Chapter 4: Windy City RailFest 2003, METRA Madness, Saturday, July 19, 2003
Chapter 4.1: Preparation
HaRRy, Skip, Jishnu, Michael, and I met in our hotel's coffee shop once more for our quick breakfast. This time we had to pay for it, but the cost was minimal. We then walked over to Alan's hotel where he joined the group walking over to the Red Line to begin our long day of travel on the rails.
Chapter 4.2: CTA Red and Green Lines from our hotels to Ogilvie Transportation Center
Not an official part of our Fest, those of us staying at hotels on the Near North Side had to get to Ogilvie Transportation Center for our first official train ride of the day. We took the Red Line from our usual boarding point of Grand/State just one stop south to Lake/State. Here, we made use of the electronic transfer at this location for the only time during our Fest. The subway and overhead stations are not connected, so one must leave the subway, walk a few feet on the sidewalk, and then enter the elevated station. No second fare is deducted from Transit Cards. However, since most of us had multi-day passes, that was a moot point.
We then rode a Green Line train two stops to Clinton/Lake, and walked over to Ogilvie Transportation Center. This time we walked three blocks south and then around to the front door of the Citicorp Center on Madison Street, since the northern concourse is not open on weekends.
Chapter 4.3: Greetings at Ogilvie Transportation Center
When we got up to the second floor, our group of six met those who would be joining us for today's activities. Mike Hammond joined the group for the first time, having taken an overnight Greyhound bus from Cleveland. Doug Heinrichs was waiting in a slightly different location, rejoining us for the first time since our Thursday outing together on the South Shore Line. Returning from Friday were Irwin Davis, Steve Weagant, Brad Smith, and Bill Antonides.
We had hoped to see David Korkhouse as well, as he had indicated he would like to join us in Chicago and see the rest of the gang he had missed on Thursday. But he was unable to make it.
Chapter 4.4: WCRF Part B1: METRA UP-West Line, Chicago (OTC) to Geneva, IL
Twelve of us traveled west on the UP. This was the maximum participation for the entire weekend; but we would tie our record on two other Fest segments later the same day.
We had a pretty uneventful trip outbound to Geneva, although we were slowed somewhat by trackwork. When we got there, a large group of passengers was waiting to board the same train for its inbound trip. The delay had eaten up some of our anticipated 19-minute layover. For these reasons, we chose not to linger at the station, nor take a group photo here, because our primary interest was getting back aboard the train and finding seats relatively close to each other.
Chapter 4.5: WCRF Part B2: METRA UP-West Line, Geneva, IL to Oak Park, IL
It turned out that the UP was single-tracking us. While trains traditionally operate left-handed on the UP, we made most of our inbound stops on the right. We never did find out if anything special was going on in Chicago, or if heavy boardings on inbound Saturday morning trains is the norm, but there were crowds at each station waiting to board. Every seat in our coach was taken just a few stops down the line. I have no doubt that there were standees at other parts of the train by the time the train got back to OTC.
Our intention was to get off at suburban Oak Park, and switch to the Green Line for our trip inbound. Doug said he did not feel well, and would instead remain on the METRA train downtown, where he would meet us for lunch. We were about ten minutes late due to the trackwork and heavy boardings. I began to devise an alternate plan in my mind to make up the lost time in order to preserve our available time for lunch before our next train ride.
When we got to Oak Park, our train was on the middle of three tracks (it is usually on the left side track). We made our stop at an island platform that is usually used by outbound trains, and the eleven of us who had detrained there walked single file down the long, narrow ramp into the station.
Once down in the station, we entered the Green Line and rode the escalator to track level.
Chapter 4.6: WCRF Part B3: CTA Green Line, Harlem/Lake to Clinton/Lake
Although there was a train sitting in the station, it was several minutes before it departed. We had missed the intended run that was on our itinerary. A quick Plan B was needed.
Given that our original plans had us transferring at Clark/Lake in the Loop to the Blue Line, waiting for that train, and then riding around to south of Union Station in order to walk three blocks north, and given that the choice of places to eat at Union Station had diminished, it was decided to alter our plans. We would have lunch at the food court at OTC instead. We would access it by getting off the Green Line one stop sooner (At Clinton/Lake) and then walking the same three-block walk we had done a few hours earlier. Then after lunch we would just go diagonally across Madison Street to the north side platform at Union Station, from where our METRA train to Fox Lake would be departing.
