The start of something big in Uptown and Edgewater

Two weeks after heading to Michigan City for a station about to close for reconstruction, two other stations closed for reconstruction, this time much closer to me. At midnight on Sunday, May 16, 2021, the North Side Main Line started heavy construction for the Lawrence to Bryn Mawr Modernization Project. This is, to put it lightly, a massive project. They will be rebuilding the track structure between Lawrence and Bryn Mawr (and a little bit past each of those stations) to modernize it. The current structure is an embankment, which basically consists of two retaining walls with earth fill and ballasted track:

North Side Main embankment just south of Lawrence
The embankment from ground level
South end of Berwyn platform
Ballasted track running on top of the earth fill
North Side Main Line bridge over Hollywood Avenue, December 2020
A typical street crossing

They will be replacing this with a more modern elevated structure. They have similar structures in a few places, but unfortunately I don’t have any ground-level pictures (now that I’m writing this and realize it, I will quickly remedy that), but from above the tracks look like this (Wilson in this case, just south of the work zone):

Tracks north of Wilson
Tracks north of Wilson

This new structure will be open underneath, since it will be supported by concrete pillars rather than a solid earth fill. In the process, they will also be rebuilding the four stations (Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn, and Bryn Mawr). All four of those stations are fairly similar to their original 1920s designs, with narrow platforms, a single entrance (with a second exit-only staircase at the north end of Bryn Mawr), and not being accessible to passengers with disabilities. Lawrence and Bryn Mawr still feature wooden platforms, with the Bryn Mawr one particularly showing its age:

Southbound platform at Bryn Mawr
Old platform at Bryn Mawr

Berwyn and Argyle had their platforms replaced with concrete several years ago, but otherwise are pretty similar to Lawrence and Bryn Mawr.

South end of the platform at Argyle
Concrete platform at Argyle

The renovations to the stations will allow them to be fully accessible to passengers with disabilities, and also generally modernize them by making the platform wider, replacing the wood with concrete, and other things.

In the past when undertaking major reconstruction projects, the CTA has closed the line for several months with shuttle buses, like when they rebuilt the Dan Ryan Branch in 2013. In that case, they rerouted Red Line trains via the South Side Elevated (Green Line southern leg). However, in this case, since so many people take the Red Line (or at least did before the COVID-19 pandemic, and this project was planned long before then) and there aren’t any alternate routes, they still will run trains through the work zone. Since the line has four tracks, they will close two tracks at a time. The Purple Line Express will continue to run but will share tracks with the Red Line (I imagine this will be a dispatching nightmare). Lawrence and Berwyn will temporarily close, while Argyle and Bryn Mawr will remain in service, but using a temporary platform to accommodate trains running on different tracks than usual. Here is a very crude Microsoft Paint drawing explaining the situation:

Track situation prior to the start of the reconstruction project: Red Line runs on the inner tracks making stops, while the Purple Line runs on the outer tracks bypassing stops
Track situation during the reconstruction project: trains share tracks between Lawrence and Thorndale (I think they also share tracks at Wilson which is not reflected in the diagram) with Berwyn and Lawrence closed

The Last Hurrah

I set out to see the preparatory work in the afternoon on May 15 and take a photos of the stations about to close (Lawrence and Berwyn) as a sort of last hurrah.

Lawrence turnstiles the last day before closing
Turnstiles at Lawrence with a notice that the station was closing soon
South end of the North Side Main embankment from Lawrence
South end of the embankment from Lawrence
Back of a northbound train at Lawrence the day before closing
Train at Lawrence
Sign pointing to alterate stations to Lawrence
Sign near Lawrence directing passengers to head to Broadway to get to either Wilson or Argyle
Sign on Broadway to Wilson and Argyle stations
Sign at Lawrence and Broadway directing passengers to Wilson and Argyle
Looking south at Berwyn the day before closing
Platform at Berwyn
Faregates at Berwyn the day before closing
Turnstiles at Berwyn with a notice of the upcoming closure
Remaining fare machine at Berwyn
One of the fare machines at Berwyn had already been removed

The Transition

That evening, I periodically checked around the four affected stations to see what sort of preparatory work was being done. Nothing much seemed to be different until about 10:30pm, when they removed the wood covering over the Bryn Mawr temporary entrance:

Bryn Mawr temporary southbound mezzanine, immediately prior to opening
Bryn Mawr temporary southbound entrance, about 90 minutes before opening

