Metra Electric District
The Metra Electric District is an electrified commuter rail line owned and operated by Metra which connects Millennium Station (formerly Randolph Street Station), in downtown Chicago, with the city's southern suburbs. As of 2014, it is the second busiest of Metra's 11 lines, after the BNSF, with nearly 9.5 million annual riders. While Metra does not explicitly refer to any of its lines by color, the timetable accents for the Metra Electric District are printed in bright "Panama orange" to reflect the line's origins with the Illinois Central Railroad (IC) and its Panama Limited passenger train. It is the only Metra line running entirely on dedicated passenger tracks, with no freight trains operating anywhere along the route. Its suburban operations line is the shortest on Metra's system, only running to fare zone G. If the distance of all the branches were combined, they would reach to zone J. It is also the only line with two downtown stations. During rush hours some trains do not reach Van Buren Street or Millennium Station.
|Metra Electric District|
A Metra Electric train at Ivanhoe station
|Locale||Chicago, Illinois, United States|
University Park, South Chicago (93rd Street), Blue Island
|Daily ridership||34,000 (Avg. Weekday 2014)|
|Operator(s)||Metra (Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Rail Corporation)|
|Line length||31 mi (50 km)|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
|Electrification||Overhead catenary, 1500 V DC|
It is the only Metra line powered by overhead catenary, and the only one with three branches. Trains operate on 1500 volts direct current, and all stations have high-level platforms. Its main line north of Kensington is shared by NICTD's South Shore Line, an electric interurban line through northern Indiana to South Bend. Per a longstanding non-compete agreement, South Shore trains stopping at stations shared with the Electric District only stop to pick up passengers eastbound and discharge them westbound.
It is the only Metra line with significant off-peak and Saturday service. In total, 92 trains depart Millennium Station according to the Monday-Saturday public timetable. Of these, 39 run on the main line. Of these, 29 reach University Park, with 5 terminating at Flossmoor and 5 terminating at Harvey. The stretch of the line from Millennium Station to 55th-56th-57th Street is the most heavily traveled section on the entire Metra system. Suburban operations along the line are the most frequent in the entire Metra system. The Metra Electric District also has the best on-time performance of all Metra lines, averaging only one late train a month in 2014.
The line was built by the Illinois Central Railroad, one of the first commuter services outside the major metropolitan areas of the northeastern United States. It opened on July 21, 1856 between the IC's then-downtown station, Great Central Station, (now Millennium Station) and Hyde Park. Part of the line was elevated for the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Jackson Park.
The line predates the 1871 Great Chicago Fire, and ran on a trestle just offshore in Lake Michigan. After the fire, remains of buildings destroyed by the fire were dumped into the lake, creating landfill that forms the foundation of Grant Park, which the Metra Electric District runs through.
Two branches were added: from Brookdale southeast to South Chicago in the early 1880s, and from Kensington southwest to Blue Island in the early 1890s, both later electrified and still operated by Metra.
When the IC moved its intercity operations to Central Station in 1893, it built Randolph Street Terminal on the former site of Great Central to handle its growing commuter operations.
Electrical IC eraEdit
By the early 20th century the IC operated up to 300 steam trains each day. In 1919, the IC and the Chicago city government collaborated to build a berm from the far south suburb of Homewood into the city. They also dug a trench from the near south side into the city proper, eliminating all grade crossings on the main line except one just south of the Richton Park station. The University Park extension required the line to cross a very long private driveway. The South Chicago branch runs at grade, crossing many city streets.
The grade crossing elimination project was followed by electrification. The IC electrified the commuter tracks in 1926, from downtown to Matteson. In addition to the removal of all grade crossings, the tracks were separated from, and moved to the west side of, the two freight and inter-city tracks. At McCormick Place just south of downtown Chicago, the two non-electrified tracks to Central Station crossed over the new electric alignment. The electric tracks continued north to Randolph Street Terminal.
The "IC Electric" was once Chicago's busiest suburban railroad, and carried a great deal of traffic within the city as well as to suburban communities. The three lines carried 26 million passengers in 1927, the first full year of electrified operation. Ridership rose to 35 million in 1929, and reached an all-time peak of 47 million in 1946.
The main line had six tracks between Roosevelt Road (Central Station) and 53rd Street (reduced to four in 1962), four to 111th Street, then two, as does the South Chicago branch; the Blue Island branch is single track.