I called Doug, who was still aboard the METRA train from Geneva, and told him to stay put when he got to OTC instead of walking over to Union Station to meet us. The rest of us alighted at Clinton/Lake and walked towards OTC. The walk was made slightly shorter when one of the Chicago people showed us that there is in fact a back door to the food court area that is open on weekends. We therefore did not have to walk around to the front of the building on Madison like we had that morning.
Another Blue Line trip was canceled, only this one was made unnecessary by the relocation of our lunch to OTC and by the need to recover some of the time we had lost on the previous METRA trip to and from Geneva.
Doug was waiting for us when we entered the food court at OTC. The twelve of us bought food from various places; in fact we did not all sit together.
We said a temporary goodbye here to HaRRy and Skip, who had decided to opt out of the Fox Lake turn in favor of a visit to the Museum of Science & Industry.
HaRRy reports that he and Skip took the Green Line from Clinton/Lake (near OTC) south to the Garfield station, and then a 55 bus from there to the museum. Once they got there, they saw the model railroad display, toured a German U-505 submarine, and then left to catch up with the rest of the group once more. Instead of taking the bus and Green Line, they decided to split the cost of a cab directly back to Union Station, where they met us in time for dinner.
The rest of us walked out the front of the Citicorp Building that surrounds OTC, and crossed over to the north end of Union Station. We found out that our train to Fox Lake was already loading on Track 7, and used the correct stairway and platform to approach the train from the end furthest from the station.
As we got to the door of the train, we met Owen and Isak, who were going to join us for the two remaining commuter rail excursions of the day. They were beginning their day late after being at the White Sox game late the previous evening.
Chapter 4.8: WCRF Part B5: METRA Milwaukee District-North Line, Chicago (Union Station) to Fox Lake, IL
So on this trip we were once again an even dozen, with Owen and Isak replacing Skip and HaRRy. We had a nice, quiet trip out to Fox Lake, where we arrived right on time. A few of us found the need to use the restroom facilities while on the train, but opted to wait until we were off the train since what was on the train did not appear to be too inviting.
Chapter 4.9: In Fox Lake
Once we alighted from our outbound train, we agreed to meet near the train at 2:35 in preparation for our 2:44 inbound departure. We then split up, although I suspect that more than several of us were looking for places with restroom facilities.
A number of us went to an ice cream place and purchased some cold treats to ward off the heat. We did not find public restrooms in those places, but at least we had some cool refreshment. Another part of our group went into the nearby Whistle Stop Cafe, where they had some snacks amidst some railroad decor, and probably did find a restroom they could use if they bought something.
When we met again at trainside, we went ahead and boarded. I then went to the rest room; having failed in town to find one, suddenly the train was better than nothing. Just as I came out, the train began moving eastward out of Fox Lake.
Chapter 4.10: WCRF Part B6: METRA Milwaukee District-North Line, Fox Lake, IL to Chicago (Union Station)
On this segment, we started out as twelve people, but ended up as eleven. During our quick trip back to Chicago, Doug left us at Deerfield, which makes sense since he lives there. The rest of us continued back to Chicago. Our train passed another Fox Lake commuter train, as well as one of AMTRAK's Hiawatha Corridor trains to Milwaukee. We got back to Union Station on time.
Chapter 4.11: Dinner in Chicago
And there waiting by the escalator for us were Skip and HaRRy, fresh from their taxi ride from the museum. Although unplanned, our group somehow split up here. Bill left the group and went to visit friends for the evening. Owen, Isak, Brad, and Irwin began walking towards LaSalle Street and ended up eating dinner at a Wendy's on Clark & Van Buren. The rest of us endured the slim pickings at Union Station.
After dinner, the group that had eaten at Union Station walked over to LaSalle Street Station, where we met up with the rest of our participants who were going on our final excursion of the day to Blue Island.
Chapter 4.12: WCRF Part B7: METRA Rock Island District, Chicago (LaSalle Street Station) to Blue Island/Vermont Street, IL
On this trip, just like the Geneva and Fox Lake excursions, we had twelve participants. We had HaRRy and Skip back, but we had lost Doug in Deerfield and then Bill in Chicago. So on this outing it was Mike, Jishnu, Brad, Owen, Isak, Steve, Skip, Irwin, Alan, HaRRy, Michael, and I.
For those who had been on the Joliet excursion on Friday evening, we were traveling over familiar trackage. We made our very frequent local stops along the Beverly District, including flag stops in Morgan and Blue Island.
When we detrained in Blue Island, we used the opportunity of having a large group together to take more group photos. We did not see any freight action as I expected, because (according to one of our Chicago-based participants) the short lines that normally go through here run only on weekdays. We soon walked over to the METRA Electric platform, getting there just as the outbound train was arriving from Chicago.