The Argyle entrance was still closed at the time, so I returned home to post that photo and charge my camera. Then, I headed out again to check if there was anything new at Argyle, and unfortunately there was not, so I walked back to Bryn Mawr and then back to Argyle, at which point the wood paneling had been removed, making the fare mezzanine visible:

Temporary entrance to Argyle about 20 minutes prior to opening
Temporary entrance to Argyle, about 20 minutes prior to opening

I then headed to Berwyn, aiming to catch the last train at that station (which by my guess was the last one listed on Ventra to arrive prior to midnight). The train ended up arriving just after midnight, so this probably was the last train ever to stop at Berwyn (no southbound trains were listed on Ventra for a while and I couldn’t see any headlights coming from the north).

Last northbound train at the old Berwyn station
Last train ever to stop at the current Berwyn station!

From there I took it one stop to Bryn Mawr, where it stopped at the old station (now only used for northbound trains). From there, I hightailed it to the temporary southbound entrance. They were still in the process of removing the wrapping from the Bryn Mawr sign, so I waited for that, then got a photo.

Temporary Bryn Mawr entrance immediately after oepning
Bryn Mawr temporary southbound entrance

At that point, I just started photographing everything I could. A photographer from the construction contractor noticed me and explicitly invited me to take as many pictures as I can (and also informed me I was the second customer ever to board at that station). That was a nice change of pace, since usually employees get mad at me for taking photos (even though non-commercial photography is allowed without any form of permit). I took a bunch of photos of the mezzanine and passage to the platform:

Faregates at the temporary Bryn Mawr station immediately after opening
Passage to the platforms at the temporary Bryn Mawr station immediately after opening
Passage to the platform
Bottom of the north stairs at the temporary Bryn Mawr station immediately after openingPassage to the exit at the temporary Bryn Mawr station immediately after opening
Bottom of the stairs
Temporary southbound platform at Bryn Mawr looking north, immediately after opening

Unfortunately around this time it started raining, so I was only able to take photos with my good camera under the canopy, and was limited to using my phone outside of it.

From there, I caught a train (the second one ever to stop at this temporary platform) to Argyle:

Second train to stop at the temporary southbound platform at Bryn Mawr
Second ever train to stop at the temporary southbound platform at Bryn Mawr

At Argyle I resumed photography, but the rain had intensified, limiting me again to under the canopy.

Temporary platform at Argyle, looking north immediately after opening
Temporary platform by the stairs

However, it eventually stopped raining, enabling me to photograph the rest of the platform.

Temporary platform at Argyle, looking south immediately after opening
Temporary platform and the existing platform at Argyle
Looking down the stairs at the newly opened temporary Argyle station
Stairs to the temporary southbound platform

While I was there, I also got to talk to some of the construction crew and learn a bit more about the project, and a few guys asked me to take a photo of them (I did make sure they were aware I would post it online):

People waiting at the newly opened temporary Argyle station
These people asked me to take a photo of them, so here it is

From there, I headed out of Argyle, photographing the exit along the way:

Bottom of the stairs to the newly opened temporary station at Argyle
Bottom of the stairs to the temporary southbound platform at Argyle
Mezzanine at the newly opened temporary Argyle station
Temporary mezzanine at Argyle

Interestingly, Argyle has the temporary mezzanine and regular mezzanine connected (and they both lead to both platforms), but closed the main mezzanine when opening the temporary one:

Closed regular entrance at Argyle
Main mezzanine temporarily closed at Argyle, with passengers directed to use the temporary one instead

From there, I walked up to Bryn Mawr, stopping at Berwyn to see what it looked like after they closed it:

Berwyn entrance immediately after closing
Closed entrance to Berwyn

Then I continued up to Bryn Mawr, noticing a sign at the corner of Bryn Mawr and Broadway that was not there earlier in the evening. Since Bryn Mawr now has a separate station and entrance for each direction (about a block apart), it’s important that people know which one to use, so they put up a sign at the corner to help out.

