CTA POWER DISTRIBUTION
The streetcars were originally powered by horses, and the elevated trains were originally powered by steam locomotives. As electric power proved to be practical, the railways constructed their own power generating plants. Eventually, the individual power plants were replaced with the more efficient central power generation of the area electric utility, Commonwealth Edison.
Chicago's street railways and elevated railways largely have separate histories, and are treated separately throughout most of this web site. But as Commonwealth Edison evolved as the supplier of electricity to both systems, much of the electrical distribution system became commingled. With many substations converting the electricity to 600 volts DC for both systems. Electric powered surface transportation existed until 1973, in the form of trolleybuses. But a few substations originally constructed by the street railways, continue to be in use for rapid transit trains.
Between 1882 and 1906, Chicago had what once was the world's largest cable car system, for the heaviest streetcar routes. The cable cars were powered from stationary steam engines located at several power houses.
Electric power plants operated by the streetcar companies, providing the 600 volts DC to the streetcar lines.
Electric power plants operated by the streetcar companies, providing the 600 volts DC to the elevated lines.
When the electric railways transitioned to the purchase of electricity from Commonwealth Edison, substations were established for the distribution of direct current electricity to the overhead wires and the third rails.
Coal fired power plants, which had a major role in providing electricity to Chicago's streetcars and elevated trains.
Much information on older transit facilities is from the "Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps", which is a fascinating and valuable resource in determining exactly what buildings were where, historically. People with a Chicago Public Library card can access these maps online at the Chicago Public Library Web site. Because the map collection is incomplete, not all older transit facilities are known, and any further information would be appreciated. Bill Vandervoort