South Side Elevated Railroad

South Side Elevated Railroad
South Side Elevated Railroad

South Side Rapid Transit railcar #1, one of the original passenger cars from the railroad, now on display at the Chicago History Museum
Type Rapid transit
Locale Chicago
Opened 1892
Closed 1924 (merged into Chicago Rapid Transit Company)
Operator(s) Chicago and South Side Rapid Transit Railroad Company (1892–1897)
South Side Elevated Railroad (1897–1924)
Character Elevated right of way
Line length 1903: 10.7 miles (17.2 km)[1]
Track length 1903: 19.4 miles (31.2 km)[1]
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)[2] (standard gauge)
Minimum radius 90 ft (27 m)
Electrification Third rail, 600 V DC
Route map

South Side Elevated Railroad map.svg

The South Side Elevated Railroad (originally Chicago and South Side Rapid Transit Railroad) was the first elevated rapid transit line in Chicago, Illinois. The line ran from downtown Chicago to Jackson Park, with branches to Englewood, Normal Park, Kenwood, and the Union Stock Yards. The first 3.6 miles (5.8 km) of the line opened on June 6, 1892,[3] and much of its route is still used today as part of the Chicago 'L' system.


Chicago and South Side Rapid Transit Railroad

The Chicago and South Side Rapid Transit Railroad Company was incorporated on January 4, 1888,[4] and secured a franchise from the City of Chicago on March 26 of that year to construct an elevated railroad between Van Buren Street and 39th Street (Pershing Road).[5] The franchise required the company to build along a right of way immediately adjacent and parallel to one of the alleys from Van Buren Street to 37th Street,[5] rapidly earning the line the nickname of the "alley L".[6][7] On April 2, 1892 the city authorized the extension of the line as far south as 71st street, and a further extension along 63rd Street was passed on April 7, 1893, the total cost of construction was estimated at $6,750,000.[5]

A 6-car train carrying 300 guests made the inaugural run along first section of the line—running between a station at 39th Street and the Congress Terminal downtown—on May 27, 1892,[8] and the line opened to the public ten days later.[9] Initially the 3.6-mile (5.8 km) journey from 39th street to downtown took 14 minutes and cost 5¢.[3] The line was gradually extended over the coming months, with the route reaching Jackson Park on May 12, 1893 to provide service to the World's Columbian Exposition.[3] Rolling stock on the line included 46 Forney-type (0-4-4) steam locomotives that were built at the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia, and 180 46-foot (14 m)-long wooden passenger cars.[3][10] The first 20 locomotives were delivered coupled into a single train in April 1892.[11]

Bankruptcy and takeover

When the World's Columbian Exposition closed, lack of development along the southern portion of the route led to plummeting passenger numbers. The Chicago and South Side Rapid Transit Railroad Company went into receivership in 1895 and was sold under foreclosure on September 16, 1896 for $4,100,100.[12] The South Side Elevated Railroad was formed to take over the route in 1897.[3] Service was extended into the newly built Union Loop on October 18, 1897 connecting the South Side Elevated Railroad with the Lake Street Elevated Railroad, the Metropolitan West Side Elevated Railroad, and (after 1900) the Northwestern Elevated Railroad.[10] These other companies used third rail electrification to power their trains so the South Side Elevated Railroad enlisted Frank Julian Sprague to convert its rolling stock to electrical power. Sprague used his previously untested system of multiple-unit train control (MU) whereby multiple self-powered cars could be linked together and controlled by a single person, making the South Side Elevated Railroad the first in the world to use MU operation.[3][10]


As ridership increased, the South Side Elevated Railroad constructed additional branches. A 3-mile (4.8 km) branch to Englewood opened in stages between 1905 and 1907 (with a short 0.9-mile (1.4 km) brach to Normal Park opening in 1907),[13] and branches to Kenwood and the Union Stock Yards—both running on tracks owned by the Chicago Junction Railroad—opened in 1907 and 1908 respectively.[14][15]


In 1913 Chicago's four elevated railroad companies came together to form the Chicago Elevated Railways Collateral Trust establishing crosstown services for the first time, and in 1924 all four companies were formally united to form the Chicago Rapid Transit Company.[16] The Chicago Transit Authority took over the assets of the CRT in 1947. The Normal Park branch closed in 1954[17] and the Kenwood and Stock Yards branches were abandoned in 1957[18][19] but most of the rest of the route of the South Side Elevated Railroad continues in service as part of the CTA's Green Line.


  1. ^ a b Poor, H.V.; Poor, H.W. (1903). Poor's Manual of the Railroads of the United States (Volume 36). pp. 925. 
  2. ^ Poor, H.V.; Poor, H.W. (1900). Poor's Manual of the Railroads of the United States (Volume 33). pp. 881. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Borzo, Greg (2007). "Chapter Two: First "L"—South Side". The Chicago "L". Chicago: Arcadia Publishing. pp. 23–34. ISBN 978-0-7385-5100-5. 
  4. ^ Maltbie, Milo Roy (ed) (1901). The Street Railways of Chicago: Report of the Civic Federation of Chicago. Chicago: The Civic Federation of Chicago. pp. 80. 
  5. ^ a b c Wilcox, Delos F. (1911). Municipal Franchises: A Description of the Terms and Conditions upon which Private Corporations Enjoy Special Privileges in the Streets of American Cities. New York: The Engineering News Publishing Company. pp. 465–470. 
  6. ^ Ralph, Julian (1893). Harper's Chicago and the World's Fair. New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers. pp. 143. 
  7. ^ Stevens, Charles McClellan (1893). The Adventures of Uncle Jeremiah and Family at the Great Fair. Chicago: Laird & Lee Publishers. pp. 33. 
  8. ^ Garfield, Graham. "Green Line: South Side Elevated". Chicago "L".org. Retrieved 2007-12-28. 
  9. ^ "Running on the "L.": First Train Goes Through in Fourteen Minutes". Chicago Daily Tribune: p. 9. 1892-06-07. 
  10. ^ a b c Moffat, Bruce G.. "Steam On The Alley “L”". Discover Live Steam. Archived from the original on 2007-10-26. Retrieved 2007-12-28. 
  11. ^ Morris, Hank. "Chicago's First Elevated's First Locomotives" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-12-28. [dead link]
  12. ^ Street Railway Journal (1905). American Street Railway Investments. New York: McGraw Publishing Company. pp. 52. 
  13. ^ Garfield, Graham. "Green Line: Ashland (Englewood) branch". Chicago "L".org. Retrieved 2008-01-27. 
  14. ^ Garfield, Graham. "Kenwood branch". Chicago "L".org. Retrieved 2008-01-27. 
  15. ^ Garfield, Graham. "Stock Yards branch". Chicago "L".org. Retrieved 2008-01-27. 
  16. ^ "Four "L" Lines Merged Under Insull As Chief". Chicago Daily Tribune: p. 11. 1924-01-17. 
  17. ^ "Normal Park 'L' Spur Service to End Today". Chicago Daily Tribune: p. A12. 1954-01-29. 
  18. ^ "Stock Yards 'L' Dies On Oct. 7; Plan Bus Line". Chicago Daily Tribune: p. A5. 1957-9-27. 
  19. ^ "An Era Ends: Wood 'L' Cars On Last Runs". Chicago Daily Tribune: p. A2. 1957-11-29. 

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