The O'Hare terminal station as built in 1984, looking toward the airport terminal from the platforms. The curved sidewalls of glass block, backlit in different colors, illuminate the platforms and absorb sound in the station. The stairs and escalators at the end of the platforms ascend through a gray metal wall that mimics an airplane fuselage to deliver passengers to the fare controls and out into the airport terminal. For a larger view, click here. (Photo from Murphy/Jahn)

O'Hare (11200W/5600N)*
O'Hare International Airport - Main Parking Garage, Lower Level, O'Hare

Service Notes:

Blue Line: O'Hare

Accessible Station

O'Hare International Airport

Owl Service

Quick Facts:

Address: 1000 O'Hare Drive
Established: September 3, 1984
Original Line: West-Northwest Route, O'Hare branch
Previous Names: none

Skip-Stop Type:

Station

Rebuilt: n/a
Status: In Use

History:

The O'Hare Terminal in 1985. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Olga Stefanos)

O'Hare station is north terminal of the Blue Line (originally the West-Northwest Route), and was the final station to open as part of the O'Hare Extension beyond Jefferson Park, more than a year after the rest of the extension opened as far as River Road (now Rosemont). Service to the station began on Monday, September 3, 1984 -- Labor Day -- as part of an opening ceremony attended by Mayor Harold Washington, Governor James Thompson, CTA Chairman Michael Cardilli, and US Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA) administrator Ralph Stanley. Jazz great Dizzie Gillespie also rode the inaugural train from River Road to O'Hare along with Washington, Thompson and other VIPs, and he and his band played "Take the 'A' Train" as an invitation-only brunch began once the train reached the airport station.

Plans to extend the Milwaukee Line to the far Northwest Side dated back before World War II, and were modified to route the "L" to O'Hare Airport by the 1950s. Designs for the Kennedy Expressway, drawn up in the mid-1950s, provided for a median strip wide enough to accommodate the two-track rapid transit line, though it would take another few decades for construction of the extension to begin. Popular lore says that, originally, the O'Hare Extension was to be constructed so that it could be easily extended beyond the airport. However, construction was hurried by then-Mayor Byrne so that it would be finished by election time and the design had to be altered so that it dead-ended in the airport. Ironically, it still wasn't finished in time, she lost the election, and Mayor Harold Washington cut the ribbon.

In the station, there are two island platforms surrounded by three stub tracks, with an open mezzanine above the west end of the station containing the fare controls and the connection to the airport. There's an interlocking just east of the station, before the tracks ascend above ground. This unique station was designed by the architectural firm of Murphy/Jahn. To obtain a column-free platform, the structural system developed consists of large post-tensioned concrete girders which transfer the parking structure (located above) columns above the train room. It was constructed using an open cut excavation, resulting in sloping berms sprayed with concrete.

Looking toward the airport on the platform between the #2 and center tracks on December 6, 2003 with the AV equipment installed in 2001 in place. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

The design utilizes these spaces by providing curving glass block walls that are backlit by light fixtures in the berm space. These walls vary in shape, pattern and color. The pedestrian concourse becomes a transitional space between the train room and the airport through the use of horizontal bands on the glazed brick walls. Exiting the station, the stairs and escalators at the end of the platforms ascend through a gray metal wall that mimics an airplane fuselage to deliver passengers to the fare controls and out into the airport terminal. The design of this terminal station permits passengers to enter it from moving sidewalks under the garage after using escalators from several of the O'Hare terminal buildings. Murphy/Jahn won two architectural awards for the station: the AIA National Honor Award in 1987 and the NEA Presidential Design Award in 1988.

In 2001, the CTA made improvements at O'Hare that included new primary and auxiliary decorative lighting and station-wide telephone and public address system improvements. The new A/V signs, which announce train arrivals and other important information, were installed around March. Other work to the telephone system and communication equipment were completed as well. The remainder of the work was completed on May 1, 2001.

In 2002, O'Hare became part of the RTA's Active Transit Station Signs (ATSS) project, becoming one of four project test sites. The ATSS signs provide real-time transit and traffic information on a demonstration basis. They display a countdown of the minutes until the next departing train, travel times to Forest Park and 54/Cermak, fare information, service disruption or delay messages or any other number of messages the CTA chooses to program into the signs.

