The CTA Takes Over:
New Lines Come but Passengers Go

In 1943, it became apparent that privately owned public transit in Chicago could not survive due to its unprofitability. Though the idea was not novel (Yerkes and Insull had both proposed the idea years earlier), the time was right for municipal ownership. In 1945, a public transit authority was authorized for Chicago, though it was not until 1947 that the transfer of assets was complete. On October 1, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) took over all "L" and streetcar operations. One of its first actions was the opening of the Dearborn Subway, as mentioned before. When it opened in 1951, though, it was only fed from the north; trains, upon reaching LaSalle Street, had to turn around and go back. The delay of trains being routed through was caused by the later opening of the CTA's first major project: the Congress "L".

In the 1950s and '60s, Chicago embarked on a major project of creating an intricate expressway system in the city. The Congress Expressway plan, the first expressway within the city, took from 1949 to 1960 to complete and contained a novel idea: putting a rapid transit line in the median of an expressway. The Congress Expressway (later changed to Eisenhower Expressway) followed Congress Street west out of city, but also followed the route of what was the Garfield Park Branch of the old Met's Line. The historic line had to be destroyed and due to the annoyance of the grade-level temporary route, the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin cut their service back to Forest Park, eventually abandoning passenger service altogether in 1957. With the Westchester service gone (though it was never all that profitable anyway) and the line now terminating at Des Plaines, the Congress "L" represented no net gain for the "L". When the Congress Street "L" opened in 1958, the Dearborn Subway was complete and all of the ex-Metropolitan's service ceased Loop operations.

The loss of another Insull interurban would net a considerable gain for both the CTA and the riding public in 1964. After the North Shore line ceased all serviced with the abandonment of the Niles Center route in 1963, the CTA took over the trackage from Howard Street to Dempster Street in Skokie. With help from a grant from Washington, the CTA reinstituted the service it had provided back in the '20s, '30s and '40s, but this time with a new twist: all stations in between the two terminals were taken out and a shuttle service was instituted. Recoined the "Skokie Swift", the new extension provided an overwhelming demonstration of the demand for good rapid transit in the suburbs: in its first year of operation the Skokie branch carried nearly five times the anticipated number of passengers.

Though many trains had been routed onto the subway system, the Loop's usefulness was still there. Loop service experienced a renaissance in 1969 with the creation of two lines that would benefit Chicagoans who'd never had "L" service before: those on the far northwest side with the extension of the Logan Square Line and those on the south side with the creation of the Dan Ryan Line. The Dan Ryan, built in the center of the new Dan Ryan Expressway from 1967-69, did two significant things for the "L": 1) it was the first line built under the CTA that was not a replacement or the resumption of previous services and 2) it provided service for citizens of the south side below 63rd Street who were otherwise stranded from "L" service. The line joined the Loop at a connection at 18th Street where the Alley "L" had previously connected and allowed for through-routing to the Lake Street Line. The location of the Ryan-Lake Street run was such that it united the South Side of the city with the West Side and the suburb of Oak Park and thus serves two useful ends for the Chicago citizen and the urban economy: it makes possible for residents in the lower-income areas of the city to reach jobs in the suburbs, where many manufacturing and administrative centers had relocated during the postwar dispersal of industry, and it provides a similar service for suburban residents going beyond the center of the city. As a consequence of the advantages conferred by the location as well as the quality of service on the Ryan Line, the average number of weekday passengers on the route rose to 99,000 per day by the end of 1970, 10% over the expected total and was faster than the adjacent expressway during rush hour.

The third expressway extension represented a new aspect of transportation connection in Chicago. In 1970, a new extension of the CTA opened in the Kennedy Expressway, extending the Logan Square Line to Jefferson Park, just a heartbeat away from Chicago's new O'Hare International Airport. The vast possibilities for service to such an installation was obvious and the CTA caught on quickly; in the mid-1980s, the line was extended to O'Hare Field. Chicagoans could now take an "L" from their homes and ultimately go anywhere in the world.

Airport access over the "L" became popular and a long awaited line was built in 1993, connecting the loop to Chicago's original airport, Midway. Built inexpensively (for about $500 million) using old abandoned railroad rights-of-ways, including those previously used by the Illinois Central Railroad, Santa Fe Railway and the Belt Railway of Chicago, the CTA chose not to utilize the median of the Stevenson Expressway, built wide like the Congress, Dan Ryan and Kennedy Expressways specifically to carry rapid transit lines, to carry the "L". This may have been for the best: putting an "L" line in the median of an expressway isolates it from the neighborhood it's supposed to serve. The Midway Line, the first totally new, non-extension line built onto the "L" in nearly twenty years, was long in coming: the line was part of a citywide subway proposal in the 1940s.


Pt I: The Original Companies | Pt. II: Unification | Pt. III: The CTA Takes Over 

Photo Credits

Top Photo: Washington/Dearborn station on February 23, 1951. Here, a VIP tour of the new subway is being lead on newly-delivered car 6101-6102. The man facing right at the foot of the stairs is George DeMent, Commissioner of Subways and Superhighways and later a CTA chairman. (Photo from the George Krambles Collection.)

Bottom Photo: Car 2445-2646 are crossing Tower 12 (Wabash/Van Buren) southbound, on their way to 95th Street on the Lake-Dan Ryan All Stop run. (Photo by Arthur Peterson)