Editor’s note: Last week I published a two-part series recounting the efforts of a British rail enthusiast to ride every CTA train line through every station as quickly as possible. Read Part 1 from Thursday and Part 2 from Friday.
Today, that intrepid Brit Adham Fisher shares final thoughts on his short but many-miles-long visit.
Guest post by Adham Fisher:
When I run around foreign transit systems, I do try to notice some similarities and differences between them and home.
From my research of the L, it seems that it can be considered almost as much a cultural icon of the city for locals as the London Underground is across the Atlantic.
London takes great pride in having opened the world’s first underground railway in 1863, and for many years the map, probably the most famous in the world, has served as a formidable alternative to a street plan. Residents and visitors can find their way about the city using only the diagram; such is it in the minds of the population.
The Tube map represents London all over the world. But London’s trains run entirely underground in the central zones, coming to the surface further out and crossing the occasional bridge, like many other cities.
The innovative elevated design
A large part of the Chicago network is made up of elevated railways running directly above the streets, the first of which was opened in 1892. A few other cities like New York followed suit, but later tore down many elevations in favor of subways.
Chicago persisted with its innovative elevated design, and this is what has made it among the most unique rapid transit systems on the planet.
I am sure that the average Chicagoan would consider the Loop an emphatic
emblem of their city. Of course, the Loop is a thriving part of
Chicago’s city centre and not just the train tracks that border it. But
were it not for the encompassing railways, the area might not be so
recognizable, or have its name – the Loop.
I find it a novelty
walking from the Loop to my hotel underneath the tracks, being showered
with droplets courtesy of last night’s rain as trains pass overhead, and
momentarily deafened by them too.
Even the subways are elevated
– at least closer to ground level than London’s. People chat away on
their mobiles underground, which is impossible in London on a
Long platforms in State Street subway
perplexing area of design is in the platforms of the mid-Loop subways;
they are several hundred feet long and take up the entirety of the
station tunnel. It’s puzzling if one has not seen it for themselves, and
even when they have.
Basically, each platform between Lake or
Monroe to Jackson is about a block in length. Between them there is a
miniscule slice of actual tunnel before the next station’s platform
begins. One can look down the line and see the station ahead, maybe two.
But the trains only stop in the signed, lit and designated
areas at one end, even though one could theoretically walk along the
platform to the next station were it not for the wall. I wonder why it
has been designed like this, and vow to walk the entire length of a
platform at some point, but sadly, I do not do so during my stay.
with the large station names suspended on platforms (which bizarrely
have the Chicago grid references on them as well), the L has several
smaller square signs fixed to pillars, with the first letter (or
numbers) of the station in large letters, and the full name underneath
with the line color. Interesting.
Next stop: Buskers paradise
On the Red Line I see designated areas for buskers.
They are on the platforms in the bright areas where trains stop, which
undoubtedly are highly populated during rush hour. And of course, the
buskers must battle the barrage of train noise hurled at them every few
During my stay I see and hear rappers, singers, dancers
and a couple of 9-year-old drummer boys, although they were in the
tunnel between the Red and Blue Lines.
There are busking spots
on London’s system, but these are strictly confined to the maze of
corridors that make up certain stations. I am sure London Underground
would never allow people performing on the platforms, and I feel
uncomfortable watching them here; the sense of health and safety that
can sometimes come over a Briton due to its prevalence at home.
of health and safety, while cruising high above the neighborhoods,
there are hardly any barriers at the sides of the elevated tracks, which
makes for great views from the curves of the Red and Brown Lines. If we
had such a system in Britain, barriers would be in place for certain;
the health and safety executives considering the possibility that trains
could derail and fall several feet to the ground. While I imagine this
is highly unlikely, I cannot help but wonder if it has ever happened…
For want of good CTA pocket map
I must mention maps. Most transit customer maps are conveniently small,
apart from in Brussels where they are non-existent. Perhaps I was
looking in the wrong place, but all I picked up in L stations when I
first arrived were CTA fold-out wall charts showing a plan of all of the
transportation within Chicago on one side and destinations and running
times on the other, with a few square centimeters dedicated solely to
the L diagram.
On record attempts I like to have a pocket map
with me, on which I can cross out stations. It would be impractical to
keep consulting the large thing, so the map I used was cut out of it
But evidently I had been looking in the
wrong place, because a few days later, a very nice couple chatted to me
on the Red Line, then took me out for lunch just because I was British.
(Yes! More like them, please.)
I bemoaned the fact that I could
find no small maps, and they presented me with a tiny, folded version of
the CTA wall chart and a long key ring out of which one could roll an L
diagram. They are very handy, but I think they would be too small for
So. Reid and Drew took three hours to ride at least one stop on every line.
CJ, Trey, Sarah and Jason rode the system to each terminus in 10 hours and 53 minutes.
I have visited every single station by train, including the ones with the same names on different lines, using basic rules drawn up by Guinness World Records in 9 hours, 36 minutes and 33 seconds. Am I winning?
From Adham Fisher, an Englishman in Chicago.