I have photographed the entire Chicago L!

At long last, I have photographed all 145 stations on the Chicago L! If you just want to see the pictures and not read the rest of this post, check them out here.

My first published photo was taken on March 9, 2019 at Adams/Wabash:

Adams/Wabash station after some rain
Photo at Adams/Wabash

…and my last published photo to complete the set was taken at Morgan on November 6, 2021:

Outbound platform at Morgan, looking west
Photo at Morgan

This was a really fun project, even if exhausting at times, especially near the end where I was trying to finish before it started snowing and we were less likely to get clear skies so I had to take advantage of the chances I got. This involved a lot of days getting up, eating breakfast, loading a day pass onto my Ventra card, and heading out the door to the Red Line then spending most of the day out on the train in parts of the city far from home and ending the day with an hour or two of sorting photos and choosing which ones to upload.

In the course of this project I really came to appreciate the diverse nature of the system. It ranges from utilitarian like Bryn Mawr (for now) to very old-fashioned like Ashland (Green Line) and Quincy to modern like Washington/Wabash and Wilson and everything in between. Meanwhile, the track structures range from elevated to embankment to ground-level to freeway median to open-cut to tunnels. Adding to that, the scenery ranges from industrial to suburban to medium density to ultra-high density as well. Really a big mix of everything.

This project also was a really cool way to experience the city, since I didn’t just go to the stations and take some photos and leave, but instead often walked between adjacent stations and on occasion got lunch on the go (best one was Italian Beef at Nicky’s near 35th/Archer). Walking through the neighborhoods really helped me get a good feel for the area. This also helped me improve my photography skills and figure out more about what conditions are/aren’t good and which techniques work and which ones don’t.

Going forward, I do have a few gaps to fill, between certain parts of stations I couldn’t/forgot to get to for various reasons or stations that received significant changes since I originally photographed them (for example, the three Blue Line stations under Milwaukee Avenue received new flooring). I’ll hit those as I have time, but am not in any hurry. I also of course will continue photographing the ongoing construction in my part of the city. I want to photograph Metra stations (I already have photographed all the stations on the South Shore Line), but am in less of a hurry to do that. After all, Metra doesn’t run anywhere near as frequently as the L does (and some lines don’t run on weekends at all).

Touring an abandoned prison

Today I took a trip down the Joliet Correctional Center in, you guessed it, Joliet. It was an active maximum security Illinois state prison from 1858 to 2002 and held a number of well-known inmates, including Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, Baby Face Nelson, John Wayne Gacy, and most famous of all, Jake Blues. It’s interesting that the most famous inmate is fictional.

To get there, I took the Metra Rock Island District to Joliet, then a Pace bus. Of course I got some pictures of the Metra station on the way:

Front of a waiting Rock Island District train at Joliet
The train that took me to Joliet
Rock Island District waiting room at Joliet
Waiting area
Rock Island District train at Joliet from the Amtrak/Heritage Corridor platform
Amtrak/Heritage Corridor platform
Joliet station building from across the street
Station building

Then, I went into the prison on a tour. It was definitely very eerie being in there. The building is a little worse for wear (it was closed due in part to being in poor condition and has seen virtually no maintenance in the intervening two decades). You can see all of the photos I deemed worthy of publication in my Flickr album, but keep reading to see a selection of them with more detailed descriptions.

We entered via the eastern gate where Jake Blues famously walked out. According to the tour guide the gate was actually welded shut, they only opened it after the film company bribed the warden to let them use it and have a crew break the welding. Even then, they only got one shot and five minutes.

Along the path from that gate were the industry buildings to the north and a few other buildings like inmate intake processing to the south.

Industry buildings at the Joliet Prison
Industry buildings (or what’s left of them after severe fire damage)
Industries building at the Joliet Prison
Another burned out industry building
Auto shop building at the Joliet Prison
Burned out auto shop building
Joliet Prison inmate processing building
Inmate intake processing building (also burned out)
Joliet Prison water cistern
Water cistern

We then headed to the solitary confinement building, which had solitary confinement cells on the first floor and death row cells on the second.