The Illinois Central Gulf commuter rail crash, the worst rail accident in Chicago history, occurred on October 30, 1972. A commuter train made up of new lightweight bi-level Highliner cars, inbound to Chicago during the morning rush hour, overshot the 27th Street platform and backed up into the station. The bi-level train had already tripped the signals to green for the next train, an older, heavy steel single-level express train. As the bi-level train was backing up at 11 miles per hour (18 km/h), it was struck by the single-level train at full speed. The single-level train telescoped the bi-level train, killing 45 passengers and injuring hundreds more, primarily in the bi-level train. A major contributing factor was that Illinois Central Gulf used a dark gray color scheme on the front ends of the Highliner fleet, which was very difficult to see on the cloudy morning of the accident. After the accident the ends of all of the ICG 1926 heavyweight still in use and Highliner MU fleet were partially painted with bright orange added for additional visibility.
In 1976 the Regional Transportation Authority signed a contract with Illinois Central Gulf to fund its commuter service. The next year an extension of 2.3 miles (3.7 km) was built to the current terminal at University Park (originally named Park Forest South). On May 1, 1987 Metra bought the line and its branches for $28 million. The line is now operated by Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Rail Corporation, Metra's operating subsidiary. Two inter-city freight tracks retained by the ICG are now part of the Canadian National Railway, used by Amtrak's City of New Orleans, Illini and Saluki trains.
From 1988 onward, Randolph Street Terminal was under near-perpetual construction. The construction of Millennium Park moved the station completely underground, and in 2005 it was renamed Millennium Station.
The Metra Electric District is the only line on the Metra system in which all stations (except 18th and 47th Streets, both flag stops) have ticket vending machines. The machines originally sold magnetically encoded tickets which unlocked the turnstiles. People with paper tickets or weekend passes, on reduced fares or who had trouble with the vending machines had to use a blue or orange pal phone to contact an operator who would unlock the turnstiles. Complaints from passengers who missed their trains caused Metra to remove the turnstiles in November 2003.
The main line and South Chicago branch run daily, but the Blue Island Branch does not operate on Sundays or holidays. A unique feature of the Metra Electric schedule is the similarity of the weekday and Saturday timetables. Many express trains run throughout the day in both directions. On other Metra lines, express service operates exclusively during the morning and afternoon rush hours. It is the only Metra line where all trackage is used exclusively for commuter service. Freight trains and Amtrak trains run on a pair of adjacent tracks owned by the Canadian National Railroad.
Off-peak and Saturday service is frequent, while Sunday service operates hourly north of 63rd Street and every 2 hours south of 63rd.
Potential expansion or service alterationsEdit
The proposed Gold Line, derived from the earlier and more extensive Gray Line plan would have the Electric District operate more like a rapid transit line, by running trains more frequently (every ten minutes between 6am and midnight) with reduced-fare transfers to CTA buses and trains. Unlike the current service, which bypasses many stations to reach suburban stations more quickly, it would make all stops within the city. It would run from Millennium Station to South Chicago (93rd Street) at an estimated cost at $160 million. Since the Gold Line was proposed, the idea of providing rapid transit service along Chicago's south lakefront has gained considerable support from neighborhoods along its route. Despite its popular support, officials from CTA and Metra have largely dismissed the plan, focussing on other expansion projects. In response to this and other concerns, in 2009 the RTA and the Chicago Department of Transportation authorized $450,000 for a "South Lakefront Study" that is anticipated to yield either one or two new transit projects that are eligible for Federal transit funding.
On May 24, 2017, Metra announced new schedule proposals for the line. The new schedule will provide rapid service for the Hyde Park stations every 20 minutes on weekdays until 7 p.m. and every half-hour on Saturdays. The proposed schedule also calls for boosting service on the main line from 63rd Street to Kensington, from every two hours to every hour. However, the proposed schedule also calls for the elimination of lightly used Blue Island trains, including all Saturday service.
After reviewing community feedback, Metra decided to keep four Saturday Blue Island trains and one late night trip to South Chicago. The new service went into effect September 11, 2017.
|Period||Avg. weekday ridership|
|Period||Avg. weekend ridership|
The Metra Electric District uses second-generation bi-level Highliner multiple unit cars built by Nippon Sharyo. These will be supplemented by additional EMU's built at Nippon Sharyo's new Rochelle, IL facility opened in 2012. In 2005, these began to replace the original Highliner fleet built by St. Louis Car Company and Bombardier in the 1970s.
