The Next "606": New Ideas for Rail Trails In and Around the City of Chicago

The 606, officially known as the Bloomingdale Trail, is Chicago's version of the growing trend of linear parks in major cities, such as New York City's High Line, Atlanta's Belt Line, and Philadelphia's Rail Park. Each of these linear parks, Chicago's included, offer unique views of the city above the grade, and allow pedestrians and bike riders a reprieve from automobile traffic.

A bridge on the 606, or Bloomingdale Trail. FRRandP photo.

As I've discussed the benefits of rail trails, particularly in what would otherwise be blighted infrastructure that can easily be re-purposed to accommodate the growing amount of bike traffic, and further, the large amount of abandoned railroad corridors that exist in this city and beyond, The 606 should be the first of many linear parks in Chicago.

These corridors are a combination of my ideas and some proposals that have been floating out there. I greatly welcome your input, your ideas, and your criticism. There is more to a successful rail trail than just asphalting over an abandoned right-of-way.

Union Pacific Trail (Extension):

A stretch of Union Pacific right of way where one track was removed exists between Mayfair Junction on the North Side and Evanston, IL. What makes this stretch particularly intriguing is that the Village of Lincolnwood has already built a mile Union Pacific rail trail. I believe it can be extended both North and South, and provide access to CTA's Montrose Station, although I openly admit there are engineering and land acquisition challenges associated with much of the corridor. But I also believe that connecting a brand new park in West Humboldt Park, and connecting the corridor to the North Shore Channel Trail could significantly increase accessibility to the West Side of Chicago, and afford people the opportunity to use different commuting options into the city.

El Paseo Trail:
Ok, so this one isn't mine, and has been discussed for awhile, but appears to have been shelved, unfortunately. This right-of-way was the Central Illinois Railway, and a favorite among railfans during its time as a short line. The unique operation ran along Cermak Rd and behind Blue Island, harking back to the earlier days of railroading. BNSF took the spur after CIRY folded, but I believe the line hasn't seen any activity since 2012.

That being said, the railroad is technically not abandoned as of this time, and the area around 16th St requires a cleanup of the contaminated area according to the EPA. Thus, the trail is still some time in the future, although El Paseo Community Garden has been built in the right of way between Cullerton and 21st St.

Englewood Line:

The same Chicago Tribune Article lists the abandoned Conrail (later Norfolk Southern) line paralleling 59th St as a potential rail trail, hinging on an exchange of right of way for an expansion of a railyard that NS is wanting. 

With additional park and wetland being created, this line would be completely elevated and connect a few parks on the South Side. The toughest part of this proposal with regard to the trail's success, as proposed, would be accessibility to and from other parts of the city, as it'd be hard to get to for bikers. My proposal would extend the trail along the right-of-way of the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks down to 63rd St, connecting with the CTA's Red Line. 

North Riverside Trail:

As far as I know, no one has proposed this trail before, although I believe the path is tailor made for a rail trail, connecting a mall and parking with an already established park that also has nearby connections to the CTA Blue Line. The Forest Park Branch of the Illinois Central Railroad (later CN) was a spur running from the North Riverside Mall just west of Harlem Ave northward past the cemeteries and ultimately near the Eisenhower Expy.

The line would use Circle Ave between 16th St and Roosevelt Rd as opposed to the former right of way, given that it runs behind warehouses at the moment. One of the challenges of this trail would be the crossing at Cermak Rd, however, given its high level of traffic.

Bronzeville Trail:
This trail uses the former CTA right of way that exists from just south of Pershing Rd at the Dan Ryan Expy, east to near the Lakefront at the Metra Electric line tracks.

Much of this right of way is elevated, although the existence of an apartment complex in the middle of it would require a detour onto Oakwood Blvd. A logical start of this trail would be on Pershing Rd, and I can't come up with any logical way to incorporate the existing abandoned rail bridge that exists over the Dan Ryan into this trail.

Lakewood Branch (a surface extension of the 606):
The recently abandoned trackage along Kingsbury St would be an ideal area to extend the 606 east and north, under the Kennedy, over the Chicago River and onto Kingsbury north into Lakeview, near Wrigley Field. That being said, the entire right-of-way is being used as roads, which would mean east of the Chicago River, this would simply be a bike route. Still though, I can imagine how great the view of the River would be biking over it. I didn't bother creating a map for this line, given how little right-of-way would be required, although building crossing the Kennedy and Chicago River would nonetheless require a significant amount of construction costs.

Old Chicago Trail:
This trail would connect the Pace Park-n-Ride in my hometown with the Veterans Memorial Trail east of I-355 in Woodridge, using an abandoned BNSF Spur.

While the traffic on this trail would be less than the other trails I've mentioned here, I think it would nonetheless aid with accessibility to public transportation, as the current Park-n-Ride is in an area that is extremely hard to get with anything but a vehicle. Also, it does go through Joliet Rd, which has a large amount of truck traffic.

There are many potential rail trails within the region, in addition to our current network. As such, there are numerous other sites that one might find fitting for a trail of their own. As I said, I welcome your feedback on these, as well as your own proposals!


  1. I like every proposal. Take the Billions proposed for the Chicago O'Hare tunnel and use just 15% for these proposals. The jet-set shuttle is a waste.

  2. fermiuno, Thanks for your comment. To my knowledge, the O'Hare tunnel is going to be a public private partnership that is proposed to cost $1 Billion. I'm hopeful it's a success, although there are numerous obstacles with the project as well. I think your point regarding just 15% of those funds would fund rail trails is a good one, rail trails can often be funded for (relatively) low cost compared to some other infrastructure upgrades and provide numerous benefits to the community.


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