The Circle Line is not circular, but is the only London Underground line to contain a proper loop which one can travel right around on the same train. (The Central Line's loop doesn't go through at Woodford, the Piccadilly Line's loop at Heathrow Airport is only a loop back, and is shut right now, and the Northern Line's loop is simply the line splitting and dividing.) The Circle Line incorporates, along its north side, some of the oldest tube route in the world. Entirely in Central London and Travelcard Zone 1, the Circle Line is coloured yellow on the official tube map. The Circle Line touches every other London Underground line except the East London Line.

Apologies to iain for superseding his station-list with a map.

 Edgware Road   Great Portland Street  King's Cross St Pancras
     /^----------v-------^-------v-------------^\
Paddington  Baker Street     Euston Square   Farringdon
    |                                              \
Bayswater                                        Barbican
    |                                                 \
Notting Hill Gate                                   Moorgate
    |                                                   \---Liverpool Street
High Street Kensington                                                 \
    |                                                                Aldgate
    |                                            Mansion House         /
    |                                               /^-Monument--Tower Hill
    \                                         Mansion House
Gloucester Road                                   /
      \                                     Blackfriars
South Kensington                                /
        \                                   Temple
         \                                  /
       Sloane Square  St James's Park  Embankment
           \----------v-------^----------v/
                   Victoria           Westminster

The Circle Line is concurrent with the District Line from Tower Hill to Gloucester Road and from High Street Kensington to Edgware Road; with the Hammersmith and City Line from Paddington (slight walk) to Liverpool Street; with the Piccadilly Line from South Kensington to Gloucester Road; and with the Metropolitan Line from Baker Street to Aldgate. Astute reckoners will see that only the curves between High Street Kensington and Gloucester Road, and between Tower Hill and Aldgate, are unique to the Circle Line.

Connections to the Bakerloo Line at Paddington, Edgware Road (walk), Baker Street, and Embankment; to the Jubilee Line at Baker Street and Westminster; to the Northern Line at King's Cross St Pancras, Moorgate, Monument/Bank, and Embankment; to the Piccadilly Line at King's Cross St Pancras; to the Victoria Line at King's Cross St Pancras and Victoria; to the Central Line at Liverpool Street, Monument/Bank and Notting Hill Gate; to the Docklands Light Railway at Monument/Bank and Tower Hill/Tower Gateway; and to the Waterloo and City Line at Monument/Bank.

National Rail connections at Paddington, Euston Square for Euston, King's Cross St Pancras for King's Cross and St Pancras, Farringdon, Barbican, Moorgate, Liverpool Street, Tower Hill for Fenchurch Street, Cannon Street, Blackfriars, Embankment for Charing Cross, and Victoria.

The Situation as it Exists Now

The Chicago Transit Authority's (CTA's) Circle Line project, currently only in the planning stages, is an attempt by the agency to improve rail travel in the Chicago area. As the situation currently exists, all of the CTA's rail lines extend out from the downtown area. This is good for those who work in the Loop and live elsewhere in the city, but does not work as well for those people who need to get across the city, and don't want to waste time traveling downtown and back. The map below shows all of the CTA's and Metra's rail lines near the downtown area. The segment marked with xs represents a section of unused CTA track known as the Paulina Connector. The @ symbolizes Metra terminals. This map is approximately to scale. Note: Sterting in the summer of 2006, the CTA will be running a six-month experiment where the Cermak/Douglas section of the CTA Blue Line will be routed up the Paulina Connector and into the Loop, as described in Phase I. At the conclusion of the trial period, the CTA will then decide whether to keep the new route plan, or switch back to the old one. It is likely that this "trial period" is simply the first step towards completing the Circle Line project.


                        Current Layout of CTA Trains                          

                                       . Red to Howard                        
                                       . Purple to Evanston                   
 Blue to O'Hare                        . Brown to Kimball (Ravenswood)        
               .                       .                                      
                  .                    .                                      
                    .                  .                                      
                       .               .........                              
                          .               ..   .                              
                             .              .. .                              
                              .              .......                          
                               .   .           .    .                         
                               .      .         .   .                         
                               .        .       .   .                         
                               .           .    .   .                         
......................................................                        
Green to Harlem (Lake St)     x Paulina          . ...                        
                             x Connector         . ... <== Loop               
                             x                   .....                        
......................................................                        
Blue to Forest Pk            .                      ..                        
(Congress)                   .                      ..                        
                             .                      ..                        
                             .                      ..                        
Blue to 54th/Cermak          .                    ....                        
..............................                  .. . .                        
(Douglas)                                     .    . .                        
                                           ..      . .                        
                                      ...          . .                        
                                    ..             . .                        
                                ...                . .                        
                             .                     . .                        
                           .                       . .                        
                        .                          . .                        
                      .                            . .                        
                      . Orange         Red to 95th . .  Green to 63rd         
                      to Midway                        (Englewood/Jackson Pk) 
                                                                              