Chapter 4.13: WCRF Part B8: METRA Electric District - Blue Island Branch, Blue Island/Vermont Street, IL to Chicago (Randolph Street Station)
Our group of 12 made our way back to Chicago on the METRA Electric. This trip was uneventful. We arrived back in Chicago at Randolph Street Station. Our Saturday outing was officially over then, and we said goodbye to Steve, who would not be joining us on Sunday. He stopped briefly in a bookstore, and then took a Red Line train home.
Chapter 4/14: CTA Red Line "home" and to our hotels
HaRRy, Alan, Owen, Isak, Brad, Irwin, Mike, Jishnu, Skip, Michael, and I walked over to Lake/State, where we would board a northbound Red Line train. For Brad and Irwin, this would be their ride home. Owen and Isak traveled two stops to Chicago/State, the closest access to the Seneca Hotel where they would be staying their final night before heading back to Philadelphia the next morning. The rest of us went just one stop to Grand/State, our by-now very familiar "home" station stop closest to our hotels.
Before we got off, we bid goodbye to Irwin and Brad, who remained on the train. Since they would not be joining us on Sunday, this was the last we saw of them.
Chapter 5: Windy City RailFest 2003, More Miles on METRA, Sunday, July 20, 2003
Chapter 5.1: Preparation
This time we did not use our hotel's coffee shop. What was different this morning compared to the previous two days was that we had luggage to haul to Union Station, and then we had to leave it there in advance of our travel that evening. Six of us checked out of the hotel: Mike, Skip, HaRRy, Jishnu, and the more expensive room occupied by Michael and me.
First, with memories of our ordeal Thursday night with the luggage and the numerous underground stairways still fresh in our minds, we decided on an alternate route. Instead of taking the same route as Thursday night between Union Station and Grand/State in reverse, we would just take the Red Line several stops to Jackson, and then walk on the street surface six blocks to the station. It would be a longer walk, but we would not have more than one stairway down into the subway, and one back up to the street.
We walked our now familiar walk via Ohio Avenue to have Alan join our group outside the Comfort Inn. I advised Alan of our slight change of plans in getting to Union Station this morning.
Chapter 5.2: CTA Red Line Grand/State to Jackson/State
Although it was Sunday morning, we did not have a long wait for a southbound subway train. We rode to Jackson/State, and then walked on Jackson to the station. The walk was not all that bad, so our unnecessary ordeal of Thursday evening was another lesson to be learned in planning future Fests: We're allowed to walk as long as we're walking to or from a train!
Chapter 5.3: At Union Station
Once at Union Station, we first had to check our luggage. We found out that unlike other stations, this one would not hold our luggage, even though we had tickets for that night's train. So it was back to the luggage lockers so we would not have to haul our suitcases on the BNSF or METRA Electric.
Since I required two lockers, and since many were already in use, my lockers were in two different locations. One was in the main area in the corridor, while the other was in the room with the baggage carousel. After I had stowed my luggage, I realized that the rest of the group had gone upstairs to get breakfast. What I didn't know is that Michael tagged along with them. Panic set in as I searched for him. On my way, I saw a familiar face at the AMTRAK ticket windows -- Bill Antonides. He had decided to take a round trip to Milwaukee, returning before catching his THREE RIVERS in the evening. I said a quick hello, but my mind was on finding Michael. Correctly figuring he might have gone upstairs with the rest of the group, I went upstairs, where I found him (along with everyone else) in the McDonald's.
Now that I was reunited with Michael, we had breakfast along with the rest of the gang.
When we finished breakfast, there was Bill again out in the corridor talking to the others in our group, since he had time before his Milwaukee departure. The rest of us eventually walked down to the South side boarding area to catch our Aurora train.
Chapter 5.4: WCRF Part C1: METRA BNSF Line, Chicago (Union Station) to Aurora, IL
This trip featured seven of us: HaRRy, Skip, Jishnu, Alan, Mike, Michael, and me. Notice, that is one Californian, one from Massachusetts, one New Yorker, three from New Jersey, and zero from the Chicago area in that group; we had been left to our own devices for Sunday. But no problem, our group of seasoned railfans from out-of-town did very well!
We had an uneventful trip out to Aurora on the BNSF. My route guide said to look for AMTRAK's eastbound ILLINOIS ZEPHYR, Train 348(20), somewhere between Naperville and Aurora, but since it was running late, we did not see it until we had detrained in Aurora on the station siding track and could see Train 348 pass by on the BNSF mainline.