Western Avenue (Tower A-2)
Western Avenue (Tower A-2)
Located just off Western Avenue and just south of Grand Avenue, Metra's station platform here provides a nice setting for heavy passenger traffic, and a fair amount of freight movements as well. To get here by car from downtown Chicago, take any westbound street (Randolph, Madison or Adams) three miles to Western Avenue. Turn right and after going under a railroad overpass, turn left at the first street (Hubbard Street). The station is about a block. From the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290), exit at Western Avenue (exit 27C) and head north to the underpass and Hubbard Street.
It's easier, however, just to ride a Metra Milwaukee North or West Line train to the station (it's the first stop from Union Station). Nearly all trains on both lines stop at the station.
The Metra ex-Milwaukee main enters from the northwest and crosses Union Pacific's ex-Chicago & North Western West Line to Omaha. Metra trains can be found on the UP line as well, but they do not stop here. After crossing the West line, the Metra/Milwaukee line then curves east and parallels UP to downtown Chicago. The Milwaukee trains are headed for Union Station, the UP West commuters terminate at the Ogilvie Transportation Center, located a couple of blocks north. The Western Avenue platforms are on the Metra/Milwaukee line but provide a good view of traffic on UP as well. To the west of the platforms is a small UP yard and just north of it is the Metra coach yard for their UP trains. To the north of the platforms is another Metra coach yard servicing the Milwaukee trains. Entering from the south and joining the UP West Line in a wye formation is a UP (ex-C&NW) branch that is a continuation of Norfolk Southern's ex-CJ line from Brighton Park. Unfortunately, your view of the wye's west leg is mostly blocked by an industry that occupies the middle of the wye, but the east leg affords better visibility, albeit fewer trains. The east leg then continues toward downtown Chicago paralleling the Milwaukee tracks. It is what remains of the Pennsy Panhandle route that once ran all the way to Union Station. The wye is known as "Rockwell" in railroad timetables (not to be confused with Rockwell Street Yard near Hayford Junction).
Western Avenue is a passenger train junkie's dream. The Milwaukee North and West lines and the UP West line all feature extensive commuter traffic, and rush hours see a steady stream of trains. The Milwaukee route also features Amtrak's Hiawatha trains to Milwaukee, as well as the Empire Builder to Seattle and Portland. However, Amtrak trains do not stop at the station. Some freight traffic can be seen on UP, and yard movements are fairly common. Tower A-2 is still in operation and governs the UP/Metra crossing. The tower is just southeast of the station platforms and is staffed by Metra operators.
Security is tight at the Metra yards, so you should remain on the station platform. The tower operator will report any trespassers he spots. Your view of the UP coach yard is partially blocked, and you will need a telephoto lens to get a decent shot of the Milwaukee yard. However, the UP freight yard is easily observed, although again a telephoto lens is desirable for photographing it. The surrounding neighborhood consists mainly of small industry and warehouses, but is slowly becoming gentrified. It's a reasonably safe area.