTA).

The 5000-series cars (numbered 5001–5004) were manufactured by the Pullman Car Company and the St. Louis Car Company. They arrived on CTA property in 1947. Only these four cars were ever built. These cars were the first "L" cars to feature the "blinker door" configuration, in which the doors to the train open inward into the car rather than slide horizontally. This door configuration was later used on the 6000-series, 1–50 series, 2000-series, and 2200-series.

The technology for these cars was based on the Presidents Conference Committee streetcar but also borrowed design elements from the North Shore Line's Electroliners. The 5000-series was distinct in that each car was a three-piece articulated unit, the only cars on the "L" system to ever feature articulation. They were also the first series of "L" cars to be wider at the windowsills than at the doorsills to permit more interior space and still provide clearance for station platforms.

They were originally assigned to service on the Garfield Park Branch, precursor of today's Blue Line Congress Branch. They were transferred to the Ravenswood Branch (today's Brown Line) in 1957. The cars were refitted with pantographs and renumbered 51–54 for service on the Skokie Swift in 1964, where they finished their service life. The 5000-series was retired in 1986. Two are preserved: car 51 at the Fox River Trolley Museum, and car 52 at the Illinois Railway Museum.

 

6000-series work train cars at the California station on the O'Hare branch on May 19, 1985.

(Chuck Zeiler, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

6000-series

The 6000-series cars (numbered 6001–6720) were manufactured by the St. Louis Car Company of St. Louis, Missouri, and first delivered to the CTA in 1950. 130 were ordered originally with the series eventually totaling 720.

The 6000-series built upon the design of the 5000-series, using PCC technology and blinker doors. Unlike the 5000-series, the 6000-series units consisted of two cars coupled together in married pairs, the first series of "L" cars to be so designed.

A large percentage of these cars were built using trucks, motors, control equipment, seats, windows and other components salvaged from Chicago's recently retired fleet of PCC streetcars.

The 6000 series was in service on all of the CTA's routes except the Skokie Swift. Use on the Lake-Dan Ryan route was however limited to emergencies and during car shortages in late 1969 and during the winter of 1979–80. The 6000-series cars were used by SEPTA on the Norristown High Speed Line during the delays of the N-5 car deliveries. The last of the 6000-series cars were retired on December 4, 1992.

 

Car 48 at the Halton County Radial Railway museum.

(DavidArthur, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

1–50 series

The 1–50 series cars (numbered 1–50) were manufactured by the St. Louis Car Company of St. Louis, Missouri, and delivered to the CTA in 1959 and 1960. The cars were similar to the 6000-series design, but were double ended, single cars, as opposed to the 6000-series single ended, married pair configuration. The quarter point doors were adjacent to the operators cabs, allowing the operator to collect fares without leaving the cab. Like some members of the 6000-series, these cars utilized parts salvaged from Chicago's recently retired fleet of PCC streetcars.

Cars 1–4 were equipped for high performance test service, with higher horsepower motors, and were delivered in a distinctive maroon and silver gray paint scheme.

Originally assigned to the West-Northwest service, in later years these cars were found mainly on the Ravenswood, Skokie, and Evanston lines.

Ten of these cars were converted in five married-pair sets and renumbered 61a-b to 65a-b, and were utilized in Skokie service.

The last cars of the 1–50 series were retired in 1999. Seven cars of this series have been preserved by various railway museums.

 

2000-series cars on Lake St. leaving the loop at Wells St.

(David Wilson from Oak Park, Illinois, USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

2000-series

The 2000-series cars (numbered 2001–2180) were manufactured by Pullman-Standard of Chicago, and delivered to the CTA in 1964. Like the 6000-series before them, the 2000-series was built as married-pair sets. The cars had a number of modern features, including air conditioning, fluorescent lighting, large picture windows and sculptured fiberglass front ends for the car bodies. The car bodies were mainly aluminum. These cars were the start of the High Performance Family.

The 2000-series's more modern control systems initially prevented them from being used in a train with other types, until the delivery of the 2200-series and later cars.

The last 2000-series cars were scrapped after their final service on the Green Line on December 17, 1993.

The 2000-series had a short service life of only 29 years, with most of the cars in the series being scrapped in 1993. Two cars are preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Illinois.

