Having picked up your Welcome Package from the Hutchinson Commons during O-Week, you now have what you need to get around Chicago -- your pre-loaded student Ventra card (AKA your "U-Pass")! With it, you can tap onto any of the eight "L" lines and get to any of the 140 stations around the city!
The "L" is an old system -- its first lines were built in the late 19th Century -- and although it's seen many changes and significant expansion over the years, most of today's lines still run on the same historic tracks that were first built to help commuters from what were then suburbs commute into the historic downtown area for work, dining, and entertainment. (See the map link in the sidebar for a glimpse of the "L" in 1908, courtesy of the Library of Congress.) In fact, the "L" has been around so long, and is so identified with the city, that one of its singular features has become synonymous with Chicago's downtown: the Loop!
Speaking of the Loop, this is the part of riding the "L" that can be most confusing for newcomers. Not all trains go around the Loop in the same direction! Of the trains that go around it (the red and blue lines go under it as subways), the pink, orange, and purple lines run clockwise, while the brown and green lines run counterclockwise. Still not sure which line to get on for a specific destination? Just open your favorite smartphone map application -- Chicago Transit Authority information integrates smoothly with most major navigation apps, including routes, travel times, and ETAs for specific trains!
Check out a map of all "L" routes, as well as the history and current operation of each "L" route. See for yourself where the "L" trains can take you!
The Red Line provides 24-hour train service between Howard on the North Side and 95th/Dan Ryan on the South Side via subway through downtown Chicago. Created in 1993 when the Howard Line was linked with the Dan Ryan portion, the Red Line stretches most of the north-south length of the city, having the highest ridership of any "L" line.
The Red Line serves both of Chicago's baseball parks, Wrigley Field (home of the Cubs) at Addison and Comiskey Park (home of the White Sox) at Sox-35th. It also brings you to other attractions, including Chinatown at Cermak-Chinatown, the Museum Campus at Roosevelt, the Art Institute of Chicago at Monroe, Navy Pier at Grand, and the Magnificent Mile at Grand/Chicago.
The Blue Line provides 24-hour rapid transit train service between Chicago-O'Hare International Airport and the Forest Park terminal, via downtown Chicago. On a practical level, the Blue Line is the modern ancestor of the lines of the Metropolitan West Side Elevated Railroad, a private "L" company that began service in 1895 for the West and Northwest Sides. Although the service pattern of the "Met" was quite different, the basic alignments -- beginning service in the loop, extending west two miles, and then branching into four lines that fanned out to the west, southwest, and northwest sides -- remain the same.
The Brown Line operates rapid transit service, daily, from Kimball to downtown (with certain late night trips between Kimball and Belmont only), completely above ground. The Brown Line service as it operates today was created on August 1, 1949 when the CTA reorganized all of its North Side "L" operations.
As a result of increasing ridership, insufficient train and station capacity, and aging infrastructure, the CTA began planning in late 1990s to renovate the Brown Line to increase its capacity and bring the stations and other infrastructure up to a good state of repair. The $530 million Brown Line Capacity Expansion Project began on April 13, 2004, aiming to accommodate eight rather than six-car trains, rehabilitate rail infrastructure and stations, and enhance accessibility accommodations. Despite multiple delays, the project was officially finished on January 9, 2010, completing the renovation of all 18 stations.
The Brown Line serves North Side neighborhoods such as Lincoln Square, Albany Park, Irving Park, North Center, Roscoe Village, Lakeview, Old Town, River North. Check out what to do in each of these neighborhoods here!
The Green Line route provides rapid transit train service between Harlem in Forest Park and Oak Park to 63rd Street on Chicago's South Side, through downtown via the Lake and Wabash sides of the Loop ‘L’. It was created in 1993 when the Lake branch was linked with the Englewood-Jackson Park Line via the Loop Elevated.
Since the 1993 realignment, the Green Line consists of the city's two oldest lines: the Lake Line and the South Side Line. The South Side Line represents the oldest section of the "L" in the city, with the original portion completed in 1892 and extended to serve the Colombian Exposition in 1893. There were also three now-demolished branches to Normal Park, Kenwood, and Back of the Yards.
The Green Line brings you to the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Cultural Center, Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, Garfield Park Conservatory, Illinois Institute of Technology, Museum Campus, Soldier Field, and the University of Chicago.
The Orange Line provides rapid transit train service between Midway Airport and the loop, mainly providing service to Chicago's Southwest Side. It is the most recent line to be built from scratch, opening on October 31, 1993, the first "L" line to open with a color name, and the first line to have all ADA-accessible stations.
The Orange Line serves the Southwest Side of the city, the last area to have "L" service. Although it might seem strange that the Southwest Side was bypassed for so long when it came to rapid transit service, this was in part a pragmatic result of the fact that such infrastructure is very population intensive. When the "L" lines were first built under private companies, the density of the Southwest Side was low-to-moderate and the type of industry it attracted wasn't as labor-intensive as other areas'.
The Pink Line operates rapid transit service, daily, from 54th/Cermak in Cicero to the Loop. It is the newest route on the CTA rapid transit system, created in 2006 by overlaying a new service onto existing infrastructure.
The modern origins of the Pink Line can be traced back to the highly-conceptual Circle Line plan the CTA publicized in 2002, to better connect the outer suburbs and the West Side of Chicago. In 2005, the Chicago Transit Authority conducted a West Side Corridor Study, gathering community members' opinions on how to improve public transit service. In 2006, Pink Line received its name and began its trial period of 6 months, which was extended twice after it expired. On December 4, 2008, CTA announced its decision to make the Pink Line permanent.
The Purple Line provides rapid transit train service between Linden in Wilmette and Howard via Evanston. Additionally, during weekday rush-periods, express service continues to the Loop. In 1908, it connected Wilson Avenue in Chicago to Central Street in Evanston, and in 1912, the Purple Line was extended to its current terminus at Linden Avenue, Wilmette.
From 1913 to 1949, Evanston trains used to run through the city to Jackson Park, on what is now the Green Line tracks. In 1949, however, the CTA instituted a North-South service revision, at which time the suburban portion was divorced into its own line, thus forming the modern Evanston route, with shuttle services at all time and downtown rush hour express services.
The Yellow Line route provides rapid transit train service between Dempster-Skokie and Howard, with connecting service to downtown Chicago via Purple or Red Line. This line is also commonly known by its original service name: the "Skokie Swift". The Yellow Line (by that name) dates back to February 1993 when the CTA changed the route naming convention from individual, historic names to color-coded nomenclature systemwide. The actual operation as we know it today, however, can be traced back to the creation of the line in April 1964.
The Yellow Line is an unusual CTA operation in several ways. For one, the nearly five-mile line was, for nearly 50 years, the only nonstop shuttle service in the system, in many ways more closely resembling a light rail operation than rapid transit. Today it has regained an intermediate stop along the line, but still retains many attributes closer to modern light rail. It was also the first line in the system to operate with one person transit operation (OPTO), with the motorman responsible for driving, working the door controls, and collecting fares (should no agent be on duty at Dempster), from the beginning of service. Finally, it is also interesting that it is the only line that CTA ran, then abandoned, then resumed operation on.