Sign to the separate Bryn Mawr stations at Bryn Mawr and Broadway
Sign directing people to the different platforms at Bryn Mawr

I also photographed more of the station since the rain stopped:

Temporary platform at the newly opened Bryn Mawr station, looking south
Full view of the platforms at Bryn Mawr, including an extension of the existing platform
Warming shelter at the newly opened temporary Bryn Mawr station
Warming shelter for cold weather

Moving Forward

Now a massive four year construction project has really kicked off. Berwyn and Lawrence are closed for four years and will probably be demolished relatively soon (I will provide photos as I am able once that happens). I really look forward to seeing the end result, even if the intermediate process is going to be a challenge. I don’t currently have a commute to work, but probably will long before this project is over, so I will be boarding at this station. I do also have the 147 Outer Drive Express bus as an alternate if this becomes too difficult.

The day after I visited Lawrence to see the station one last time before it closed.

Lawrence entrance the day after closing
Lawrence station after being closed

I also noticed there was a mural across the street from the entrance, and sadly that mural will probably be lost with the construction.

Lawrence mural the day after closing
Mural on the north side of Lawrence Avenue

It’s going to be quite the adventure, that’s for sure.

The end of an era in Michigan City

On May 1, 2021, the 11th Street Station in Michigan City closed for reconstruction. The closure is expected to last about two and a half years, after which a new, more modern station will take its place. This is a bit of a bittersweet moment, as the new station and other associated improvements will provide a much better experience for riders (faster, fewer delays, easier boarding, etc.) but this is also the end of nearly 100 years of history.

The station as it existed prior to the closure was a fairly unique setup. It was in the middle of a street running segment on 11th Street in Michigan City, where the train runs in the middle of the street. The street is configured with one lane in each direction, with a third “lane” in the middle which carries the track.

In-street trackage at 10th Street and Willard Avenue
Street running track in Michigan City, with one lane in each direction plus a third “lane” in the middle to carry the track

Trains run down that track in the middle, and they also have to stop at red lights, just like cars. The crossings are generally unsignaled, with just a stoplight or stop sign.

Carlon Court grade crossing at 10th Street
Street crossing the street-running track
Inbound train approaching 11th Street Station
Train running in the middle of the street

The station is similar to a streetcar stop. The train stops in the middle of the street, and then passengers have to cross a lane of traffic to board or disembark. There is a stoplight to protect passengers from oncoming traffic while trains are stopped. The station just consists of a shelter, parking lot, and no platform. There used to be a station house adjacent to the current location of the station, but the building has since fallen into disuse.

11th Street Station shelter from across the street
Station shelter at 11th Street
Former 11th Street station building
Former station house at 11th Street
Railcar steps at 11th Street Station on the final day of service
Boarding a train from the street

This station design is a relic from the line’s interurban heritage. Interurbans basically operate like streetcars within cities but like regular trains between cities. The way the line was originally built, it had a number of street running segments, including this one in Michigan City, as well as segments in East Chicago and South Bend. The other ones were removed long ago: the East Chicago segment was rerouted to a new alignment adjacent to the Indiana Toll Road in 1956 and the South Bend segment was removed with the line first truncated before entering the street and then rerouted to a new station at the airport in 1992.

The Michigan City segment remained the last holdout on the line, continuing to operate street running tracks. Plans had existed for a long time to remove the tracks from the street, however due to the expense and property impact involved, it took a long time to come to fruition. Finally, as part of a larger project to double track the line from Gary to Michigan City (the line east of Gary is mostly a single track), they decided they would commence work on removing street running track in Michigan City. The new alignment will replace 10th and 11th Streets with one way streets and putting a second track where one of the lanes used to be.

While the South Shore Line initially announced that there would be no extended station closures during the double tracking project, they recently announced that the 11th Street Station would close starting May 1, 2021. I decided to seize the opportunity to photograph trains on the last day. I took the 5:58 train from Millennium Station out to Michigan City with plans to spend the night. I usually only get out to Indiana on weekends, where they only run single-level cars, but this time since it was a weekday they ran a bilevel railcar. I got to Michigan City right on schedule, and got off at 11th Street.

Outbound train at 11th Street Station on the final day of service
The train I took to Michigan City

I found out I was hardly the only person with the idea to photograph the station. There is a pretty large railfan community in the area, and a lot of them were also out there photographing, and I felt way outclassed since they definitely knew way more about this than I did and a lot of them had way fancier camera equipment. Still, I got to talk to some of them, and it was really cool to meet them.

While I didn’t stay for the last ever train to stop at the street-running 11th Street station (I didn’t particularly want to stay up until 2:18am), I did photograph a few more trains, including the last inbound train ever to stop there (there were several more outbound trains after it).

