So that people knew what trains were going where, "L" trains have always displayed destination signs on the train cars for identification. These became especially important in 1897 when the four original companies' trains started to intermingle in the Loop and even more important after 1913 when cross-town service was inaugurated.

The types of signs have changed a lot over the years. Below are some descriptions and illustrations.

Original Destination Sign System (1892-1948)

Jackson & Sharp S.S.R.T wooden trailer #40
(Representative of most wooden trailers and motors used on the "L")

Fig. 1.1: Front destination sign fitting into hooks.

During this period, the method of train identification varied greatly depending on the "L" company, car type and year. Almost always, motormen hung square signs on the front of the trains, in the right front window, that said what route the train was running. These signs, often called destination boards, had a pole or stick attached horizontally along the top, allowing it to be hung from a pair of hooks next to the window(see diagram at left). Some had roller curtains similar to those found on 4000, 6000 and High Performance "L" cars in side windows, either above the far right or center window (depending on the car type). A few trains (on the Metropolitan West Side Line) had long rectangular destination boards in windows on the sides of the cars. Another variation was on certain Northwestern Elevated cars, which were equipped with roof-mounted destination signs, above the open front platform, below the trolley pole.

The 4000-series trains (see diagram below) came standard with hooks for the front board and a window with a roller curtain on the sides similar to those in use today.

The front boards were white with black letters and listed the train's destination terminal (requiring them to be changed for the return trip). The side boards (usually seen on Met trains) used a similar scheme. Conversely, the 4000-series roller curtains and the Northwestern "L" roof-mounted signs used the opposite: white letters on a black background. This system persisted until the CTA instituted its "A/B skip stop" system and redrew and renamed the routes.

The number of different signs are too numerous to list here, compounded by the fact that they were often not particularly straight-forward (e.g. the board for Kimball-bound trains said "Ravenswood, Albany Park"). Additionally, other signs were hung from the chains on the front of the car. More often then not, these were simply ads or signs letting people know that a trains was going to a baseball field on the day of a game or some such thing. But, occasionally, it elaborated on the train's stopping pattern. On the Douglas Line, for instance, three stations were designated "Special Service" stations in the A/B scheme, served only by trains displaying special signs specifically denoting them. A few examples are shown below. For more on what the various routes were, see the page on pre-CTA operations.

Some Examples:

Front Signs
Front Signs
Side Signs (Met "L")
Niles Center
Garfield Park and beyond
5th Ave. Terminal
Logan Square
Englewood and Normal Park
Douglas Park Line

Early CTA Destination Sign System (1948-1995)

4000-series car

In 1948, a year after taking over "L" operations, the CTA began redrawing the routes and instituted their "A/B skip stop" system, starting with the Lake Street Line. Under this configuration, stations were an A stop, B stop or an AB stop. Trains were A trains, B trains or All Stops. A trains stopped at A and AB stops and so on. The different trains were color-coded on the destinations signs, but this started out with no consistency throughout the system. For instance, the Douglas Line uniquely used red for A and a shade of brown for B. By 1958 (with the rerouting of trains on the Milwaukee, Douglas and newly opened Congress Lines), a measure of consistency was reached. Trains that were through routed (Howard-Englewood-Jackson Park Line and Milwaukee-Congress-Douglas Line) used red for A and green for B, with All Stops eventually symbolized by those words in a white box replacing the letter. (In an odd inconsistency, All Stop signs were not printed on the curtains used for the Milwaukee-Congress-Douglas and thus they used their A and B signs even when running all-stop, with the conductor making the announcement at regular intervals to alert passengers.) On routes terminating in the Loop (the Ravenswood and Lake [until '69]), yellow was for A and blue for B.

