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The Chicago Traveler

eL Prototype Turns 125

by Matt B on June 2nd, 2008

Happy Birthday to the eL! Or rather, to the idea of the eL. On this day in 1883, the world's first elevated electric railway made was given a test run.

chicago el train

New York City already had been using elevated trains since the early 1870s, but they were steam-powered. Thomas Edison and Stephen D. Field amazed the crowds at the Chicago Railway Exposition 125 years ago by building a 3-foot-wide, 1552-foot-long (0.9-meter-wide, 473-meter-long) track around the edge of the main exhibition building. The locomotive, weighing in at 3 tons (2.7 metric tons), drew electric current by rubbing a wire brush on each side of an electrified, central third rail and pulled one passenger car at 9 mph (14 kmph).

The concept won over several people, including the over 25,000 passengers who got to ride the eL prototype that day. For the next decade, Chicago and New York City feuded over who had the better transportation idea.

Today, the eL consists of over 106 miles (171 km) with 144 stations, serving more than 650,000 passengers per weekday. Unfortunately, there are still times when it feels like it's only moving 9 mph. Heh.

For more of this story, check out Wired.com.

Photo credit: (c/o Flickr) Springsun

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