North Central Service

The North Central Service (NCS) is a Metra commuter rail line running from Union Station in downtown Chicago through northwestern and far northern suburbs to Antioch, Illinois. In June 2018, the public timetable shows 10 weekday departures from Chicago. This line does not run at all on weekends or holidays.[2] While Metra does not refer to any of its eleven routes by colors, the NCS' timetable accents are lavender, a shade of purple. It is the only Metra line that does not have a specific color for a fallen flag railroad that used to operate on this route.

North Central Service
METX 118 at the O'Hare Transfer Station.jpg
A North Central Service train at O'Hare Transfer in 2010.
TypeCommuter rail
TerminiUnion Station
Daily ridership5,800 (Avg. Weekday 2016)[1]
OpenedAugust 19, 1996
OwnerMetra (Union Station to River Grove) CN beyond River Grove
Line length52.9 mi (85.1 km)
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Route map

Lake Villa
Round Lake Beach
Washington Street
Prairie Crossing |
Vernon Hills
Prairie View
Buffalo Grove
Prospect Heights
O'Hare Transfer
Chicago Transit Authority Logo.svg
Blue / I-190
Schiller Park
Belmont Avenue
MD-W to Elgin
11.4 mi
18.3 km
River Grove
10.2 mi
16.4 km
Nonstop placeholder
10.2 mi
16.4 km
Elmwood Park
9.5 mi
15.3 km
Mont Clare
9.1 mi
14.6 km
8.6 mi
13.8 km
7.7 mi
12.4 km
Hanson Park
7.0 mi
11.3 km
6.5 mi
10.5 km
5.9 mi
9.5 km
Coach Yard
2.9 mi
4.7 km
Western Avenue
UP-W to Elburn
Chicago Transit Authority Logo.svg
0 mi
Union Station
BNSF to Aurora
HC to Joliet
SWS to Manhattan

Between Union Station and River Grove station the North Central Service shares tracks with the Milwaukee District/West Line, but does not stop at any of the intermediate stations used by the MD-W between Western Avenue and River Grove. About a mile west of River Grove, this route turns north at a junction known as tower B-12. The rest of the route operates on track owned and dispatched by the Canadian National Railway ("CN"). A single daily inbound train, #120, makes all stops along the North Central Service from Antioch to Washington Street, then switches to the Milwaukee District/North Line's tracks at a diamond in Grayslake, makes stops at Libertyville and Lake Forest, and then runs express to Union Station.

The CN assumed ownership of this route on September 7, 2001, when it absorbed the Wisconsin Central Railroad ("WC"). The WC operated this route after it was purchased from the Soo Line Railroad in April 1987. Like most routes, Metra provides its own crews for this service and operates under a trackage rights agreement with the CN.

Service began August 19, 1996.[3] As of 2020, this is the only new line in the Metra system since its formation. Prior to the start of NCS, the last passenger service on this route ended in 1965, when the Soo Line discontinued the overnight Chicago-Duluth Laker.

The North Central Service serves O'Hare International Airport, but a limited number of trains.

The North Central Service, the Heritage Corridor, and SouthWest Service are the only Metra lines that are fully ADA-accessible.

No tickets are sold at any North Central Service stations outside Chicago.

Recent historyEdit

On January 30, 2006 four new stations on the North Central Service opened: Franklin Park, Schiller Park, Rosemont, and Grayslake.[4] Another station, at Grand and Cicero Avenues in Chicago (between the Western Avenue and River Grove stops), was scheduled to be completed by the end of as of 2006. Service doubled from 10 to 20 trains per day with this change in the timetable, combined with double tracking of large portions of the line and the CN rerouting freight traffic south of Mundelein.[5]

On September 11, 2006 service expanded from 20 to 22 trains when Metra split one rush-hour local train in each direction into two express trains.

Notably, the line goes through Des Plaines but does not have a station there. The station in Des Plaines was on Thacker Street and closed in 1965.

Metra has considered adding weekend service to the North Central Service ever since Saturday service was added to the SouthWest Service, and has also considered operating six trains between Chicago and Antioch, like the SouthWest Service.

On February 5, 2018 service was reduced from 22 to 20 trains when Metra combined two rush-hour express trains into one rush hour semi-express.


Since 2014 annual ridership has declined from 1.8 million to 1.6 million, an overall decline of 9.7%.[6]



Zone Location Station Connections and notes
J Antioch Antioch Western Kenosha County Transit: Antioch Service
Lake Villa Lake Villa
Round Lake Beach Round Lake Beach
I Grayslake Washington Street
H Libertyville Prairie Crossing Metra: Milwaukee District / North Line
Mundelein Mundelein Pace: 572, 574
G Vernon Hills Vernon Hills
Prairie View Prairie View
F Buffalo Grove Buffalo Grove Pace: 234, 272, 626
Wheeling Wheeling Pace: 234
E Prospect Heights Prospect Heights Pace: 221
D Chicago O'Hare Transfer Airport Transit System to O'Hare International Airport
Pace: 250, 330
Rosemont Rosemont Pace: 330
C Schiller Park Schiller Park
Franklin Park Belmont Avenue Pace: 319
River Grove River Grove Metra: Milwaukee District / West Line
Pace: 307, 319, 331
A Chicago Western Avenue Metra: Milwaukee District / North Line, Milwaukee District / West Line
CTA Bus: 49, X49, 65
Union Station Amtrak (long-distance): California Zephyr, Capitol Limited, Cardinal, City of New Orleans, Empire Builder, Lake Shore Limited, Southwest Chief, Texas Eagle
Amtrak (intercity): Blue Water, Hiawatha Service, Illini and Saluki, Illinois Zephyr and Carl Sandburg, Lincoln Service, Pere Marquette, Wolverine
Metra: BNSF Railway, Milwaukee District / North Line, Milwaukee District / West Line, Heritage Corridor, SouthWest Service
Chicago "L": Blue Line (at Clinton), Brown, Orange, Pink, Purple lines (at Quincy)
CTA Bus: 1, 7, J14, 19, 28, 56, 60, 120, 121, 124, 125, 126, 128, 130, 151, 156, 157, 192
Pace: 755
Amtrak Thruway Motorcoach: Chicago-Madison and Chicago-Rockford (Van Galder), Chicago-Louisville (Greyhound)


  1. ^ "Operations and Ridership Data". Metra. Retrieved October 7, 2017.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Metra Railfan Tips - North Central Service
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ "RIDERSHIP TRENDS ANNUAL REPORT 2018" (PDF). Metra. p. 4. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  • J. David Ingles, Ready or not, here we come, Trains November 1996

External linksEdit

Route map:

KML is from Wikidata

  Media related to Metra North Central Service at Wikimedia Commons