CHICAGO (CBS) — If your commute includes a ride on the ‘L,’ you might end up in the middle of a big party on Tuesday. The CTA is celebrating 125 years of elevated trains in Chicago.
On June 6, 1892, the first elevated trains began running on what is now the Green Line. Back then, it was known as the “Alley L” or the “South L.”
When the trains first began operating, they were made up of wooden passenger cars pulled by small coal-burning steam locomotives.
The original ‘L’ ran on tracks from Congress Parkway to 39th Street, just east of State Street; but historian Graham Garfield said 39th Street was its southern terminal for only two months.
“Even before it began running trains, it was planning extensions,” he said.
The destination was 63rd Street and Jackson Park, a destination that became more urgent because of the impending opening of the World’s Columbian Exposition on May 1, 1893.
The ‘L’ trains began running into the World Fair’s grounds May 12, 1893.
More elevated tracks were built by private companies over the next 10 years as the trains gained popularity – including the Lake Street “L,” which is now the Lake branch of the Green Line; the Metropolitan West Side “L,” which later became sections of the Blue Line and Pink Line; the Union “L,” which is now the iconic Loop; and the Northwestern “L,” which now makes up part of the Brown, Purple and Red Lines.
Today, the CTA’s train system spans nearly 225 miles of elevated and subway tracks, with a fleet of about 1,500 cars, some still running on original sections of the 1890s “L” system. The CTA said approximately 750,000 people ride on elevated tracks each day.
To celebrate the 125th anniversary of the “L,” the CTA was passing out commemorative posters at the Clark/Lake station on the Inner Loop platform from noon until 3:15 p.m. Historic “L” cars built in 1923 and 1976 also will operate in the Loop between noon and 3:15 p.m.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel rode one a vintage 4000-series train from 1923 to the Garfield Station on the Green Line on Tuesday, for a celebration at one of the oldest stations in the U.S.
The Garfield station is set for a $50 million facelift, which will include restoring the original brick stationhouse, built in 1892 for the World’s Columbian Exposition. The stationhouse, which is no longer in use, received landmark status from the city in 2001, and will be reopened for a public use, such as a community space.
The renovation of the station also will include improvements to the elevator and escalators, extended platform canopies, new public art, enhanced landscaping, new benches, and an improved pedestrian crossing. The city also will add more bike lanes in the area to improve access to the station.
“The investments we’re making today, which are unprecedented in the history of the CTA system, will also reinforce that it will be around for the next 125 years,” Emanuel said.
Work on the Garfield station renovation is set to begin next year, and will be completed by 2019.