Cragin (Grand/Cicero Station)
In March, 2007, a brand new Metra passenger station was constructed at Cragin, affording easy access to the junction of the Belt Railway and the Metra/CP West Line. To reach the Grand/Cicero station from downtown, take any northbound one-way street to Grand Avenue. Turn left and head about seven miles to Cicero Avenue. Turn right on Cicero, go under the rail overpass and park in the large parking area on your right.
From the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290), exit at Kostner Avenue if going west. Head north to Madison, then turn left. At Cicero, turn right and proceed to Grand Avenue and the parking area just to the north. If you're headed east on the Eisenhower, exit at Cicero Avenue and head north to Grand and the parking area. Grand is about three miles north of the expressway.
The station can also be reached by taking a Metra Milwaukee West Line train from Union Station. However, service is limited on weekdays and non-existent on weekends. Be sure and check the schedule for weekday trains that stop at the station.
This is as far north as the Belt Railway of Chicago goes. The terminal road's north-south main line curves west and feeds into the former Milwaukee Road triple-track main line to Elgin and points west (see photo at right). The line is now owned by Metra, Chicago's commuter transportation agency, and is known as the Milwaukee West Line. Trains on the Belt transfer to Metra and head west to Canadian Pacific's (ex-Soo, ex-Milwaukee) Bensenville Yard, or else connect to Canadian National's former Wisconsin Central line at Franklin Park and proceed north to Schiller Park yard. Most eastbound freights transfer to the Belt here and head south to BRC's massive Clearing Yard, located near Midway Airport. Some trains terminate there while others bypass the yard and head east on the east-west Belt main.
The Belt line sees many Class I freight movements. In addition to CP, Norfolk Southern and Canadian National trains can be seen as well. The Belt of course runs its own trains here, but they are a minority of the traffic. Activity is sporadic on the Belt, but it's a safe guess that about 40 freight trains a day pass through Cragin, with periods when traffic is almost non-stop.
Weekdays see plenty of Metra commuter trains. The trains terminate at Elgin, about 30 miles to the west. Midday trains run hourly, and rush hours see much more activity. Weekend traffic is less frequent with intervals of one or two hours. In addition to the Elgin trains, Metra's North Central commuter trains can be seen as well, but none of them stop here. They transfer to CN's ex-WC main at Franklin Park and head north past O'Hare airport to their terminus at Antioch, Illinois. An occasional CP freight can be seen east of the junction on weekends and during non-rush hours on weekdays. However, most freight movements transfer to/from the Belt here.
Metra/CP: 160.770, 161.520
BR 160.635, 161.520
Cragin was once one of the most difficult locations to reach, but the Metra station now provides easy, safe and legal access. There is talk of a station parking lot being constructed, but for now the nearby parking area serving some local businesses can be used. Afternoons are good for photography, with the Chicago skyline providing a nice backdrop. The local neighborhood is a busy commercial area, and safety is not a serious consideration.