CTA North Side Main Line

From nycsubway.org


CTA 2600 Series 2684 at Sedgwick on the North Side Main Line. Photo by David Pirmann, May 2008.


We begin our journey in the quiet, leafy suburb of Wilmette, a wealthy community just north of Evanston. The Purple Line terminates at the Linden-Wilmette (500N / 400W) station at the corner of Linden and 4th Street. A short walk from the station is the Bahá'í House of Worship, a huge, nine-sided structure with a domed roof and intricate carvings surrounded by lush gardens. Visitors to the House of Worship often comment that the structure appears to have come straight from an Indiana Jones movie. The Bahá'í faith has only a few such structures throughout the world, serving a belief system that stresses the unity of all the world's religions and cultures.

The Linden-Wilmette station itself is a fairly new station, rebuilt in the early 1990's. It features a single island platform and two tracks, and the entire boarding area is almost completely enclosed by full-height walls and a roof with skylights. The station is at grade level, with a ramp from the platform down to the turnstiles near the street entrance. The color scheme is red brick with green window mullions, similar to a number of newer stations throughout the CTA system. The station also has a bus loading area and a small parking lot. The track on the east side of the platform ends at a bumper, while the western track curves around to a small rail yard to the west of the station. There is a small CTA office at the southern end of the platform, and a tower to our right as we leave the station.

The new Linden-Wilmette station has somewhat of an embarassing footnote to its history. Soon after the station was rebuilt, a rather large cadre of CTA dignitaries and other public officials gathered at the station for the grand opening of the adjacent maintenance facilities. As part of the ceremony, a train was to pull into the maintenance bay of the new state-of-the-art facility. Much to the embarrassment of the CTA, it turned out the garage door to the bay was several inches too low for the train to fit through. Amazingly enough, nobody had realized the mistake until then, and the doors had to be modified before the facility could be opened for regular service.

We cross two residential side streets, Maple and Isabella, the latter of which is the location of a former station, then cross two more residential side streets at grade before ascending to a short steel truss bridge that spans the North Shore Channel. Once on the other side of the channel, we are in the city of Evanston and find ourselves above street level on a concrete and earth embankment that will carry us south to Howard. Shortly beyond the bridge is the Central (2600N / 1000W) station, an older station with an island platform. Stairs are at both ends of the platform, with fare control at street level at the northern end. The southern stairs are exit-only. This station serves the nearby Evanston Hospital, an affiliate of Northwestern University and a major medical center on the North Shore. Old pilings across the tracks southwest of the platform indicate the possible existence of a previous platform location.

The next station is are Noyes (7600N / 1700W), an older station very similar to Central. Fare control is on the north end of the platform at Noyes, and we also find similar old pilings that appear to have once supported a platform.

The next station is Foster (2000N / 900W), another older station very similar to Central. Fare control is on the south end of the platform, with some electrical equipment at the north end.

Soon we emerge from the leafy residential area and find ourselves in downtown Evanston, a medium-sized suburb and home to Northwestern University. Downtown Evanston features a number of mid-rise office buildings, and the streets of its active business district are lined with small, well-kept shops and restaurants. Evanston is an older community and has a very similar scale and feel as Oak Park on the western edge of Chicago, and Brookline, Massachusetts just outside of Boston.

We pull into the station at Davis (1600N / 800W), in the heart of downtown Evanston. Just across a drop-off area to our left is the corresponding Metra commuter rail station, serving the Union Pacific North Line to Kenosha, Wisconsin. The proximity of these two stations makes this a convenient transfer point between the CTA and Metra. The Davis CTA station is a large, new station that was completely rebuilt in 1993. The station has side platforms, with elevators and stairs near the center of the platforms to a large fare control area at the street level below. A large canopy roof with exposed steel trusses spans the entire station, and the station has been designed to blend in with the historic fabric of downtown Evanston. An enclosed concourse outside the fare-control zone connects the bus loading area on Sherman Street with the drop-off area and Metra station to the west. The color scheme is red brick with green metal work, very similar to the Linden-Wilmette station we encountered earlier.

Continuing south of Davis, the tracks jog slightly to the east and we join the Metra right-of-way, sharing the same embankment with the commuter trains. The next station is Dempster (1300N / 800W), an old station with wooden side platforms and fare control facing Chicago Avenue to the east. Looking through the trees toward the Metra tracks directly to our right, we can see abandoned platforms adjacent to the tracks, indicating that commuter trains once stopped here.

