The Oldest Subway System in the U.S. Is Still Running Strong After 132 Years

The subway system is a common mode of transportation in many major cities around the world. It allows people to travel quickly and conveniently without having to deal with traffic congestion or pollution. But do you know which subway system is the oldest in the U.S.? The answer is the Chicago “L”, which has been operating since 1892 and is still running strong after 132 years. In this article, we will explore the history, features, and achievements of the Chicago “L”, the oldest subway system in the U.S.

The History of the Chicago “L”

The Chicago “L” stands for elevated, as most of the tracks are above ground. The first line of the Chicago “L” opened on June 6, 1892, making it the oldest subway system in the U.S. and the second oldest in the Americas, after the Buenos Aires Underground. The initial service was a steam locomotive pulling four wooden cars from 39th Street Station to Congress Street Terminal in 14 minutes. The system was electrified in 1897 and expanded rapidly in the following decades, reaching the suburbs and connecting different parts of the city.

The Chicago “L” survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the Great Depression, and two World Wars. It also faced challenges such as competition from buses and cars, financial difficulties, and aging infrastructure. However, the system managed to overcome these obstacles and continue to serve the city and its residents. The Chicago “L” underwent several modernization and renovation projects, such as adding new lines, stations, and trains, improving accessibility and safety, and integrating with other modes of transportation.

The Features of the Chicago “L”

The Chicago “L” is the third busiest subway system in the U.S., after the New York City Subway and the Washington Metro, with an annual ridership of about 100 million in 2022. The system has eight color-coded lines: Red, Blue, Green, Brown, Purple, Pink, Orange, and Yellow. The system also has 145 stations and covers 224 miles of track. The Red and Blue lines are the only ones that operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, making the Chicago “L” one of the few subway systems in the world to offer round-the-clock service.

The Chicago “L” is known for its distinctive architecture and design, as well as its cultural and historical significance. Many of the stations and bridges are landmarks and have been featured in movies, TV shows, and books. Some of the most notable stations include the Quincy Station, which is one of the oldest and best-preserved stations in the system, the Washington/Wabash Station, which is the newest and most futuristic station in the system, and the Loop, which is the downtown area where several lines converge and form a circular route.

The Achievements of the Chicago “L”

The Chicago “L” is not only the oldest subway system in the U.S., but also one of the most innovative and influential ones. The system has been a pioneer in many aspects, such as using electric power, adopting multiple-unit train control, implementing automatic fare collection, and introducing smart cards. The system has also been recognized for its environmental and social benefits, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting public health, and enhancing economic development.

The Chicago “L” has received many awards and honors for its excellence and performance, such as the Outstanding Achievement Award from the American Public Transportation Association, the National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark from the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the Best Transit System in North America from the Intelligent Transportation Society of America. The system has also been ranked among the best subway systems in the world by various publications and organizations, such as CNN, Business Insider, and The Economist.


The Chicago “L” is a remarkable subway system that has been serving the city of Chicago and its suburbs for over a century. It is the oldest subway system in the U.S. and one of the oldest and busiest in the world. It is also a leader in innovation, efficiency, and sustainability. The Chicago “L” is more than just a mode of transportation, it is a symbol of the city’s history, culture, and identity. The Chicago “L” is still running strong after 132 years and will continue to do so for many more years to come.

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