Blue Line (CTA)
A Blue Line train approaching UIC–Halsted and heading for Forest Park
|Locale||Chicago, Oak Park, Forest Park and Rosemont, Illinois|
(avg. weekday September 2012)
|Opened||February 21, 1993 (Current operation)|
|Owner||Chicago Transit Authority|
|Operator(s)||Chicago Transit Authority|
|Character||Underground and Elevated|
|Rolling stock||2200-series, 2600-series|
|Line length||34.6 mi (55.7 km)
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
|Electrification||Third rail, 600 V DC|
The Blue Line, formerly known as the O'Hare-Congress Line and the West-Northwest Line, consists of a 19.5-mile (31.4 km) (68-minute ride) long 'L' line which extends through Chicago's Loop from O'Hare International Airport at the far northwest end of the city, through downtown via the Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway, and across the West Side to its southwest end at Forest Park (Congress). It is the CTA's second busiest rail line, with an average of 186,796 passengers boarding each weekday[when?]. The route's full length is 34.6 miles (55.7 km) with a total of 33 stations.
The Blue Line and Red Line are the only two routes on the CTA rail system to currently run 24 hours a day, and is one of only four mass-transit rail lines in the United States to do so (the others being the PATCO Speedline, the PATH lines, and the New York City Subway). Service between O'Hare and 54th/Cermak no longer operates. The Pink Line now serves all stations on the 54th/Cermak branch. The Blue Line is also one of only two lines with more than one station with the same name, with the Green Line being the other. It has two Harlem stations: one in the Kennedy Expressway on the Northwest side, and one on the south side of the Eisenhower Expressway on the West Side. It also has two Western stations: one on the Milwaukee Elevated and one on the Congress branch. The Blue Line also has only two in-system 'L' train transfers - both in the downtown area - contains a combination of both the oldest and newest portions of 'L' tracks - and also does not share tracks with any other 'L' train services.
Before the adoption of color-coded names, the Blue Line was referred to as the West-Northwest Route (which it is still sometimes referred to as today) or more commonly, the O'Hare-Congress-Douglas route for its three branches. The Congress and Douglas branches were renamed for their respective terminals, Forest Park and 54th/Cermak, when the current color naming system was adopted in 1993. As of May 2008, the Blue Line no longer operates along the Douglas Branch; it has been officially replaced with the new Pink Line.
The O'Hare Branch is the longest section of the Blue Line (14.6 miles (23.5 km)) and comprises both the oldest and newest segments of the entire route. The line originates at O'Hare International Airport in an underground station below the main parking garage. The line emerges in the median of the O'Hare main access road (Interstate 190) just northwest of Terminal 5, about a mile (1.6 km) west of Mannheim Road. The line follows Interstate 190 east through Rosemont then tunnels beneath the Kennedy Expressway/Northwest Tollway interchange near the Des Plaines River and continues in the median of the Kennedy Expressway Interstate 90) east and southeast towards the city until descending back underground southeast Addison Street. The line travels under Kimball Avenue and Milwaukee Avenues through Logan Square. The line then rises above ground onto an elevated route parallel to Milwaukee Avenue (built in 1895 as part of the Metropolitan Elevated).
At the intersection of Ashland and Milwaukee Avenues, the Blue Line descends into Chicago's second subway route, continuing southeast under Milwaukee Avenue (with stops at Division, Chicago, and Grand), east under Lake Street (crossing beneath the Chicago River) (with a stop at Clark/Lake) south under Dearborn Street (through the central business district) (with stops at Washington, Monroe, and Jackson) and west under Congress Parkway (and a second river crossing) (with stops at LaSalle and Clinton). The tracks emerge from a portal near Halsted Street in the median of the Eisenhower Expressway (Interstate 290) and continue west.
A downtown superstation has been proposed to provide express service from the Loop to O'Hare and Midway Airport, via the Blue and Orange Lines. The station would provide services such as baggage check. However, budget issues plague the operation and have prevented construction.