A view of the station entrance from the lower level airport corridor on June 3, 2005 shows the new farecard vending kiosk and new Visitors Pass Machines that have cleaned up and improved the appearance and operation of the facility. Note how the kiosk is tiled to blend in with the design of the hallway. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

One of the interesting aspects of the O'Hare and Midway ATSS signs is that the ones in the transit station look like those at the other two test stations. But the signs in the airport are designed to harmonize with the existing signage already in the airport (which, coincidentally, are of a completely different design at the two airports). The signs on the platforms are not currently programmed to display the time until next train like the other stations' signs, since the airport stations are at the end of the line and there is usually a train waiting to depart. As programmed, these merely take the place of the backlit "Next Train" signs that they replaced, with one side saying "Do No Board" and the other "Next Train" with arrows pointing to the appropriate tracks. There is a sign posted over the entrance to the station from the concourse and will display the time until the next departure. There are also signs posted in the passageways leading to the station from the airport terminal, in the lower concourse passages that connect the terminals to the CTA station and short-term parking garages. Both airports also have ATSS signs in the baggage claim areas. These signs are not programmed to give the time until the next departure, since in many cases it would take so long to get from the airport to the station that the next train probably would have left (plus, many people can't accurately judge how long it will take them to get to the station from the terminal anyway). Instead, they give the service interval (how frequently the trains run), travel time to the city, and display other CTA and travel information.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, there was talk of extending the Blue Line beyond O'Hare station to Schaumburg. Although this had been discussed as early as the 1980s when the O'Hare extension first opened, previous plans involved branching the line off between Cumberland and Rosemont -- essentially creating a new branch rather than an extension -- due to the high cost of tunneling out from the existing station under the airfield. However, with the advent of Mayor Daley's proposal to reconstruct and reconfigure O'Hare runways, the possibility of a cheaper cut-and-cover alternative surfaced and the possibility of a direct extension became possible. The possibility of this occurring, however, was all but derailed when a proposed 55-mile Metra route that would run from O'Hare International Airport to Joliet -- the so-called "STAR Line" -- was approved in May 2003 by the Northwest Transit Corridor Municipal Task Force, a consortium of northwest suburban mayors, and by the Regional Transportation Authority board in June 2003 as the preferred alternative for serving the congested and transit-poor Northwest Corridor along I-90 between O'Hare airport and the northwest suburbs.

During mid- and late-2004, the CTA improved the lighting levels on the O'Hare platform by replacing the overhead lights and brightening the mutli-colored glass-block walls along the sides. In late May 2005, CTA forces rearranged the TransitCard Automated Vending Machines (AVMs). which had been temporarily standing in the airport corridor outside the station, hooked up with exposed electrical conduits, since the "L" converted to the electronic farecards back in 1997. Tradesmen erected a new kiosk in the corridor, centered between the orange columns that form a colonnade in front of the station, which was tiled in the same pattern as the airport corridor, making it blend in and look coherent with the rest of the facility. Conduits and cables were concealed within the new construction. The AVMs -- four from the hallway and two from in front of the Customer Assistant booth, which had blocked the view through the booth's front window -- were moved inside the specially-designed kiosk. The two existing Visitor Pass Machines (VPMs) were moved against the columns, one each facing the airport corridor. The kiosk was outfitted with signage, system maps, placards instructing customers how to purchase their fares, and CTA advertising.

Shortly after the installation of the AVM kiosk and relocation of the VPMs, the existing Visitor Pass Machines were replaced with new models. The larger, sturdier, more sophisticated VPMs, produced by fare equipment manufacturer GFI Genfare, can take credit and debit cards, in addition to cash, the first electronic farecard vending machines on the CTA to do so. At the same time, these new VPM models were also installed at Rosemont, Cumberland, Midway, and Chicago/State stations, as well as the Chicago Water Works Visitor Center and Union Station.

 

A view down the platform from the paid area of the fare control mezzanine on December 6, 2003 shows the undulating multicolored glass block walls that line the three-track, two-island platform station. The large black and white banners hanging down from the concrete beams are advertisements for De Beers diamonds. The O'Hare station, with its vaulted ceilings and high passenger volume, are frequently sold for "ad blitzes", large-scale advertising contracts. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Graham Garfield)


ohare03.jpg (64k)
A view of the O'Hare station platforms, looking out from the mezzanine above. The hanging signs at the heads of the tracks tell riders which train is pulling out next. (Photo from the Chicago Transit Authority Collection)

ohare04.jpg (67k)
The O'Hare station, looking southwest between tracks 2 and 'center' toward the fare control mezzanine and airport. The cavernous station provides an open air atmosphere, but also makes photography very difficult! (Photo from the Chicago Transit Authority Collection)

ohare05.jpg (73k)
The O'Hare terminal station, looking northeast from the mezzanine. During rush hour, the three-track, two-platform terminal can be very busy, with all tracks in use. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

ohare06.jpg (185k)
Another view of the O'Hare station platforms, looking down from the mezzanine with all three tracks occupied, in March 2002. (Photo by Robert Mencher)

ohare-ATSS01.jpg (148k)
When the RTA's Active Transit Station Signs (ATSS) program was deployed at O'Hare, some of the signs were put in the airport itself. This sign in one of the corridors leading from Terminal 2 to the station corridor, seen on November 22, 2002, gives real-time travel time information for both highways and CTA rail. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

