Franklin Terminal (300W/314S)
Franklin Street between Jackson Blvd. and Van Buren Street, Loop

Service Notes:

Metropolitan West Side Elevated

Quick Facts:

Address: 258-260 S. Franklin Street*
Established: May 17, 1895
Original Line: Metropolitan West Side Elevated
Previous Names: none
Skip-Stop Type: n/a
Rebuilt: n/a
Status: Demolished

* Address under pre-1909 renumbering system;
314 S. Franklin in current address numbering


A terminal at Fifth Avenue -- the name of Wells Street from 1870 to 1916 -- was part of the Metropolitan West Side Elevated Railroad's original plan, included even in the wording of its franchise. However, land acquisition and construction costs were running higher than expected, and so the planned line was trimmed back by one block, from Fifth Avenue to Franklin Street, to reduce expenses in the high-property value downtown area.

A small, compact terminal was built at Franklin Street. Sandwiched in on the block between Market Street (Wacker Drive) and Franklin Street, the railroad had to fit a lot of infrastructure in a very small space, especially since the Chicago River and the Met's lift bridge were just west of Market Street. The terminal tracks and platforms, and the interlocked switches controlling the entrance to the terminal, would all have to fit in this confined area.

Rather than demolish the multi-story office buildings that already existed on Market and on Franklin in the railroad's alignment, the Met instead decided to leave the existing buildings and simply gut the second and third floors. The elevated structure then extended into the resulting opening. This work would end up making it one of the costliest segments of the Met's line to build.1

The building on Franklin Street was used as a terminal and office by the Met company, while the upper floors of the building on Market were leased out.2

The terminal consisted of two tracks and three platforms -- two side platforms, and an island platform between the two tracks, for expedited unloading and loading of trains, since the limited track space meant trains could not sit in the station long during busy periods. Each platform could accommodate about five cars.

On January 4, 1895, Metropolitan Elevated Secretary Higginson reported that workmen had been employed for several weeks in reconstructing the first three stories of 258-260 S. Franklin Street (in the pre-1909 address numbering system; this would be 314 S. Franklin today) and "fitting them up for a station." The company expected to have the elevated structure from their bridge over the Chicago River to the Franklin Terminal built by February 1.3

Service on the Met began on May 6, 1895, but only from Canal Street westward; service into the Franklin Terminal was delayed over a week due to ongoing work on the Met's bridge over Chicago River. Service was extended to the downtown terminal at Franklin Street on May 17, 1895.

View of switches and crossover controlled by the Franklin terminal interlocking plant of the Metropolitan West Side Elevated Railroad. For a larger view, click here. (Photo from The Railway Age)

Exterior view of lever tower for the the Franklin terminal interlocking plant and east half of the Metropolitan's river bridge, located at the foot of the bridge on the riverbank. For a larger view, click here. (Photo from The Railway Age)

A fairly complex interlocking plant had fit between the ends of the platforms and the river bridge, with switches that allowed a train from any of the four main line tracks to access either of the two terminal tracks. In addition, a short spur track was provided to the south, alongside the interlocking plant, for shunting motor cars (the Met had motor cars and trailers when it opened; it would later adopt multiple-unit operation to relieve them of the need to shuffle cars this way). The complex design and fabrication work was impressive enough to warrant a rather detailed write-up in Railway Age, an industry journal of the period:

The value and benefits of a complete system of interlocking and signaling, for the prompt and safe movement a very large number of passenger trains within a very space of time, are nowhere more manifest than at the terminal of the Metropolitan Elevated railroad of Chicago. The accompanying illustrations show the location of plant together with the switches and cross-overs controlled by it. They also show the limited room available for installation of such a plant and the difficulties that had to be met in the establishment of a satisfactory service at point.

The Franklin street or terminal station of the Metropolitan West Side Elevated railroad, Chicago, is located on Franklin street between Jackson and Van Buren streets. There two tracks in the station branching out into four outside. The traffic is very heavy, there being 1,286 trains every 24 hours, or a movement of 2,794 cars. Between the hours of 6:45 and 8:30 a.m. and 5 and 6:30 p.m. there is train movement every 45 seconds. The motive power is electricity. The motor car of each inbound train is cut off, moved to the motor car siding, and follows the next inbound in, in order to take this train out again. All this traffic is handled from the interlocking tower located on the south side of the tracks near the bridge and installed by the National Switch & Signal company of Easton Pa., in 1895.

