I recently had cause to take Metra all the way down to Joliet. The ride was a bit of an eye opener; on Saturday, a gray and cloudy day threatening rain, I took a second trip on part of the line with my camera.
I don’t know what historical forces shaped this train line, but what I do know is this: it rockets through the desolate neighborhoods of south Chicago at 60 miles an hour, not stopping for the first five or ten miles. When it finally does stop, it’s in the Beverly neighborhood, the last bit of Chicago before the inner-ring suburbs. And then, it stops every minute. I guessed that we made a dozen stops in half an hour, and that didn’t turn out to be far off the mark:
Now, I’m new to Chicago; I don’t know what went down however many years ago when these stops were established. But doesn’t this strike anybody else as absolute freaking overkill? This little ‘burb gets more Metra stops than the entire city of Chicago does on our Union Pacific North line!
A bit of digging online reveals that the line did indeed lose its city stops when the Red Line was extended south in 1969. Well, sucks for the south siders. I tell ya, Metra and the L are worlds apart in quality.
But no answers as to why there’s 15 stops in maybe two miles.
The first run, from Lasalle Street to the first station stop, was far and away the most interesting part of the trip. The train flew past houses, apartments, industry, scrap yards, and vacant lots.
A long, enormous stretch of vacant land alongside the tracks attests to where the former Robert Taylor Homes housing project stood just a few years ago. Clues to its past life remain: random streetlights and fire hydrants in the middle of huge grassy lots. Crumbling parking lots that serve nothing. Electrical boxes hundreds of yards from any building. Churches surrounded by empty blocks.
The ride also reveals a great deal of hidden infrastructure, particularly rail lines. As the two remaining tracks cross bridges, truss bridges for a half dozen more tracks remain, though their rails are long vanished and their decks covered with weeds. Abandoned embankments and even an entire elevated wye junction remain, rusting and crumbling away.
It’s a fascinating ride, which goes by all too quickly. I’d be happy to get stuck on a train with engine troubles that would tool along this route at 10 miles an hour.
Beverly’s an interesting little hamlet on the farthest fringes of the city’s south side. I took a short walk there yesterday before hopping on a return train. It’s got lots of large, beautiful period revival houses from the 1920s; it’s also the only place in the city of Chicago that has topography. When I return with my bicycle, I’ll give it a more lengthy exploration; for now, here’s the most attention-getting building that I saw, the Beverly Unitarian Church.