Joliet Prison solitary confinement building
Solitary confinement building
Joliet Prison solitary confinement building side view
Solitary confinement building – the windows here were the cell windows at the top of the cells
Joliet Prison original cell interior
Original cell (preserved), apparently three people were held at a time in these cells
"It's never too late to mend" at the Joliet Prison in the solitary confinement building
“It’s never too late! To mend.” (I wonder if that was always there or added because of the Blues Brothers)
Joliet Prison solitary confinement building lower level
Solitary confinement cellblock
Solitary confinement cell at the Joliet Prison
Solitary confinement cell (there was also a toilet-sink unit to the right)
Death row cells at the Joliet Prison
Death row cellblock
Death row cell at the Joliet Prison
Death row cell

Then we headed into the cafeteria building, which was segregated by race into north and south cafeterias (I don’t know/remember which one was which). The north cafeteria in particular included some interesting Simpsons-based graffiti.

Joliet Prison north cafeteria
North cafeteria
Chief Wiggum graffiti at the north cafeteria at the Joliet Prison
Chief Wiggum graffiti in the north cafeteria
Joliet Prison south cafeteria
South cafeteria
Kitchen at the Joliet Prison cafeteria

Then we left to head towards the cell house, passing by (but not entering) the gymnasium.

Joliet Prison gymnasium entrance
Gymnasium entrance

The tour guide then let one of the people on the tour open the door to the east cell house.

Man opening the east cell house door at the Joliet Prison
Man opening the cell house door
Cell block at the Joliet Prison east cell house
Eastern cell house cell block
Cell in the west cell house at the Joliet Prison
Eastern cell house cell

Apparently the eastern cell house cells had beds removed post-closing for maintenance reasons. Also a sobering fact that the left portion of the ceiling in the cell block was added to prevent inmates from trying to jump to their deaths, with apparently as many as three suicides per day.

We then left the cell block and walked by the hospital but couldn’t enter it.

Front of the hospital at the Joliet Prison
Front hallway of the Joliet Prison hospital
Entrance to the hospital

We then entered the western cell house, which apparently housed inmates that were disliked even by the other inmates (use your imagination).

Cell in the west cell house at the Joliet Prison
Cell in the western cell house (including a bed this time)
Cell block in the west cell house of the Joliet Prison
Cell block in the western cell house

Here, note the closed doors instead of bars. Apparently this was to avoid inmates throwing stuff at the guards. The inmates here were so disliked that they even had their own yard to avoid contact with other inmates.

West cell house yard at the Joliet Prison
Western cell block yard

We then passed the school and headed towards the chapel.

School building entrance at the Joliet Prison
Entrance to the school building
Chapel stage at the Joliet Prison
Chapel stage (it’s hard to see in this photo but many of the glass panes were missing)
Confession booths at the Joliet Prison chapel
Confession booths
Joliet Prison chapel seating area
Seating area
Joliet Prison chapel
Chapel entrance

It’s hard to see in the photos but the ceiling was in pretty bad shape due to apparently the roof being struck by lightning.

We then walked by a few other buildings to conclude the tour.

Joliet Prison library building
Library building
Joliet Prison laundry facility
Laundry machines
Joliet Prison sally port
Sally port

We then left via the eastern gate via which we entered.

Joliet Prison eastern gate
Eastern gate

I don’t really have much to say, I think the pictures speak for themselves. It was a very interesting tour.

Five lines done!

I have now photographed every station on five of the eight lines of the L: Blue, Brown, Orange, Purple, and Yellow! Of the three remaining lines I have eleven stations left if I’m counting correctly.

My most recent expedition was to photograph the rest of the Blue Line, and in keeping with the blue theme the sky also was a very deep blue. I photographed the rest of the Congress Branch:

Inbound track at Pulaski (Blue), looking east
Inbound track at Kedzie-Homan, looking west
Platform at Western (Blue - Forest Park), looking west
Western (Congress Branch)
Inbound platform at Illinois Medical District, looking west
Illinois Medical District
Platform at Racine, looking outbound
Inbound platform at UIC-Halsted, looking east

In particular I got one very nice photo at UIC-Halsted, juxtaposing the station with the downtown skyline:

UIC-Halsted from Morgan Street
UIC-Halsted from Morgan Street

I also photographed Washington, which somehow I had never photographed all this time despite its central location:

Platform at Washington, looking north

I also photographed two abandoned stations along the Congress Branch in the process:

California (Blue) from California Avenue
Kostner (Blue), looking west from pedestrian bridge

Then I headed up to Logan Square to get lunch, and on the way home photographed the new flooring at Chicago:

Platform at Chicago (Blue), looking northwest
New flooring at Chicago

Compare this to the flooring in 2019:

Blue Line platform at Chicago
Flooring at Chicago in 2019

Definitely an improvement, looked like they were doing the same thing at Grand and Division too.

