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Trip Report

OTOL Windy City Rail Fest 2003

July 16-21, 2003
Section 2 of 6


Photos by Jishnu Mukerji, Alan Burden, and HaRRy Sutton

(Click small photos to see larger; all larger photos are less than 47K)

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Chapter 2: Windy City RailFest 2003, Pre-Fest, Thursday, July 17, 2003

Now that the bulk of the group was in Chicago, it was time to begin our fun together on the rails.

Chapter 2.1: WCRF Parts P1 & P2 canceled

I decided while aboard the train that we would have to forego our first segment of the Pre-Fest, which was the trip on the under-construction Cermak Branch of the Blue Line. We would not have time to check our luggage, do the Blue Line, and have lunch before our 12:25 PM departure on the South Shore Line, far more important an activity than a branch on the subway that we can easily ride another time.

Chapter 2.2: Greetings in Chicago

Our arrival in Chicago was at 10:10 AM, exactly one hour late. Waiting for us was Bob Benton, and near him (but not aware he was another Fest participant) were Owen and Isak Sindler, who were already in town for a day. With the six people arriving on the train, and our greeting party of three, we had swelled to nine people for a short while.

Unfortunately, Bob had to leave us all too soon, as he had to catch his train back to Deerfield. We did not know it, but that would be the last we would see of him, as he was unable to make it to the rest of the Fest activities. He did not get the folder containing the route guides, so Alan mailed one to him once we all got home.

Chapter 2.2.1: CTA Brown Line, Quincy/Wells to Randolph/Wabash

Preparing to board Brown Line at Quincy/Wells We started by taking a three-block walk that would become very familiar to us, between Union Station and the Quincy/Wells station of the elevated Loop. Since today we were paying cash fares rather than using our three-day Visitors Passes, Isak and Michael were eligible for half fares. Thankfully there was a station attendant on duty and ready to help us, so both boys got their half fares. The friendly attendant also gave candy to the kids, an unexpected but welcome gesture.

Our first official ride of the big weekend Fest was a CTA ride around the Outer Loop on the Brown Line to get to the Randolph Street station area. Involved on this ride were eight of us: Owen, Isak, David, Jishnu, Skip, Alan, Michael, and me.

After we got off the "L", David showed us where the nearest entrance to Randolph Street Station was. He also showed us an adjacent library where we could get tourist information and transit maps. David chose to wait at that location while the rest of us went in search of lunch.

Chapter 2.3: Lunch in Chicago

Officially we had split up to get lunch before re-convening at the top of the stairs leading to the train station. Michael and I walked north on Wabash underneath the elevated transit line, and then turned east on South Water Street. I got the impression that the others were following us, assuming I knew where the best place to eat would be. I didn't. In reality, unbeknownst to the Fest participants and my son, I was following some woman in tight white pants for a block or so. Now don't you feel silly?

I think after a while the others got tired of following Michael and me, so they crossed Michigan Avenue and went to a Subway restaurant. Michael and I found a Burger King within the Illinois Center complex, and ate there.

I noticed that this and many other restaurants in the area had signs stating they were closed on Sunday. That caused me to me to make a mental note that when we were in the Randolph Street Station area on Sunday, we would eat lunch before coming to this area.

When Michael and I were done eating, we still had some time left so we did a little exploring of our own. A sign in the hallway near the Burger King pointed to the METRA station down a stairway. We followed it, and it led us to the South Water Street station, which is on the northern end of the Randolph Street platforms served by the METRA trains. The Randolph Street Station entrance the group later used is near the southern end of the platforms. I used the opportunity (since there were no lines here) to purchase my $5 weekend pass, and one for Mike Hammond too, to expedite his routine when he would arrive in town on Saturday morning.

When we then took the station exit to the street, we found ourselves in a whole different world. Many people do not realize that there is a whole other "city" below many of the streets in Chicago. Many streets like Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive were raised one story to allow for pipes and other utilities to be placed where the streets used to be. We found ourselves on the corner of Lower South Water Street and Lower Michigan Avenue, completely covered by the "Upper" streets of the same names. We finally surfaced on Upper Michigan Avenue about half a block from where we had originally entered the Burger King.

When we arrived back at the pre-arranged meeting place at the top of the stairway entrance to Randolph Street Station, David Korkhouse was waiting there. Michael and I went down into the station to purchase my South Shore Line ticket. While down there, we met Doug Heinrichs. Doug had taken an earlier train from Deerfield to Chicago Union Station, and then he had crossed the Loop on foot to Randolph Street Station. He came upstairs with us, and talked with David Korkhouse.

