Four separate companies constructed Chicago's elevated train lines
beginning in the 1880's.
The Loop elevated (the Loop 'L' is the nickname of the elevated
tracks above Wabash, Van Buren, Wells and Lake Streets) went into
service in 1897, connecting the existing elevated lines that stopped
just short of downtown.
Before the days when expressways ran through the city and most
of the population had cars, 'L' trains and streetcars were how most
people got around! In its heyday during the 1920s, 120 trains per
hour entered the Loop. And in addition to 'L' trains, there were
inter-urban cars destined for Aurora and Milwaukee. The crossing
at Lake and Wells downtown was once the busiest rail intersection
in the world. . . and all the switches were thrown manually!
The city's separate transit companies were consolidated in 1924
as the Chicago Rapid Transit Company. Then, a new era began as the
transit system went public in 1947 under the Chicago Transit Authority.
Today, the CTA provides bus and rapid transit rail service to
the city of Chicago and 38 neighboring suburbs. It is the nation's
second largest transportation system, serving more than 1.5 million
riders each day.
Over the years, there have been many proposals to tear down the
noisy 'L' structure. But most of us agree Chicago just wouldn't
be Chicago without it. And ridership is up to its highest level
There is no more authentic way to tour Chicago's downtown area
than by riding around the Loop on an 'L' train. On Saturday afternoons
from May through September, free tours are given aboard CTA trains
as they circle the century-old L. Chicago Architecture Foundation
tour guides point out buildings of interest and present the history
of the 'L' and its role in the development of the Central Business
District. For more information about the Loop Tour Train, call CTA's
Customer Service Hotline at 1-888 YOUR CTA. Or follow this link,
the Chicago Architecture Foundation website.
You can learn more about the history of Chicago's elevated trains
by reading Bruce G. Moffat's book The 'L': The Development of
Chicago's Rapid Transit System, 1888-1932, available through
Central Electric Railfans' Association, P.O. Box 503, Chicago, Illinois