CTA’s Yellow Line Returns

Oakton station is open for business again.

Oakton station is open for business again.

After a five month interruption, service on the Chicago Transit Authority’s five mile long Yellow Line resumed today (October 3Oth). Part of the 90-year old embankment had collapsed back in May, probably due to a nearby construction project.

To celebrate this, the CTA ran a ceremonial train at about 8:00 am, made up of new “L” cars 5713-5714, the final pair of 5000-series cars received. I did not get to see this train as I arrived in Skokie about an hour later. Various dignitaries, including the mayor of Skokie, were to be on it.

However, besides some 5000s, the CTA also ran a pair of 2400s on the Yellow Line for a while. Nearly 40 years old now, these are considered historic cars. A pair of them are already out at the Illinois Railway Museum.

When the 4000s were finally retired from service in 1973, they were about 50 years old. At the time, that seemed really old. Now 40 years is not too shabby either, but when you are of a certain age, having lived through the 1970s, it’s the nostalgia that seems a bit strange. It will get even worse, since 1990s nostalgia is just around the corner.

I had thought perhaps they would wait until after the AM rush hour to run the ceremonial train, but, as CTA’s Graham Garfield explained to me, there are only three sets of cars on the line then anyway, so it’s not like they would have got in the way of anything.

The weather, fortunately, was sunny all day, with temps in the mid-50s, so we got some good shots of what was going on.

We have written about the Yellow Line before. On February 3rd, our post Skokie Swift: The “True Gen” covered the origins of the line, and included several pictures of the CTA’s 1920s-era 4000-series “L” cars in operation there. We also featured some images of the old Niles Center line (predecessor of the Skokie Swift/Yellow Line) in our post More Chicago Rapid Transit Photos on September 21.

Photos of the Niles Center branch in action are somewhat rare, since it only operated for 23 years. By comparison, the North Shore Line used these tracks for about 38 years, and the Skokie Swift went into operation 51 years ago.

I have some history with this line, since my Dad and I rode it on the very first day of operation in April 1964. Back then, service was provided by high-speed versions of the CTA’s single car units in the 1-50 series, which were then less than five years old.

The emphasis was completely on speed. All intermediate stops that had been served by the old Niles Center branch were eliminated, and these cars could shake, rattle, and roll at speeds of at least 60 miles per hour. The total trip between Dempster and Howard only took about six minutes or so, at an average speed of at least 45 mph end to end.

I can assure you it was quite a thrilling ride!

In the years since, things have slowed down a bit, and one additional station has been added at Oakton. Still, the ride takes only about 8 and a half minutes, as you can see from the back window video we shot today. This will give you a good look at the 1200 feet of right-of-way that had to be redone. You can tell where it is, since the new fill is pure white, and there are CTA personnel walking around inspecting things.

Ordinarily, I would try to smooth out some of the shakiness in the video, but I think that leaving it this way does give you more of the exciting feel of riding the Yellow Line.

In the five months since service was disrupted, CTA has been offering replacement bus service. But to entice riders back, they are offering free rides for one week, and free parking in the Dempster lot for the rest of this year.

It is a smart strategy and appears to be working. The parking lot was already full by the time I got there.

Kudos to CTA for a job well done.

-David Sadowski


CERA Bulletin 146 Gets a Rave Review

Railfan and Raiload magazine reviews Chicago Streetcar Pictorial: The PCC Car Era, 1936-1958 in their November issue. I am one of the co-authors of that book.

You can read their glowing review, filled with superlatives, here. This is reproduced with the permission of Railfan and Railroad.

Trolley Dodger Press is not affiliated with Central Electric Railfans’ Association. Bulletin 146 is available from CERA and their dealers.


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Northbound at Oakton.

Northbound at Oakton.

CTA has added extra signage to promote safety.

CTA has added extra signage to promote safety.

Southbound at Oakton.

Southbound at Oakton.

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2400s going into the turnback track at Dempster.

2400s going into the turnback track at Dempster.

CTA historic cars 2455-2456 ready to head south.

CTA historic cars 2455-2456 ready to head south.

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2400s interior. This class of cars has been retired from service now.

2400s interior. This class of cars has been retired from service now.

A Red Line train prepares to enter Howard station for its run south.

A Red Line train prepares to enter Howard station for its run south.

Howard Yard is a busy place, with lots of trains coming and going.

