CRT/CTA Met car 2865, a Douglas Park local on the Loop “L”. (George Trapp Collection)
Today, we offer a generous selection of Chicago rapid transit photos, mainly from the collections of George Trapp. We thank him for his continued generosity in sharing these with our readers.
There will be additional installments in this series. Here, we have concentrated on the Garfield Park and Westchester branches. We have supplemented George Trapp’s photos with a few from our own collections.
As always, if you have anything interesting to add to the discussion, you can either leave a comment here on this post, or contact us directly at:
PS- To find earlier posts in our series, just type “Chicago rapid transit” in the search window at the top of the page. We featured many additional pictures of the Westchester branch in a previous post.
Here, we have the old four-track Canal Street station on the Met “L” main line, which served Union Station. We are looking east. The tracks took a jog slightly to the north at this point. Behind the station, tracks continued straight east to the old Wells Street terminal, with a separate connection to the Loop “L”. This station continued in use until June 22, 1958 and therefore was not affected by expressway construction. (Allen T. Zagel Photo, George Trapp Collection)
We are at the east end of the Van Buren trackage, which connected to the old “L” structure at Aberdeen (1100 W.). That is the Racine station at left. Service on a portion of the old “L” would have continued until the Spring 1954, until a new connection was built to allow Douglas Park trains to access the Loop via the Lake Street “L”. We are looking west. This area is now occupied by the Eisenhower Expressway. (Allen T. Zagel Photo, George Trapp Collection)
A mid-1950s view of the CTA’s Van Buren Street temporary alignment. We are facing west, most likely at Racine (1200 W.). The signals at each intersection made trains come to a complete stop before crossing. That may be a 1956 Chevrolet at right. (George Trapp Collection)
In the mid-1950s, a two-car train of flat door 6000s heads west at Paulina (1700 W.), about to cross under tracks now used by the CTA’s Pink Line. The building with the tower is located at 333 S. Ashland. (Allen T. Zagel Photo, George Trapp Collection)
Workers United Hall at 333 S. Ashland Avenue, was built in 1928, and designed by Walter Ahlschlager. Home of the Chicago Joint Board of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, which became part of a growing group of other labor organizations who established offices in the neighborhood, known as Union Row. The building became, and remained, the most prominent union hall structure in the area, which grew to include over 30 labor unions and locals by the 1950s.
Marshfield Junction, looking east. The Logan Square/Humboldt Park, Garfield Park, and Douglas Park branches converged here onto the Met main line. (George Trapp Collection)
This is a Logan Square branch station along Paulina Street, looking north. It cannot be Marshfield, since the tracks went off from that point via a curve. In the background, we see the bridge over the Milwaukee Road and Chicago & North Western tracks. This bridge is still there, used for signals. The old Lake Transfer station is just south of the bridge. Therefore, by a process of elimination, I’d say this is most likely the old Madison Street station. There is no station at this location now (although some would like to see one built, to serve the nearby United Center), but the tracks are still in place for use by the CTA Pink Line. (George Trapp Collection)
A blow-up of the previous picture shows Lake Transfer station in the distance. This is where the Met “L” along Paulina crossed over the Lake Street line, before continuing north over the bridge shown in the background. The tracks north of Lake were removed in 1964, but the bridge was kept in place for use by signals on the Milwaukee Road and C&NW tracks below. (George Trapp Collection)
The same bridge today.
This map shows how the Douglas Park “L” was rerouted as of April 4, 1954. The old routing brought trains into the Loop via the Mat main line (Garfield branch on this map). In September 1953, the Garfield trains themselves were using a 2.5m temporary right-of-way in the south half of Van Buren Street. In order to facilitate the removal of that portion of “L” structure that remained between Paulina and Racine, a new north-south span was built crossing the expressway footprint (there should be a straight line on this map, but there isn’t), allowing Douglas trains to continue north along Paulina, to a new connection with the Lake Street “L”. That was a connection which had not previously existed, since previously the only service on these tracks (Logan Square and Humboldt Park trains, which stopped using these tracks in February 1951) crossed over the Lake Street “L”. As it turns out, this is the same route now followed by today’s CTA Pink Line (which replaced Douglas) after a hiatus of more than 50 years.
This 1954 picture, taken from Marshfield Junction, shows the Douglas Park “L” in transition. The 6000s in the foreground are on the old Met “L” alignment, while the train in the background is on a new portion of structure, allowing a direct connection to the Logan Square portion to the north. In turn, a new connection was built allowing Douglas trains to proceed downtown over the Lake Street “L”, which is the alignment now used once again by today’s CTA Pink Line. Andre Kristopans: “In the shot of old and new at Marshfield Jct, the 6000 is a regular Douglas train, while the woods on the connector are a work train. There was never service simultaneously on both routings.”
