I was watching WGN’s morning news program which recently had a story about public hearings to discuss changing the Eisenhower Expressway corridor to relieve traffic. They mentioned the CTA’s 2008 plan to extend the blue line into DuPage county to increase access to public transportation and decrease automobile traffic in the area. The result was a sort of “what a great idea! Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?”
What a great idea indeed! It’s such a great idea that, well, it’s already been done. Twice.
Americans tend to have a short memory, so I’m not surprised that few remember not one, but two train lines that used to run through the Eisenhower corridor to service residents DuPage County and beyond. Well, it’s time to remember our history…
The first of the two was the Chicago Great Western railway which ran from 1885 until 1968 providing passenger and freight service from Chicago to both Minneapolis and Kansas City by way of a hub in Oelwein Iowa. Along the way, it followed a near-straight path from Chicago’s south loop through Forest Park (via what is now the Eisenhower Expressway), Maywood, Hillside, Elmhurst, Villa Park, Glendale Heights, West Chicago (across what is now a runway at DuPage Airport), and St. Charles before continuing on to Iowa. Today, people in the western suburbs know this route only as the Great Western Trail.
The second rail line was the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin electric interurban system which ran from 1902 until 1957. It brought thousands of commuters to Chicago’s Loop from several communities along the Fox River by way of a hub in Wheaton. It served many communities including St. Charles, Geneva, Batavia, Wayne, Warrenville, Glen Ellyn, Lombard, Villa Park, Elmhurst, and several others. You ever wonder why we have the Prairie Path? It’s because we lost electric rail service.
The Chicago Aurora & Elgin line is particularly interesting because it used the same electric system that the CTA uses to this day… a third rail. At the time, there were various rail companies operating independently with service around the loop and many used the third rail for power. That said, I’d be ok with the CTA running a steam engine around the loop again any time they want.
Passengers used to board the CA&E in what we think of today as trolly cars. Passengers would get on in the suburbs and get off at stations on the loop. Yes, the same stations we use today as well as a couple others that have since closed. I, for one, would love to see a blue line station above Wacker Drive out in front of the Sears, er, Willis Tower. There used to be one there and one over South Wacker at Lake, but it seems the CTA doesn’t have plans to bring those back.
To bring rail back to the western suburbs would be extremely difficult because of the costs surrounding one thing… acquiring the right of way (ROW). The ROW is the land used for rail operations and land is scarce. I can’t imagine the costs of buying up all the land but I think the bigger problem would be convincing people to let the railroad in their neighborhood. Having a train show up in the back yard, would be a tough sell.
I’m looking forward to seeing where they find room for the tracks. The CTA and the City of Chicago left room for expanding rail service along the Eisenhower as far as Forest Park, but there is nothing set aside west of the end of the Blue Line. I suppose they could continue along the Chicago Great Western’s right of way, but it’s hard to see whee they would go west of I-294.
The idea of extending the CTA to DuPage county is a good idea and I hope the CTA moves forward with it. Just don’t think of it as a “new” idea. It’s been a good idea since 1885.