Michael and I went inside the tourist office to see what they had inside, and came away with RTA system maps and a few other things. Some of the others from our group were inside that building as well. Owen and Isak had left the others and they went on to other activities in town, including attempting to go to a White Sox baseball game at U.S. Cellular Field. They would meet us in the morning for the CTA trips.

At about 12:10 PM all those who were going on the trip to Indiana were assembled, so we went downstairs. Those who needed to purchase South Shore Line tickets did so at that railroad's window, while some pre-purchased the METRA tickets that would be needed for Friday at another window.

We then walked through the corridor that leads to the South Shore's lower level platforms, and boarded our train on Track 12.

Chapter 2.4: South Shore Line

The South Shore Line uses single-level multiple unit (MU) electric equipment, which actually looks strange in Chicago, where all of the METRA lines use variations of bilevel gallery cars.

Chapter 2.4.1: WCRF Part P3: Chicago (Randolph Street Station) to South Bend, IN

For this trip we had seven people: Doug Heinrichs, David Korkhouse, Jishnu Mukerji, Alan Burden, Skip Howard, Michael, and me.

When we got to Track 12, the crew directed us to the front of the train upon hearing that we were headed for South Bend. There was a very good reason for this, which you will see soon.

We departed from Randolph Street Station on time at 12:25 PM. After making the city stops at Van Buren Street and Roosevelt Road, we then went express, stopping only at 59th Street and Kensington/115th Street along the METRA-owned trackage.

Right after the Kensington station we branched off onto the South Shore Line's own tracks.

Highlights of this trip were the gauntlet track at the station in Hammond, IN, and the street running portion through Michigan City, IN. On the latter, we were lucky enough to make all of the traffic lights, so we only had to stop at the downtown station on 11th Street.

At the Carroll Avenue station within the Michigan City shops of the South Shore Line, the two rear coaches were removed from our train. Only the first two coaches went onward to South Bend; no doubt this is done to save electricity and crew costs.

Chapter 2.4.2: In South Bend

Group poses at Michiana Airport The cab car of the South Shore Line train which brought us to Micheana.  Kevin Korell and son Michael stand to the right. Group on platform at Michiana Airport after arrival from Chicago

After we detrained at the Michiana Regional Transportation Center (a.k.a. South Bend Airport), we posed for group photos near the train. It was important to do this upon arrival, since we would be losing David Korkhouse here. He lives and works in the South Bend area. David said he might try to join us over the weekend in Chicago.

After David went on his way, the rest of us milled about the airport for rest of our layover. Some of us purchased snacks and drinks. A few spent the time relaxing on sofas in the airport lobby, watching on television as British Prime Minister Tony Blair addressed a joint session of the United States Congress.

Chapter 2.4.3: WCRF Part P4: South Bend, IN to Chicago (Randolph Street Station)

Our group of six returned westbound on the South Shore Line to Chicago. On this trip, there was a crew change at Carroll Street (at the railroad's shops), but we did not get back the cars we had given up on the eastbound trip. Instead, later we had two cars quickly added to our consist during our station stop in downtown Gary. Incidentally, in Gary we saw the U.S. Steel Yard, where the minor league Gary/South Shore RailCats play. The team was named for the proximity of the South Shore Line to the stadium.

The biggest story on this trip was the weather. As we were near the Indiana/Illinois border, the sky turned a dark purple to the north, and we could see lightning in the direction of Chicago. We encountered some very heavy rain, along with thunder and lightning, on the way north into the city along the METRA trackage. We later found out that July was a record month for thunderstorms in the Chicago area, and that this particular storm did spawn some tornadoes in the suburbs. Despite the severe weather, our train was on time into Chicago.

Chapter 2.5: WCRF Part P5: CTA Purple Line, Randolph/Wabash to Quincy/Wells

Doug left us upon arrival back in Chicago. Although he was also going to Union Station to catch his train back to Deerfield, he decided to walk across the Loop once more rather than taking the train.

Luckily, the weather let up for all of us, as we had to walk on Randolph Street to the elevated Loop subway. We took a Purple Line train, one of the last of the evening to run on the Inner Loop, back to Quincy/Wells. Had the Purple Line not been running, it would have required two trains (and switching between them) to accomplish the trip between these two stations.

Once we detrained at Quincy/Wells, we walked through a drizzle to Union Station.