Main Street (900N / 732W) is next, an older station very similar to Dempster. We are now well south of downtown Evanston; Main Street takes its name from the fact that this area was once a separate municipality from Evanston, and this area is still home to a small business district. Metra trains also stop at Main, providing the last transfer point before the Metra and CTA tracks part ways as they head into Chicago.

The next and final stop before entering Howard is South Boulevard (525N / 500W), an older island platform station with fare control at street level.

Leaving South Boulevard behind us, we ascend onto a tall flyover viaduct that crosses a loop track at the northern end of the yard at Howard and the Yellow Line tracks down below. At the top of this flyover we are treated to a spectacular view of the yard at Howard, one of the largest yards in the CTA system. We decend into the yard itself before pulling into the station at Howard. We are now within the city limits of Chicago.

The Red Line begins its southbound journey at Howard (7600N / 1700W), a busy station at all hours of the day and night. The Red Line runs in a north-south orientation roughly parallel to Chicago's lakefront, and serves as a major trunk line of the CTA. It is one of two lines (the CTA Blue Line that runs 24 hours. The Red Line is a study of contrasts, serving some of the city's wealthiest neighborhoods as well as some of its poorest. In addition, during weekday rush hours, Purple Line trains continue into the Loop from Howard, running express on the outside tracks and skipping all local stops between Howard and Belmont.

Howard serves as a terminal for not only the Red Line, but also the Yellow Line and the Purple Line during off-peak hours, not to mention quite a few CTA and Pace bus routes. Howard is an elevated station, on an earthen and concrete embankment. Fare control is at street level, below the tracks. From there, stairs and an escalator lead to the two island platforms up above. The platforms themselves are of a similar construction as most of the other stations along this line, except they are considerably longer and wider than normal. A crossover allows transfers between the two platforms at the northern end of the station, and this crossover affords a spectacular view of the yards to the north of the station. A maintenance facility is visible at the eastern end of the yard, and the commuter rail tracks of the Metra / Union Pacific North Line are visible just beyond the yards. To the west of the station, we see a large bus shelter and a new commuter parking garage.

Howard Avenue itself, while a bit rough and gritty, is home to an active retail district anchored by the station. As busy as this station is, its age is showing and it should be a prime candidate for a major renovation.

Departing from Howard, we see that the ROW has four tracks, two express and two local. Red Line trains use the inner local tracks, while rush hour Purple Line trains use the outer express tracks. This is the reverse of the typical configuration in New York City, where express trains typically operate on the inner tracks with local trains on the outside tracks. After passing through an interlocking, we make our first stop at Jarvis (7400N / 1600W). Jarvis is typical of the stations on this section of the Red Line, elevated on an embankment with a wooden island platform, with fare control at the street level below accessed via stairs at the center of the platform. The express tracks bypass this station and all others until we get to Wilson.

The tracks curve toward the south, and we approach Morse (6900N / 1400W). Morse is very similar to Jarvis, except with an abandoned exit stair at the south end of the platform. The tracks curve slightly to the east as we pass through the leafy residential neighborhood of Rogers Park. Ornate brick apartment buildings dating from the 1920's line the quiet, tree-lined side streets of the neighborhood.

We soon approach Loyola (6550N / 1200W), a newer station which carries the name of the university in this area. The concrete platform is exceptionally long and narrow, and sits on a curve. Northbound trains stop at the southern end of the platform, while our southbound train stops at the northern end. The only access between the two ends of the platform is to take the stairs down to street level and then back up to the other side, effectively creating two separate platforms. The station house, with fare control, opens to Sheridan Road below.

After leaving Loyola, we are now heading due south alongside the alley between Broadway and Winthrop Avenue. The alley separates the embankment from the apartment buildings and properties to the east, while commercial buildings along Broadway often edge up directly against the embankment itself. Our next stop is Granville (6200N / 1200W), another newer station that appears to have been built around the same time as Loyola. The platform is accessed via stairs, an escalator and elevator at the north end of the platform.

We are now in the Edgewater neighborhood, another diverse residential neighborhood with high-rise apartments and condominiums toward the lakefront, and single-family homes west of Broadway. Broadway itself is the primary commercial district, with several large grocery stores and various other shops. Sheridan Road, to the east, almost resembles a Florida resort community with its numerous high-rises along the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan.

