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Metra-RTA Chicago commuter train, C.1981-C.2003

Metra-RTA Chicago commuter train, c.1981-c.2003

Fred Klein, 2015

Chicago has about 11 commuter rail lines that radiate outward to the suburbs and converge to four railroad terminals near Chicago’s downtown loop. Metra is the authority that owns, operates or oversees these commuter services. The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) was organized in 1974 to manage the public transportation in the Chicago area and take over the commuter railroads run by the existing railroads: Chicago and Northwestern (CN&W, 3 lines), the Burlington Route (CB&Q, 1 line), the Milwaukee Road (MILW, 2 lines), the Rock Island (RI, 1 line), the Wabash (WAB, 1 line), Illinois Central (IC, 1 diesel and 1 electric line), and South Shore Line (1 electric line). Much of the rail equipment operated by Metra was bought by RTA and Metra from the original railroads. In the early 80s, the RTA began operating the commuter lines itself. The RTA repainted some of the F40 locomotives and the Pullman Standard gallery cars that it bought from the Chicago and Northwestern. This is the train represented here, though the grey RTA paint scheme lasted on the gallery cars into the 1990s well into the time that the Metra name was on most locomotives and cars. In 1984, Metra was formed to operate most of the rail lines and set standards for the lines now operated by the Union Pacific and BNSF. The lines formerly operated by CN&W (now UP) operated most trains with smooth-side cars painted grey and with RTA lettering. By the early 2000s all gallery coaches were repainted in the aluminum Metra scheme with blue and red stripes.


Chicago in June 1982. Repainting into RTA colors was underway but some trains, as on the left, had mixed C&NW and RTA colors.


An RTA commuter train in Arlington Heights on CN&W’s northwest line on a rainy May 13, 1983. Photo by Bruce Nelson from Kunz’s Chicago’s commuter railroads.


The throat of the three routes that converge on Chicago’s North Western Terminal. The terminal is behind the camera because all trains depart Chicago with the locomotive in the lead. Undated photo by Bruce Nelson.


A Metra train at Elmhurst in August 1988. The last car is a corrugated Budd car with a Metra placard, which must have had better operator controls for push-pull operation than those in the old CNW-RTA cars. Photo by Eddie.


A train on the UP west line at Deval Tower on October 31, 1999. As the years passed, trains became more mixed with both RTA-painted smooth side Pullman gallery cars and stainless steel Budd gallery cars. Larry McNaughton photo.


Metra trains do not follow a specific consist, but are a mixture of the cars that are available. Train length is what is needed at that time of day. The last car had cab controls so the train can run in push-pull mode, with the locomotive heading out of Chicago.


prototype car type

Scheme of car


model car type

model name

F40PH diesel

Dark blue Metra scheme


F40PH diesel (1984)

City of West Chicago

F40PH diesel

Light blue RTA scheme

Model power

F40PH diesel (1981)

Beverly Hills 111

Gallery coach (RTA repaint)

1956 PS cars (4x6 windows)

Wheels of time

Gallery coach (RTA repaint) (2)

7673, 7650

Gallery coach (RTA repaint)

1960 PS cars (4x4 windows)


Gallery coach (RTA repaint) (6)







All of the locomotives and gallery cars needed to run a Metra-RTA train of this era have been made in N scale. The F40PH diesel has been made and painted in the 1984 Metra scheme by Kato. The earlier F40PH was made in the 1970s in the light blue circa1981 RTA scheme by Life Like, but it is lousy runner if you can find one that runs at all. The prototype gallery coaches were made originally for the Chicago and Northwestern in several batches by Pullman Standard, but are of two main types. The early, 1956 order cars have 4 x 6 windows on a side and the later 1960 order cars have 4 x 4 larger windows. RTA repainted the cars in a light gray with red and dark purple stripes. Wheels of time makes the 1956 4 x 6 cars and Concor makes the 1960 4 x 4 cars in both coach and cab control versions.



Metra-RTA commuter train


The diesels for the Metra-RTA train are F40PH models. The first is in the dark blue Metra scheme used after 1984 and still in use today. The Metra model is by Kato in factory paint. The second F40PH is in the original Regional Transportation Authority scheme that started about 1981 but was soon replaced by the Metra scheme. The RTA model is an old one by Life Like and is poor runner. The gallery coaches are painted for the Regional Transportation Authority. The first two coaches are the older 1956 order to the C&NW and have 4 x 6 windows per side. These are prototypical Wheels of Time models.




The last six coaches represent the 1960 order from Pullman Standard to the C&NW with 4 x 4 windows per side. They were repainted in the early 1980s in the RTA grey scheme. The last coach has an operators cab for push-pull operation. They are Concor models, but the paint is a darker grey than the prototype.








Kunz, Richard, Chicago’s commuter railroads, Andover Publications, 1992.