Chapter 2.6: Luggage retrieval and dinner at Union Station

Our first stop was the luggage lockers. The archaic system does not take dollar bills, so one must first get change, and then put in a lot of quarters until their total is reached. Since we had left our luggage all day, we had to insert another five dollars, or 20 quarters.

After having done so, for some reason the locker where I had placed Michael's luggage was not working properly. The secret code was entered wrong, even though I was sure I had entered it correctly. I had to go find an attendant to help me. It turned out that this was a known problem. The "9" key on the keypad was stuck and thus a "9" was inadvertently entered instead of the correct digit. I re-inserted my quarters, and was then able to retrieve the luggage, after losing five minutes. It was a good thing that at this point we were not rushing to make a train!

After everyone had gotten their luggage, Skip, Alan, Jishnu, Michael, and I went upstairs to the food court. We had a few interesting revelations there:

  • Connie's Pizza, despite this location's continued internet presence, is no longer in business at the Union Station location. I had come to rely on them sometime during each of my previous Chicago visits.
  • The rest of the pickings around Union Station are poor. There is still the choice of McDonald's, a hot dog place, or a Chinese place.
  • On weekday evenings, the bar adjacent to the food court has live entertainment. While we were seated there eating our food, this rather loud band was playing songs from the 1970's.

At any rate, we knew that relying on that food court for as many meals as we had planned on eating there over the four day period would pose a problem.

Although Doug had walked across the Loop to the same building, we did not see him again until Saturday, so he must have just boarded his train home to Deerfield once he got there.

Chapter 2.7: CTA Blue & Red Lines to our hotels

After dinner, we stuck with the plan and decided to take a combination of the Blue & Red Lines to get to our hotels. We would walk three blocks south to the Blue Line at Clinton/Congress, take an O'Hare-bound train to Jackson/Dearborn, and then walk through the connecting tunnel to the Red Line, which we would take to our stop at Grand/State.

Our walk was brisk, since a heavy rain had begun to fall. It let up considerably before we got to the subway entrance under the Eisenhower Expressway (formerly Congress Parkway).

The route I had chosen proved to be a mistake since we were all hauling our luggage. The long escalator down to the platform at Clinton/Congress was not functioning, so we had to walk down. I was in the front of the group and had made it to the bottom when I realized that Michael, who had started out behind me, was having trouble handling his luggage while walking down. I went back up the idle "down" escalator and took Michael's suitcase from him so he could proceed down. Doing this cleared a logjam of railfans and other people who were stuck behind him.

We did not have long to wait before our train came in. Our trip was several minutes to Jackson, where we detrained for our transfer. This too proved to be a tedious move, since once again we had to go downstairs one level to the tunnel, and then upstairs again to get to the Red Line platform.

These were our first visits to Chicago's unique continuous platforms, but I don't think anyone cared since we were interested in getting our bodies, tired from travel and sweating from the heat and carrying our luggage up and down stairways, to our hotel at that point.

The five of us again did not have long to wait, and we took our next quick ride on the Red Line train to Grand/State. When we detrained, we had one more stairway up to the street level. We all then walked east one block on Grand Avenue, then north on Wabash. When we got to Ohio Avenue, we said goodbye to Alan, since his Comfort Inn was 1/2 block west of here. The rest of us continued north on Wabash to our home for the next three nights, the Cass Hotel.

We all checked in, and then rode the elevator to our respective floors. Michael and I were on the eighth floor, while Skip and Jishnu each had rooms on the ninth floor. I got a message when I checked in from HaRRy Sutton, who had gotten in from Chicago earlier in the evening and had checked into the hotel long before we got there. He was on the tenth floor. I called him that evening and gave him our plans for meeting downstairs in the morning.

We found that there was not much on television, mainly because the cable had gone out on account of the storms. (The cable problem, we would later find out, was an area-wide problem, since Alan also had the same experience at his hotel.) We would not have watched much anyhow. Michael and I each took our showers, and then we retired for the night.

Chapter 3: Windy City RailFest 2003, CTA Day, Friday, July 18, 2003

Chapter 3.1: Preparation

The Cass Hotel gives complimentary "breakfast" (toast and juice) on the first morning of one's stay only. Breakfast is served in a small coffee shop just off the hotel lobby. When Michael and I got there at our agreed-upon time of 7:30 AM, HaRRy was there, along with Jishnu and Skip. We had our small breakfast, and then left the hotel for our long day of train riding.

The arrangement with Alan was to walk by the front of his hotel at 8 AM, and he would join us. We were right on time, and after a short while, he came out. We then continued around the corner onto State Street, and entered the Grand/State subway station for the first of many transit rides we would be taking that day.