Howard Yard is a busy place, with lots of trains coming and going.

Two Yellow Line trains pass each other. Besides the 2400s, I saw 5519-5520 and 5521-5522 running.

Two Yellow Line trains pass each other. Besides the 2400s, I saw 5519-5520 and 5521-5522 running.

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2400s at Howard.

2400s at Howard.

A northbound Red Line train approaches Howard.

A northbound Red Line train approaches Howard.

A southbound Red Line train.

A southbound Red Line train.

A northbound Purple Line train approaches Howard. They used to be called the “Evanston Express.”

Yellow Line train 5521-5522 enters the pocket track south of Howard.

Yellow Line train 5521-5522 enters the pocket track south of Howard.

Comings and goings at Howard.

Comings and goings at Howard.

A Yellow Line train prepares to head north from the pocket, while a Purple Line train approaches.

A Yellow Line train prepares to head north from the pocket, while a Purple Line train approaches.

One of the last AM Purple Line Express trains enters the station. It will continue to Linden over the Evanston branch.

One of the last AM Purple Line Express trains enters the station. It will continue to Linden over the Evanston branch.

Our Yellow Line train is finally ready to head back to Skokie.

Our Yellow Line train is finally ready to head back to Skokie.

5000s at Dempster.

5000s at Dempster.

Going into the turnback track.

Going into the turnback track.

Stopping at the pedestrian crossing.

Stopping at the pedestrian crossing.

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5500s ready to head south from Dempster.

5500s ready to head south from Dempster.

Northbound at Main Street in Skokie.

Northbound at Main Street in Skokie.

A southbound train of 5000s approaches Kostner at speed, having just gone around the Oakton curve.

A southbound train of 5000s approaches Kostner at speed, having just gone around the Oakton curve.

A northbound train at Kostner.

A northbound train at Kostner.

From 1925 to 1948, Chicago Rapid Transit Company trains terminated at this arch, which supports high tension lines. The North Shore Line station was originally situated in front of the arch, with tracks on the sides. The track layout was reconfigured in 1964 for Skokie Swift service a year after the North Shore Line quit.

From 1925 to 1948, Chicago Rapid Transit Company trains terminated at this arch, which supports high tension lines. The North Shore Line station was originally situated in front of the arch, with tracks on the sides. The track layout was reconfigured in 1964 for Skokie Swift service a year after the North Shore Line quit.

The old Insull-era North Shore Line station has been moved to a slightly different location, but has been preserved.

The old Insull-era North Shore Line station has been moved to a slightly different location, but has been preserved.

8 thoughts on “CTA’s Yellow Line Returns

  1. This is a great re-opening. Thanks for the great photos. Will these last two 2400’s stay on CTA historic fleet? They looked quite fitting for the occasion.

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      • When it comes to historic preservation, CTA has a less than perfect record. I still wince when I remember witnessing the removal (and damage) of streetcars from the Wrightwood and Sheffield car barn. Not a professional job.

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  2. Not to sound all conspiracy theorist, but now that the Yellow line is running on third rail alone, I wonder if the CTA’s push for the Brown Line Flyover might be to extend the Yellow Line south to the Loop. No pan trolleys or pantographs would mean they could run downtown during the rush hour, assuming the tracks between Armitage and Chicago could handle Brown, Purple and Yellow line trains at the same time.

    Not that this would be a bad thing…

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    • They seem pretty comfortable with the current shuttle operation using only a few trains. I don’t see why they would want to make any changes.

      The purpose of the flyover is to keep Brown Line trains from interfering with the Red and Purple trains at Clark Junction.

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  3. Very early in its life the original Niles Center service DID have downtown service. During weekday (and in those days that included Saturdays) rush hours, Niles Center cars were coupled to Evanston Expresses at Howard Street. Did not last long, definitely gone by 1930.

    Also, interesting how Yellow still runs two cars, when this is no longer done anywhere else on the L. The “official” reason for 4 cars minimum was always “because of possible stalling on long 3rd rail gaps”, however Yellow has probably the longest gaps in the system, especially north of Howard Station passing thru the plant, and at Oakton Street, where in addition SB you are leaving a station stop. As a trivia item, the last known operation of 2 car trains on the “main lines” that I personally saw (and rode) was about 2am on the Red Line about three or four years ago, when all other lines had been 4-minimum for several years.

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