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Left Hand Running

The title of our monthly (more-or-less) club newsletter, Left Hand Running, refers to the operation of double track railway lines in Great Britain, where trains run on the left hand track. But it is not only Great Britain where trains run to the left. Although road and highway traffic keeps to the right [in theory, at least], the railways of many other countries also run their trains on the left.

It seems to be logical that this would be the case in countries such as Ireland and India, Australia and New Zealand which where parts of the British Empire and where railway development was very much in the hands of British railwaymen. And so is the case.

But trains in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Portugal, Sweden, Italy, Japan, China, parts of Austria, numerous African countries and even some here in metropolitan Chicago also run on the left! Were there British connections in these places, too?

Possibly! In many cases, the railway lines in question were built by British engineers but in other cases there are operational reasons for left hand instead of right hand running.  And while left hand or right hand running generally applies to most railway lines in any given country, there are exceptions.

Here in the Chicago area, both the freight and commuter lines of the former Chicago & Northwestern RR operate on the left. The exact reasons are lost with history but generally it is believed that station layouts of the original Chicago & Galena Union, then a single track line, made left-hand running more desirable when the line was double-tracked. Other legends state that it had more to do with the layout of the original downtown Chicago station and the safety of detraining passengers. Whatever the exact reason, this bit of left hand running persists to this day. So, trainspotters, be careful when trackside in Elmhurst or Des Plaines as trains may sneak up from behind!

But left-handedness was not reserved just for the C&NW - in the early 1900s the elevated Loop Line (from which downtown Chicago gets its name) also ran left, as did the Northwestern and the Lake Street Elevated lines!


But not to be outdone, there is a section of the London Underground where right hand running prevails! It seems that the Central Line crosses over itself between the East Acton and White City stations to become right hand running. The line crosses itself again between White City and Shepherds Bush stations to become left handed once again.

Current Year Newsletters

These are the current year's newsletters.

As a note, newsletters have not been published since February 2022.

Past Year's Newsletters

Here are the archives of past issues of the Left Hand Running club newsletter.

Clicking the links will download a .ZIP archive of the indicated newsletters.

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