CTA Orange Line

From nycsubway.org


CTA 3200 Series 3275 at Western on the Orange Line. Photo by David Pirmann, May 2008.


On this exploration of the CTA's newest line, we will begin our journey at Midway Airport and head inbound toward the Loop. Like its younger and much larger cousin to the north at O'Hare, we will look at the Midway CTA terminal in the context of a single large "transfer station" between several modes of transport. Originally Chicago's primary airport before O'Hare was built, Midway was relegated as an aviation backwater for many years -- and even threatened with closure at times -- before the dramatic rise of regional, low-cost airlines such as Southwest and ATA over the past ten years or so. Since then, the small airport has found itself in a perfect position to become a hub for these regional carriers. Because of the explosive growth of this travel market, however, Midway quickly found its facilities far too cramped and antiquated to handle the increased traffic. The city launched ambituious improvement plans for the airport, including replacing the original terminal and concourses with much larger and more modern facilities, a large new parking garage, and of course the new CTA Orange Line to the airport. (It should be noted, however, that proposals for an Archer Avenue Subway to the airport date back to the 1920's. The route used by today's Orange Line typically follows the general direction of the proposed route, if not the specific alignment.) The Orange Line is already a favorite for railfans: Continuously-welded rail and relatively long runs between stations make the line exceptionally fast and smooth, and since the line mostly parallels mainline railroads, there are usually plenty of freight trains to spot along the way as the Orange Line makes its way through Chicago's gritty industrial belt.

The airport is now in the midst of its expansion program. The new parking garage opened in the late 1990's, and the passenger terminal on the east side of Cicero Avenue opened in early 2001. Portions of the new concourses have been partially completed, as the original concourses are demolished and replaced in phases. A temporary connection now exists between the new terminal and existing concourses.

The new terminal building features a soaring ticketing hall with baggage claim on the lower level. This is a dramatic contrast to the old terminal, which had services for arriving and departing passengers crammed together on a single floor, creating mass confusion during peak travel periods. The new terminal has a double-deck roadway, the upper deck for departures and the lower deck for arrivals, which also connects to the new parking garage to the rear of the terminal.

Unlike O'Hare, however, the connection between the airport terminal and CTA terminal is very awkward and does little to encourage the use of public transit. To get to the transit station, one must pass through a heavy set of doors, walk through the parking garage and cross vehicular traffic lanes, and then use a long pedestrian bridge to the CTA station. The bridge is glass-enclosed and features moving walkways to help alleviate the long walk, but is not climate-controlled. A fin tube heater along the ceiling, however, does provide some heat in the winter. Like the rest of the CTA station, the bridge is of a utilitarian design with exposed steelwork painted green. To our left we are treated to an impressive view of the Orange Line yard, just west of the actual station.

At the end of the bridge, a stair, escalator and elevator take us down to street level. To our right is a large, covered bus loading area that serves numerous CTA and Pace bus routes. Turning to the left, we pass through a set of door and enter the actual rail terminal at Midway (4600W / 5900S). Like the Blue Line terminal at O'Hare, this station features oversized turnstiles to allow luggage-laden passengers a somewhat easier time entering the station. We walk along a spacious walkway and find ourselves on a mezzanine overlooking the tracks and platforms below. The station is essentially in an open cut, with the mezzanine at street level. This station has three tracks and two platforms. A large canopy roof covers the entire platform area, with a barrel-vaulted skylight over the tracks and with exposed steelwork painted green. The westernmost platform is a side platform, and is not regularly used for passenger service. An island platform is to the east, and is where most trains arrive and depart. The station is designed so that these last two tracks can eventually be extended southward a couple more miles to Ford City. Some land aquisition has already begun for this extension, and the rollsings on CTA trains have Ford City as a possible destination.

Leaving the station, we ascend onto an elevated viaduct, curve toward the northeast, and cross over the freight tracks that run just to the east of the Midway terminal. Looking out over the neighborhood, we see mile upon mile of tidy Chicago-style bungalow houses, stretching as far as we can see along the relentless street grid. We are in the heart of Chicago's so-called Bungalow Belt, the vast expanse of blue-collar neighborhoods that line the fringes of the city. It was a neighborhood like this not far from here where Martin Luther King, Jr. was hit in the head with a brick while leading a march for integrated housing. We find the Bungalow Belt more diverse today, with a stew of Irish, Polish, and Hispanic residents. Continuing onward, we pass several warehouses and trucking companies that occupy land alongside the ROW.

Our first stop since leaving Midway is Pulaski (4000W / 5100S). All the Orange Line stations between here and Halsted are of very similar designs: A concrete island platform is covered by a large shed roof, with stairs, escalators and an elevator leading to the fare control area below. The fare control area is entered via a bus loading area, also with a canopy. The stations, while functional enough, are of a very utilitarian design and certainly won't win any awards for architectural innovation. Here at Pulaski, the bus loading area is to the south of the station.

