Four branches down…

After successfully photographing every station on the North Side Main Line and Skokie Branch, I have now photographed every station on two additional “branches” of the Chicago L: Ravenswood Branch, and Evanston Branch.

We had a pretty big cold snap for most of February this winter, so I was not about to go photographing anything during that time. It also didn’t help that the COVID situation was pretty bad for a while. However, the past two weekends have been quite pleasant (40 degrees or warmer and bright and sunny) and the COVID situation has improved. I took advantage of the weather to get out and photograph some more L stations. I had already photographed Paulina and Irving Park on the Brown Line, but none of the other ones. My first expedition took me out to Albany Park, on the Brown Line. I walked out to Kimball and started there.

My photos of Kimball were less than impressive, admittedly:

Kimball station entrance from across the street
The entrance to Kimball
Empty track at Kimball
Platform with an empty track

There were a few reasons for a rough start to this photo expedition. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve done any photography, so I’m a bit out of practice. I like to shoot outdoor pictures in sunny weather whenever possible to get brighter and more vivid colors, but it does mean I need to be a bit more careful in terms of timing and positioning to have the sun where I want it (ideally the sun is high in the sky but behind me). Unfortunately I didn’t really think that through, and the sun was still in front of me when photographing the Kimball entrance, resulting in a lot of glare. Then in the station itself, I was limited in what I could do because there were a ridiculous number of CTA employees there, and also a surprising number of passengers given that it was the middle of the day on a Saturday. I understand all the CTA employees being there, given that it’s the end of the line and adjacent to the yard, but it limited what I could photograph.

Undeterred, I continued on to Francisco:

Platform at Francisco
Francisco platform

The outer portion of the Brown Line is a bit different from most of the rest of the L. It runs at ground level (with street crossings) rather than elevated, and the stations accordingly have a very different design. Also note all the snow in the picture. Even though it hadn’t snowed in a while and had been above freezing for about a week, there was still a lot of snow on the ground left to melt, and I heard water going down gutters even though it was completely sunny out.

Francisco also had an interesting mosaic design on the entrance ramp:

Main entrance ramp and mosaic at Francisco
Mosaic on the Francisco main entrance ramp

And, of course, there were grade crossings adjacent to the station:

Brown Line crossing Sacramento Avenue
Grade crossing by Francisco

I caught a train passing through as well:

Brown Line train crossing Sacramento Avenue
Train crossing the street

From there, I walked over to Kedzie:

Looking east on the platform at Kedzie (Brown)
Platform at Kedzie

The station looked more or less the same as Francisco, and from there I waited for the next train to Western.

Outbound platform at Western (Brown)
Outbound platform at Western

Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to capture that many pictures at Western because a CTA employee spotted me taking photos and (incorrectly) informed me that I needed a permit to take photos. I explained that I am taking non-commercial photos and their own photo policy says “The general public is permitted to use hand-held cameras to take photographs, capture digital images, and videotape within public areas of CTA stations and transit vehicles for personal, non-commercial use.” My photos are for non-commercial purposes and were taken with a hand-held camera in a public area, therefore I was in compliance with the rule. She didn’t seem to care and told me “well in the future, be aware of this.” I will definitely return to take more photos, hopefully on a day that person isn’t stationed there.

Regardless, I headed over to Rockwell, and along the way got a photo of the tracks rising from grade level to the elevated structure:

Brown Line tracks rising from street level to elevated between Rockwell and Western
Tracks rising from ground level to the elevated structure between Rockwell and Western

I also got a photo of the bridge over the North Branch of the Chicago River:

Brown Line bridge over the North Branch
Brown Line bridge over the North Branch of the Chicago River

Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any pedestrian path along the river, so I couldn’t get a closer picture (this picture was taken from another bridge). Maybe one day I will be able to rent a kayak to get a photo from closer. From there, I entered Rockwell:

Platform at Rockwell, looking east
Platform at Rockwell

Rockwell is unusual in that it only has one entrance, while the other ground-level stations (except Kimball) have an entrance at both ends of the platform. Other than that though, it looks like the other ground-level Brown Line stations.

From Rockwell, I caught the next train to Montrose.

Inbound platform and canopy at Montrose (Brown)
Platform at Montrose

Montrose had a cool set of exit-only stairs that met at a right angle (usually they either meet head-on or have separate exits) for a combined exit:

Exit-only gates at Montrose (Brown)
Exit-only faregates at Montrose

From there, I walked to Damen:

Brown Line structure north of Montrose
Brown Line structure and alley north of Montrose, just south of the curve
Inbound platform at Damen (Brown)
Platform at Damen
Brown Line train entering Damen
Outbound train entering Damen

There, I decided to call it a day and headed back home (this time using the train instead of walking). I caught the next inbound train to Belmont and transferred there. While waiting for the Red Line at Belmont, I saw a rather interesting traffic jam. A southbound Brown Line train was holding just south of the station on the Red Line track (southbound Brown Line trains were running on the Red Line track due to construction). However, it was not far enough past the station to clear the signal for the track by the platform, so a southbound Red Line train behind it had to hold north of the station. Where it was holding, it blocked the Clark Interlocking where the Brown Line diverges from the Red Line, so a northbound Brown Line train was stuck at the station since it couldn’t proceed due to the junction being blocked. (Note that the Red-Purple Bypass project will prevent this kind of problem in the future, but that’s still a work-in-progress right now.)

