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ALC Rail Writer

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Hey all,

Was planning a quick trip to Chicago and was planning on doing some touring by train.

I will be there during the week of March 10 so weather won't be great but I should have plenty of time to ride CTA/Metra. Which lines have the longest runs and which are the most scenic or travel through the best areas? I wanted to pick a few out so I could do a day of riding with a sack lunch and see as much as possible.

Pro tips are appreciated.

-M.
 

fairviewroad

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While it's not CTA/Metra, I think one of the best options for you would be the South Shore Line. It leaves from downtown Chicago

and runs to South Bend, Indiana. The schedules make it relatively easy to do an out-and-back trip, and it has some of the most

interesting (IMO) trackage of all of the Chicago-area commuter rail systems.
 

saturn04

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You could take the Hiawatha to Milwaukee! There is a great coffee shop near by the station and also a few places to eat within walking distance.
 

Bob Dylan

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I agree with taking the South Shore Line to South Bend! Also if you are going to do a Day Pass on CTA you can see most of Chicago, it's the Cheapest! If you want Metra consider riding to/from Joliet or Glenview, (you can also do Cheap Point Runs on Amtrak)we did both during the Chicago Gathering and they are both Worthwhile Trips but not as Scenic as the Southshore Line!
 
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MrFSS

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The South Shore is an all day trip. I did it a few years ago, leaving in the early morning and didn't get back until dinner time in the evening. It goes to the South Bend airport and there is enough time for a quick lunch in one of the airport snack shops.
 

ALC Rail Writer

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Thanks Tom I don't think I want anything that takes all day. CHI-MKE is an option but I've never overnighted in Chicagoland before and wanted to explore the area.
 

PerRock

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Is that the same line covered by the CL?
No the NICTD (South Shore Line/ Chicago South Shore and South Bend line) runs on it's own separate line (mainly owned by the South Shore Frieght company and Metra). There are a few places you can see the South Shore line from the Amtrak services, but they're completely separate. For one the NICTD uses EMUs and departs out of Millennium Station. The two don't even use the same station in South Bend or Michigan City.

The line does run thru some very scenic parts of the Indiana Dunes region. Sadly it isn't really feasible to get off and actually enter the Dunes SP or NP, both are really located a bit of a hike from the 2 stations serving them (if you brought a bike, in a box, you could probably do it).

Almost any EL line will provide you with a nice 'tour' of the city. The Blue line out to O'Hare is probably the least 'scenic' as it mainly runs in the highway median. You could catch the Red or Purple Line up to Howard and then take a ride on the Yellow/Skokie Swift line which was (and may still be) partially powered by overhead electric rather then 3rd rail. There was talks a while ago about switching the whole line to 3rd rail, but I didn't keep tabs on if they actually did.

The Pink line would be a nice 'tick box' line to catch as it's the newest EL line in the system. Alternatively the Brown Line (I believe, again I haven't been keeping tabs on it) has the newest stations in the system now. Having grown up on the Brown Line, it's my preferred line to ride.

The Illinois Railway Museum is located in Union, IL, which can be gotten to on the Metra UP/NW line, but actually getting to the museum is more difficult as neither Union, IL or the museum it's self is served by Metra (you could probably wrangle up a cab). Alternatively you could visit the Science and Industry Museum which is a few blocks from the 55th/56th/57th stop on the Metra Electric; there are also buses that'll take you right to the door. MScI has a huge model railroad in it, I've seen claims it's the largest in the US (not sure I agree). Museum Campus/11th is the stop on the Electric to go to most of the other museums in Chicago, it's a bit of a hike to Alder Planetarium, but both the Field Museum & Shedd Aquarium are quite close.

peter
 
N

Nathanael

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If you just want to do an all-day ride-around, you can fill the day just with the CTA lines, and it's by far the cheapest all-day trip, so I'd probably do that. Not the most scenic, but the stations are interesting. Once you've seen all the CTA lines, then I'd start doing Metra and South Shore.
 

fairviewroad

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South Shore isn't an all-day trip. For example, if you leave downtown Chicago around 8:45 a.m. you can be back in

downtown Chicago by 2:30 p.m., and that includes a 45 minute layover in South Bend. Other time frames work, too.

But of course, there are lots of options and it just depends on what's most appealing to you. I'd second the Skokie

Swift suggestion. The Brown Line (IMO) is a neat little excursion too.
 