Chapter 3.2: WCRF Part A1: CTA Red Line, Grand/State to 95th/Dan Ryan

Alan & HaRRy aboard Red Line as car of same color passes by Michael, Steve, & Skip on Red Line as traffic streaks by on the Dan Ryan Group awaits arrival of Owen & Isak at 95th/Dan Ryan station while very noisy traffic moves by on both sides of the station

It is quite a challenge to coordinate the movements of as many as 12 people, coming from different places and joining our group at different points along the route we were taking. Much of our story on Friday was hooking up with our participants at various CTA stations.

My route guides and advance e-mail notices had warned that my calculations were padded, so that we could, and probably would, run ahead of the itinerary times, especially on the rapid transit lines. I allowed for us to miss the first train out from endpoint stations, which bought us 10 minutes or so at a time.

The cell phone came into handy all day for us, as we had to coordinate meets, since we were inevitably running early at times, and thus our participants missed us at the pre-determined times.

Our first incident took place right in the Grand/State subway station. Meeting our group first would be Steve Weagant, who lives up near the northern end of the Red Line. He called me and told me what train he would be riding, telling me the car number of the front car on his particular train. Thus we let several trains go by before Steve's came. We boarded the front car and met up with him as we proceeded south towards the Dan Ryan end of the line. We left Grand/State at about 8:25 AM, which was five minutes earlier than what had been printed in my itinerary.

Meanwhile, Owen and Isak had boarded a train (possibly even the same train!) around the same time at Chicago/State, and rode one stop to Grand/State to meet us. They were in the station where we had been waiting for about ten minutes, but we had already left. I was unclear at that time about Owen's plans for meeting us, and was only aware that he had intended to go to a White Sox the previous evening and thus might be staying in his room late. I didn't know at the time that the ballgame was rained out.

So we were already well down the line, in the median of the Dan Ryan Expressway, when Owen called me from the Grand/State station asking where we were. I explained that we had started a bit early, and that he should board the next southbound train. We would wait for him and Isak at the end of the line.

When we got to the station at 95th/Dan Ryan, we got off and waited. This station, like the rest of the ones in the median of the Dan Ryan Expressway, suffers from noise pollution. The traffic noise is deafening there, although granted one does not usually spend so much time standing on the platform. Several trains came and went while we were there.

I kept in touch with Owen to check on his progress. In order to talk with him on the phone I had to go partially up a stairway in order to hear him over the freeway noise.

When Owen and Isak arrived, we hastened across the platform from where their train stopped, and boarded the next northbound train.

Chapter 3.3: WCRF Part A2: CTA Red Line, 95th/Dan Ryan to Roosevelt/State

Now a group of nine, we retraced our previous journey on the Red Line, but we got off at Roosevelt/State to transfer to the Green Line. We walked through the transfer tunnel and upstairs to await our next train.

Chapter 3.4: WCRF Part A3: CTA Green Line, Roosevelt/Wabash to Clinton/Lake

This was a quick ride on the Green Line to get to the Ogilvie Transportation Center area. The nine of us got off at Clinton/Lake.

We then walked south two blocks on Clinton Street, and entered the station's northern concourse, which is open on weekdays only. Those who needed to do so purchased their tickets from an agent on the ground floor. We then walked upstairs to one of the platforms and went to the main part of the station.

Chapter 3.5: Greetings at Ogilvie Transportation Center

Michael & Kevin meet Bill at OTC, fresh  from his arrival on the Three Rivers Near the top landing of the escalator, waiting for us was Irwin Davis, the CTA motorman who had given me a lot of advice about the Fest in advance. Also meeting us in that area was Bill Antonides, who had just arrived in town a few hours ago on the THREE RIVERS from New Jersey.

Those who needed to do so took advantage of the rest rooms on the first floor. Then the eleven of us soon boarded our next conveyance, our first METRA train of the Fest.

Chapter 3.6: WCRF Part A4: METRA UP-North Line, Chicago (OTC) to Evanston/Davis Street

Unlike most of our other METRA rides, we would not be riding this line to the end. Although this line goes up to Kenosha, Wisconsin, land of dairy products and heritage streetcars, we would only be going to the suburban city of Evanston, Illinois. We elected to remain on the train's lower level, since we would have to make a quick exit when the train got to Davis Street.

Once at Davis Street, the middle of the three Evanston station stops, we filed off the train and walked next door to the adjacent Purple Line station.

Continued in next section

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