                        Current Layout of Metra Trains

            Metra UP    Metra UP North 
           Northwest .      .
                        .   .
                           . .          
.                            ..         
 .                             .        
...  Metra                      .       
   .  MD West and                .      
    . Northwest, North             . 
     .  Central Service            .
       .                             .               
          .                             .            
              .                           .          
..............................................      Randolph
                                             .      Station
                                     Ogilvie ..        @ 
                                     Station @.  Loop  .
                                Union Station @        .
                                              ..  @    . <== LaSalle Station
                                               .  .    .
                                               .  .    .
                                               .  .     .
                                               .  .      .
                     ...........................  .      .
             .......                           .  .       .
         ....                                 .    .       .
 ........                                   .      .       .
.                                         .        .        .
Metra BNSF Line                     .              .        .
                               .                   .         .
                            .                      .          .
                          .                        .           .
                       .                           .            .
                     .                             .             .
   Metra Heritage .                                .              Metra Electric/
       Corridor                           Metra Rock Island      Northern Indiana
                                         and Southwest Serv   Commuter Train District

The overall design of the plan involves adding elevated rail and subway segments to create a new line that runs in a circle from Ashland and the United Center on the west, North Avenue on the north, State Street on the east, and a diagonal branch running southwest from Cermak and Wentworth (Chinatown) to Ashland and Archer. The plan also involved rerouting Brown, Purple, and Blue Line trains, adding new stations, and creating additional transfer points between CTA and Metra rail stations. (For reference, Metra is another Chicago-area public transit system. However, unlike the CTA, which is mainly based in and around Chicago and provides bus and electric rail service, Metra is rail-only and is truly a regional service. Running scheduled diesel-powered trains--think Amtrak--Metra serves Chicago, its suburbs, as well as a large section of Northern Illinois, with lines extending into Wisconsin and Indiana. Metra's fare structure is different that the CTA's--Metra calculates fare based on distance traveled--and trains run significantly less frequently, though they do follow published schedules. Metra trains are most often used by people living in the far suburbs who commute to work regularly, and is not often utilized by people who actually live in Chicago. The exception to this generalization would be the Metra Electric system, which serves the far south and southeast sides of the city, places the CTA does not.) Currently, in order for customers to transfer between CTA and Metra, they must travel to a select few CTA stations near Metra stations, or take buses or walk to and from stations. By building direct transfer points between CTA and Metra lines, customers will save money and time, and will not have to deal with Chicago weather when switching systems, an important issue in the winter.

Building the Circle Line

Construction of the Circle Line is designed to be completed in three phases. The first involves rebuilding an unused section of track known as the Paulina Connector (this work has already been completed). The connector is an extension of the north-south leg of the Douglas/Cermak branch of the Blue Line up to the Green Line tracks at Lake Street. Currently, it is used only for moving out-of-service equipment to and from the Blue Line (it is the only connection between the Blue Line and the rest of the CTA system). During the summer of 2006, the CTA will begin routing Cermak/Douglas branch trains along the Paulina connector and into the Loop, on a trial basis. Cermak/Douglas branch Blue Line trains would no longer merge with the Forest Park/Congress Branch, but instead turn north along the Paulina connector, and then east along the Green Line's Lake Street tracks into the Loop. If the trial period is successful, they will be brought into full-time revenue service, and it is possible that the rerouted Cermak/Douglas trains would be merged with the Brown Line which, after going around the Loop, would continue out to 54th/Cermak via the trial routing, thus combining the Brown Line and the Cermak branch of the Blue Line. In addition to keeping the routing permanent, the CTA would also potentially add two stations along the route. The first, at Madison and Ashland (positioned near the north end of the connector), would service the United Center. The other, Van Buren-Medical Center, would be at the far south end of the connector, connected to the current Medical Center station on the Congress/Forrest Park branch of the Blue Line, so commuters would be able to transfer between the Forest Park branch of the Blue Line and the Douglas/Cermak branch, which as a part of the Brown Line, would no longer have a direct connection with the remainder of the Blue Line. The plan also calls for a new Metra station on the BNSF Line in the Pilsen neighborhood. The station would be at Ashland Avenue, and there would be a transfer point between the existing 18th Street station on the Cermak/Douglas branch. Finally, Orange Line trains, instead of going around the Loop, would instead run from Midway, north along the Wabash (east) side of the Loop, west along the Lake Street (north) side of the Loop, and along the Brown Line tracks all the way to Kimball. This routing is not new to the CTA--it is used in certain emergency situations, like when portions of the Loop are closed--but is not normally used. The following is an attempt to illustrate the changes taking place in Phase I.


