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 steamal
I'm not a native of the Windy City or the Chicagoland area, so I hope you will pardon what seems like an ignorant question:

What is the difference between CTA trains and Metra trains, at least in the routes they cover?


  by byte
CTA routes are rapid transit. Although not exclusive to these purposes, their major uses can be traced back to people using the system to run errands, visit friends, etc - basically anything you'd do with a car in the city. Of course, there are exceptions and people do use it for commuting a lot every day, but they also use it for a lot of other things. Metra is commuter rail on the other hand, and is 95% of the time only used as a series of feeder routes for commuters getting downtown and back, going to and from work.

  by orangeline
To expand on what Byte has stated,

CTA stands for Chicago Transit Authority, which runs bus and rail rapid transit within the city limits and to several nearby suburbs. The rail component was originally developed beginning in the early 1890's by several companies: the Chicago & South Side Rapid Transit Railroad Co., the Lake Street Elevated Railroad Co., the Metropolitan West Side Elevated Railroad Co, and the Northwestern Elevated Railroad Co. They operated as independent railroads and had their own downtown terminals. In 1897 the Union Consolidated Elevated Railroad was built. Because rail cars from the different railroads were built to the same dimensions it became possible for all trains to operate on common rails. Today's CTA has 8 lines and more than 140 stations systemwide. Trains run on headways as short as 3 minutes during rush hours and as frequently as every 7.5 minutes during normal hours. There is some 24-hour service as well.

Metra is the commuter railroad for Chicago providing service within the city limits (mostly where CTA trains don't run) and to near and distant suburbs, some considerably more than an hour away. This network was created from the commuter systems of mainline railroads such as the Burlington, CNW, Milwaukee Road, Illinois Central, etc. There are 4 downtown terminals and there is limited intermingling among lines. Metra trains operate on mainline rails, UP, BNSF, etc, and typically run far less frequently than CTA and there is no 24-hour service. With the exception of Metra Electric, all Metra trains are powered by diesel locomotives pulling/pushing bi-level coaches.

If you're familiar with New York, CTA rapid transit is comparable to the New York subway system and Metra to Metro North.

  by Tadman
It should be noted that Chicago has the most extensive rail-transit and commuter rail systems in North America, barring NYC obviously. What's really surprising is that fact it's in the midwest, not the densely packed eastern seabord.

The Metra Electric district (former ICRR) is unique, because other than the catenary, it's on a wholly seperated ROW with only a few interchanges or junctions, almost no grade crossings, and operational theory that approached rapid transit in frequency of service and spacing of stations. If you're looking for a thrill ride, don't take ME as it doesn't go too fast. If the stations weren't so close together, I'd figure on locomotive pulled bilevels, but acceleration is key here, so it's MU's all the way.