One of a series of posts describing Chicago’s underground networks. This post focuses on the railroads, both passenger and freight.
In the early 20th century the city council required the steam railroads, as they were known, to elevate their tracks. This has resulted in structures that may or may not be considered “underground.”
Streets pass under the railroad viaducts. Usually the street dips bringing it below ground level. Sometimes the effect is that of going under a bridge. Other times it feels distinctly tunnel like complete with stalagmites and stalactites. Notable is Damen Avenue which dives under the tracks for 1400 feet between 14th and 17th streets.
Road crossings under Chicago’s expressways sometimes have a tunnel like feel. Often expressways were built next to railroads, leading to long double underpasses.
Several lines have remained at ground level while the earth was raised around them. Examples are Union Station and along the north side of the Chicago River. In places the tracks seem to run in tunnels, others the basement of buildings, in others you can peek at the river below while trees grow above your head.
The Illinois Central/METRA Electric Line is equally bewildering as it passes deep under Millennium Park, the Art Institute and McCormick Place. It has a genuine tunnel at 69th Street where the South Chicago Branch dives under the main line and heads east.