Chicago – First Impressions

It was early afternoon in summer 2012 and I had just arrived in Chicago on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief. I had about 5 hours until the Capitol Limited departed for Washington DC. As I was a sleeping car passenger, I had access to the Metropolitan Lounge at Union Station, but I wanted to get some sightseeing in first, so I left my bags at the cloakroom and headed out into down town Chicago.

Amtrak's Metropolitan lounge at Chicago's Union Station

Amtrak’s Metropolitan lounge at Chicago’s Union Station

It was a beautiful day in The Windy City, but despite its nickname there only was a light breeze blowing. The sky was cloudless and it was about 27°C (80°F). As I walked over the West Jackson Blvd footbridge, a busker with a saxophone played a very good rendition of Careless Whispers. I deposited a couple of dollars in his hat, before continuing east down West Jackson Blvd. Chicago felt alive and exciting. It felt like a warm and welcoming city; very different from the cold, featureless Albuquerque I had left behind the previous day.

CTA El trains running above Chicago's streets

CTA El trains running above Chicago’s streets

I walked on, and passed under the western section of “The Loop”. The Loop is the inner section of Chicago’s extensive elevated railway, known locally as “The El”. The El is run by the Chicago Transportation Authority (CTA) and runs metro style trains on 8 lines (mostly elevated, but some at grade and a short subway section through the down town area). The Loop defines the inner city area and far from being an eyesore, it is a symbol of the city; two tracks on a wooden platform and steel stilts running above the city streets. The trains clattered above; a train running every 2 or 3 minutes in both directions.

CTA El trains on The Loop

CTA El trains on The Loop

I walked along the bustling Jackson Blvd, under the eastern section of The Loop and over a bridge spanning another railway line; this time the Metra Electric and South Shore Lines near Van Buren St station. Several double deck Metra Electric trains were visible, ranging from stubby 2 car trains to huge 8 car sets. Their boxy shape (similar to older R and S sets from Sydney, but unmistakably American) adorned with a handsome blue and red livery.

A 2 car Metra Electric train near Van Buren St station

A 2 car Metra Electric train near Van Buren St station

I continued through Grant Park, across Lake Shore Drive and was rewarded by a beautiful view over Monroe Harbour breakwater and out across the southern tip of Lake Michigan. The weather was perfect, and I passed through the crowds by the aquarium and out to the Alder Planetarium. I looked back towards the down town area, and was rewarded with one of the most picturesque city skylines I have seen.

The beautiful Chicago skyline from the shore of Lake Michigan

The beautiful Chicago skyline from the shore of Lake Michigan

After enjoying the sunshine next to a lakeside beach, I headed back towards The Loop. I wanted to catch an El train, so I walked to Roosevelt station on the Orange and Green lines. Union station is close to Quincy El station, and after a quick check of the map, I figure out that I needed to take an Orange Line train. After only a few minutes wait, an Orange Line train arrived. I boarded the nearly empty train, and we rattled off towards The Loop. After a short distance, we paused at a three way junction. Our train made a very sharp turn to the left and pulled into Harold Washington Library station. From Harold Washington Library, there is a good view back towards the junction, so I left the train and took some photos on the platform.

An Orange Line CTA train on The Loop

An Orange Line CTA train on The Loop

I stayed there for about 20 minutes before boarding another train towards Quincy. We departed Harold Washington Library station, and promptly stopped mid section. After about 90 seconds, an announcement came over the PA informing us that due to “signal difficulties”, we would be stopped there for an unknown amount of time. The minutes ticked by, and I regretted not walking the few blocks from Library to Union Station.

On board a CTA El train

The Spartan interior of a CTA El train

Finally, after about a 12 minute delay, we jerked into motion once more, and the train arrived at Quincy station just over 45 minutes before my train was due to depart. It was a short walk from Quincy to Union station, where I pickeed up my luggage from the cloakroom and headed for the first class lounge.

The first class loung was like the business lounge of an airline; free snacks and drinks, comfortable chairs and a quiet, relaxing atmosphere. I was just about to enjoy a complimentary muffin and the free Wi-Fi in a soft leather chair, when my train was called for boarding, and I had to head off to the platform.


One response to “Chicago – First Impressions

  1. Pingback: The Capitol Limited, MARC and Baltimore | The Rail Life - Rail Tourist·

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