New options for "fixing the L problem" - get Metra in the mix

Last week, after we discussed the Chicago Reader’s “How to Fix the El” tome, I asked a professional transit planner and Chicago resident for his own solution. This is his plan, one definitely worth considering.

Solving the Lake Shore Transit Issues


North Side

  • Replace deteriorating structure on the North Side Main Line north of Addison to Linden in Wilmette.
  • Provide faster service from the North Side to the Loop.

South Side

  • Provide expanded rail service to the Far South Side
  • Provide faster service from the Far South Side to the Loop and beyond.

Options to Achieve Goals

Red Lines Ext 1.JPG

Instead of Red Line extension, should Metra increase service on the Electric District on the Blue Island and South Chicago branches, and charge CTA fares?

North Side

Both right of ways will have the same stops at: Morse, Loyola, Glenlake (Granville/ Thorndale), Bryn Mawr, Berwyn, Lawrence (Argyle), Wilson and Irving Park/ Sheridan. The line will resume its routing on the existing structure just north of Addison and continue down the North Side Main Line.

South Side

  • Extend Dan Ryan service south from 95th Street to 130th Street – OR –
  • The CTA does not extend the Dan Ryan branch to 130th Street, but instead contracts Metra to provide high frequency service on the Electric District on the Blue Island and South Chicago branches, charging CTA fares by installing fare gates at stations along the branches and the Main Line north of Kensington-115th.  The University Park branch will continue to be a Metra operation.

Corridor service

  • Provide service according to passenger levels. North Side stations
    require more frequent service due to substantially higher passenger
    levels than the South Side stations.
  • Provide faster option to reach downtown from the fringe neighborhoods.

New Service Profile

‘L’ Service

  • Purple Line trains operate local from Linden to Bryn Mawr then runs
    express (in the peak direction) to Fullerton, stopping only at Belmont.
    The train will then serve all stops via the subway to 95th/ Dan Ryan
    during rush hour. Outside of rush hour, Purple Line trains will
    terminate at Roosevelt. New turnback tracks will be built south of the
    14th street portal to store trains.
  • Red Line trains continue to operate local from Howard to 95th/ Dan Ryan.
  • Service on both lines will operate every 6 minutes during rush hour,
    providing a 3 minute combined headway on shared sections and at shared
    stations. Midday service will operate every 10 minutes on both lines,
    providing a 5 minute service on the North Side and a 10 minute service
    on the South Side, keeping the loads balanced.

Electric District Service

  • The Electric District will be split into a CTA-funded service (Blue
    Island and South Chicago branches) and a Metra-funded service
    (University Park branch).
  • University Park trains will operate a similar service to the South
    Shore Line, only stopping at Kensington and 55th-57th-59th Streets then
    all stations south of Kensington on the University Park branch.
  • CTA-funded trains will stop at all stations on the main line north of
    Kensington- 115th Street in addition to the South Chicago and Blue
    Island Branches. 


North Side
The CTA must provide faster service for all passengers traveling through
the busiest corridor into the Loop. Both the Red and Purple line trains
are slow and obvious load imbalances exist. This plan aims to balance
the loads on trains while providing a better service for all.

Having the Purple Line run local to Bryn Mawr provides faster service
for those boarding at Morse, Loyola, Glen Lake and Bryn Mawr seeking to
reach the Loop. By having trains skip all stations to Belmont will
provide more capacity for riders boarding at Berwyn, Lawrence, Wilson,
Irving Park and Addison and further down the line.

South Side
The CTA operates dozens of routes to connect riders to the Loop via Lake
Shore Drive or the Red Line (from 95th Street/ Dan Ryan). Operating
hundreds of vehicles per hour to meet the demands is burdensome on any

The CTA has plans to extend the Red Line to 130th Street. However the
Electric District currently serves many of the areas that the extended
Red Line would serve. Knowing that this line exists and given the
current transit funding climate, it make more sense to provide more
service on current infrastructure than to build new, expensive

This will no doubt require changing the frame of thinking of how Chicago
works – Metra will have to operate more trains in the city. However,
this should be funded by the CTA. By operating more trains, pending
deliveries of new railcars, this service can be operational in a few
years with the investment limited to railcars and fare collection

In addition, by operating service on the Electric District at heavy rail
transit frequencies, the number of buses required to provide service
will drop as a result of vehicles operating to the nearest rail station
rather than all traveling to 95th Dan Ryan.

Some South Lakeshore buses may be curtailed at the South Chicago
Electric District stations. This operation will dramatically reduce the
cost of operating service on the South Side leading to a reinvestment on
burdened routes (i.e. 63- 63rd and 79- 79th) without incurring new

Other ideas
Extend the Electric District north of Millennium Station to serve the
North Lake Shore neighborhoods and reduce the number of buses required
to operate on North Lake Shore Drive. One train carries the same number
of passengers as five-to-six articulated buses.

Remember, one train operator can replace five or six articulated bus
operators, or up to 9 standard bus operators. The operational savings
are enormous.

These projects will incur capital costs but, for the most part, these
are one-time large expenses while the operating costs are ongoing. At
some point, the operation savings will be greater than the capital
costs. That is for the CTA to quantify.

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  • Part of these problems are the results of Richie Daley & his slavish devotion to the South Side ministers who demanded a complete rebuilding of the 1893 Jackson Park/Englewood lines, now the Green Line.

    In the mid 1960s, when the Dan Ryan line to 95th was under construction, the original plan was to move the entire Jackson Park/Englewood lines to the IC Mainline, just like the west end on the Lake St. line was moved to the C&NW embankment in Austin & Oak Park
    There was plenty of space for two L tracks there as the IC wasn't using the full 10 track right of way any longer.
    The CTA was going to operate to 115th St.
    Why this never happened is beyond me, it made then & still makes far more sense than extending the Red line to 130th.
    For that matter, extending a line in one direction, while five miles of the line at the other end is falling into such disrepair that the trains are in one long slow zone is total insanity.

    Fix the Far North Side tracks up first before adding another seven miles of tracks at the south end!

  • Interestingly, the CTA's subway alternative would eliminate that bottleneck.

    This plan really doesn't seem to make sense - the CTA would allow CTA fares on the mainline of the Electric Line while the ME would charge their normal rates? And none of this would make it easier to the affected areas to transfer to CTA trains? And the CTA would be paying Metra for the rolling stock, maintance and training, since the CTA has standardized on third-rail equipment?

    Is it really just that people on the ME are dissatisfied with being charged Metra rates (and having Metra schedules) for inner-city communication?

  • In reply to sargas:

    CTA flat rate fares would be charged on the in-city CTA Chartered services (South Chicago, Kensington, Blue Island, and Hegewisch); Metra Zone fares would be charged on the University Park Suburban services South of Kensington.

    People along the ME are dissatisfied with NOT having CTA Rail Transit equivalent to most all other parts of the city.

  • In reply to sargas:

    Is there enough room after Millennium Station for the tracks to dive under the chicago river and the building structures (Aon centre, prudential building, etc) immediately south of the river?

  • Please attend the first CDOT South Lakefront Corridor Transit Study Public Meeting next Wednesday at the Bronzeville IIT Cam, and provide your input on improving Public Transit on the South Side:

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