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Chicago Metra Riding 5/24/2022

by Chris Guenzler

Elizabeth and I were awoken at 6:35 to a fire alarm and I quickly dressed and went downstairs, only to be told it was a false alarm. I went back upstairs and not long after, it happened again so we went downstairs and had breakfast. After that we checked the Internet then walked over toward the Metra station.

Our Metra Train 1286 in Aurora.

Amtrak's Carl Sandburg 381 came through Aurora while we were there. We went into the station and bought two one-way tickets for our trip to and from Chicago, as round trip tickets are not offered. We walked out and boarded the train.

Helm Leasing Company {HLCX} GP38-2 3889, originally Missouri Pacific 955 as seen through the window.

A church with scaffolding around the steeples.

As we travelled through the Chicago Union Station yards, we saw the private car "Blue Ridge Club" which was built by Pullman-Standard in 1950 as a 5 double bedroom/buffet/lounge observation car originally Chesapeake and Ohio 2500 "Blue Ridge Club". It operated on the streamliner "The George Washington" (Cincinnati, Ohio to Washington DC and Louisville, Kentucky to Washington DC). It was converted in 1961 to a 3 double bedroom (Dormitory) kitchen/diner/observation and renumbered 1923. It was acquired by Amtrak in 1971 and operated as 8200 "Blue Ridge Club". The car went into private ownership and was modified to its present configuration of 3 double bedrooms and 1 master suite with kitchen, dining and observation Lounge (blunt end). Since the car is a blunt end, it can operate equally well at the end of the train as intended or in a mid-train position.

Our train arrived into Chicago Union Station and we walked over to LaSalle Street Station and bought one-way tickets for a round trip to Joilet. The agent sold us the lowest ticket price of $4.00 each way.

Metra Rock Island History

Train service to Joliet was begun by the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad in 1852. The branch was built in the 1870s and extended north in the 1880s. The Rock operated service on the line until it went bankrupt. The RTA bought it in 1982. For a short time, service on the line was run by Chicago & North Western but eventually the RTA and then Metra started running it. Rock Island timetables are "Rocket Red" for the Rock Island's Rocket trains.

On October 10, 1852, a brightly painted locomotive coupled to six shiny yellow coaches chugged over new railroad tracks between Chicago and Joliet. It was the first train on the first completed section of what would become the immense Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad.

Now, more than 160 years later, the Rock Island Railroad is gone, but that original route retains the Rock Island name, as Metra's Rock Island Line.

While the Rock is famous for its Rocket locomotives, the popular folk song and its role in the development of the Midwest, its commuter service in Chicago is also notable for the part it played in Chicago history. The communities of Beverly and Morgan Park, for instance, would not exist as they do today if not for the Rock Island Railroad.

There was passenger service on the route from the very beginning, with a few stops between Joliet and Chicago, and maybe a small number of people used it for a daily commute north to the fast-growing city. But the true commuter service can be traced to 1869, when the Blue Island Land and Building Company was set up to develop land centered on Prospect Ave. and what is now 103rd Street.

At the same time that what is now Morgan Park/Beverly was being developed, a branch line of the Rock Island was built through the area. The new branch track left the mainline at about 97th St., ran west along 99th for about a mile and then turned south to rejoin the mainline at Blue Island. The branch was completed in 1870, but even before then the appeal of train service was spurring development in the area.

The Chicago Fire of 1871 burned down the Rock Island line's LaSalle Street Station (the present station is the fifth at that site). But it further increased demand for passenger service on the line, because outlying communities became more popular alternatives to city living. Morgan Park was marketed as an exclusive residential community served by frequent train service.

By 1883 the railroad was operating 10 suburban trains each way every day, mostly on the branch line to Blue Island, and there were numerous stops between the branch line and LaSalle St. Station.

In 1889, the branch line was extended north to serve more of Beverly. Rather than leaving the mainline at 97th, it now left the mainline at 89th and followed the route it still follows today to Blue Island. A year later, the railroad had 19 trains each way between Chicago and Blue Island.

In the 1890s, work began to elevate the tracks in Chicago, which allowed for a speedier operation but also resulted in the elimination of most of the closer-in stops. That work continued into the first decades of the 1900s.

The first decades of the century also saw the addition of service to towns between Blue Island and Joliet. By 1905 one could commute from Midlothian, New Lenox, Tinley Park and Mokena, and Oak Forest was added in 1911. In October 1912, Rock Island worked with other railroads to build Joliet Union Station.

Sometime around 1917-1918, the railroad started using "Beverly Hills" in the names of stations at 95th (formerly called Longwood), 99th (Walden) and 103rd (Tracy). Beverly Hills-107th (Belmont) and Morgan Park-115th St. (Raymond) were put in use several years later.

Other key dates in the history of the Rock's suburban service include:

1948: The railroad emerged from a long bankruptcy and began an effort to make capital improvements.

1949: The first diesel engines began to replace steam locomotives.