Our next three stops, Thorndale (5900N / 1200W), Bryn Mawr (5600N / 1200W), and Berwyn (5300N / 1200W), are all very similar to each other, with a wooden island platform and stairs leading to a small fare control area at street level below. The stations appear somewhat rickety to some, but seem to serve their function well enough. The fare control areas below often feature ornate tilework, and often have access to adjacent retail spaces. Bryn Mawr is somewhat unique from the others in that it has an escalator leading to the platform level, and the fare control area appears to have been renovated in the 1970's.

After crossing Foster Avenue just south of Berwyn, we now find ourselves in the Uptown neighborhood. Uptown is a port-of-entry neighborhood to many various ethnic groups, and forms one of the most diverse census tracts in the nation. Uptown has its share of poverty, more than most North Side neighborhoods, although it also has wealthier areas along the lakefront.

Our first stop in this colorful neighborhood is Argyle (5000N / 1200W). This station is similar to the previous three, except that it features a pagoda-style roof to signify its location in the midst of the "Little Saigon" district of Argyle Avenue. This active business district features numerous Asian shops and restaurants, mostly Vietnamese in origin but also with some Chinese. This vibrant little district serves almost as a North Side satellite to the much larger Chinatown on the South Side, which we will encounter later.

Our next stop is Lawrence (4800N / 1200W). Lawrence is in the heart of Uptown's once-thriving theater district. Uptown was once the movie capital of the country before it was supplanted by Hollywood. Immediately to our left is the Aragon Ballroom, a popular venue for various concerts. A couple blocks to our right is the abandoned Uptown Theater, a spectacular piece of architecture that is in desperate need of restoration. The Uptown is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful theaters in the country, even larger than New York's famed Radio City Music Hall. Hopefully the Uptown will find itself back in action before long.

The station at Lawrence is fairly typical of the stations along this line. It received some minor renovations in the mid-1990's. South of the station, the earthen embankment gives way to a steel elevated structure, which will carry us southbound until we enter the subway at Willow Avenue.

Leaving Lawrence, the tracks curve slightly east as we cross over Broadway, and we soon enter the complicated station at Wilson (4600N / 1100W). Wilson was once the northernmost terminal of what is now the Red Line, and also a major stop on the North Shore Line. The station is now merely a through-service station, although Wilson remains as a possible terminal on the rollsigns of Red Line trains. Wilson is an unusually high station, possibly explained by the fact that CTA trains originally terminated at grade level below the North Shore station. Approaching the station, the southbound express track separates from the other three tracks and veers a half-block to the west on a concrete viaduct. The station has three platforms in all, but only the large center platform is still in use. The small side platform serving the northbound express track sits disused, with its stairs removed. The side platform serving the wayward southbound express track to our right, connected to the station house by an enclosed walkway, is also disused.

The station house itself is a historic Beaux-Arts structure, with its entry at the corner of Broadway and Sheridan. An ornate stairway leads up to fare control on an intermediate mezzanine level, with more steps up to the center platform. The station house once had a waiting room at street level, which has since been converted to retail space. A secondary stairway toward the southern end of the platform leads to an exit on the south side of Wilson Avenue, with an "iron maiden" providing farecard access.

As we depart Wilson, we see the southbound express tracks jog over and re-join the other three tracks via a short concrete viaduct. However, the embankment continues southward as far as Montrose Avenue, once carrying some freight traffic. Several rusted catenary poles are even still in place.

Just to the east of where the southbound express tracks join the ROW, there sits a large piece of empty land that once was home to a small CTA yard and maintenance facility. This facility was destroyed in a large fire in the late 1990's which disrupted service on the Red and Purple lines for about a week. It was one of the most spectacular fires the city had seen in some years, fueled by numerous solvents and lubricants housed in the maintenance facility. One can still see the remnants of spur tracks that once led into the facility. The site is now used as a parking lot for nearby Harry Truman College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago. Truman College is the large steel-and-glass building to our right as we leave Wilson.

We now enter a fairly long and straight stretch of track, where trains can pick up a bit of speed for a few blocks. To our left are the backs of numerous small apartment buildings, with wooden rear porches facing the tracks. To our right is Graceland Cemetery, the eternal home of some of the greatest civic figures in Chicago's history. Potter Palmer, Marshall Field, several mayors, and world-famous architects such as Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan, and Mies van der Rohe are all buried here.

Beginning at Irving Park Road, on the southern end of the cemetery, we curve sharply to the east and enter the station at Sheridan (4000N / 1000W). The station is oriented east-west, parallel to Irving Park Road a half-block to the north. The station features two island platforms and could easily serve as a cross-platform transfer point between local and express trains. However, express trains bypass this station without stopping. Just beyond the station, the tracks curve sharply to the south, and we are now travelling parallel to Sheffield Avenue a half-block to the west.