Originally, the signs continued to only list the destination terminal. For instance, a Logan Square A train would say just that, but an All Stop would simply say "Logan Sq." in white letters on a black background (later the words "All Stop" were added to these). Later (probably circa 1958), the signs either listed both terminals of the line (i.e. "O'Hare, Douglas") or the line's name (i.e. "Ravenswood"), so the sign wouldn't have to be changed for the return trip. These signs were on a curtain or sheet on rollers that could be automatically controlled from the front of the train. For the front of 4000-series trains, a square sign still had to be hung in the right front window. The lines were as follows:

An animated roll sign. The original it is modeled after came from a 6000-series car and was marked "1963", although the "Loop Shuttle" reading was stitched in in 1969. For a larger view, click here. (Animated GIF by RT Morrow)

Toward the end of the A/B system, changes occurred. As time went on, skip stop service began to be abandoned on certain lines for various reasons. The first major changes occurred in 1993. In February, the Lake Line was re-paired with the Englewood and Jackson Park Lines, while the Howard was re-paired with the Dan Ryan. At this time, skip stop service was abandoned on the new Lake-Englewood-Jackson Park Line due to excessive intervals between trains. At the same time, the Dan Ryan portion of the Howard-Dan Ryan Line went to all stops due to the large distances between stations (though the Howard portion continued to run skip stop during rush hours). In 1993, about the time the Midway Line opened (which always ran All Stops), the lines were officially given color names. At this point, the destination signs' background color represented to line, not the train type. For a brief period, these systems overlapped, with line-colored A/B signs (for instance, a brown Ravenswood A sign instead of a yellow one). The Ravenswood abandoned A/B service in '95 when it went to one-man operations with the 3200-series cars and later that year, the last of the holdouts (the Howard and O'Hare) abandoned it as well, ending an era in Chicago history.

Some Examples:

Howard-Englewood A on a 2600-series train
Howard-Jackson Park B on a 2600-series train
Howard-Jackson Park All Stop on a 2600-series train
Ravenswood A on a 2600-series train
Ravenswood B on a 1-50 series train
Loop Shuttle (1969-77) on a 6000-series train
Lake B on a 2000-series train
Lake A for front of 4000-series trains
Lake-Dan Ryan B on a 2600-series train
Milwaukee-Congress A on a 4000-series train
O'Hare-Douglas B on a 2600-series train
Logan Square All Stop on a 6000-series train

The Current CTA Destination Sign System (1995-present)

2200-series car
(Representative of the PCC and High Performance Families)

In 1996, with the reopening of the Lake and Jackson Park-Englewood lines (after a two year rehabilitation), the CTA revamped its line designations. The A/B skip stop system had been abandoned on April 28, 1995. At this time, the lines used only their color designations and, soon, the lines were renamed. The signs reverted to showing only the destination terminal, instead of both the line's terminals or the route name. The lines are now as follows:

  • Red Line: Howard-Dan Ryan
  • Green Line: Lake-Ashland/63 (previously Lake-Englewood)
  • Green Line: Lake-East 63rd (previously Lake-Jackson Park)
  • Blue Line: O'Hare-Forest Park (previously O'Hare-Congress)
  • Blue Line: O'Hare-54/Cermak (previously O'Hare-Douglas)
  • Brown Line: Kimball-Loop (previously Ravenswood)
  • Brown Line: Kimball-Belmont
  • Purple Line: Linden-Howard
  • Purple Line: Express, Linden-Loop (previously Evanston Express)
  • Orange Line: Midway-Loop
  • Yellow Line: Skokie-Howard (a.k.a. Skokie Swift)

An East 63rd route destination sign.

A Skokie Swift route sign.


The signs for these routes are shown below. There are more signs on the roller curtains than these, but they are rarely displayed. Most are used for situations in which a train may end its trip and turn around before it reaches its normal terminal. Most of the locations below are either a yard where the train would lay up or have some sort of crossover or side track that makes it a convenient place to turn a train. A few examples include:

The Current System:

Brown Line
Blue Line
Green Line
Purple Line

Orange Line
Red Line
Yellow Line