ohare-ATSS02.jpg (194k)
ATSS signs on the O'Hare platforms instruct customers which train will depart next and how long it will be until its departure, as this sign over the island platform between the Track 1 and the Center Track is doing on April 11, 2003. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

ohare09.jpg (174k)
The lower level airport corridor and CTA station entrance is seen on December 1, 2004, about six months before the erection of a new farecard vending machine kiosk. The arrangement of the AVMs seen here was temporary, albeit for about 8 years from the time the CTA started using the Cubic equipment. For many stations, the accommodation of the bulky farecard equipment was difficult in facilities that were built years before and never designed to accommodate it. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

ohare10.jpg (228k)
A typical scene on the O'Hare platforms on December 1, 2004, with all three tracks filled and airport passengers rushing down the platform to catch the next train to the city. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

ohare11.jpg (208k)
This view looking down on the platforms from the Transportation Office on December 1, 2004 with the tracks almost completely empty gives a good unobstructed view of what the station looks like. Very little of what's in O'Hare station is standard for CTA facilities: the wall cladding, flooring, benches, hanging illuminated station signs, public phone columns, and A/V sign posts are unique in design to O'Hare station. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

ohare12.jpg (209k)
After the CTA refurbished the lights behind the backlit glass block wall in late 2004, the colors shown brightly and vibrantly, creating an animated, colorful, dynamic environment, as seen on December 1, 2004. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

ohare14.jpg (176k)
On a typical afternoon a couple weeks after the installation of the new AVM kiosk, a crowd of airline travelers waits in lines to purchase their CTA farecards outside of O'Hare station on June 9, 2005. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

ohare15.jpg (209k)
A close-up of the TransitCard AVM kiosk outside O'Hare station on June 9, 2005 shows the structure's arrangement and design. The kiosk was specially-designed to fit the Cubic farecard vending machines inside it, as well as to accommodate frames for CTA system maps and other instructional and promotional placards. The tilework on the kiosk's exterior was intended to make the new installation fit in with the existing corridor aesthetics. Visible behind the kiosk is a train car display donated to the Chicago Department of Aviation by the CTA . (Photo by Graham Garfield)

VPM01.jpg (152k)
For a short period after the AVM kiosk was built and placed in service, the existing Visitors Pass Machines (VPMs) were placed against the columns the lined the front of the station. The original VPMs were intended to be temporary and were lightweight off-the-shelf machines used to vend things like Lottery tickets. As such, their reliability diminished over time with intense use. One of the VPMs is seen outside O'Hare station on May 26, 2005, just days before being removed. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

VPM-GFI01.jpg (165k)
Shortly after the rearrangement of the AVMs, new Visitors Pass Machines (VPMs) replaced the old, original ones. The larger, sturdier, more sophisticated VPMs, one of which is seen outside O'Hare station on June 9, 2005 , are produced by fare equipment manufacturer GFI Genfare and can take credit and debit cards in addition to cash, the first electronic farecard vending machines on the CTA to do so. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

cta33.jpg (65k)
Car 33 leads a train of 5-50 series cars stopped at the O'Hare Airport station on August 30, 1997. This was the last time the 5-50 (or any PCC) series cars were at O'Hare. (Photo by Jay Affleck)

cta3179-target.jpg (116k)
Target stores' fourth ad wrap, applied in Summer 2003, was seen on 24 cars spread across three lines. The design, with its white background and figures rendered in red halftones wearing clothes with the Target logo, is seen on Blue Line car 3179, bringing up the rear of a northbound train that has pulled into O'Hare Terminal on July 2, 2003. (Photo by Leon Kay)

cta3099-UScellular.jpg (165k)
US Cellular released a new ad wrap for summer 2005 on the Red and Blue lines. The cars had a blue background are have white cartoon "word bubbles" with a light blue outline and the words "CALL ME" in black repeated all over the car. The Blue Line cars, 3099-3100, are at O'Hare terminal waiting to pick up travelers on May 20, 2005. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

cta5004d.jpg (119k)
Beginning in early August 2010, the prototype 5000-series cars went to the Blue Line for testing. Car 5004 is at the front end of an 8-car train that is reached O'Hare station and is unloading its passengers. Because the train is in the center pocket, it has opened its doors on both sides -- the Operator is working the doors and checking the side of the train on the left and an Instructor doing the same on the right. Note the electronic destination sign for "O'Hare" retains the airplane symbol rendered in LEDs. (Photo by Tony Coppoletta)
cta2250b.jpg (218k)
Car 2250 is dressed for its trip on the ceremonial last trip of the 2200-series railcars in CTA service, on the rear of an eight-car train of 2200s preparing to depart O'Hare terminal on August 8, 2013. The cars' exteriors are decorated with reproduction period decals and signs declaring the trip to be the cars' last. (Photo by Graham Garfield)

* = Coordinates are approximate, as O'Hare station is not located near any streets. The coordinates are approximately were the station is located on the city's grid system.