We soon enter Addison (3600N / 1000W), a large station that was completely rebuilt in the mid-1990's. This station serves world-famous Wrigley Field, just a half-block to our right. Between the tracks and the ballpark are several apartment buildings with rooftop bleachers, affording a view into the park. As part of the rebuilt, the southbound tracks were shifted to the west by about ten feet, allowing the platform to be widened considerably. The southbound tracks were rebuilt on a concrete bed, with rubber pads under the rails to absorb vibrations from the trains. The northbound tracks continue to use the steel el structure. Normally this is a local stop only, but for evening Cubs games, Purple Line express trains are diverted onto the local tracks and make the stop at Addison.

The station house down below features a large fare control area, designed with baseball crowds in mind. The station house has entrances at Addison as well as the alley to the north, and features escalators and an elevator for access to the platform.

Continuing southbound, we cross over Clark Street at a sharp angle and soon see the CTA Brown Line tracks come in from the west and join our ROW. This junction is a bit of a bottleneck during rush periods, as northbound Brown Line trains must cross over both the Red Line and Purple Line tracks. This is one spot in the CTA system where a flyover would be most helpful.

We soon enter the station at Belmont (3200N / 1000W), a busy station in the heart of the vibrant Lakeview neighborhood. This station has two island platforms, providing a major transfer point between the Red, Purple and Brown lines. A crossover toward the south end of the station allows transfers between the two platforms. The small station house contains fare control at street level. This station tends to get rather crowded, especially during peak periods, and a major reconstruction to expand it and provide elevator access is in design phases as of this writing. Brown Line trains terminate at this station during late nights, as opposed to heading all the way into the Loop.

Our next stop, only a short distance south of Belmont, is Wellington (3000N / 1000W). One would wonder why this station, being so close to Belmont, wasn't closed years ago, but its close proximity to Illinois Masonic Medical Center probably accounts for its reason for being. This station has extremely narrow side platforms, while Red Line trains bypass this station on the inner tracks. there really is no station house per se, but rather a small area at street level surrounded by chain-link fence which serves as fare control. A customer service agent sits in a small portable ticket booth. It has the appearance of a temporary arrangement, and will no doubt receive a major upgrade along with the rest of the Brown Line stations.

Next is Diversey (2800N / 1000W), a station serving the busy Lincoln Park and Lakeview neighborhoods. This station, like Wellington, has dangerously narrow platforms, but unlike Wellington, has an actual station house at street level. The photos below are of the Diversey station, but are also typical of most of the other stations we have passed so far.

Continuing south from Belmont, our Red Line train becomes the "express" while Purple Line and Brown Line trains become the "local", even though they aren't formally referred to as such.

We soon arrive at Fullerton (2400N / 1000W). Like Belmont, Fullerton is another busy transfer station between the Red, Purple and Brown lines. The platform configuration is very similar to Belmont, except there is no crossover and the platforms are offset by quite a distance. The northbound platform begins approximately a hundred feet north of the southbound platform. The station house, on the south side of Fullerton Avenue, was considerably enlarged in the late 1990's. The original station house is still intact, but is now used for storage. The addition, built on the east side of the existing station house, is a utilitarian structure with an increased number of turnstiles. Curiously, there is a wheelchair-accessible turnstile even though the station has no elevator. There is an exit-only stair from the northbound platform, leading to the north side of Fullerton Avenue. This exit stair deposits people at the doorstep of Demon Dogs, a venerable hot dog stand owned by the former manager of the pop-rock band Chicago. Music by the band is played constantly, and the smell of hot dogs and fries wafts up to the platforms above. [Demon Dogs unfortunately closed in 2005.]

Serving the large DePaul University campus adjacent to the station, in addition to the busy Lincoln Park neighborhood, Fullerton is often dangerously crowded during rush hours and, like Belmont, will soon receive a major expansion.

Following Fullerton is Armitage (2000N / 1000W), another "local" station very similar to Diversey, except with a tower above the northern end of the southbound platform. This station serves an upscale business district on Armitage Avenue in the oh-so-fashionable Lincoln Park neighborhood.

