For 25 Years, the Orange Line Has Been a Fruitful Addition to the ‘L’ System.

Free oranges at the Orange Line's 25th anniversary celebration. Photo: Lynda Lopez
Free oranges at the Orange Line's 25th anniversary celebration. Photo: Lynda Lopez

When I entered the Midway Orange Line Station this morning, someone offered me a free orange. I can safely say no one has offered me citrus on the train before, but this was no ordinary day.

The Chicago Transit Authority was marking the 25th anniversary of the opening of Orange Line service to Midway Airport. Southwest Airlines provided complimentary oranges to mark the occasion and the Chicago Transit Authority handed out commemorative posters.

CTA president Dorval Carter, Jr. kicked off the celebration with remarks marking the occasion. “We are very particular about the station today for two important reasons,” he said. “We wanted to acknowledge the vital role the Orange Line played in the growth and economic development of Chicago’s Southwest Side,” he said. “And second, the opening of the Orange Line 25 years established Chicago as the only American city to have rapid transit links to two major airport hubs.”

CTA president
CTA president Dorval Carter, Jr. speaks at the celebration. Photo: Lynda Lopez

Carter discussed another 1993 CTA milestone, the designation of color-coded rail lines replacing the previous system of naming the routes after the destinations they serve or streets they follow. He said the goal was to make rapid transit more user-friendly for occasional or new riders, visitors, and commuters who spoke English as a second language. The Orange Line opened on Halloween 1993, which he noted was appropriate due to the route’s jack-o’-lantern-like color scheme.

“Frankly, the new 13-mile rail service for the Southwest Side of Chicago was decades overdue by 1993,” Carter said. “For fifty years, [due to] various funding shortages and other issues, the citizens of the Southwest Side waited to get rapid rail service.”

Carter said that in 1986 President Ronald Reagan worked out a funding deal with Mayor Harold Washington as a political favor to Illinois congressman Bill Lipinski for casting a vote for Reagan’s plan to send military aid to the Nicaraguan Contras, right-wing rebels fighting to overthrow the socialist Sandinista government. Planning subsequently got underway for what was then called Southwest Transit Project, which eventually became known as the Orange Line.

The commemorative poster.
The commemorative poster.

Current congressman Dan Lipinski, Bill’s son, then discussed some of the significance of the Orange Line and public transit on the Southwest Side. “I grew up two miles west of here,” he said. “I remember what Midway was like — the airport was almost dead. It starting coming back, but it was really the Orange Line that did it.”

“As someone who was waiting for rapid transit to come in the ’80s, I took the 62 bus down Archer Avenue, then took the 99 bus that used to get onto the Stevenson at Pulaski or Cicero to get downtown,” Lipinski recalled. He said he would take public transit to go to high school and to get to summer jobs, always wishing there was a rapid transit line. “I missed the time of having it here. I know how important it is and how much it’s meant to the area, to the community, all the communities in the southwest side.”

Jamie Rhee, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Aviation, said that the Midway Orange Line put Chicago on the map as one of the few cities with rapid transit access to two major airports. “It’s these train lines that are connecting Chicago’s airports to all of Chicago’s 77 community areas,” she said.

Rhee then spoke about the Midway Modernization Project, particularly the complete makeover coming to the pedestrian bridge that connects the Orange Line station to the terminal. According to Rhee, in 2017 alone, 2.7 million people rode the orange line to and from Midway to travel for work or for pleasure.

Southwest employees greeted the first Orange Line riders in 1993.
Southwest employees greeted the first Orange Line riders in 1993.

Perhaps Patty Greene, manager of community affairs and grassroots at Southwest Airlines said it best. “Orange you glad you rode the Orange Line to Midway?”

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  • TRPCLRMNTCST

    Why is there no discussion of the actual routing of the Orange Line, which was a HUGE MISTAKE. Rather than solidifying Archer’s prominence as the center of walkable neighborhoods, the ugly rapid transit stations are located in out-of-the-way industrial areas. Has this off base planning contributed to the rise in violence in Brighton Park? The “eyes on the street” hypothesis would argue yes. At the very least, it has weakened the business core of the neighborhood by leading commuters in the opposite direction.

  • Random_Jerk

    What are you talking about…. walkable neighborhoods along Archer avenue?!?!?

  • Chicagoan

    Yeah, the routing of the Orange Line has resulted in some poorly placed stations like Ashland and Halsted. I see potential in some stations, though, in particular 35th/Archer. I think it would be interesting to see the CTA rebuild the station and build some transit oriented development on the land adjacent to the tracks. In particular, I think a London Tube-style building where the entrance to the station is on the first floor would be great. They could build over 1,000 housing units in that immediate area easily.

  • BlueFairlane

    Al this site is anymore is navel gazing.

  • Courtney

    If only it were faster and situated in a way to create TOD.

  • rwy

    Why is it slow? The long distance between stations should make things fast.

  • TRPCLRMNTCST

    oh sorry, forgot you never leave lincoln park

  • TRPCLRMNTCST

    I wish the trains entered the Loop at Van Buren/Wells… It would make for a much more direct route downtown, rather than having to transfer at Roosevelt for everything. Also, there needs to be a stop in Chinatown near Canal.

  • TRPCLRMNTCST

    The concrete structure pales in comparison to the beauty and romanticism that the elevated steel structure of older lines communicate. The major budgetary debate was Archer subway vs present alignment. Id like to see some steel-concrete comparisons.

  • Austin Busch

    On the upside, the concrete structure is much quieter than a steel frame due to it’s sheer mass damping, and therefore is much appreciated by the immediate neighbors.

  • Chicagoan

    The Orange Line isn’t slow, but it could be more frequent.

  • Random_Jerk

    I used to live near Midway, took orange line daily for few years. I give you that Kedzie and Western stations are kind of middle of nowhere. Whoever, the neighborhoods along Archer are semi-suburban and not dense enough to support lively, pedestrian friendly streets. Why would you assume i live in Lincoln Park?

  • That wins everything forever.

  • david vartanoff

    Correct about Canal, but having the routes merge (guaranteed delay point) as built is better than introducing trains directly onto the Loop at a third location. FYI what are now the Blue and Pink lines used to enter on VB at Wells until the Congress Expressway median went into service in June 58.
    Far more useful than a West Loop entry would be a spur off the Orange connecting to the Pink where it turns west below the medical center. I envision that as a begining of an Ashland/Paulina N-S crosstown route entirely bypassing downtown but linking the airports.

  • TRPCLRMNTCST

    Agreed about the need to connect the Paulina line down to Orange at Ashland, but I would prefer the routing to run south through bridgeport, turn at 35th or more likely 39th, utilize the old kenwood branch to connect to the illinois central line down into Hyde Park and beyond.

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