Honestly not much more to say, this was just a status update and some more pictures. Eleven stations to go if I’m counting correct, and I’ll hopefully get them done in short order.

On the home stretch for a multiyear project

My ongoing project to photograph the Chicago L unofficially started on March 9, 2019, when I took a spring break trip to the city, unaware I’d live there a year and a half later. The first photo taken in Chicago (at least that I deemed worth publishing) is this one, of the entrance to Millennium Station:

Entrance to Millennium Station
Entrance to Millennium Station at Randolph and Michigan

Interestingly, the first four train stations I photographed in Chicago were all Metra, on March 9, 2019: Millennium Station, McCormick Place, 55th-56th-57th Street, and Museum Campus/11th Street. The situation there was I was going to the Museum of Science and Industry but stopped at McCormick Place along the way to photograph it, and then headed back to 11th Street to visit the Field Museum. The first photo I took and deemed worthy of publication on the L was at Adams/Wabash:

Adams/Wabash station after some rain
Adams/Wabash platform

The date on Flickr is listed as March 10, but it was actually taken very late on March 9 since my camera was still set on Eastern Time due to coming from Cleveland. Little did I know that this would start my most ambitious photography project so far. I photographed a number of stations in/near downtown as part of that trip, and then returned to Cleveland.

In December 2020 I flew out to Chicago to interview for the company that ended up hiring me, and photographed two stations: O’Hare (where I flew in) and Chicago (Red) (near my hotel).

In March 2020, I had been hired for my current job in Chicago and came back to visit apartments. At that point I knew I would be moving here and had in the back of my mind that I eventually wanted to photograph all the L stations. I stayed in Rogers Park (near Morse) and toured apartments all over the north side. I photographed a number of stations in the process, but knew I would come back.

Since then, I have photographed all but about 25 stations. I have photographed all stations on the Loop, North Side Main, Ravenswood Branch, State Subway, Kennedy/O’Hare Branch, Evanston Branch, Skokie Branch, Englewood/Ashland Branch, and Jackson Park/East 63rd Branch. I also have photographed all but one station on the Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway and at least half of the stations on the Dan Ryan Branch, Cermak Branch, South Side Elevated, and Congress Branch. The big ones remaining are the Lake Street Elevated (just under half done) and Midway Branch. I am taking advantage of every good weather opportunity I get, so with any luck I will have this in the bag soon. If not, I’m not in any hurry. Once this is done, it will be without a doubt my most ambitious photography project so far.

I’m not sure what will come next – maybe photographing as much of Metra as I can? I’m not sure how realistic photographing every Metra station is given that there are over 200 of them and Metra doesn’t run anywhere near as frequently as the L (I don’t have a car) and some lines don’t run at at all on weekends.

Chicago Auto Show!

The Chicago Auto Show is usually in February, but got postponed until in 2021 due to the COVID situation. I went and checked it out, and it was a pretty cool experience.

They had cars from most major car brands, and a few brands even had live demonstrations. I was able to ride in demonstrations for RAM Trucks and Jeep, which were pretty cool:

"Camp Jeep" incline at the 2021 Chicago Auto Show
Jeep incline demonstration
"Camp Jeep" ground clearance demonstration at the 2021 Chicago Auto Show
Jeep ground clearance demosntration
"Camp Jeep" unevenness demonstration at the 2021 Chicago Auto Show
Jeep uneven surface demonstration
Ram truck banked turn at the 2021 Chicago Auto Show
RAM Truck banked turn demonstration

Other than that, I don’t really have much to say, just some pictures, of which a selection is below. You can view them all here.

