You are here:

Chicago & North Western West Line becomes part of RTA

Saturday, June 1, 1974
 Chicago & Northwestern Locomotive 411


Chicago and North Western operated commuter train service in the Chicago area, where they developed what was perhaps the first cab car. A modified gallery car was built in 1960 with locomotive controls to allow push-pull operation. Today, it is preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum. The C&NW also pioneered the concept of Head End Power (HEP), generating 480V electricity from the locomotive to power the air conditioning, lighting, and heating on the new bi-level cars. This eventually became the standard for all railroads in the United States.

Three commuter lines radiated from North Western station, terminating in Geneva, IL; Harvard, IL; and Kenosha, WI. All three are still operated by Metra. At Crystal Lake Junction, some trains branched off to Williams Bay and Lake Geneva, WI. The West Line also had branches to Aurora, Freeport, and Crystal Lake. A fourth commuter line operated on the KD Line between Kenosha and Harvard until 1939.

In 1974, responsibility for the commuter lines and equipment ownership was transferred to the newly formed Regional Transportation Authority, later branded in 1983 as Metra. A "purchase of service" contract was signed with the C&NW, by which the railroad would be paid to maintain the line and operate trains on behalf of the RTA. This arrangement continues with the Union Pacific today.

All three C&NW commuter lines live on in the Metra system, with the Geneva line having been extended to Elburn, IL, however service on the branch to Williams Bay was gradually cut back over the years (also resulting in changes to the name of the branch). In 1965, service was abandoned between Williams Bay and Lake Geneva. In 1975, service ended between Lake Geneva and Richmond. In 1981, service between McHenry and Richmond ended. Rails and ties north of the Cargill plant in Ringwood were removed during the 1980s, and the right of way converted to a trail.