This week 125 years ago, the first elevated rail line, or ‘L,’ in Chicago went into operation carrying passengers a few miles from the city’s South Side to downtown. That original 3.6 miles of track has since expanded into 224 miles and carries approximately 750,000 passengers a day. That includes many Hillard Heintze employees such as myself, who commute on the ‘L’ from our homes in Chicago neighborhoods to downtown, or the “Loop” as we call it here. Those first ‘L’ riders on June 6, 1892 likely did not know they were experiencing what would become a part of the distinct identity of Chicago, made famous by movies such as Blues Brothers and The Fugitive and countless Dick Wolf televisions shows. As Mayor Rahm Emanuel described in a press release about the occasion, “Few inventions have had such an impact on Chicago as the historic ‘L’…Our transit system is the city’s heartbeat that moves us forward.”

Public Transit’s Connection to Public Records

As the city’s ‘L’ lines continued to grow through a number of different private companies, they were eventually consolidated under the control of the Chicago Transit Authority, or CTA, an independent government agency created in 1947. Because the ‘L’ is a part of a government agency, many of its records are available through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Because of this, in some instances, the ‘L’ doesn’t just help us Chicagoans get to work, it helps us do our work. Some of the valuable information we might find could include:

  • Employment records available to help verify a person’s employment, title and salary information
  • Vendor details and contract payment information to help determine how much a company is getting paid to provide services to the CTA
  • Other data like ridership reports and budget details

Beyond public records, because the ‘L’ offers such distinct landmarks and easily identifiable locations, we can often pinpoint where a subject was located when they posted photos on social media near a stop, on a train car or with a train in the background.

The ‘L’ Keeps you in the Loop and is Essential to Your Visit to Chicago

Just like the ‘L’ can keep you in the loop when you need certain public records, it can also keep you in the “Loop” when you visit the city. No trip to Chicago is complete without using the ‘L’ to get around, which allows you to easily travel the city and offers a great view 30 feet above the street while you check out different world-class museums, go on an architecture tour or shop along Michigan Avenue. If you want to take your knowledge of Chicago and the ‘L’ to the next level, I recommend visiting the Chicago History Museum, where they have a permanent exhibit on the ‘L’ including the first-ever ‘L’ car on display.