Leaving Pulaski, we pass a large intermodal facility, make the stop at Kedzie (3200W / 4900S), and pass through an industrial area before entering the station at Western (2400W / 4900S). If we were to travel southward along the length of Western Avenue, Chicago's longest street, we would pass a grand total of five CTA stations all named Western. This is the southernmost station, located at a point where Western Avenue is a wide tree-lined boulevard. The bus loading area is in the median of the boulevard, to the north of the station.

Venturing onward, we curve toward the north and descend down to grade level for a while. Another large intermodal yard is off to our right. We travel alongside the yard for a bit before ascending a tall flyover that passes over Archer Avenue and a railroad viaduct before curving to the northeast. The flyover deposits us onto an earthen embankment that also carries a mainline freight railroad. We make a stop at 35th / Archer (3500S / 2200W) before passing under the Stevenson Expressway and coming up alongside the expressway. We are now running between the expressway to our right and the railroad tracks to our left.

Our next stop is Ashland (1600W / 3000S). The eastern end of the platform is actually on the short bridge that crosses over Bubbly Creek, a small tributary of the Chicago River. Further south, Bubbly Creek once served as a drainage cesspool for the gargantuan Union Stockyards. The creek derives its name from all the stockyard waste that was dumped into it, which would often bubble to the surface. In the summer, it is said, the creek would have such a thick skim of waste that small animals could walk across the surface of the water without falling in. Bubbly Creek is much cleaner today, its name the primary remnant of its infamous past. An impressive railroad drawbridge crosses the creek adjacent to the Orange Line station. The station itself is our typical Orange Line station, with an island platform and bus loading area just to the south. Part of the bus loading area is actually under the overpass of the expressway.

The next station, and the last station served exclusively by the Orange Line, is at Halsted (800W / 2500S), another standard-issue Orange Line station with a small bus loading area south of the station. Moving onward, we pass under the Dan Ryan Expressway high above us. To our left is a large industrial building that was used in the filming of the movie Backdraft. We soon find ourselves passing through the colorful Chinatown neighborhood on a long concrete viaduct. The main business district is just off to our right, with a small park along the Chicago River to our left. Just after passing Chinatown, we pass over the tracks of the Red Line below, in the midst of the so-called "Frontier". A set of tracks decends from our viaduct and connects with the Red Line tracks. This connection is used for non-revenue equipment moves and in cases where Red Line trains are occasionally routed "over the top" via the elevated tracks due to service disruptions in the State Street Subway. In these cases, Red Line trains would re-join their normal route just north of Armitage. Looking south, we see the Red Line station at Cermak-Chinatown.

Moving onward, we pass high above the city streets on a viaduct before joining the Green Line tracks at 18th Street via the CTA's only flying junction. Now heading due north, we pass over the Green Line tracks before swinging around and joining them. Looking to our left, we soon see a pair of tracks dive into a subway portal below. This is another short stretch of non-revenue trackage, once used when trains from the State Street Subway connected to what is now the southern leg of the Green Line. This section of track is occasionally used to lay up work trains or other trains that have been pulled from service.

Looking around, we notice quite a few loft conversions and townhouse developments, leading a renaissance in an area of the city that had been considered a no-man's-land for many years. Mayor Richard M. Daley himself lives just a few blocks to our east. We soon enter the station at Roosevelt (1200S / 16E), a large and fairly new elevated station that also serves the Green Line. Roosevelt features a long island platform, with fare control on the north side of Roosevelt Road below. Fare control is connected to the platform by stairs, escalators, and an elevator. This station is unusually high, with a new grocery store under the station on the south side of the street. About a half-mile to our east is the new Museum Campus and Soldier Field, visible from here. To our west is a long overpass which carries Roosevelt Road over the Frontier, the Chicago River, and the Amtrak and Metra yards just south of Union Station. There is another Roosevelt station only a half-block to our west, a subway station that serves the Red Line, with transfer in between.

We are now running above an alley just east of State Street, passing beteween buildings with sometimes only a few inches to spare. At Harrison Street, we enter a very tight S-curve and jog a half-block to the east. We are now travelling northbound above Wabash Avenue toward the Loop. Entering the Loop itself, we will go around the Loop in a clockwise direction before the return trip to Midway, making stops in the following order: Library-State / Van Buren, LaSalle / Van Buren, Quincy / Wells, Washington / Wells, Clark / Lake, State / Lake, Washington / Wabash, and Adams / Wabash.

Photo Gallery

Five Random Images

Image 22813

(147k, 1044x701)
Photo by: David Pirmann
Location: Pulaski

Image 22814

(121k, 1044x701)
Photo by: David Pirmann
Location: Pulaski

Image 84286

(225k, 1044x788)
Photo by: David Pirmann
Location: Kedzie

Image 84287

(246k, 1044x788)
Photo by: David Pirmann
Location: Kedzie

Image 84289

(233k, 1044x788)
Photo by: David Pirmann
Location: Kedzie

More Images: 1-50 51-78

Photos By Location

Photo locations: Midway, Midway Yard, Pulaski, Kedzie, Western, 35th/Archer, Ashland, Halsted

Page Credits

By David S. Cole

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