1957: The Jet Rocket and, slightly later, the Aerotrains - sleekly designed, air-conditioned trains - started serving riders on the commuter route.

1965: The first bi-level cars were delivered from Budd Company, including cab cars that enabled a push-pull operation on the Rock for the first time.

1974: Area voters approved the creation of the RTA to assist all public transportation.

1975: The Rock Island Railroad entered bankruptcy.

1980: The bankruptcy judge initiated the liquidation of the railroad. The RTA eventually bought the commuter service.

1983: The RTA was reorganized and the Commuter Rail Board was created to operate commuter trains (the Board first met in 1984 and branded its service as Metra in 1985).

Our Trip

Elizabeth and I walked down to the front of the train for pictures.

Metra Train 409 for Joliet.

Metra MP36PH-3S 417 at LaSalle Street Station.

Metra repainted Bike Car 7794. We walked back six cars and boarded the first door that was open, sitting on the lower level to enjoy the trip over the former Rock Island Line to Joliet.

The old bridge on the St. Charles Airline which has not worked for years.

BTRY Tower. We ran express down to Blue Island.

The Metra Electric station and train at Blue Island.

At the Robbins flag stop was a sign stating that Robbins was the home of ten Tuskegee Airmen.

At New Lenox, Elizabeth noticed that this sign was the only one that had both Chicago and Joliet on it whereas the others had "From Chicago" rather than the destination of Joliet. The train then ran the rest of the way to Joliet where we detrained.

Our future train Metra 402 for Chicago.

The new Metra Joliet Gateway Centre Station which opened in 2018.

DuPage Medical Group Field is the home of the Joliet Slammers.

Joliet Union Station built in 1912.

The bridge over the road with the Joliet Gateway Center sign.

The Rock Island crossing the former Gulf, Mobile and Ohio and Santa Fe diamonds in Joliet.

My beautiful wife Elizabeth in Joliet.

The Metra Rock Island Line map showing the route we rode, although we did not do the Suburban Line this time.

On the way back, the crossing at Blue Island.

Crossing the present Amtrak route on the new flyover that was paid for by CREATE, the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program.

Metra SW1200 3, originally Milwaukee Road 2048 and SW1500 8, which was Southern Pacific 2494.

Chicago White Sox Comiskey Park. The above few pictures were taken through the green-tinted windows that are prevalent on Metra. We returned to La Salle Street Station and walked back to Union Station, stopping at Jersey Mike's for lunch. We sat and whom should we see a couple of tables away but Carl and Carol Jensen and Becky Gerstung and her son Greg, who had been on the private car trip with us. They were laying over in Chicago until the evening. After lunch we walked down to our train back to Aurora and sat in the third car from the front on Metra Train 1236.

Our tickets ready to be punched.

The second Metra Heritage unit I had seen today; the first was the Rock Island one in Blue Island but that was partially hidden behind a bridge pillar. This is the Burlington unit in the Metra Yard in Chicago which I was able to photograph.

The skyline of Chicago.

Kansas City Southern ES44AC 4716 in Eola yard. After making most of the stops, we arrived in Aurora. Before we returned to the hotel, we went for a walk around the roundhouse complex.

Chicago, Burlington and Quincy caboose 13690 in Aurora.

The plaque in the station area of the roundhouse complex.

The views of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Roundhouse which dates from 1855 to 1865, and is the only standing full stone roundhouse in the United States. It was listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places. The Roundhouse was an architectural ruin when Walter Payton and his partners renovated the building in 1996. On October 22, 1999, it was selected by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the nation's top rehabilitated buildings. The Walter Payton Roundhouse Complex features America's Brewpub restaurant, a microbrewery, an outdoor courtyard for summer concerts, banquet facilities, a gift shop and the Walter Payton Museum. Many of the former employees of the CB&Q are memorialized with commemorative bricks in the courtyard. Aurorans from many nationalities worked in these historic facilities, including Irish, German, Luxembourger, African, Roumanian and Mexican.

Metra F40PHM-3 191.

Metra F40PH-3 112 "Morgan Park".

The engines getting ready to leave for Chicago. We returned to the hotel and Elizabeth started proofing my stories while I took a nap that I really needed. Once I was up she was proofing my next story and I was waiting for trains. Here came a fantastic train.

The train was BNSF 6584 West with BNSF ES44C4 6584, BNSF ES44DC Yellow Swoosh 7695, BNSF ES44DC 7477, Canadian Pacific ES44AC 8902, Norfolk Southern ES44DC 7511, Norfolk Southern AC44C6M 4371, Kansas City Southern SD70ACe 4105, BNSF GP39-3 2626 and BNSF ES44AC 6224. What a consist! I went out for a short walk.

There was another Metra train that had come in from Chicago.

BNSF 6142 West with BNSF SD70MAC 9702. I walked back into the hotel and found a picture.

A picture of the Silver King running as the Denver Zephyr in the hotel lobby. I went back upstairs and found that Elizabeth had completed proofing. She took her bath while I checked the Internet then we called it a night.