Discussion related to commuter rail and rapid transit operations in the Chicago area including the South Shore Line, Metra Rail, and Chicago Transit Authority.

Moderators: metraRI, JamesT4

  by AlcoFA
My 9 year old son and I will be in Chicago for the day on Monday April 18th.

Where is a good train watching spot on the Metra BNSF line to Aurora? (We will be taking the train from downtown). In addition, are there any restrictions on picture taking in Metra territory?

Thanks to all for the information.

  by railohio
Anywhere west of and including LaGrange would be a safe place on that line. Definately don't hang around Cicero or anywhere else closer to downtown.

  by dhaugh
I have a related question - next time I go to Chicago, I was thinking of picking up the $5 Metra rail pass, and using it to get around to places I might not otherwise see. In particular I was thinking of riding down to Blue Island, and perhaps beyond, possibly coming back downtown via the Aurora line. (don't have a map on hand, but I believe that's possible). The question is, is it safe?

  by MikeF
The trip you described is not possible.

It is possible to ride to Blue Island via either the Electric District or the Rock Island District and return to Chicago on the other route. On weekday evenings it is possible to ride the Heritage Corridor to Joliet and return to Chicago via the Rock Island District. Both trips are safe; they pass through some questionable areas but, as is the case on all Metra lines, stay on the train and you'll be fine. Note that the HC runs weekdays only so you would not be able to use a $5 weekend pass if you took that trip.

Another weekdays-only round trip would be to ride either the Milwaukee District North Line or the North Central Service to Prairie Crossing, then walk over to the other line's Prairie Crossing station (the two stations share the same name but are separated by about 1/4 mile of parking lot) and ride back to Chicago. These lines offer a great variety of scenery, but again, the weekend pass cannot be used as the NCS does not run on weekends.

I'd be happy to try to answer any other Metra questions you may have.

  by David Cole
My favorite spot is the train station in Joliet. Usually lots of freight traffic, along with Metra and some Amtrak action. (The ride down to Joliet from Chicago along Highway 171 is also a nice bonus. Sometimes I need a nice drive in the country, and that's about the closest road to Chicago that even begins to have a rural feel to it.)

I also had an opportunity to spend a few minutes at LaGrange recently, and was blown away by how busy the Racetrack is. I must return there!

I'm curious about other spots around Chicago as well, regardless of whether there's any Metra activity or not.

  by doepack
If you're strictly a commuter/passenger train fan, the Western Ave station on Metra's Milwaukee/NCS district lines is a great place to visit, especially during rush hours. The station lies just west of the tower at A-2 crossing, where Metra's Union Pacific West line crosses this route. In addition to the regular Metra trains stopping there, there are also many equipment moves between Union Station and Western Ave yard, just west of the station. The majority of the moves can either be seen just after the AM rush as trains head to the yard for midday storage or servicing, or in the mid-to-late afternoon as the trains head down to Union Station to pick up passengers for the evening ride home.

Meanwhile, not far from Western Ave's south (inbound) platform, the same scene is being played out nearby as rush hour equipment from all three of Metra's Union Pacific lines come and go out of the east end of their California yard, clattering across the A-2 diamonds going to and from OTC each morning and afternoon during the end of the AM and the start of the PM rush hours, with numerous light engine moves scattered throughout the day. Throw in Amtrak's presence on the Milwaukee/NCS line, with the daily Hiawatha trains and an Empire Builder in each direction, and you've got some serious action. The only drawback is that besides Amtrak, the only other variety in traffic is provided by a local freight job that can be seen during the day, although not at the same time every day. I have limited knowledge of this job, I do know that it uses an NS switcher at times for power from what I've observed, although I'm not sure if that is indeed the normally assigned locomotive, and it works a small industrial area on the Milwaukee/NCS line about a mile or so to the east. Otherwise, it's strictly a showcase of Metra's basic and ubiquitous diesel equipment, gallery bi-levels with either F40's or the newer MP36's providing the power.

As for accessibility, it's probably best to get there via train, plenty of Metra service is available from Union Station, most trains stop there. For those that choose to drive, be advised that parking is a bit tight at the station, it's a very small lot, although there's plenty of parking within a block or two of the station, but the surrounding neighborhood is a bit risky. Despite that, it's a paradise for passenger train junkies, well worth the visit...

  by atlpete
My favorite on the Aurora line (old CB&Q) is Downers Grove, evening rush is just fantastic between all the Metra, BNSF and Amtrak action, lots of speedy runby's on the middle track, visible signalling, plenty of notice to set-up shots, lighting is good, station area is nice, safe, creep-free and clean, plenty of eateries nearby, nice village area in general. Wish I could afford to live there. Often catch two and three trains at time there. Also shows Amtrak at it's best with multiple transcons and state-funded train to Quincy.