The machine is of standard type consisting of 6 levers for 13 switches, 5 levers for 13 F.P. locks, 2 levers for movable electric contact rails, 4 levers for drawbridge locks levers for signal total 34 working levers and 10 spare levers.

All connections to switches locks and signals are of 1-inch pipe laid on double anti-friction pipe carriers. The signals are of special design showing a red light for the stop position and a green light for the proceed position. On account of the height of the elevated structure above the level it was necessary to erect a special steel framework 40 feet high to carry the tower.

In addition to operating all the tracks and signals, the east half of the drawbridge over the Chicago river is also operated from this tower, the west half being operated from a special tower on the west side of the river, as, on account of the obstruction of the view from the east side, it is deemed advisable to have a special tower on the west side. The bridge operating mechanism is interlocked with the machine and in addition to this the electric current is cut off from the terminal tracks, thus making it impossible for the train movement to be made while the bridge is open.

The 1,286 train movements require the levermen to set up 2,272 complete routes, there being 300 inbound and outbound movements on the north track of station, requiring 300 motor car movements. There would be 300 more car movements but for the fact that the outbound car follows its train out on the same track, thus no switching. On the south track there are 343 and 343 outbound train movements, each of which a motor car movement or a total of 1,372 movements. This heavy traffic is handled by a force of six men working eight-hour shifts. In addition to this they also operate the drawbridge for the river traffic. Bridges closed against river traffic between the hours of 6 and 8 a.m. and 5 and 7 pm.

The plant has given entire satisfaction from the date of its installation. The operating department is in charge of W.E. Baker, general manager, A.S. Jones, superintendent transportation, and W. E. Middleton, station inspector, who has direct charge of the entire interlocking system, there being, in addition to the terminal plant, two large plants, one at Canal street and one at Marshfield avenue, and a smaller plant at Robey street junction. The entire interlocking system was installed by the National Switch & Signal company as engineers and contractors.4

In spite of all this work, the Franklin Terminal was in use for just for less than three years, between 1895 and 1897. Once the Loop "L" was completed, the Met rerouted all of its trains there rather than to the Franklin Terminal, which has been limited in capacity. Practically speaking, it may not have been possible to accommodate both the junction to the spur that would connect the Met main line to the Loop and the necessary switches to control address to the Franklin terminal in the limited space between the west end of the terminal and the river bridge. In any case, on October 11, 1897 all Metropolitan "L" trains were rerouted to the Loop elevated, and the Franklin Street terminal closed. This short period of use makes the Franklin Street terminal the second shortest-lived "L" station, in service for only 878 days (2 years, 4 months, 24 days); only the Jackson Park station used for the Columbian Exposition had a shorter life.

At this time, the Franklin terminal was apparently demolished. There are no known photos of the Franklin Terminal, owing to its very short lifespan.

Soon, however, the Loop reached operating capacity and some trains were being turned back at Canal Street, west of the Chicago River. This was by no means ideal, so the Met revived its plans for a terminal at Fifth Avenue, this time to augment the Loop as an auxiliary terminal facility. In mid-1902, the city council granted the Met approval to construct a four-track terminal at Fifth Avenue, just south of Jackson Boulevard. The Fifth Avenue Terminal opened on October 3, 1904.



1. Moffat, Bruce, The "L": The Development of Chicago's Rapid Transit System, 1888-1932 (CERA Bulletin 131), Chicago: Central Electric Railfans' Association, 1995, pg. 127.
3. "Metropolitan "L" Goes Ahead." Chicago Tribune. January 5, 1895, pg. 13.
4. "Signaling and Interlocking in Chicago--No. VII: A Description of the Metropolitan West Side Elevated Railroad Plant at Franklin Street Station." The Railway Age, September 18, 1890, p. 223.