Last inbound train ever to stop at the street-running 11th Street Station
Last inbound train to ever stop at the street-running 11th Street Station

I quickly realized I was out of practice in terms of nighttime photography, as all of my recent photography expeditions have been during the daytime (and mostly during sunny weather). Still, I did my best.

One interesting detail is that the ticket machines were turned off, even though there were still trains running. I wonder if this means that passengers would have to pay the surcharge for buying a fare onboard the train.

Out of service ticket machines at 11th Street Station on the last day of service to the street running station
The ticket machines have been turned off

I spent the next few hours chatting with other railfans, photographing trains as they went by, including another passenger train and a freight train:

Outbound train at 11th Street station on the last day of service to the street running station
Passenger train at 11th Street
Freight train passing 11th Street station
Freight train passing 11th Street

From there, I caught a ride to the hotel where I was staying.

The next day, after getting my second COVID vaccine dose (I got it in Michigan City since at the time of my first dose, it was still pretty hard to get one in Chicago), I went back to the station to see if any demolition or construction had started yet. None had, but I got a few photos of the station from angles I hadn’t before. One other person was out photographing at this time. A train also passed by during this time, not stopping at the station. I realized I hadn’t gotten a good photo of a train including the shelter (to make it clearer how it looks when passengers actually board), so I took such a photo with this train, even if it wasn’t actually stopping.

Outbound train bypassing 11th Street on the first day it is closed
Outbound train bypassing 11th Street

Then, I got to work photographing various points along the line as well as the buildings that were slated for demolition (or at least the ones that had notices on them at the time).

Condemned building at 1712 W 10th Street
Building slated for demolition
Condemnation notice on Firme in Michigan City
Firme office slated for demolition – the only commercial building I saw slated for demolition, probably because the land will be needed for building the new station
Grade crossing at Willard Avenue in Michigan City
Willard Avenue grade crossing, one of two crossings with lights

I also got some photos of some very old interurban cars used on the line.

Old Chicago South Shore and South Bend interurban car
Old Chicago South Shore and South Bend cars formerly used on the South Shore Line

I also got a photo of the Indiana State Prison (from across the street):

Indiana State Prison from Sheridan Avenue
Indiana State Prison

Then I headed back to downtown Michigan City for lunch, and went to a burger place called Royale. The food was excellent, even if service was kinda slow. From there, I explored Downtown Michigan City a bit more, heading to the waterfront. Due to the blowing sand, I didn’t get many photos since I didn’t want to damage my camera. I did get a photo of the lighthouse though:

Michigan City lighthouse
Michigan City lighthouse

Then I walked over to Carroll Avenue (the other train station in Michigan City) since I could no longer board at 11th Street to get home. Along the way I photographed the eastern street running portion in Michigan City a bit more, as well as a few more condemned buildings.

Condemned building at the NW corner of 11th Street and Lafayette St
Another condemned building

Along the way, another train passed by.

Outbound train passing Lafayette Street
Outbound train passing Lafayette Street

Then, I got to the end of the street running.

East end of street running tracks in Michigan City
The eastern end of the tracks in 11th Street
Tracks entering 11th Street at the east end in Michigan City
Tracks entering the street

From there, I walked over to Carroll Avenue.

Carroll Avenue entrance sign
Entrance sign at Carroll Avenue

I also took some photos of the rail yard and shops.

Trains waiting at the Michigan City Shops
Railcars at the yard

Then, I went to the station to wait for my train home. An outbound train passed by while I was waiting:

Outbound train leaving Carroll Avenue
Outbound train leaving Carroll Avenue

Finally, my train entered from the yard.

Inbound South Shore Line waiting on the yard lead to enter service
Inbound train waiting on the yard lead at Carroll Avenue

From there, I caught the train back to Chicago.

I look forward to seeing the progress in upgrading the line. It will be cool to see a new modern station in Michigan City (as well as Miller, and some improvements at other stations as well). The new station will have a full parking garage, two tracks, and high platforms, which will significantly improve the experience for passengers. The double track work will allow them to run more trains and improve reliability, while removing the tracks from the street in Michigan City will significantly improve speed and safety. Still, it is a bit sad to see a piece of history be lost.

With that, the last street-running station on the South Shore Line is no more, and all that’s left are the memories.

Last inbound train ever to serve the street-running 11th Street Station departing
All that’s left are the memories