Why is our L on an embankment


Teaser #45
In our last Teaser we asked: Why is our “L” on an embankment instead of on the steel structure used on all other pre-1950 Chicago “L” lines, including the famed Chicago elevated Loop?
Answer: It is a simple and logical one: An embankment was used because the traditional steel structure wouldn’t have been strong enough to support freight trains that had to use the right-of-way.
North of Wilson Ave our “L” was built on the right of way of the Chicago Milwaukee & St Paul’s Evanston division. The railroad operated freight trains as well as passenger trains. The freight trains serviced businesses on the west side of the tracks. In Edgewater they included from south to north: the Knickerbocker Ice Company, the Lill Coal Company, the Edgewater Coal Company, and the Best Coal Company.
As part of the agreement between the St. Paul RR and the Northwestern Elevated Company, the later would transport loaded cars from the St. Paul’s yards between Montrose and Wilson onto the embankment to their respective businesses and bring back the empty cars to this yard. The agreement specified that the St. Paul would fully reimburse the Northwestern Elevated Company for its expenses in doing this work. The Northwestern Elevated purchased two electric locomotives for this purpose. See a photo of them presumably in the Montrose yard. The agreement lasted well into the CTA era even after the CTA bought the right of way from the St. Paul. The last business on the north end of the line was the Lill Coal Company and the last freight train ran on April 30, 1973. (A Jewel supermarket and its parking lot have replaced the Lill Coal Company yards.)
The elevated embankment was built by the St. Paul, not the Northwestern Elevated, and was built to steam railroad engineering standards. The St. Paul already had extensive construction experience, having previously elevated its Bloomingdale line (today’s 606 linear park) and also the Northwestern Elevated Line in Evanston, which it also owned. The Chicago & North Western RR used the same technology when it elevated its Milwaukee line in Chicago and Evanston.