Railroads, Chicago-style
Multiple Unit Train Control Testing by cta web on Flickr.
Multiple Unit Train Control Testing 122 years ago today, the first ‘L’ service began on the South Side ‘L’ between Congress and 39th Street (now Pershing Road). The line, built by the Chicago and South Side Rapid Transit Company, was quickly extended to Jackson Park for the Columbian Exposition and World’s Fair of 1893, began its history with wooden cars that had rattan seats, etched glass windows and were pulled by coal-burning steam locomotives. As technology advanced, lines like these would soon begin conversion to more efficient and less-expensive electrical propulsion to move trains. The South Side ‘L’ ended up doing something innovative, though: They retained Frank J. Sprague as a consultant for their electrification program who’d been working on a new railway technology that could allow them to do away with locomotives and instead put motors under multiple cars on trains of flexible and varying length, all of which would be simultaneously controlled from the front of the train. Sprague’s Multiple Unit Train Control tech or “MU,” would be tested and proven in 1897 on the South Side ‘L’ and, following gradual conversion of cars, would first be implemented for an in-service trip on April 15, 1898. The South Side ‘L’ quickly upgraded the rest of its fleet for MU and within a few years Chicago’s other elevated railroads would, too. Though the details of how MU works has evolved greatly over the years, it remains a core concept of how our trains function—and those of pretty much every other elevated/metro/subway/multi-car tram system in the world! This photo shows Sprague, among others, on April 16, 1898—just about 6 years after the line opened—on the electric South Side Rapid Transit Car #139, on a solo test run, on the Congress Stub, which went to the original terminal over Congress between State/Wabash, before the line was connected to the Loop via the Harrison curve (background, left). The stub had been used as an out-of-Loop terminal before the subways were built when the Loop couldn’t accommodate all the trains that were being sent to it.

Multiple Unit Train Control Testing by cta web on Flickr.

Multiple Unit Train Control Testing

122 years ago today, the first ‘L’ service began on the South Side ‘L’ between Congress and 39th Street (now Pershing Road).

The line, built by the Chicago and South Side Rapid Transit Company, was quickly extended to Jackson Park for the Columbian Exposition and World’s Fair of 1893, began its history with wooden cars that had rattan seats, etched glass windows and were pulled by coal-burning steam locomotives.

As technology advanced, lines like these would soon begin conversion to more efficient and less-expensive electrical propulsion to move trains. The South Side ‘L’ ended up doing something innovative, though: They retained Frank J. Sprague as a consultant for their electrification program who’d been working on a new railway technology that could allow them to do away with locomotives and instead put motors under multiple cars on trains of flexible and varying length, all of which would be simultaneously controlled from the front of the train. Sprague’s Multiple Unit Train Control tech or “MU,” would be tested and proven in 1897 on the South Side ‘L’ and, following gradual conversion of cars, would first be implemented for an in-service trip on April 15, 1898. The South Side ‘L’ quickly upgraded the rest of its fleet for MU and within a few years Chicago’s other elevated railroads would, too. Though the details of how MU works has evolved greatly over the years, it remains a core concept of how our trains function—and those of pretty much every other elevated/metro/subway/multi-car tram system in the world!

This photo shows Sprague, among others, on April 16, 1898—just about 6 years after the line opened—on the electric South Side Rapid Transit Car #139, on a solo test run, on the Congress Stub, which went to the original terminal over Congress between State/Wabash, before the line was connected to the Loop via the Harrison curve (background, left). The stub had been used as an out-of-Loop terminal before the subways were built when the Loop couldn’t accommodate all the trains that were being sent to it.

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