                                       . Red to Howard
                                       . Purple to Evanston
 Blue to O'Hare                        . Brown and Orange to Kimball (Ravenswood)
               .                       .
                  .                    .
                    .                  .
                       .                 .......
                          .               ..   .  
                             .              .. .
                               .              .......
                                   .           .    .
                                      .         .   .
ASHLAND/LAKE-Transfer to Green Line     .       .   .
Metra Mlwk Dist, UP West, and N Central    .     .  .
...............................O......................
Green to Harlem (Lake St)     .                  . ...
                             O MADISON/UNITED CTR. ...
  VAN BUREN/MED CTR-Transfer O to Blue Line      .....
......................................................
Blue to Forest Pk            .                      ..
(Congress)                   .                      ..ROOSEVELT-Transfer to Red, Orange, and Green Lines
                             .                      ..
                             .                      ..
                             .                    ....
..............................                  .. ..
Pink to 54th                                 ..   . . 
(Douglas)                                .....     . .
                                      ...          . .
                                   ...             . .
                                ...                . .
                             .                     . .
                           .                       . .
                        .                          . .
                      .                            . .
       Orange to Midway                 Red to 95th. .Green to 63rd (Englewood/Jackson Pk)  

Downtown-area CTA rail lines. The rebuilt Paulina Connector is the north-south stretch of
track that Runs from ASHLAND/LAKE to VAN BUREN/MED CTR.

The second phase of construction would involve building 1.5 miles of track between the Douglas/Cermak branch at Cermak and Ashland to the Orange Line at Ashland and Archer (an existing station). The Ashland/Archer station would be rebuilt to accommodate transfers between the Orange Line and trains running along the new track. A new CTA station would be constructed on the Orange Line (Wentworth-Chinatown at 18th and Wentworth, allowing for transfers to the Red Line's Cermak-Chinatown station at Cermak and Wentworth), with another being built on the new track at Paulina (the station would be called Blue Island). Metra's Rock Island Line would receive a new station in Chinatown, positioned between the Orange and Red Line stations, allowing passengers to transfer from the two CTA lines to Metra trains, and a second Metra station would be built at Ashland and Archer on the Heritage Corridor Line, allowing passengers to transfer to and from the Orange Line. Operational changes during this phase include routing the CTA Purple Line through the Red Line's State Street subway, up through the 13th Street Incline (an existing subway-elevated connector from when the Howard section of the CTA Red Line was connected to the Green Line's tracks south of the Loop), along the Orange Line's tracks to the new connector at Ashland/Archer, north along that connector to the north-south tracks at Paulina, and continuing north along those tracks (and the Paulina Connector) to the Madison-United Center station. As a result of this through-routing, the Purple Line would trace out most of the path of the Circle Line, but stopping south of Lake Street.


                                       . Red to Howard
                                       . Purple to Evanston
 Blue to O'Hare                        . Brown and Orange to Kimball (Ravenswood)
               .                       .
                  .                    .
                    .                  .
                       .                 .......
                          .               ..   .  
                             .              .. .
                               .              .......
                                   .           .    .
                                      .         .   .
ASHLAND/LAKE-Transfer to Green Line     .       .   .
Metra Mlwk Dist, UP West, and N Central    .     .  .
...............................O......................
Green to Harlem (Lake St)     .                  . ...
                             O MADISON/UNITED CTR. ...
  VAN BUREN/MED CTR-Transfer O to Blue Line      .....
......................................................
Blue to Forest Pk            .                      ..
(Congress)                   .                      ..ROOSEVELT-Transfer to Red, Orange, and Green Lines
                             .                      ..
                             .                      ..
                             .                    ....
..............................                  .. ..
Pink to 54th                #                ..   . . 
(Douglas)        Blue ISLAND O           .....     . .
                             #        ...          . .
                             #     ...             . .
                             ###O.                . .
                             .  ASHLAND/ARCHER     . .
                           .  Transfer to Orange   . .
                        .       Line and Metra     . .
                      .     Heritage Corridor Line . .
       Orange to Midway                 Red to 95th. .Green to 63rd (Englewood/Jackson Pk)  

New elevated track along Ashland, shown as #s. Purple Line trains will continue up this track to the 
Madison/United Center Station.