 

A 2200-series car at the Des Plaines Terminal on June 1, 1970. (railsr4me from Lake County IL, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Retired 2200-series car 2346 in the Harlem Yard on August 24, 2013. (railsr4me from Lake County IL, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

2200-series

The 2200-series cars (numbered 2201–2350) were manufactured by the Budd Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and first delivered to the CTA in 1969, before the Dan Ryan branch (now known as the south end of the Red Line) opened. 150 cars were ordered, and all delivered in 1969 and 1970. These cars were the last to feature the blinker door configuration, in which the doors to the train opened inward into the car rather than slide horizontally. These doors, which had a much narrower opening than the newer sliding doors, were unable to accommodate a wheelchair. Because of this, all 2200-series cars that ran in regular service on the Blue Line had to be coupled with a married pair of 2600-series cars, in order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. In addition, during eight car operation on the Blue Line, the 2200-series cars were referred to as belly car service (which means that they are not at either end of the consist), with 2600-series cars on the ends of the train.

The 2200-series also featured fluted, unpainted stainless steel sides, a unique feature in the rolling stock until the delivery of the 3200-series.

Cars 2307 and 2316 were renumbered 2351 and 2352; 2351 was originally numbered 2307 and repaired after its mate 2308 was damaged in an accident at Addison station in 1976; 2352 was renumbered from 2316 and paired with 2351 after 2315 was damaged in a fire in the Skokie Shops yard in November 1977. Cars 2289 and 2290 were damaged in the 1977 Chicago Loop derailment on February 4, 1977. After the derailment cars 2289 and 2290 were later retired and scrapped.

The cars were rebuilt by the New York Rail Car Corporation of Brooklyn, New York, from 1990 until 1992, to extend their service life.

Retirement of the 2200-series cars began in October 2010 and was completed in August 2013. The last eight 2200-series cars were retired from service after their ceremonial last trips on the Blue Line on August 8, 2013. The farewell tour of the 2200-series cars took place on a six-car private charter ran by Eric Zabelny on August 25, 2013, which toured most of the CTA system. Cars 2243–2244 are preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Illinois.

 

Prior to their rehab, the 2400-series trains were painted in red, white, and blue colors to celebrate the Bicentennial. (Leon Kay, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

After their rehab, the 2400-series trains had their colors removed to better match the rest of the fleet. (Daniel Schwen, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

2400-series

The 2400-series cars (numbered 2401–2600) were manufactured by Boeing-Vertol of Ridley Park, Pennsylvania, and first delivered to the CTA in 1976. 100 were ordered originally, with an option for an additional 100 (which was exercised and the additional cars delivered through 1978). Retirement of the 2400-series cars began in 2013 after all of the 2200-series cars were retired from service and was completed in October 2014.

The first cars for the "L" to feature sliding doors, the 2400-series also features smooth steel exteriors, ideal for decals and, in many cases, advertisements. As delivered, the cars featured a red, white, and blue color scheme on the front and rear of the cars, as well as stripes along the sides. These were modified several times over the years and the colors were eventually removed from all cars, leaving them unpainted to match the bare stainless steel scheme of the rest of the fleet. Some cars feature advertising and cars 2401–2422 are work cars which are identified by red and white striping along their sides as well as on the front and rear of the cars. (Cars 2423–2424 were converted to work cars some time after 2401–2422 had been converted.)

The cars were rehabbed at the Skokie Shops in Skokie, Illinois, from 1987 until 1995.

In the 1990s, the 2400-series cars were used on the Red Line in mixed consists with non-rehabbed 2600-series cars. While the 2600-series cars were being rebuilt, the 2400-series cars were used temporary on the Red Line. The 2400-series cars were retired from service on October 31, 2014, with the Orange Line being the last line to operate them. The ceremonial last trip of the 2400-series cars was held on January 21, 2015. Cars 2433–2434 are preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Illinois, and the cars used for the ceremonial last trip have been preserved as part of CTA's historic fleet.

 

Current

Type Manufacturer Delivered Rehabilitated Number built Assigned lines Traction motors
2600-series Budd Company rebuilt by Alstom 1981–1987 1999–2002 600 Blue Line, Brown Line, Orange Line GE 1262A1 DC
3200-series Morrison–Knudsen 1992–1994 2015–2018 257 Blue Line, Brown Line GE 1262A4 DC
5000-series Bombardier Transportation 2009–2015 N/A 714 Green Line, Pink Line, Purple Line, Red Line, Yellow Line Bombardier MITRAC IGBT–VVVF asynchronous 3-phase AC.
7000-series CRRC Sifang America 2019– 400 (base order) 846 (all options included)      Blue Line Siemens IGBT–VVVF asynchronous 3-phase AC

