North Side Main Line
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- Hours of Operation: Service at
Length of Route: 7.5 miles
Number of Stations: 15 stations
Car Types Assigned: 5000-series
Assignment sheet for
latest car assignments)
The Howard section of the Red Line -- the portion between Howard
terminal and the State Street Subway on the North Side of the city --
is a series of sections built by the Northwestern Elevated Railroad.
Often referred to as the North Side Main Line, the Howard line
represents the trunk line of the old Northwestern Elevated, although
only the portion north of Armitage (where the subway begins) is still
part of the Red Line.
Between Armitage and Clark Junction, the old Northwestern main
line is shared by the Red and Brown Lines. Here, Brown Line (and
Purple Line) trains run as the locals did for the Northwestern on the
outside tracks (Tracks 1 and 4) and make all stops. The Red Line
operates on the inner tracks (Tracks 2 and 3), as Northwestern
expresses did, and make limited stops. At Clark Junction, the Brown
Line leaves the old North Side Main Line for the Ravenswood branch;
the Red Line continues north on the inside tracks as the "local" and
the Purple Line Express continues on the outside tracks as the
Early on, there were no through-routed services -- all trains
terminated in the Loop -- and for the first seven years no Ravenswood
branch at all. From 1900 to 1907, all trains that traversed the North
Side Main Line went from the Loop to Wilson, with some running local
and others running express. There was much tweaking of these
operations well. Originally, expresses stopped at Sheridan, Belmont,
Fullerton, Halsted, Sedgwick, and Kinzie, but express stopping at
Halsted and Sedgwick (on the portion no longer used by North-South
trains) was short-lived, suspended in September 1900. Another concept
that was used quite a bit back then (especually after the North Side
Main extension north of Wilson opened in 1908) but is virtually
unknown in Chicago now is the idea of "zone expresses". Zone express
service offers express service, with few stops, in one portion of a
route and then operates local service at the other end of the route.
This provides a much more flexible service for riders by allowing
those who live at local stops at the outer portion of the route to
still enjoy the benefits of fast express service without changing
trains, not to mention that it uses infrastrucutre more efficiently.
Starting in 1902, some northbound afternoon expresses made local
stops north of Fullerton to give passengers heading to these stations
and faster trip. (This concept was more fully developed after 1908,
when the extension opened. For more on this, see below.)
In March 1907, the Evanston City Council approved the
electrification of the St. Paul's tracks through their city. By the
end of Summer 1907, a joint operating agreement between the
Northwestern and the St. Paul was signed. The right-of-way's
ownership technically stayed with the CM&StP, so a special fund
was established to cover maintenance and capital improvements. Work
quickly began to realign the tracks and string up overhead for the
Northwestern, who had to retrofit all of their trains with trolley
poles for the new service. New high-level platforms and small wooden
station houses were built to replace the St. Paul's stations at
Argyle, Edgewater, North Edgewater, Hayes, Rogers Park, and
Birchwood, as well as in suburban Evanston.
Service was extended north of Wilson to Central Avenue in north
Evanston on May 16, 1908 over the electrified St. Paul tracks.
Additional stations were added over time, including Howard on the
city limits shortly after on August 23, 1908, Thorndale Avenue was
added in 1915 and Edgewater Beach (Berwyn) circa 1918.
- October 25, 1893 - The
Northwestern Elevated Railroad Company is incorporated. Though not
one of its incorporators, its principal backer is traction magnate
Charles Tyson Yerkes.
- January 23, 1896 - The first steel of the "L" structure
is erected at Fullerton and Sheffield Avenues. Later in the year,
despite optimistic forecasts, it's determined that the
Northwestern can not be ready for operations by the end of the
year, so, at the Northwestern's request, the city counsel pushes
the deadline for beginning service to December 31, 1897.
- Late-November, 1897 - The structure stretches from
Dayton Avenue (near the intersection of Halsted Street and North
Avenue) to Buena Avenue. Work is suspended due to financial
problems. Another extension is granted, pushing to deadline to
January 1, 1899.
- December, 1898 - With new money raised, construction
crews resume work on the line, but with the January 1, 1899
deadline now impossible, the aldermen agree to give the company
until December 31, 1899 to begin service.
- Mid-May, 1899 - Most of the steel between Montrose
Avenue and Halsted Street (about half the total distance) is in
place. The aldermen reject the Northwestern's request for a time
- December 25, 1899, 3:55pm - The last span is put into
place. Only one track is completed between Wilson Avenue and
Kinzie Street and work on all but a few stations has not even been
started. All efforts are directed towards having at least one
track and a few stations completed so that token service could be
operated to keep the franchise valid.