Eventually they announced over the PA system that there was “police activity” at Wellington, which was causing the delay. A few minutes later, the first southbound train resumed moving again, allowing the second southbound train to enter the station and clearing the interlocking for the northbound Brown Line train, clearing the traffic jam and allowing trains to resume as normal. While waiting, I got a photo of the current state of the Red-Purple Bypass:

Red-Purple Bypass from the Belmont platform, February 2021
Red-Purple Bypass

Then a northbound Red Line train came and I took that back home.

The next weekend, Saturday, March 6, I continued my work. I first walked to Addison on the Brown Line to finish photographing the Brown Line, with only Addison and Southport left. They were doing some welding on the track structure at Addison by the entrance (I don’t have any pictures since I didn’t want to risk damaging my eyes by looking at welding), but otherwise it was a pretty quiet morning there.

Inbound platform at Addison (Brown), looking north
Inbound platform at Addison

I definitely was off to a better start than I was at Kimball the previous weekend. Not a bad photo to start the day. From there, I caught the next inbound train to Southport.

Platforms at Southport from the inbound platform
Southport Station
Main entrance to Southport
Entrance to Southport

From Southport, I walked over to Belmont. I got a bit confused in terms of what direction I was walking from Southport since I was paying too much attention to my photos and not what direction I was going (I was watching for cars and other people though). At Belmont, I got a treat I hadn’t seen before: a work train.

Northbound work train on the northbound Belmont Red Line track
Work train heading north on the Red Line track, strangely with a “Midway” destination sign
Flatcar on a CTA work train on the northbound Red Line track at Belmont
Flatcar carrying a rail truck on it

I don’t know what that train was for, but it was cool to see. With that, I had conquered the Ravenswood Branch! From there, I set about finishing my work on conquering the Evanston Branch. I had already photographed Howard, Main, Dempster, Davis, Central, and Linden on other expeditions, so I just had to get the remaining three: South Boulevard, Foster, and Noyes. I caught the next northbound Red Line train at Belmont to make that happen.

At Howard while waiting to transfer to the Purple Line, I saw that work train again. Since there were so many people out, I didn’t photograph it again, but my guess is it was headed to the Howard Yard.

Eventually, a Purple Line train came, and I took that to Noyes.

Platform at Noyes, looking north
Platform at Noyes

Several of the northern Purple Line stops used to be stops on the interurban North Shore Line, which had separate platforms (with separate fare collection). The platforms have mostly been demolished, but the supports remain:

Southbound track at Noyes
Remnants of the North Shore Line platform at Noyes

Leaving Noyes, I walked to Foster, only a few blocks south:

Platform at Foster
Platform at Foster

It was also interesting that Foster and Noyes had platform-level faregates, while most other elevated stations do fare collection at ground level. It was difficult to photograph this because people tend to congregate by the entrance.

Platform-level faregates at Foster
Platform-level faregates at Foster

Finally, for what I figured would be my last station to photograph for the day, I took the next train to South Boulevard:

Looking north on the platform at South Boulevard
Platform at South Boulevard

South Boulevard is interesting for having a “team track,” a diverging spur track. According to, it dates back to when the line still carried freight for local businesses to load/unload content from railcars. Unfortunately, I couldn’t photograph the team track from ground level since there was a fenced-off area between the parking lot and the end of the track, so I was only able to photograph it from the platform:

Northbound track at South Boulevard
“Team track” diverging from the northbound track at South Boulevard

From there, I started walking back to Howard. Just outside the Howard Yard, I saw another photography opportunity: where the Purple and Yellow Lines cross Chicago Avenue (which changes names to Clark Street just south of there):

Purple Line bridge over Chicago Avenue
Purple Line bridge
Yellow Line trench just past Howard
Yellow Line trench

Then, as I was walking east on Howard Street, I saw a new angle from which I could photograph the Howard Station that captured a good full-profile image of the station in a way I hadn’t before:

Howard Station from the northwest
Howard Station from the northwest on Howard Street

With that, I had photographed every station on the Ravenswood and Evanston Branches! Not bad. I will definitely go back for better pictures at some of those stations as time permits, but still a good start to my project to photograph every Chicago L station. The remainder are going to be a bit trickier, since they require going downtown (or in the case of the outer portion of the Blue Line, catching a bus). Because COVID is still a thing, I’m trying to avoid going downtown if possible, and I hardly think this photography project counts as “essential travel.” The vaccine is coming though, so fingers crossed we can safely resume mostly-normal life soon.