Bentley Flying Spur at the 2021 Chicago Auto Show
Bentley Flying Spur
Honda CR-V at the 2021 Chicago Auto Show
Honda CR-V
Volkswagen ID.4 at the 2021 Chicago Auto Show
Electric Volkswagen ID.4
Bentley Continental GT at the 2021 Chicago Auto Show
Bentley Continental GT
Subaru Outback at the 2021 Chicago Auto Show
Subaru Outback
Toyota Prius Prime at the 2021 Chicago Auto Show
Toyota Prius Prime

I did get a pretty cool souvenir at the gift shop though, a replica US-66 sign:

Replica US-66 sign

When I was waiting in line to experience the RAM truck, one of the brand reps saw me holding the sign and asked me if I’ve ever been on US-66. I must have made him feel old when I pointed out that it was decommissioned before I was born. I have been on “Historic Route 66” in Arizona though.

Sometimes, showing up is half the battle

At around 6pm today (June 7, 2021), a Purple Line train derailed just south of Bryn Mawr. Fortunately, no injuries were reported, and there wasn’t any major damage that I’m aware of from what I saw either in person or on the news.

Living in that area put me in a unique position to photograph the aftermath. While I was obviously not there photographing at the exact moment of the derailment, I was able to get some photos not long afterwards. I still can’t afford a drone and use a stepladder instead, which did limit my photographic capabilities, but I made do.

Specifically, the second car of the train derailed. The cars behind it and the front car seemed to remain on the tracks. The tracks on elevated structures have an additional rail in the middle for the purpose of keeping derailed trains from falling off the structure:

Track construction at Bryn Mawr
An example of tracks with the extra rail used to keep trains from falling off the elevated structure

Anyway, without further ado, here are some pictures:

Back of a derailed train south of Bryn Mawr
Back of the derailed train

I then headed to a parking lot by the site of the derailment, and while I was walking there they removed the four rear cars of the train that did not derail:

Derailed car on the North Side Main south of Bryn Mawr
Derailed car (the back car in the picture)

You can definitely see that the rear car in the picture is not properly lined up with the front car.

Later that evening, they re-railed the train and brought a “rescue train” to pull the affected cars back to the Howard Yard.

Derailed Chicago L train with rescue train
Derailed then re-railed cars (right) with the rescue train (left)

They then restored power to the affected cars:

Power restored to the derailed train
Internal lights aren’t on, but an external blue light is on

I attempted to take a video of the coupling of the rescue train to the derailed cars, but another train passed by in the process (a number of trains passed by on the other track during this time, presumably the trains that were taken out of service as a result of the derailment).

Finally, I got a video of the rescue train pulling the derailed cars away from the scene, presumably to the Howard Yard to be inspected.

Affected railcars being hauled back to the Howard Yard by the rescue train

From there, a number of CTA workers were looking at the site of the derailment with flashlights to see if there was an obvious cause in the track, such as a broken rail.

This was an interesting event to see unfold. Thankfully nobody was hurt and there doesn’t seem to be any major damage (any damage would just be to the one railcar, and even that would probably just be to the trucks, and any damage to the structure would just be the rails in that one spot). This was also one of my first times being able to document something like this in real time, the only other similar things being the last day of operation at 11th Street in Michigan City and the opening of the temporary stations at Argyle and Bryn Mawr. Hopefully I will get more chances to document interesting things in real time, though hopefully they won’t be derailments.

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.

I have now conquered the South Shore Line!

I have now finished what I started. Last year I started photographing the South Shore Line and got photos of every station from Gary and further out, and now I have finished the project by photographing every station on the line. Today, taking advantage of the clear skies (and more daylight available than earlier in the winter) I photographed Hegewisch, Hammond, and East Chicago.

I took a pretty unusual route this time in order to 1. avoid paying more in fares than I have to (the South Shore Line is expensive and doesn’t offer any day passes, and the free westbound trips promotion I took advantage of earlier is no longer a thing) and 2. not have to constantly wait for trains. With this in mind, I checked Google Earth for where walking was feasible, as the stops are a lot closer together than further out on the line. I found that walking from East Chicago to Hammond was definitely doable, but Hammond to Hegewisch was probably not a good idea since there weren’t any direct routes with sidewalks. Hegewisch is on the CTA bus route 30, so that provided me alternate means home that was cheaper and ran more frequently than the South Shore Line. With that in mind, my route was this: 1. take the the train out to East Chicago, photograph there, 2. walk to Hammond, photograph there, 3. take the train one stop to Hegewisch, photograph there, then 4. take the 30 bus to 69th and transfer to the Red Line home.

