By most accounts, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) could very well land near the top of Santa’s “naughty” list this year. Between the Ventra fare card debacle and the infamous “ghost train” crash in September, it’s easy to see why some aren’t thrilled about taking the L.
This is not a new phenomenon. Chicago’s transit system has had its critics ever since its inception back in 1892 when a line was built with the dream of reaching the Illinois/Indiana border. This never happened but the first “Alley L” ran a 3.6 mile route from Congress to 39th street through Chicago’s rough and tumble backstreets.
As the city continued to grow, so did the demand for affordable and easily accessible public transportation. There were lines to take workers to the Stockyard and others built to route tourists to the Colombian Exposition and other local attractions.
Unfortunately while ridership was up, many of the “L” lines that ran around the Windy City were mismanaged by private firms or speculators and were frequently marred by corruption, graft and shady business practices.
Following the Great Depression, with many of the lines ready to go belly-up, it became apparent that Chicago’s rapid transit system needed to fall under one banner. With that vision, the CTA came into being in 1945. They modernized the fleet while shutting down over 100 of the outmoded stations and rail lines.
Although many of the L lines are now just historical footnotes, there are several tracks that are still in use and date back to the system’s early days. And while the CTA gets its share of detractors, it’s clear that this season’s “Holiday Train” is certainly doing its part to spread some Christmas cheer to riders on every line as photos and videos of the train figure prominently on social media, news clips and more.
This marks the 22nd year that the Holiday Train has been helping winter-weary riders get in the spirit of the season. The tradition began in 1992 when a “Season’s Greetings from the CTA” sign was affixed to a train that was delivering food to charity. Today, the train delivers over 300 fully-stocked food baskets to local charities.
The train has also gotten a lot glitzier since its more modest roots. Today’s 6-car train is adorned with seasonal images and thousands of twinkling lights. The train’s interior is equally festive with a sea of bright lights, big red bows and a smattering of Santa’s elves. These jolly elves serve as a welcome respite from the day-to-day commute as they pose and pass out candy canes to delighted riders.
Speaking of the big guy, no holiday train ride would be complete without a glimpse of Santa riding the rails in an open-air flatcar flanked by reindeer and brightly decorated Christmas trees. Despite the colder temperatures, Santa can be spotted outside on the green, red and other color-coded lines.
With Christmas less than a week away, there are precious few opportunities to catch the holiday train at a station near you. Visit the CTA's website for details on upcoming appearances.