Four separate companies constructed Chicago's elevated train lines beginning in the 1880's.
The Loop elevated (the Loop 'L' is the nickname of the elevated tracks above Wabash, Van Buren, Wells and Lake Streets) went into service in 1897, connecting the existing elevated lines that stopped just short of downtown.
Before the days when expressways ran through the city and most of the population had cars, 'L' trains and streetcars were how most people got around! In its heyday during the 1920s, 120 trains per hour entered the Loop. And in addition to 'L' trains, there were inter-urban cars destined for Aurora and Milwaukee. The crossing at Lake and Wells downtown was once the busiest rail intersection in the world. . . and all the switches were thrown manually!
The city's separate transit companies were consolidated in 1924 as the Chicago Rapid Transit Company. Then, a new era began as the transit system went public in 1947 under the Chicago Transit Authority.
Today, the CTA provides bus and rapid transit rail service to the city of Chicago and 38 neighboring suburbs. It is the nation's second largest transportation system, serving more than 1.5 million riders each day.
Over the years, there have been many proposals to tear down the noisy 'L' structure. But most of us agree Chicago just wouldn't be Chicago without it. And ridership is up to its highest level in years!
There is no more authentic way to tour Chicago's downtown area than by riding around the Loop on an 'L' train. On Saturday afternoons from May through September, free tours are given aboard CTA trains as they circle the century-old L. Chicago Architecture Foundation tour guides point out buildings of interest and present the history of the 'L' and its role in the development of the Central Business District. For more information about the Loop Tour Train, call CTA's Customer Service Hotline at 1-888 YOUR CTA.
You can learn more about the history of Chicago's elevated trains by reading Bruce G. Moffat's book The 'L': The Development of Chicago's Rapid Transit System, 1888-1932, available through Central Electric Railfans' Association, P.O. Box 503, Chicago, Illinois 60690.