After exiting the subway, the tracks continue west in the median of the Eisenhower Expressway as the Congress Branch. Immediately west of the Racine station, the Congress tracks diverge to permit a ramp up to the Douglas Branch elevated structure. This ramp, which is now non-revenue trackage, connects the Douglas branch to the Blue Line. The Congress Branch remains in the median of the expressway through the west side of Chicago until it reaches a portal at Lotus. At this point the tracks tunnel beneath the eastbound expressway lanes and before emerging on the south side of the expressway next to the Baltimore and Ohio Chicago Terminal Railroad (CSX) tracks. The route passes through Oak Park and into Forest Park. In the vicinity of Desplaines Avenue the tracks rise and make an S-curve north over the expressway before terminating at a station on the west side of Desplaines Avenue.
The Douglas Branch begins at 54th Avenue and Cermak Road in Cicero (5400 W. - 2200 S.). The line runs east on street level right-of-way just north of and parallel to Cermak Road from the terminal to about a quarter-mile (400 m) east of Cicero Avenue, then diagonals northeast until it reaches a corridor parallel and adjacent to 21st Street at Kostner Avenue. It then continues east between 21st Street and Cullerton Street, climbing up from surface level to elevated structure, through the North Lawndale, Little Village, and Pilsen neighborhoods of Chicago, with stops at Kostner, Pulaski, Central Park, Kedzie, California, Western and Damen. The line turns north near Paulina Street stopping at 18th and Polk Streets then curves east over the Eisenhower Expressway (Interstate 290). The Douglas tracks ramps down to the surface of the median of the expressway and joins the Congress (Forest Park) Branch just before the Racine station. On April 28, 2008, the CTA eliminated Blue Line service on the Douglas branch, having been replaced by the Pink Line.
Currently, the Blue Line is operated with Budd-built 2200-series and 2600-series rail cars. These cars are typically trained together because the older 2200-series cars have "blinker doors" that open inward and are not ADA compliant. They are scheduled for retirement in 2013; as a result, as of May 2013, nearly all service is now provided with the 2600-series cars, with the few remaining 2200-series cars restricted to those times when eight-car train consists are used. Trains generally run in eight-car consists on weekdays and four-car consists on weekends although train lengths may vary during special events.
The most vintage components of the Blue Line began as part of the Metropolitan West Side Elevated Railroad in 1895. The first section to be built by this company extended west in the vicinity of Van Buren Street from an independent terminal at Canal and Jackson Streets to Marshfield Avenue, and thence northward in the vicinity of Paulina Street to Damen and Milwaukee Avenues. Service on this section was started May 6, 1895. The structure was completed from Damen Avenue to Logan Square on May 25, 1895.
The next stage in the development of the West Side 'L' came on June 19, 1895, when the Garfield Park Branch was added, extending west in the vicinity of Van Buren Street and Harrison Street from Marshfield Avenue to Cicero Avenue. An extension of service over the tracks of the Aurora, Elgin and Chicago Railroad to a new terminal at Forest Park was established on March 11, 1905. A subsequent extension to Westchester opened on October 1, 1926. (Service on the Westchester extension was discontinued by the CTA on December 9, 1951.)
Another branch line was added to the rapidly growing Metropolitan System on July 29, 1895, when trains began operating over the Humboldt Park Branch, paralleling North Avenue from Damen Avenue to a terminal at Lawndale Avenue. (The route was discontinued on May 3, 1952.) This was followed by still another addition when the Douglas Park Branch was placed in operation as far south as 18th Street on April 28, 1896.
As the southwest area of the city developed, the Douglas Park Branch was extended from 18th Street to Western Avenue in September 1896; to Pulaski Road in June, 1902; to Cicero Avenue in December 1907; to Central Avenue in August, 1912; to 62nd Avenue in August, 1915, and to Oak Park Avenue in Berwyn on March 16, 1924. The present west terminal of the Douglas Branch is 54th Avenue, Cicero.