The 2600-series had red, white, and blue on the sides and the Spirit of Chicago logo prior to their rehab. (Leon Kay, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

After their rehab, the 2600-series had their colors and the Spirit of Chicago logo removed to better match the rest of the fleet. (Ben Schumin, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

2600-series

After their rehab, the 2600-series had their colors and the Spirit of Chicago logo removed to better match the rest of the fleet.
The 2600-series cars (numbered 2601–3200) were manufactured by the Budd Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the same company that made the 2200-series, and first delivered to the CTA in 1981, in time for the upcoming O'Hare Airport extension of the Kennedy Line (now known as the northwestern end of the Blue Line). Originally, an order was made for 300 cars, but this order was later increased to 600 cars, all of which were delivered from 1981 until 1987. They were the last railcars to be built by the Budd Company, later renamed to Transit America. The cars were rebuilt by Alstom of Hornell, New York, from 1999 until 2002. They have few features to differentiate them from the earlier 2400-series cars, but nevertheless remain a mainstay of the "L".

These cars make up most of the Blue Line fleet and all of the Orange Line fleet, and car 3458 (originally car 3032) can be found on the Brown Line. In June 2014, as more 5000-series cars were being delivered, The CTA began to transfer the Red Line's 2600-series cars to the Blue Line due to them being newer than the existing 2600-series Blue Line cars, transferring the Blue Line's older 2600-series cars to the Orange Line as an interim replacement for its 2400-series cars until the Red and Purple Lines are fully equipped with the 5000-series cars.

Budd/Transit America had completed car 3200 on April 3, 1987. Car 3200 was not only the final railcar of the 2600-series order, but was the final railcar to be constructed by Budd/Transit America. Once the order was completed, Budd shut down its railcar business.

The 2600-series cars will be replaced by the new 7000-series cars and 9000-series cars.

 

3200-series cars.

(Ben Schumin, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

3200-series

The 3200-series cars (numbered 3201–3457) were manufactured by Morrison-Knudsen of Hornell, New York, and first delivered to the CTA in 1992. The original order for 256 cars was used for the opening of the Orange Line, which needed new cars when it opened in October 1993. The order was completed in 1994.

The 3200-series contains many innovations over the previous 2600-series. Computers control much of the cab functions and simplify operation for the motorman. Diagnostics are also easier to perform on this series than on previous series. In addition, fluted steel siding is included on these cars for the first time since the 2200-series, in order to reduce graffiti. The series also introduced hopper windows for use in case of air conditioner failure.

Cars Nos. 3441–3456 were originally equipped with pantographs for use on the Yellow Line, due to its use of overhead catenary between the Skokie shops and Dempster Street. The pantographs on 3451–3456 were removed in the late 1990s when they were reassigned to supplement the Brown Line, while the rest lost their pantographs when the Yellow Line was converted to third rail power in 2004.

Car 3457 was an additional car built for the purpose of serving as a mate to the 2600-series car 3032, after its mate 3031 had been damaged from a derailment at Wilson station on March 15, 1988. 3032 was renumbered 3458.

The 3200-series cars are currently assigned to the Blue and Brown Lines, composing most of the Brown Line fleet and part of the Blue Line fleet. At various points during their service life a small number were also assigned to the Yellow and Purple Lines.

A mid-life overhaul was completed in 2018 for the 3200-series cars. Plans included replacing the cars' rollsigns with LED destination signs similar to those on the 5000-series, as well as replacing the air conditioning systems and rebuilding the propulsion system, passenger door motors, and the wheel and axle assemblies.

The 3200-series cars would have been replaced by the new 7000-series cars if all options got picked up, instead the 3200-series cars will be replaced by the 9000-series cars.

 

5000-series cars on the Pink Line at North Lawndale.

(Jonathan Lee from Chicago, IL, USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

5000-series

The 5000-series of railcars (numbered 5001–5714) replaced the 2200-series and 2400-series cars. The cars were built by Bombardier of Plattsburgh, New York. The CTA received ten prototype cars in 2009, which underwent testing, and began operating in 2011. The order is for 406 cars, with options for another 308 cars. The Chicago Transit Authority planned to put the first ten cars into in-service testing in mid-April 2010. The first in-service test run was made on April 19.

Originally assumed to be the 3500-series, the order of these cars experienced several delays, including a cancellation of the original bid announcement in 2002.