On February 12, 2016 the original Highliners left on their last run in revenue service. Metra confirmed in a Facebook post that twenty-four cars are being sent to museums around the Midwestern United States, including the Illinois Railway Museum, while an unconfirmed source stated that some cars were sent to Mendota, Illinois to be scrapped.
|1227-1387||Highliner II||2012–Present||Nippon Sharyo||In Service|
|1201-1226||Highliner II||2005||Nippon Sharyo||In Service|
|1346-1430||EMU trailer||1926||Standard Steel||Retired|
|A||Millennium Station||Chicago||Cook||Points of interest:|
Millennium Park and Chicago Cultural Center
|Van Buren Street||Points of interest:|
Grant Park and Auditorium Building
|Museum Campus/11th Street||Points of interest:|
Museum Campus and Grant Park
|18th Street||Points of interest:|
|McCormick Place||Points of interest:|
CTA buses: 3 King Drive and 21 Cermak
|31st Street||Closed between 1960 and 1965|
|35th Street||Closed between 1939 and 1957|
|39th Street (Oakland)||Closed between 1939 and 1957|
|43rd Street||Closed between 1960 and 1965|
|47th Street (Kenwood)||Connections:|
CTA buses: 2 Hyde Park Express, 6 Jackson Park Express, 28 Stony Island, and 47 47th
|B||51st–53rd Street (Hyde Park)||Points of interest:|
|55th–56th–57th Street||Points of interest:|
Museum of Science and Industry and University of Chicago
|59th Street/University of Chicago||Points of interest:|
South Shore Line
CTA buses: 63 63rd
|67th Street||Closed 1984. The platforms are still existent|
|72nd Street||Closed between 1960 and 1965|
|75th Street (Grand Crossing)||Connections:|
CTA buses: 30 South Chicago and 75 74th/75th
|79th Street (Chatham)||Connections:|
CTA buses: 79 79th
|Stony Island||South Chicago branch|
|Bryn Mawr||South Chicago branch|
|South Shore||South Chicago branch|
|Windsor Park||South Chicago branch|
|Cheltenham||South Chicago branch|
|83rd Street||South Chicago branch|
|87th Street||South Chicago branch|
|91st Street (South Chicago)||South Chicago branch|
Closed in 2001, replaced by South Chicago (93rd Street)
|South Chicago (93rd Street)||South Chicago Branch|
|C||83rd Street (Avalon Park)|
|87th Street (Woodruff)||Connections:|
CTA buses: 87 87th
|91st Street (Chesterfield)|
|95th Street/Chicago State University||Points of interest:|
Chicago State University
|103rd Street (Rosemoor)||Connections:|
CTA buses: 4 Cottage Grove, 106 East 103rd, and 115 Pullman/115th
CTA buses: 4 Cottage Grove and 115 Pullman/115th
|111th Street (Pullman)||Connections:|
CTA buses: 4 Cottage Grove and 115 Pullman/115th
CTA buses: 4 Cottage Grove, 111A Pullman Shuttle, and 115 Pullman/115th
|N/A||130th Street (Wildwood)||Closed between 1960 and 1965|
|D||State Street||Blue Island branch|
|Stewart Ridge||Blue Island branch|
|West Pullman||Blue Island branch|
|Racine Avenue||Blue Island branch|
|Ashland Avenue||Calumet Park||Blue Island branch|
|Burr Oak||Blue Island branch|
|Blue Island||Blue Island||Blue Island branch|
Pace buses: 348 Harvey/Riverdale/Blue Island
|147th Street (Sibley Boulevard)||Harvey||Connections:|
Pace buses: 350 Sibley and 352 Halsted
Pace buses: 348 Harvey/Riverdale/Blue Island, 349 South Western, 350 Sibley, 352 Halsted, 354 Harvey/Oak Forest Loop, 356 Harvey/Homewood/Tinley Park, 360 Harvey/Amazon Monee, 361 Harvey/Laraway Crossings, 364 159th Street, 877 Harvey/Downers Grove Limited, and 890 Chicago Heights/UPS Hodgkins Limited
|E||Hazel Crest||Hazel Crest||Connections:|
Pace buses: 356 Harvey/Homewood/Tinley Park
|Calumet||East Hazel Crest||Points of interest:|
Calumet Country Club
|Homewood||Homewood||Points of interest:|
Homewood Railroad Park Museum
|F||Olympia Fields||Olympia Fields|
|211th Street (Lincoln Highway)||Connections:|
Pace buses: 357 Lincoln Highway
|Richton Park||Richton Park|
|University Park||University Park||Will||Connections:|
Pace buses: 367 University Park
River Valley Metro buses: University Park 1 and University Park 2
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