With that plan in place, it was time to put it into action. This expedition started the day out as normal, by catching the Red Line at Bryn Mawr. The train got me downtown on time as usual, and I walked over to Millennium Station. Millennium Station had a few Metra trains operating on the South Shore Line platforms for some reason (probably maintenance on the Metra tracks/platforms).

I got on the train, and noticed that half the seats were roped off to facilitate social distancing:

South Shore Line seat pair roped off for social distancing
Seat roped off to faciliate social distancing

This was not the case last time I was on the South Shore Line in October 2020. It was good to see that they are helping with COVID preventative measures, especially when this is a system that had a “mask-optional car” last year. The train left right on time, sailing across the South Side. The first good sign of the day was when I was somewhere around Hegewisch, I was able to see the downtown skyline across the lake. That meant the visibility was over 10 miles, which is as good as it gets.

I got off at East Chicago, and immediately started snapping photos:

Looking inbound at East Chicago
East Chicago platform
East Chicago headhouse
East Chicago headhouse

East Chicago seems to be the most substantial station on the line (other than those shared with Metra). It’s constructed on an alignment adjacent to the Indiana Toll Road, and has a center high-level platform with guantlet track to allow freight trains to pass the station without interference from the platform. There is a massive parking lot (and some overflow parking available nearby) and a station house. Due to the fact that there were two janitors cleaning the station lobby, I wasn’t able to photograph it, but it has a ticket counter, vending machines, ticket machines, water fountains, and restrooms. There also is an additional entrance further to the east to allow easier access from the far end of the parking lot.

From there, I started walking towards Hammond, and after the better part of an hour, I got there.

Hammond main entrance
Main entrance to Hammond Station

Hammond has a large station house adjacent to the station with a coffee shop (closed while I was there) and restrooms, a large parking lot, and two high-level platforms (one for each track, rather than an island platform). While East Chicago is elevated, Hammond is at ground level.

Hammond station house
Hammond station house
Hammond station house interior
Interior of the station, with a view of the closed coffee shop
Outbound platform at Hammond, looking east
Outbound platform at Hammond

An interesting detail was that the outbound platform only had a canopy for a small part of the length, while the inbound platform had a canopy for the full length. I guess this is because there are probably a lot more people boarding inbound at Hammond than outbound.

Hammond platforms and parking lot from the west
Hammond western platform entrances
Entrance to the platforms at the west end, by the station house

While waiting for the next inbound train, I ate my lunch, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Eventually, an inbound train arrived and I boarded it, only to get off one stop later at Hegewisch:

Inbound platform at Hegewisch from the west end
Inbound platform at Hegewisch

Hegewisch was laid out pretty similarly to Hammond, with a station house and two side platforms at ground level. Hegewisch also only had a full-length canopy on the inbound platform.

Hegewisch station house
Station house at Hegewisch

While I was photographing Hegewisch, an outbound train stopped there:

Outbound train arriving at Hegewisch
Outbound train arriving at Hegewisch

Hegewisch’s station house also had a coffee shop (also closed at the time), restrooms, and waiting area:

Waiting room at Hegewisch
Waiting room at Hegewisch

From there, I caught the 30 bus to 69th.

Bus stop at Hegewisch
Bus shelter at Hegewisch

Along the way, there was a detour due to bridge construction, so we went over the 95th Street Bridge. To my disappointment, we did not jump the bridge while it was up, like Elwood Blues did with the Bluesmobile in the Blues Brothers.

Then at 69th, I caught the Red Line home. I wasn’t able to get too many photos there since there were a lot more people than I expected on a Saturday, but I did get a few pictures of the platform.

Platform at 69th, looking north
Platform at 69th

This was my first time on the L anywhere south of Cermak Road, and my first time boarding on a freeway-median station (I have taken the Blue Line through the O’Hare Branch, but never actually boarded or disembarked there). I will definitely return to continue my photography, but that’s a project for another day.