  • Type: 5000-series cars
  • Builder: Bombardier Transportation
  • Delivery: 2009–2015

New features

  • AC motors
  • New LED signs (amber in early production cars, newer cars have multicolor lights for line identification)
  • Predominance of longitudinal seating
  • The seat fabric will be upgraded to an anti-stain/anti-microbial fabric newly available in the industry.
  • Train operators will be able to view live video from any railcar when the passenger intercom unit is activated. This will ensure operators are better able to immediately provide information to first responders.
  • Adding cellular modems to railcars will allow the CTA's Control Center to communicate directly with customers in real-time via audio and text messages using speakers and six visual displays in each car.
  • In the future, suitably equipped emergency vehicles could also access rail car video through the wireless connection.
  • New pulsing white lights and beeping sounds are built into each door assembly, which will activate when the doors are closing.
    The 5000-series cars currently make up the entire Pink, Green, Yellow, Purple, and Red Line fleets.

 

7000-series cars in service on the Blue Line.

(Chumpy500, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

7000-series

The new 7000-series cars will replace the 2600-series and 3200-series cars and expand the fleet. The order is for 400 cars, with options for another 446 cars. If all options are picked up, the 846 car order will cost $1.3 billion. 10 prototype cars for testing to be delivered in late 2020 and then delivery of the production cars beginning in 2022. On March 9, 2016, the contract was awarded to CRRC Sifang America, with a bid that is $226 million lower than Bombardier's. However, on April 12, 2016, it was announced that Bombardier filed a protest of the decision, alleging that CTA rigged the procurement to give CRRC an unfair advantage. On September 28, 2016, the CTA finalized its decision to award CRRC Sifang America the 7000-series contract.

The cars will be built at a new CRRC Sifang America railcar manufacturing plant at 13535 South Torrence Avenue in Chicago's Hegewisch neighborhood. Construction of the factory began in March 2017, with production to begin at the factory in March 2019. Concerns have been raised over possible malware, cyber attacks, and mass surveillance by the Chinese government. However, the computer and software components and the automatic train control system will be made by U.S. and Canadian firms.

The 7000-series tested tracks in December 2019. The 7000-series began testing in October 2020, and will make up the entire Blue Line fleet. In June 2019, production began on the 7000-series cars. In service testing began on the Blue line on April 21, 2021. Delivery of the production cars began in June 2022. In August 2022, the railcar production cars began service on the Blue Line.

 

Upcoming

9000-series

On May 5, 2023, the CTA announced it had received funding to "begin planning and designing for the future procurement of its next generation of railcars, the 9000-series. This next generation of railcars would replace CTA’s oldest railcars that were manufactured more than 40 years ago." Very little information is currently available at this time, and it is unclear if this means the CTA will not be picking up the 7000-series options.

 

Chicago L Overview

Locale: Chicago, Illinois, and suburbs, United States
Transit type: Rapid transit
Number of lines: 8
Line ID: Blue Line, Brown Line, Green Line, Orange Line, Pink Line, Purple Line, Red Line, Yellow Line
Number of stations: 145
Daily ridership: 373,800 (weekdays, Q4 2023)
Annual ridership: 117,447,000 (2023)
Chief executive: Dorval R. Carter Jr.
Headquarters: 567 West Lake Street, Chicago, Illinois
Website: www.transitchicago.com
Operation
Began operation: June 6, 1892
Operator: Chicago Transit Authority
Technical
System length: 102.8 mi (165.4 km)
Track gauge: 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Minimum radius of curvature: 90 feet (27.432 m)
Electrification: Third rail, 600 V DC
Top speed 55 mph: (90 km/h)

 

Chicago Transit Authority Overview

Parent: Regional Transportation Authority
Founded: October 1, 1947; 76 years ago
Headquarters: 567 West Lake Street, West Loop, Chicago, Illinois
Locale: Chicago, Illinois & Suburbs
Service type: Bus and Rapid Transit
Routes Bus: 140, Rail: 8
Fleet Bus: 1,879, Rail: 1,190
Daily ridership: 908,400 (total, 2023)
Daily ridership: 534,600 (bus, 2023)
Daily ridership: 373,800 (rail, 2023)
Annual ridership: 279,146,200 (total, 2023)
Annual ridership: 161,699,200 (bus, 2023)
Annual ridership: 117,447,000 (rail, 2023)
Fuel type: Diesel, Diesel-electric hybrid, Electric-Drive Motor/Battery
Chief executive: Dorval R. Carter Jr.
Website: transitchicago.com

 

Other Information

Note: As this site is primarily about railroads, to see other CTA information such as buses, fares, etc. please go to the CTA page at Wikipedia.

 

See Also:

Railroads A-Z

Metra