MattW

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Actually, The Illinois Railroad Museum is not on any passenger line. The closest is Woodstock, IL which has a UP-NW Metra stop on it, but it's still about 10 road miles from the museum. Unless there's an intercity bus service like Greyhound that serves Union, the only way to really get to the museum is via car, though I guess biking it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world from Woodstock.
 

MikefromCrete

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Is that the same line covered by the CL?
No the NICTD (South Shore Line/ Chicago South Shore and South Bend line) runs on it's own separate line (mainly owned by the South Shore Frieght company and Metra). There are a few places you can see the South Shore line from the Amtrak services, but they're completely separate. For one the NICTD uses EMUs and departs out of Millennium Station. The two don't even use the same station in South Bend or Michigan City.

The line does run thru some very scenic parts of the Indiana Dunes region. Sadly it isn't really feasible to get off and actually enter the Dunes SP or NP, both are really located a bit of a hike from the 2 stations serving them (if you brought a bike, in a box, you could probably do it).

Almost any EL line will provide you with a nice 'tour' of the city. The Blue line out to O'Hare is probably the least 'scenic' as it mainly runs in the highway median. You could catch the Red or Purple Line up to Howard and then take a ride on the Yellow/Skokie Swift line which was (and may still be) partially powered by overhead electric rather then 3rd rail. There was talks a while ago about switching the whole line to 3rd rail, but I didn't keep tabs on if they actually did.

The Pink line would be a nice 'tick box' line to catch as it's the newest EL line in the system. Alternatively the Brown Line (I believe, again I haven't been keeping tabs on it) has the newest stations in the system now. Having grown up on the Brown Line, it's my preferred line to ride.

The Illinois Railway Museum is located in Union, IL, which can be gotten to on the Metra UP/NW line, but actually getting to the museum is more difficult as neither Union, IL or the museum it's self is served by Metra (you could probably wrangle up a cab). Alternatively you could visit the Science and Industry Museum which is a few blocks from the 55th/56th/57th stop on the Metra Electric; there are also buses that'll take you right to the door. MScI has a huge model railroad in it, I've seen claims it's the largest in the US (not sure I agree). Museum Campus/11th is the stop on the Electric to go to most of the other museums in Chicago, it's a bit of a hike to Alder Planetarium, but both the Field Museum & Shedd Aquarium are quite close.

peter
NICTD owns the railroad from the Metra connection at Kensington east to South Bend, the SouthShore freight lines is a tenant.

CTA Yellow LIne is now all third rail.
 
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Steve4031

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The brown line includes a ride around the loop as does the purple line. If you can catch a purple line train down town it runs express part of the way to Howard. A fun experience.
 

me_little_me

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Senior or disabled vet? Check out the CTA web site to see how to get a discount pass. I got mine and I live in NC. Used it on our trip last November.
 

NorthShore

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Re: getting to the IRM...one local railfan group used to take the Milwakee Rd. West District train to Elgin, then cab share up the highway the rest of the way. I guess with five guys in a cab, it was reasonably economical.

Scenic in Chicago, eh?

Well, there are a few ways to view this. I suppose it all depends on what you want to see.

A few rail lines (both CTA and Metra) offer interesting views of the skyline. These would include Blue Line on the Milwaukee Ave. L section between Logan Square and Division. Better yet is from the flyover of Archer Ave. on the Orange Line south of the 35th and Western stop. Indeed, the night view inbound from that point to the Loop is awesome. The Brown Line also provides good skyline between Armitage and the Loop.

Another perspective might be types of running, whether subway, elevated, grade level, or highway median. Various L brances provide more or less of this.

Actually, I think I'd recommend an express bus trip along Lake Shore Drive. The scenice view inbound from the north side is probably best.

No one has mentioned the "I.C." old Illinois Central now Metra Electric District yet. It runs under wire and will get you to Hyde Park/University of Chicago/Museum of Science and Industry, as well as offer both grade separated and street running on certain branches.

You could take a run to Kenosha and back on the UP (former C&NW) line, possibly laying over long enough to ride an historic PCC streetcar, have lunch, check out their downtown. Or maybe do similar for some of the suburban communities along the various lines (the BNSF, especially, has some nice little towns with interesting rail side areas.) Similarly, you could do this on the L, picking a neighborhood to explore or go to for lunch.
 