The Metropolitan West Side Elevated began service around the Union Loop on October 11, 1897, and a rush period stub terminal at Wells Street was added October 3, 1904. For much of the early 20th century and through the 1940s, service on the West Side Elevated lines went unchanged until the Chicago Transit Authority took control of Chicago's Rapid Transit System in October, 1947, initiating a series of massive service curtailments and station closings (that would last until the 1980s).
On February 25, 1951, Chicago's second subway route (#2), Milwaukee-Dearborn, was placed in operation by CTA, connecting the Milwaukee Avenue elevated route (formerly Logan Square) with the Central Business District on a fast, efficient and more direct routing through the heart of the city. With opening of the Dearborn Subway, the old elevated alignment between Evergreen and Marshfield Avenues was therefore closed and used only for moving out-of-service rail cars. The north section of this connection between Evergreen Avenue and Lake Street was subsequently demolished in 1960s, leaving the Lake Street Branch-to-Douglas Branch section or the "Paulina Connector" still in existence.
The Garfield Park elevated was replaced by the Congress route on June 22, 1958, pioneering the world's first use of rail rapid transit and a multi-lane automobile expressway in the same grade-separated right-of-way. (Pacific Electric Railway "Red Car" tracks ran in the median of the Cahuenga Parkway in Los Angeles from 1944 until its expansion into the Hollywood Freeway in 1952, but the Pacific Electric service was an interurban streetcar rather than true rapid transit.) The new line connected with the Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway at the Chicago River and extended westward to Des Plaines Avenue, Forest Park. An incline connection en route permitted Douglas trains to operate through the subway as well combining the Logan Square, Garfield Park (now Congress), and Douglas routes into the second through service in Chicago, the West-Northwest route.
A five-mile (8 km) extension of the route via the short subway connection and the Kennedy Expressway median between Logan Square and Jefferson Park was added on February 1, 1970. It was also built by the City of Chicago using federal monies. From Logan Square, trains veer off of the old elevated structure and enter the subway under Milwaukee and Kedzie Avenues to a portal just south of Addison Street, then continue northwest in the median of the Kennedy Expressway to the temporary terminal at Jefferson Park. In March 1980, construction began on the O'Hare Airport extension of the Kennedy route between Jefferson Park and the airport. The first section between Jefferson Park and Rosemont was placed in service on February 27, 1983, and the final section to O'Hare International Airport on September 3, 1984.
In 1993, the Chicago Transit Authority adopted a color-coded naming system to the rapid transit system, and the West-Northwest route (OHare-Congress/Douglas) became the Blue Line. On April 26, 1998, the Douglas Branch lost its overnight (owl) and weekend service and began operating between 4 a.m. (04:00) and 1 a.m. (01:00) on weekdays only as a result of funding shortages requiring CTA cut services. Congress (Forest Park) service was effectively doubled through much of the day since service frequency from O'Hare required shorter headways than what would have been left.
One reason for the Douglas Branch reduction in service was due to its low ridership, badly deteriorated condition, and funding problems, while many residents in the communities it runs through had claimed that it was just another attempt by the CTA to deter transit service on the West Side.
In September 2001, the CTA began a historic reconstruction of the Douglas Branch to repair its aging infrastructure. The work was officially completed on January 5, 2005 with new elevated structures, track, stations, new communication networks and an upgraded traction power system along the route. On January 1, 2005, weekend service was restored.
On July 11, 2006, a rear derailment caused a smokey fire in the Blue Line's Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway. There were injuries from smoke inhalation, but no fatalities. The comparatively minor incident prompted heavy news coverage and a temporary stoppage of Chicago subway service because it occurred hours after train bombings in Mumbai earlier the same day.
For the past twenty years, there had been talk of extending the O'Hare branch of the Blue Line westward to Schaumburg, but this has recently been changed with the recent developments involving the planning of the Metra STAR Line and various other transportation projects.
However, in 2008, the Regional Transit Authority revealed a plan to possibly expand commuter rail and bus service to the RTA board, which included a 13.3 miles (21.4 km) extension of the Blue Line on an east-west route from its current western terminus at Forest Park to as far west as the Yorktown shopping center in DuPage County. Several feeder bus routes would also be implemented along the route in order to supplement ridership and increase usefulness. The prospect of this extension was also listed in the Chicago region's 2030 long-term master plan.
