In 1848, the Galena & Chicago Union Rail Road became Chicago's first railroad. The railroad soon became part of Chicago & North Western's main line between Chicago and Omaha. Commuter train service was operated between Chicago and Geneva, and in the late 1950's and early 1960's the commuter service was modernized with bilevel push pull diesel trains. Operating over this and two other lines, the Chicago & North Western became successful in operating America's finest commuter rail service, and actually making a profit, until the 1970's. The Regional Transportation Authority was formed in the 1970's to subsidize the commuter trains, in the 1980's the commuter rail service became known as Metra, and in 1995 the Chicago & North Western was acquired by Union Pacific.
But despite these changes in the name, along with new logos and paint on the cars and locomotives, there was considerable stability in this well run commuter operation. The locomotives were replaced in the 1980's, and the cars were being replaced in the 2000's with newer bilevels. But otherwise, westbound trains would leave Chicago at 40 after the hour for West Chicago or Geneva. And eastbound trains would leave Geneva at 05 after the hour, or sometimes originating at West Chicago at 13 after the hour.
Until January 23, 2006.
Ten years earlier, in August 1996, Metra opened Chicago's first new commuter rail line in 70 years. The North Central line would operate from Chicago to Antioch, near the Wisconsin border. This became the springboard for three Metra service expansions, all opened in January 2006. The first of these expansions was the eight mile extension of the old commuter line from Geneva to Elburn, which opened January 23, 2006. For the railfan who for many years had been used to these hourly schedule patterns, things were now different. The westbound trains would still leave Chicago at 40 after the hour. But riding westbound for the past 40 or so years, one would normally expect to meet an eastbound commuter train around Oak Park, and another train around Glen Ellyn. But now, with the eastbound schedules adjusted by about a half hour to accommodate a longer round trip, the meets would be around Elmhurst and West Chicago.
Seemingly trivial observations in one respect, but noticeable when change is made to what one has taken for granted for so long. And it is these changes, which brought out a number of railfans and other curiosity seekers on the first day of operation. When the Metra North Central line was opened ten years earlier, the first outbound train from Chicago left at 1:25 pm, and really was the only train available for the first day riders. But this time, first day riders would have all day to ride trains running mostly every hour. The die hard railfans rode the very first trains during the pre dawn hours, while others rode at various hours scattered throughout the day.
When Geneva was the end of the line, some trains operated only to and from West Chicago. With only two tracks west of West Chicago, a train turning around at Geneva would typically tie up one of the two main tracks for about 20 minutes. The railroad apparently desired to minimize the impact of commuter trains on the freight operations. So for the 8 mile extension, a third track was constructed for the outer 5 miles, south of the original two main tracks.
An intermediate station was opened at La Fox, with platform access to all three tracks. And a new coach yard was constructed south of the right of way, east of Elburn. The Elburn station consists of just one platform along the new south track. And generally all trains now turn at Elburn, out of the way of the heavy freight traffic. Although the towns of La Fox and Elburn lie mainly north of the railroad, road access to both stations is from the south, from Keslinger Road, paralleling the railroad to the south. Both new stations are actually in the country, away from town, with plenty of room for parking. This is to reduce traffic congestion within the towns. In this era when automobile transportation continues to dominate, driving access and parking must be considered in the development of new commuter rail stations.
And for the first day of service, the parking lots at both new stations were well utilized. No doubt by commuters who already had been using Metra by driving to Geneva or another established station. But the parking situations at existing stations had often become congested. And these commuters had probably waited a long time to get some relief. And now the wait is finally over.
Upon getting off the train at Elburn on the first day of service, the first sight is of a couple of barns with silos. Always an interesting clash between urban and rural, and causing one to wonder. How much longer will the rural character remain? Further examination of the barns and surroundings suggested that the farm may have been closed. The old farmland may be ripe for new housing construction. In fact, new housing has been constructed immediately south of Keslinger Road. The actual station building had not yet been constructed, with a trailer temporarily serving as the waiting room. Nevertheless, plans were for an 11 am opening day ceremony for the extension, with the mayor of Elburn.
Despite the 8 mile extension, the West Line remains the shortest of the three Union Pacific Metra lines, at 43 miles. The longest line being the Union Pacific Northwest Line at 63 miles, to Harvard. Only 15 miles beyond Elburn is De Kalb, 58 miles from Chicago, a shorter distance than Harvard. De Kalb is home of Northern Illinois University, which could benefit from more convenient transportation to and from Chicago. But De Kalb is in De Kalb County, outside the Metra and Regional Transportation Authority area, and currently with no taxing means to support such public transportation. But hopefully, this extension to Elburn puts Northern Illinois University one step closer to more convenient transportation.
The above picture is NOT of the actual station, but along the road leading to the station! :-)
Here is the actual station, along with a barn and silo.