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Everydaymatters

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Actually, The Illinois Railroad Museum is not on any passenger line. The closest is Woodstock, IL which has a UP-NW Metra stop on it, but it's still about 10 road miles from the museum. Unless there's an intercity bus service like Greyhound that serves Union, the only way to really get to the museum is via car, though I guess biking it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world from Woodstock.
The Metra goes from the Ogilvie Transportation Center to Woodstock. The Ogilvie is about 2 or 3 blocks north of Chicago Union Station. There is no transportation, other than taxi, that would go from the Woodstock Station to the Illinois Railroad Museum, but if you want a nice Metra trip, Ogilvie to Woodstock is nice. It's about 1-1/2 hours and the Woodstock train station is across the street from where the Woodstock Square begins. You'll find a lot of familiar sites as seen in Groundhog Days there. It was filmed in the Woodstock Square. There are a couple of nice restaurants in the square. It's just a nice train run, a pretty town, and a bite to eat before your return trip back to Chicago.
 

NorthShore

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A friend of mine actually became Chicago's fastest L rider a couple of years ago, posting a time at an online site where people were competing for such.

You could use the transit planners to assist you with this. Figure it to take at least 11 to 12 hours solid riding, at minimum.
 

NorthShore

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WRT IRM, also know that if one wanted to make the trip, the best time to go would be late spring through early fall, when the grounds are snow free, the car barns are all open, and trains are running and you're able to ride.

Also, of interest in the area is the Fox River Trolley Museum, BTW. There is a bus which runs in that area, but I'm unsure whether it is on the same side of the river or not. A taxi to/from Elgin Metra might also be best there.
 

fairviewroad

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A friend of mine actually became Chicago's fastest L rider a couple of years ago, posting a time at an online site where people were competing for such.

You could use the transit planners to assist you with this. Figure it to take at least 11 to 12 hours solid riding, at minimum.
Interesting.

To ace the L's in a day, does one need to ride the Purple Line Express between Howard and the Loop? That covers territory that

duplicates the Red Line and the Brown Lines, even though the Purple Line is running on a physically different track north of Belmont,

IIRC. If you had to ride the Purple Line Express, that would take quite a bit more time and planning.

And, do you have to ride each line in both directions to count as an ace? Can you leave the system? (I'm thinking you could cut down the overall

time by cabbing it from the Blue Line in Forest Park to the Green Line in Oak Park, for instance, or from the Orange Line at Midway Airport to the

Green Line at Ashland/63rd.)
 

NorthShore

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I believe that the idea is to cover the entire system riding each line both ways. Now, concerning individual routes which cover the same territory, I'm unsure. The Brown Line and Purple Line use the same tracks between Fullerton and the Loop (though, if they went back to normal routing following some recent construction, they go in different directions around the Loop.) Pink and Green Lines are on the same track between downtown and a junction west of Ashland. The Blue Line used to have A and B routings, with the latter taking an incline track which you can no longer ride up to what is now the Pink Line route. The Green Line still does have diverging routes at the south end. It, too, shares track with the Orange Line between Roosevelt and the Loop. Not to mention the incline track between the State Street subway and Roosevelt which once connected regularly scheduled service, and occasionally still serves special extras or detours. And, of course, there is the section which you mentioned where one could cover turf a little faster by taking the Purple Line express rather than the Red Line local.

Add to this mix bus, cab, or walking connections such as you note.

Ultimately, I don't think there are any hard and fast rules. If you want to compete in a game like fashion such as the guy who I know did, obviously, you do need to equate to what others are doing.

I started such an all day trek over a decade ago before some changes on the system and track upgrades were made. Was attempting to ride the entire system on one fare. Would likely have required assistance from a friendly conductor or two who would not make mr detrain at terminals where there were not common paid platform areas for arriving and departing trains. I got started in the afternoon, however, and at one point when I required a potty break alighted downtown and aborted the effort, realizing that my missed connections would now make the enormity of the trek all that more difficult.

Personally, I would ride the Red Line outbound to Howard on the section you note, and the Purple Line Express back inbound (after taking the Yellow Line to Dempster and back, and the Purple Line to Linden and back.) This would allow you to stop at every station outbound and have a one seat ride inbound. It also seems like the inbound express track has less slow zones. And you get to travel on the lower level track which once served freight and local transfers at Wilson on the inbound express. Then I would get off at Belmont, cross over platforms to take the Brown Line to Kimball and back all the way Downtown. This would also be more scenic. The Loop transfers could be done any number of ways, but I'd definitely ride around the Loop in both directions.
 

ALC Rail Writer

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Wasn't planning any marathons just curious. I'll get my use out of my pass for sure...

Thanks for the info though I definitely have a lot to think through. I'll probably be sticking to the Els but I might do a little Metra too.

EDIT: Also any suggestions for a points run? I've done CHI-JOI and back once during a layover.
 
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