Chicago is known for its train system, the el or “L”, which is short for elevated train, even though two-thirds of the system’s tracks are below ground. The el has over a hundred miles of track and carries passengers to all parts of the city, including both major airports and 40 suburbs.
The square elevation platforms that the tracks sit on are a familiar sight all over the city. They’re enormous, crude affairs of rusting metal that slice through neighborhoods like knives.
ne of the first lessons new residents learn after mov- ing to Chicago is to avoid the el at night. The el is fine during the day when it’s the province of bankers, lawyers and secretaries on their way to and from work. By night, though, say after 9 P.M., the el steadily becomes a no-man’s- land where vagrants, gangs and criminals have free reign. Teams of transit cops make their rounds of the trains, usu- ally with dogs in tow sniffing for drugs or explosives, but any criminal who’s paying attention can figure out their routines and evade them with a little effort.
The actual elevated tracks may be prone to violence, but underground, the el just gets — weirder. Only two of the several train lines, the Red and Blue lines, go under- ground and become subway for long distances. Both of them have to go deep underground at points to avoid building foundations and the like, and the deeper the tunnels go, the stranger things become, at least according to the guys who maintain the tracks. There are abandoned subway sta- tions in the el, and if you know where to pay attention, you can glance out into the darkness at the right time and see the dead station flash by. The names of these abandoned platforms — Coyne, Westlake, Sallas and North Arcade are, for a myriad of reasons, notorious among a certain sector of Chicago’s urban explorers and lore buffs. There are dozens of stories, and sometimes conflicting records, of why these stations were closed in the first place, what people have found there since and the dark things that are ru- mored to take place there even now.