The Chicago Southland has a great advantage in offering public transportation via train for those commuting to the city, and it has produced great shopping and dining communities near its stations. Serving more than 100 northeast Illinois communities throughout six counties, Metra is a suburban commuter rail service that spans 241 stations and has 22 lines to/from downtown Chicago, with four lines servicing the Chicago Southland.
The Chicago Southland is also full of opportunities to view the many trains passing through on both commuter and freight lines, and learn about the role the railroad played in the region’s history.
MAKING THE MOST OF METRA
Whether you’re staying in the city but want to venture out to explore the burbs, or you want to start at a suburban stop and make your way into the city, take advantage of Metra’s trains to avoid the headaches of traffic and the huge expense of downtown parking. The following Metra trains run daily to and from Chicago.
- Heritage Corridor (HC) travels from Joliet to Chicago’s Union Station, hitting half a dozen stops, including one in Summit.
- Metra Electric District (ME) travels from University Park to Chicago’s Millennium Station, making stops in several suburban communities, including Riverdale, Harvey, East Hazel Crest, Homewood, Flossmoor, Matteson, Richton Park and University Park.
- Rock Island District (RI) travels to Chicago’s LaSalle Street station, with stops in Blue Island, Midlothian, Oak Forest, Tinley Park, Mokena and New Lenox.
- SouthWest Service (SWS) travels to Chicago’s Union Station and includes suburban stops in Chicago Ridge, Worth, Palos Park, Orland Park and New Lenox.
*Homewood also has an Amtrak station as part of the Illini Service running daily between Chicago and Carbondale, IL.
VENTURING AROUND THE VICINITY
Many of the Chicago Southland Metra Stations are in communities that have significant development within walking distance. So put on your walking shoes and visit some of the parks, restaurants and retail shops surrounding some of these suburban stations.
With two Rock Island Railway stops in the community, you can visit some of the area shops and restaurants with ease. The Village of Tinley Park was actually named for the village’s first railroad station agent, Sam Tinley, and it’s the second largest daily boarding site in the Chicago Metro Region. Both train stations feature cafes and there are additional dining options in the area. The Tinley Park Veterans Memorial and Plaza is located at the 80th Avenue Station and the Metra lot is where several events take place including the music series, farmers market, annual block party and cruise nights. Benches on the Avenue is a fun public art project that you can explore near the stations.
Although a little beyond walking distance, you’re not far from the Vogt Visual Arts Center, if you’re interested in grabbing an Uber to attend an event.
In Homewood, you will find a number of eateries within steps of the station as well as La Banque Hotel, a boutique hotel housed in a historic bank building, which features a French bistro, LaVoute Bistro & Bar. Grab a pie at Aurelio’s Pizza – the original location that has grown to several additional pizzerias in Chicagoland and across the country. You can also take a little walk to view some of the amazing Richard Haas Murals.
Located just down the street from Village Hall, the Chicago Ridge Station is close to the library, Freedom Park (where RidgeFest is held) and various ethnic eateries – Nick’s Pizza, Gen Hoe Chinese Restaurant and Jack Desmond’s Irish Pub.
The station is about 12 minutes via Alumni Path from the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park at Governors State University where you can view pieces of large-scale outdoor art in a peaceful, prairie setting. You can also take in some amazing theatre and musical productions at the university’s Center for Performing Arts.
The three stations in Orland Park sit near several parks - Crescent Park, Frontier Oak and Centennial Park, the latter of which has soccer fields, a skate park, aquatic center and biking trails. Hunt for that special vintage piece at Old Orland Antique Shops. And dine or drink at one of several area eateries.
If you enjoy watching trains as much as riding on them, the Chicago Southland is the place to be. Two rail parks and additional viewing locations allow you a nice viewing advantage to watch the trains chug or speed along.
The Homewood Railroad Platform and Park opened in 2007 less than a mile south of Canadian National’s Markham Yard and Moyers Intermodal Facility. Three types of trains can be seen passing through at this point - Metra regional commuter trains, Amtrak intercity rail and freight. The platform is adjacent to the historic Homewood train station and the vibrant downtown. The Spanish revival-style train station was competed in 1923 and sits next to the pedestrian tunnels leading to the train platforms. The site also features a refurbished IC engine and caboose.
At the Park Forest Rail Fan Park, you have a rare opportunity to see a double wye rail interchange. The park has a 40-foot-elevated viewing platform that opened in 2012 to watch the interchanges in the Canadian National system. You’ll see restored Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railroad Caboose #531 and eight interpretive signs describing the history of the railroads in Park Forest and Chicagoland. The park also connects with the Old Plank Road Trail, a paved rails-to-trails conversion that stretches 22 miles from Park Forest to Joliet.
More viewing opportunities can be found in Blue Island and Dolton. Although there are not dedicated viewing areas, you can safely see numerous tracks from public areas. Blue Island has a double diamond interchange and eight tracks crossing Broadway Street. It’s a fascinating vantage point to see the Canadian National Railway, CSX, Iowa Interstate Railroad, Indiana Harbor Belt and Metra. Dolton Junction is the busiest rail intersection in the Chicago Southland, with nearly 120 cars passing through daily on the CSX, Indiana Harbor Belt & Union Pacific rail lines.
You can request a copy of the Chicago Southland Railfan Guide at VisitChicagoSouthland.com/InfoRequest.
PULLMAN NATIONAL MONUMENT
The Pullman Palace Car Company on Chicago’s south side played a significant part in the American Labor Movement and much of the neighborhood created by George Pullman as a company town has gone unchanged. The Historic Pullman District can be explored on a self-guided walking tour, starting at the Historic Pullman Foundation Visitor Center at the former site of the Arcade building. The Pullman State Historic Site is undergoing renovations, but the Pullman Factory Complex offers tours twice a month. The National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum houses a permanent collection of exhibits pertinent to the study of American Labor History with a focus on the contribution of African-Americans.
Flossmoor Station Restaurant and Brewery is located next to the Flossmoor Metra station in the old Illinois Central rail station built in 1906. Some of the bricks and original materials were incorporated into the renovations when the site became a restaurant and brewery in 1996. Flossmoor Station Restaurant and Brewery was one of the first craft breweries in the area, long before they became a trend, and has won over 80 national and international beer industry awards. With a lively atmosphere hinting of railroad history, large menu of upscale bar food and specials using locally-sourced seasonal ingredients, it’s inviting for all ages.