In early 2013, the idea of a new station at Nagle and Bryn Mawr Avenues was floated. For now such a station is strictly an idea but it may come to fruition in the future since that particular stretch of the O'Hare Branch is the longest on the 'L' system without a station.
The surface right-of-way for the Congress Branch, including overcrossings, undergrade bridges, and two short tunnels under the expressway, contains space for one extra track between Forest Park and Kenton Avenue, and two extra tracks from Kenton to the tunnel portals at UIC-Halsted. It was intended that the interurban Chicago Aurora and Elgin Railroad, which had utilized the Garfield Park Elevated until 1953 to reach its Loop terminal at Wells Street, would use these extra tracks. However, the CA&E ceased passenger service abruptly on July 3, 1957, never to resume, before track construction had started. The CTA also considered plans of its own to add these as express tracks (and service) over the years, as well as a rerouting of the Lake Elevated onto the Paulina Elevated (today's Pink Line) into a new quadrant of the junction with the Douglas Line at Racine, but these plans also never came to fruition.
The dual portals of the Congress Branch at UIC-Halsted are actually quadruple; two extra portals also exist to the north of the Blue Line portals, which extend only a few hundred feet beyond the portals, These were intended to accommodate future expansion, including a new CA&E line to a new terminal, or for a variety of later CTA new line proposals which were never realized. Among those plans were a loop subway system via Congress, Dearborn, Lake, and Clinton when the Milwaukee-Dearborn-Congress Subway was completed between 1951–58; a shuttle subway route under Jackson Street to Grant Park (1958 New Horizons for Chicago Metropolitan Area, CTA); and more recently between 1968-78 in the form the Distributor Subway system which was to be routed from UIC-Halsted Station through the north portals, then north under Desplaines Street to Monroe Street, and east under Monroe Street to Grant and Millennium Park where it was to split into two branches: one north to Walton Street serving the North Michigan Avenue area and the other southeast to McCormick Place utilizing Metra Electric right-of-way. Though these portals are still not used, the Monroe Street Distributor Subway was never "officially" cancelled when the Crosstown and Loop Subway projects were deferred in 1979. It remains to this day an active program.
Between Grand/Milwaukee and Clark/Lake in the Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway, two more stub tunnels also exist, continuing straight while the current Blue Line heads in the northwest direction. This flying junction (actually a stacked flying junction), built in the 1940s along with the initial subway, was intended for a never-built connection to, or subway replacement of, the Lake Street Elevated. In the late 1960s through the mid-1970s, they were also proposed to be a service link between the Dearborn Subway and a high-speed subway route in Randolph Street to replace a portion of the Lake Street 'L' east of Damen Avenue (Transit Planning Study Chicago Central Area, April 1968).
Points of interest
The Blue Line serves as a vital link to various airline destinations from the O'Hare International Airport (O'Hare), Rosemont Convention Center and Allstate Arena (Rosemont), the Gateway Theatre, James R. Thompson Center (Clark/Lake), City Hall-Cook County Building and the Richard J. Daley Center (Washington), Bank One Plaza (Monroe), the Federal Center Buildings (Jackson), La Salle Street Metra Station (La Salle), Amtrak and Metra Union Station, Main Post Office and Greyhound Lines station (Clinton), University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC-Halsted and Racine), UIC Pavilion (Racine) Cook County Hospital, Malcolm X College and the United Center (Illinois Medical District), Oak Park (Austin and Oak Park), and Forest Park (Harlem and Forest Park) among others and several outlying Metra train stations (Jefferson Park, and Irving Park).
- Chicago Transit Authority - Blue Line service
- Taxpayers United of America, The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has halted construction , ITEF Comment Vol. XIV Issue 9
- Jon Hilkevitch (April 28, 2008). "Trial closing of Blue Line's Cermak branch starts". Chicago Tribune.
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