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 chicago-l.org, 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.

My fancy overhead photography system

After being totally outclassed by a guy with a drone when photographing the Clark Interlocking construction last week, I was determined not to let that happen again, but this time up at Bryn Mawr rather than at Belmont.

The temporary southbound Bryn Mawr station has been in the works for quite a while. The station is located between Bryn Mawr and Hollywood, right off of Broadway and will open sometime early 2021 once heavy construction starts on the Lawrence to Bryn Mawr modernization project. From what I could see from the street, progress had been going well, but I never bothered to photograph it much, but a few days ago I was walking by there on December 23 (Festivus!) and noticed it was actually starting to look something like a (temporary) train platform and not just a construction site:

Temporary Bryn Mawr entrance, December 2020
Temporary entrance, viewed from the north on Broadway

I didn’t have my real camera with me, just my cell phone, and it was dark, so the photo was not the best quality. Still, definitely looked like something I wanted to photograph in more detail when I had the chance. The issue remained that there was a covered fence that I couldn’t easily reach over, and I didn’t have anything that would help me (I didn’t even have a selfie stick, not that it would help with my big camera).

I decided that I would make my own overhead photography system. However, I currently can’t afford a drone and am definitely not ready for one anyway (I’m gonna wait until I’ve mastered photography on the ground before I start adding piloting a drone to the mix). So, I improvised, and came up with this:

My wonderful overhead photography system

Yup, it’s a stepladder. The fence is just taller than I can reach over with my camera, so I figured with the help of a stepladder I’d have just the boost I need to see over the fence.

I knew this would be a little more suspicious than a drone, given that I would be standing right next to a fence on top of a stepladder holding a camera. While nothing I was doing was actually trespassing, I knew people would not have taken kindly to seeing this. Thus, I figured Christmas would be the perfect day to try this, given that likely the construction workers would probably all have the day off. As an added bonus, it was also completely sunny and pretty cold (22 degrees at the time I took the photos according to my phone). This both led to good photography conditions and a further disincentive for others to be outside. So, with my stepladder and camera, I got cracking.

First, I just started with what I could get without a stepladder:

Bryn Mawr temporary southbound station entrance, December 2020
The entrance and fence from the south on Broadway (you can also actually see the CTA logo now since it’s not washed out due to the darkness and cell phone camera)
Bryn Mawr temporary passage to the southbound platform under construction, 2020
The passage from the north – this goes directly adjacent to the Public Storage parking lot

Then I actually got into action with the stepladder from Broadway and an alley running along the south end of the site.

Bryn Mawr temporary southbound station stairs to platform, December 2020
The stairs to the platform (I don’t know if there will be an elevator, but I’m guessing not since the existing Bryn Mawr station doesn’t have one)
Bryn Mawr temporary southbound station site construction, December 2020
The entrance structure from the southeast

Then I made my way to the alley by the railroad embankment. It didn’t look like I would be able to get much of a view with the stepladder from there, since the passageway being built would block my view of anything further.

Bryn Mawr temporary southbound station stairs to platform, December 2020
The alley between the construction site and the tracks, passing under the stairs
Alley below temporary Bryn Mawr southbound station, December 2020
The alley from Hollywood
North Side Main Line bridge over Hollywood Avenue, December 2020
Tracks crossing over Hollywood (not actually part of the construction site, but this will be replaced as part of the larger project so I figured I should photograph it for archival purposes)

Then I finally went to the other side of Broadway to get some less up-close pictures of the entrance.

Bryn Mawr temporary southbound station entrance, December 2020
The entrance

…and that’s what will soon be the southbound station at Bryn Mawr for around two years (after which they’ll need to open a new temporary northbound station on the other side of the tracks). Northbound passengers will still use the existing station for the first portion of the project. The idea is that all lines will be funneled onto two tracks (from a normally four track line), so the island platform right in the middle can serve southbound trains when all trains run on the western two tracks and northbound trains when all trains run on the eastern two tracks, and the direction not served by the island platform will be served by a temporary station.

I will make sure to continue photographing this as I am able. Odds are there won’t be much more interesting to see until the temporary station actually opens, but I will absolutely be there to photograph that.