The Electric Line is the only Metra line that is powered by overhead catenary. Trains operate on 1500 volts DC, and all stations have high-level platforms. Sharing the main line north of Kensington is NICTD's South Shore Line, an interurban line that runs through northern Indiana to South Bend.
The line predates the 1871 Great Chicago Fire and used to run on a trestle just offshore in Lake Michigan. After the fire, the burned buildings were simply dumped into the lake, creating landfill that is now Grant Park. This is why the train runs through the middle of Grant Park to this day.
Also built were two branches - one from Brookdale southeast to South Chicago (in the early 1880s), and the other from Kensington southwest to Blue Island (in the early 1890s). These two branches were also electrified and are still operated by Metra.
The IC electrified its commuter tracks in 1926, then stretching from downtown to Matteson. In addition to the removal of all grade crossings, the tracks were completely separated from and moved to the west side of the two freight and intercity tracks. At McCormick Place just south of downtown Chicago, the two non-electrified tracks crossed over the new electric alignment to end at Central Station. The electric tracks continued north to the new Randolph Street Station, on the site of the Illinois Central's original terminal before Central Station opened in 1893 (though it still served commuters).
The main line had six tracks between Roosevelt Road (Central Station) and 53rd Street, and four tracks from there south to 111th Street. The six-track segment was reduced to four tracks in 1962. The main line has two tracks south from 111th Street, as does the South Chicago branch. The Blue Island branch is single-track.
Service was extended 1.1 mile southward from Matteson to Richton Park, a new station built at the south end of the coach storage yard, in 1946.
By the early 1900s, the IC operated as many as 300 trains a day. Trains were operated by steam locomotives which produce a great deal of smoky exhaust. This might have been tolerable had service been less frequent, but the service was popular with residents of Chicago's fashionable Hyde Park neighborhood. Reducing service would not have been popular, so in 1919, the IC and Chicago collaborated to build a berm stretching from the far south suburb of Homewood into the city. They also dug a trench from the near south side into the city proper. These moves resulted in elimination of all grade crossings on the busy main line. The main line now has one grade crossing just south of the Richton Park station. The University Park extension required the line to cross a very long private driveway as well. The South Chicago branch, on the other hand runs at-grade and operates on regular city streets with many grade crossings.
The grade-crossing elimination project was followed by the electrification of the line. The steam locomotives were then replaced by electric trains which satisfied the concerns of the well-to-do residents of Hyde Park regarding the smoke and noise from the steam trains. This resulted in the only commuter rail line in Chicago that is still electrified (excluding the South Shore Electric line which serves suburbs in Northwest Indiana), and the only rail line in the city with an overhead catenary system. The "IC Electric" was once Chicago's busiest suburban railroad, and carried a great deal of traffic within the city as well as to suburban communities. The three lines carried 26 million passengers during the first full year of electrified operation, 1927. This rose to 35 million at 1929, and reached an all-time peak of 47 million at 1946.
The worst rail accident in Chicago, the Illinois Central Gulf commuter rail crash, occurred on October 30, 1972. A new lightweight bi-level commuter train inbound to Chicago during the morning rush hour overshot the 27th Street platform and backed up into the station. The bi-level train had already tripped the signals to green for the next train, an older, heavy steel single-level train. As the bi-level train was backing up at 11 miles per hour, it was struck by the single-level express train at full speed. The single-level train telescoped the lightweight bi-level train killing 45 passengers and injuring hundreds, primarily in the bi-level train. A major contributing factor was that the Illinois Central Railroad used a dark gray color scheme, including the ends of rail cars, that was very difficult to see on the cloudy morning of the accident. After the accident the ends of all commuter rail cars and locomotives in the Chicago area were painted with orange and white stripes for better visibility.
In 1976 the Regional Transportation Authority signed a contract with the Illinois Central to fund its commuter service. The next year a short (2.3-mile) extension was built to the current terminal at University Park (originally named Park Forest South). On May 1, 1987 Metra bought the Electric Line and branches for $28 million. The two intercity/freight tracks are still owned by the IC, now part of the Canadian National Railway, and are used by Amtrak's City of New Orleans, Illini and Saluki trains.
This is the only line on the Metra system in which all stations (except 18th and 47th Streets, both flag stops) have ticket vending machines. The machines originally vended magnetically-encoded tickets which unlocked the turnstiles. People with paper tickets or weekend passes, travelers who qualified for reduced fares and anyone who had trouble with the vending machines, had to pick up a blue or orange pal phone to get an operator to unlock the turnstiles. Complaints from passengers who missed their trains caused Metra to remove the turnstiles in November 2003.
The Main line and South Chicago branch run daily, including Sundays and holidays, but the Blue Island Branch does not operate on Sundays or holidays. A unique feature of the Metra Electric schedule is the similarity of the weekday and Saturday timetables. Many express trains run throughout the day in both directions. On other Metra lines, express service operates exclusively during the morning and afternoon rush hours.
Metra Electric Line trains make the following station stops: (not all trains stop at all stations)
The Metra Electric line uses bi-level Highliner multiple-unit cars, first built by the St. Louis Car Company in 1972. Starting in 2005, these cars are gradually being replaced with stainless steel bi-level MUs built by Nippon Sharyo.
|1201–1226||MU Coach||2005||Nippon Sharyo|
|1501–1630||MU Coach||1971–1972||St. Louis|