Just south of Armitage, the inner "express" tracks carry the Red Line downward and into the CTA Red Line's State Street Subway. We remain elevated, although still on a four-track line. We switch over to what are now the inner tracks, and we notice that the outer tracks have been disused for some time and are in a sad state of disrepair. In fact, the outer tracks have been removed altogether in several locations between here and Chicago Avenue. We curve to the southeast, and travel parallel to Clybourn Avenue for a few blocks before turning east, then south, then east again at the notorious triple-curve at North Avenue and Halsted Street. Crossing over Halsted, we notice the tracks split apart to accommodate a long-demolished station, one of several sites of former stations along this line. Heading east after the final curve, we pick up a pit of speed as we travel parallel to North Avenue for distance. Off to our left is the quaint Old Town neighborhood, dominated by the red brick clock tower of St. Michael's Church. Off to our right is a spectacular view of the Chicago skyline, dominated by the Hancock Center at one end and the Sears Tower at the other end.

Our next stop is Sedgwick (300W / 1200N), a station almost identical to Sheridan further north. Like Sheridan, Sedgwick has two island platforms, but with trains only stopping on the inner tracks. The station house sits on the west side of Sedgwick Avenue below, and provides access to the active commercial strip along nearby North Avenue. Located nearby is the world-famous Second City comedy troupe, providing a continuous stream of comedy talent to shows like SCTV and Saturday Night Live.

Just after Sedgwick, we turn sharply to the south and head toward the downtown skyscrapers. We pick up a bit of speed as we pass through the neighborhood surrounding the notorious Cabrini-Green projects, now making a rapid transformation from ghetto to upscale. Just south of Division Street, our tracks curve around the rear of a large church before resuming our southward straightaway. Such quirks are fairly common on older sections of the CTA system, as the original system was built by private interests with no power of eminent domain.

The tracks jog to the east as we enter the station at Chicago (800N / 300W). This station has long side platforms that follow the curve of the tracks, although trains now stop at the straighter sections of the platforms further south. The northern ends of the platforms are barricaded off and are disused. Fare control is in a small station house on the north side of Chicago Avenue, with and exit-only stair on the south side of Chicago Avenue from the southbound platform. Both platforms also have exit-only stairs from their far southern ends, leading to Superior Street. This station is often used by film crews as a "classic" Chicago L stop, and the station serves the art gallery district of River North.

Continuing southward above Franklin Street, we zoom past numerous old loft buildings that now house offices, art galleries, and upscale residences before jogging a block to the east as we approach the massive Merchandise Mart. We pass through an S-curve before we find ourselves above Wells Street and entering the station at Merchandise Mart (400N / 200W). This large, modern station takes its name from the massive building to our right, second in square footage only to the Pentagon. The Merchandise Mart houses offices and various design showrooms, as well as the headquarters of the Chicago Transit Authority. The station has wide side platforms, with fare control in the second floor of the Merchandise Mart itself. Access from fare control to the southbound platform is fairly direct, but to get to the northbound platform, one must climb up a flight of steps, cross over the tracks, and then climb down a flight of steps to the platform itself. Elevators provide wheelchair access to both platforms of the station. Exit-only stairs lead from the north end of each platform to Kinzie Street below.

Immediately after leaving the station at Merchandise Mart, we are treated to a spectacular view of the Chicago River as we slowly cross over the Wells Street drawbridge. We approach Tower 18 and enter the world-famous Loop as we continue southward over Wells Street. See The Loop section for details and photos about these stations, which are shared by several lines.

Photo Gallery

Five Random Images

Image 78230

(885k, 1600x1067)
Photo by: Ed Davis, Sr.
Collection of: David Pirmann
Location: Morse

Image 138860

(303k, 1044x703)
Photo by: David Pirmann
Location: Linden Yard/Shop

Image 143224

(481k, 1200x1200)
Collection of: David Pirmann
Location: Diversey

Image 143570

(304k, 1044x703)
Photo by: David Pirmann
Location: Howard Yard

Image 149969

(818k, 1600x1067)
Collection of: David Pirmann
Location: Sedgwick

More Images: 1-50 51-100 101-150 151-200 201-250 251-300 301-350 351-400 401-450 451-500 501-550 551-600 601-650 651-675

Photos By Location

Linden/Wilmette, Linden Yard/Shop, Isabella, Central, Noyes, Foster, Davis, Dempster, Main Street, South Boulevard, Howard Yard, Howard, Jarvis, Morse, Loyola, Granville, Thorndale, Bryn Mawr, Berwyn, Argyle, Lawrence, Wilson, Sheridan, Addison, Belmont, Wellington, Diversey, Fullerton, Armitage, Halsted (Former Station Location), Sedgwick, Church Curve (Near W. Hill St.), Chicago, Merchandise Mart

Page Credits

By David S. Cole

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