The final phase of plan calls for the addition of 3.5 miles of subway track running from the north end of the Paulina Connector (at Ashland Avenue and Lake Street) to the Red Line Subway at North and Clybourn via Ashland and North Avenues. As a part of this construction, the Brown Line would be brought into the subway at North and Clybourn, creating a "super station." This doubles as a way for the CTA to eliminate several sharp curves Brown Line trains must take on the elevated tracks in that area. This new subway track would be used exclusively by the Circle Line trains, and four new CTA stations would be added. The first, at Ashland and Lake, would be connected to the Green Line's Ashland station, allowing for transfers between the two lines. A Metra station would also be built at Ashland/Lake (on tracks used by the Milwaukee District trains, Union Pacific West Line, and North Central Line), allowing passengers to transfer between these Metra lines and the CTA's Circle and Green Lines. The second CTA station would be at Chicago and Ashland (six blocks north), and would not have any transfer points associated with it. The third, at Division and Milwaukee, would be a transfer point for the existing Blue Line (O'Hare branch) Division station. The final station would be at North and Elston, adjacent to Metra's Union Pacific North and UP Northwest Lines. An Elston station would be added to the Metra tracks as well, again with the capability for passengers to transfer between the two. This final leg would complete the CTA Circle Line. The Purple Line's service would be shortened from Phase II; trains would dead-end at Wentworth-Chinatown on the Orange and Circle Lines.



                                       . Red to Howard
                                       . Purple to Evanston
 Blue to O'Hare                        . Brown and Orange to Kimball (Ravenswood)
               .      NORTH/ELSTON     .
                  .  Transfer to Metra .
                    . UP North and NW  . NORTH/CLYBOURN-Transfer to Brown, Orange 
                       .        O######(T)......  Red, and Purple Lines
                          .    #          ..   .  
                             . #            .. .  CLARK/DIVISION 
DIVISION-Transfer to Blue Line O              .......
                               #   .           .    .
                       CHICAGO O      .         .   .
ASHLAND/LAKE-Transfer to Green # Line   .       .   .
Metra Mlwk Dist, UP West, and  # N Central .     .  .
...............................O......................
Green to Harlem (Lake St)     .                  . ...
                             O MADISON/UNITED CTR. ...
  VAN BUREN/MED CTR-Transfer O to Blue Line      .....
......................................................
Blue to Forest Pk            .                      ..
(Congress)                   .                      ..ROOSEVELT-Transfer to Red, Orange, and Green Lines
                             .                      ..
                             .                      ..
                             .                    ....
..............................                  .. ..
Pink to 54th                .                ..   . . 
(Douglas)        Blue ISLAND O           .....     . .
                             .        ...          . .
                             .     ...             . .
                             ...O.                . .
                             .  ASHLAND/ARCHER     . .
                           .  Transfer to Orange   . .
                        .       Line and Metra     . .
                      .     Heritage Corridor Line . .
       Orange to Midway                 Red to 95th. .Green to 63rd (Englewood/Jackson Pk)

New subway track along Ashland and North Avenues, shown as #s. Purple Line trains will end at Chinatown, 
 with the Circle Line continuing around its new loop. The (T) marks the North/Clybourn super station. 

The Final Product


                                       . Red to Howard
                                       . Purple to Evanston
 Blue to O'Hare                        . Brown and Orange to Kimball (Ravenswood)
               .      NORTH/ELSTON     .
                  .  Transfer to Metra .
                    . UP North and NW  . NORTH/CLYBOURN-Transfer to Brown, Orange 
                       .        O#######O#......  Red, and Purple Lines
                          .    #          ##   .  
                             . #            ## .  CLARK/DIVISION 
DIVISION-Transfer to Blue Line O              ####O##
                               #   .           .    #
                       CHICAGO O      .         .   O CHICAGO
ASHLAND/LAKE-Transfer to Green # Line   .       .   #
Metra Mlwk Dist, UP West, and  # N Central .     .  O GRAND
...............................O....................O.LAKE-Transfer to Brown, Orange, Green, and Purple Lines
Green to Harlem (Lake St)     #                  . .O.WASHINGTON - Transfer to Blue Line
       MADISON/UNITED CENTER O                   . .O.MONROE
  VAN BUREN/MED CTR-Transfer O to Blue Line      ...O.JACKSON - Transfer to Blue Line
.............................#......................O.HARRISON
Blue to Forest Pk       POLK O    Blue Subway       #.
(Congress)                   #                      O.ROOSEVELT-Transfer to Red, Orange, and Green Lines
                             #                      #.
                             #                      #.
     18TH-PILSEN-Transfer to O Brown Line and     O##.
.............................#   Metra BNSF     ## WENTWORTH-CHINATOWN-Transfer to Red, Green, Purple,
Brown to 54th    Blue ISLAND O                ##   . . and Orange Lines and Metra Rock Island Line
(Douglas)                    #           #O###     . .
                             #        ### HALSTED  . .
                             #     ###             . .
                             ###O##                . .
                             .  ASHLAND/ARCHER     . .
                           .  Transfer to Orange   . .
                        .       Line and Metra     . .
                      .     Heritage Corridor Line . .
       Orange to Midway                 Red to 95th. .Green to 63rd (Englewood/Jackson Pk)