- December 30, 1899, 2:13pm - The first train operated on
the Northwestern, leaving the partially completed Wrightwood
station bound for the Loop.
- January 1, 1900 - Despite the service (albeit token
service) in place, the Chicago Public Works commissioner declares
the Northwestern's structure incomplete and unsafe, thereby
nullifying the franchise. He orders the Northwestern to cease
- January 3, 1900 - The aldermen agree to give the
Northwestern one more extension; this time until May 31, 1900.
They make it clear that there will be no more extensions.
- May 31, 1900 - The
Northwestern reopens for service. The stations, north from the
Loop, include Kinzie, Chicago, Division, Schiller, Sedgwick,
Larrabee, Halsted, Center (later Armitage), Webster, Fullerton,
Wrightwood, Diversey, Wellington, Belmont, Clark, Addison, Grace,
Sheridan, Buena Park and Wilson. Stations at Willow and Oak would
be added later. The four track structure includes express and
local trains, with expresses stopping only at Wilson, Sheridan,
Belmont, Fullerton, Halsted, Sedgwick, Kinzie and the
Loop. The Northwestern begins operation with
wooden trailers and motors using electric traction.
- March 5, 1907 - To relieve congestion, a new "lower
Wilson Avenue" station and a loop track are built and put into
service, with express trains routed to it.
- July 1, 1907 - Chicago authorizesg electrification of
the St. Paul's tracks from Graceland Avenue (later Irving Park
Road) to Howard, but does not require the tracks to be elevated. A
city ordinance did, however, prohibit the use of a third rail on
surface-level tracks (even though it was used in just such a
situation elsewhere in the city). As part of the agreement, the
Northwestern had to provide 24-hour service to the Loop from all
St. Paul stops, plus Hayes (later Loyola) and Howard. In exchange,
the city would waive payment of a penalty owed by the Northwestern
for not reaching the city limit by 1903, as per their original
- May 16, 1908 - Service is
extended north to Central Street in Evanston, using trackage owned
by Chicago Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway. CM&StP had
previously operated steam powered commuter trains over this line,
and continued to operate freight service. The line remained at
ground level, and was electrified with overhead trolley
- August 23, 1908 -Howard Avenue (later Howard Street)
station opens, late due to construction delays.
- November 3, 1913 - Crosstown "L" service is first
initiated, with trains running from Linden Avenue in Wilmette to
the Stony Island Avenue terminal in Chicago's Jackson
Park. The South Side and Northwestern trains
operate on the outer track in a counterclockwise direction
(actually only running over two sides of the Loop on each
crosstown trip). Crosstown pairings include Evanston-Jackson Park,
Wilson-Englewood, and Wilson-South Park runs (the last being
believed to be very short-lived).
- April 22, 1914 - Work on the elevation of the tracks
between Lawrence Avenue and Howard Street begins. The elevation of
the 4.5 mile segment, which was mandated by the 1907 ordinance, is
expected to be a three year, $3 million effort.
- August, 1914 - Work on the Lawrence-Howard elevation
ceases due to financial problems.
- 1915 - Work on the Lawrence-Howard elevation resumes.
The Thorndale Avenue station is added.
- January, 1916 - Trains on the Lawrence-Howard stretch
are moved onto a temporary wooden trestle, allowing the demolition
of the original tracks and stations. Construction of the permanent
embankment is slowed due to manpower and material shortages caused
by World War I
- 1918 - Edgewater Beach station (later changed to Berwyn
Avenue) is opened.
- 1922 - The new elevated four track main line between
Lawrence and Howard is complete.
- February 27, 1923 - The new station at Lawrence Avenue
opens. Later in the year, a new, larger station is constructed at
Wilson and the old terminal and yard are removed.
- July 31, 1949 - The CTA institutes its massive
North-South service revision. Service is streamlined into the
following routes: Howard-Englewood, Howard-Jackson Park,
Ravenswood (Kimball-Loop), and Evanston (Linden-Howard during
non-rush hours, Linden-Loop during rush). A/B skip stop service is
instituted on the Howard, Englewood, Jackson Park and Ravenswood
routes, and 23 low-use stations are closed, including Buena,
Clark, and Grace.
- February 21, 1993 - A new connection opens between the
Dan Ryan line and the State Street Subway. Dan Ryan trains are
routed through to Howard Street forming the Red Line. Englewood
and Jackson Park elevated lines, previously linked with Howard
Street, become linked with Lake Street line via the Loop elevated,
forming the Green Line. New destination roller signs on trains and
route maps conform to the new color coding system.
- April 28, 1995 - Skip stop service, running rush hours
only on the Red (Howard) and Blue (O'Hare) Lines, is
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