Benefits and Drawbacks

This plan has a number of benefits touted by the CTA. First, it connects six of the CTA's seven lines (the Yellow Line doesn't run near the Loop) with all of Metra's lines. This, combined with efforts to create a "universal" fare card that can be used on all of Chicago's public transit systems, is a step towards greater connectivity between the region's public transit systems. The Circle Line would also help reduce travel times, as customers would no longer have to go all the way into the Loop to transfer between CTA rail lines. Customers coming from O'Hare to the Lincoln Park area (Armitage stop on the Brown Line), for example, would be able to transfer to the Circle Line at Division, and then the Brown Line at North/Clybourn, saving 10-20 minutes according to CTA estimates. While some time savings could be achieved by using buses, as any Chicagoan will tell you, the trains are far superior, both in terms of time savings and quality of service.

However, there are also downsides to the plan. Residents of the city's southwest Side are complaining about changing the Douglas/Cermak branch of the Blue Line into an extension of the Brown Line. Many people in that area work on the city's far northwest side (served by the Blue Line) so the switch would mean they would need to transfer at the new Medical Center station, when before they could ride one train directly to their destinations. Another complaint is that the Brown Line sees fewer riders than the Blue Line, and as a result, service on the Douglas Branch would be more likely to be cut if budget needs dictated. This complaint, however, neglects the fact that the Douglas branch currently sees fewer riders than the Congress branch of the Blue Line, and as such, is just as likely to face cutbacks.

Another hurdle is financing. Assuming that the line does get built, the CTA would need to find money in its operations budget (used to fund day-to-day service). However, they have had trouble recently balancing this budget, and have even gone as far as raising fares and cutting service. Adding this new line may help increase ridership somewhat, but there is no guarantee that it will generate enough ridership to justify its costs. Finding money for building the line is also troublesome. Though no official cost estimates have been put together yet, many in the CTA believe that the cost of construction would be around 1 billion USD. The CTA's capital budget (used for infrastructure and purchacing) is in much better shape than its operations budget (the two are intentionally kept separate), there have still been recent capital problems. A plan to rebuild the Brown Line had to be scaled down and rebid when initial bids came in way over CTA expectations. And finally, part of the financing for this project is expected to come from Federal grants (applied for over several years). But, the Federal Government has been cutting spending in areas such as public transit, and as such, there is no guarantee that Chicago will get the money that it hopes to receive.

Conclusion

Conceptially, the Circle Line project is a smart move by the CTA. It will help reduce travel times, and will generally improve rail transit in the Chicago area. There are some issues to work through--namely funding--but these can be overcome if enough thought is put into them. And though the project may require some sacrifices (including fare hikes and other financing methods), the end result will have a great enough benefit to Chicago to justify those sacrifices.

It should be noted that most parts of these plans are highly conceptial in nature, and in no way represent official CTA policy. This project has not been approved, and will not be for some time. Before any official approval for this project is granted, budget problems will need to be dealt with, and the CTA will hold community meetings to get input from riders and residents. As part of the requirements for receiving federal money, the CTA will study numerous alternatives to the plan as presented above, and said plan can easily change and is not set in stone.

Credits

Another very good summary of this plan (where I gathered most of the information for this writeup) can be found on Graham Garfield's excellent site, chicago-l.org. The version in the previous link is a new one, and many of the images (especially those of the different phases) have been removed, probably due to readers thinking what they saw there was actaully set to happen, and then complaining to the CTA. And though the images of the different phases of construction are no longer hosted on his site, they can be found via the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. Original information on this plan came from the CTA's website.

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