A Douglas Park train crosses the Van Buren right-of-way near Paulina (1700 W.). We are facing east. This may be circa 1954, as the old “L” structure is still in place east of here. It could not be torn down as long as Douglas Park trains needed it to access the Loop. Notice how one of the Garfield tracks makes a dog-leg around the “L” supports. Sean Hunnicutt adds, “this is 6001-6002.”
A current view. The Paulina Connector has been rebuilt and is now part of today’s Pink Line.
Here is an example where even the CTA got it wrong with this caption, taken from a 1950s employee publication. This is not the center median strip for the Congress Expressway. It actually shows the CTA temporary right-of-way on Van Buren under construction circa 1952. The grade level had to be lowered at this point in order to clear the C&NW/PRR tracks, and this was done in the middle of the street, leaving only a small lane for other traffic to the north. There was also a small lane to the south, presumably to provide easy access to the construction site on both sides of the tracks. The railroad bridge was retained and is still in use today, but new supports were built under the south portion, as you will see in contemporary pictures. The actual expressway median at this point is located where the Garfield Park “L” structure is at left. That is why it was necessary to build a temporary alignment for about 2.5 miles of the route. We are looking west.
The Van Buren trackage at Rockwell, showing the underpass trains used to clear the C&NW/PRR trackage. Notice how here, the CTA tracks are in the middle of Van Buren, instead of simply taking up the south half. This permitted a narrow lane on each side of the “L”. To the south, this allowed construction workers access to both sides of the railroad embankment. We are looking east. (George Trapp Collection)
The same location today.
A close-up of the railroad bridge at about 2600 W. Van Buren, showing how the supports on one side had to be replaced.
This September 1953 view of the new Van Buren trackage looks east from (I think) California Avenue (2800 W.). The photo caption reads, “CTA Elevated tracks on surface (due to) construction (of the) Congress St. expressway. At time of photo trains still using El structure at right of picture.”
I am not sure why the motorman of this 1951 train of CA&E woods is gesturing. Perhaps he is waving at the photographers below. My guess is this picture was taken at the Sacramento curve. If this was the Halsted curve, I would expect the buildings to be larger.
In this late 1950s photo, we see the Garfield Park “L” crossing the Congress Expressway at Sacramento. We are looking to the south. The “L” continued to use the old alignment in those places where it was not directly in the expressway footprint. Between Sacramento (3000 W.) and Kostner (4400 W.), the “L” actually ran to the south of the expressway. At Kostner, the “L” again crossed the highway, this time at an angle, taking it to the north. North of this picture location would have been the Sacramento curve and a ramp connection to the Van Buren trackage. Andre Kristopans adds, “The shot at Sacramento also shows how different things were then. Note there are pilings holding up the L structure BETWEEN expressway lanes. You couldn’t imagine doing that today, but in the 1950’s there was much more of a tendency to say if you weren’t watching and hit something, it was your fault, not the fault of what you hit.” (George Trapp Collection)
No, these two cars are not going downhill. But if you level out the picture, you can’t see the sign identifying this as the Pulaski Road station on the Garfield Park “L”. Based on the sign on this car, I would say the train is heading west. (Joe L. Diaz Photo, George Trapp Collection)
Now we are on the level. (Joe L. Diaz Photo, George Trapp Collection)
I don’t know the exact location of this westbound Garfield Park train. But my gut instinct is this was taken at the same general location as the previous photo, which would make it the east end of the Pulaski station. (Joe L. Diaz Photo, George Trapp Collection)
CRT 4318 and 2190, running in express service along the Garfield Park “L”. Not sure which station this is. (Joe L. Diaz Photo, George Trapp Collection)
A view of the Laramie Yard, looking east from the walkway that allowed you to cross over between platforms. Much of this area is now occupied by Michelle Clark Magnet High School, and the area to the right of the picture is taken up by the Eisenhower (formerly Congress) Expressway. Note one of the four “Doodlebugs” in the yard. (Allen T. Zagel Photo, George Trapp Ciollection)
You hardly ever see any pictures of the ramp that brought the Garfield line from grade level to the “L” structure between Laramie and Cicero. This is an enlargement of the previous picture. (Allen T. Zagel Photo, George Trapp Ciollection)
The old ground-level Laramie station on the Garfield Park “L”. The woman on the platform may be using the scale (shown in another picture taken at this station) to weigh herself. These generally cost a penny. On some of these, if you could successfully guess your weight, you got your penny back. We are looking east. The “L” went up a ramp from here to reach the Cicero station. The water tank at right shows up in a lot of these pictures, and is often useful in telling which way we are facing. (Allen T. Zagel Photo, George Trapp Collection)
An enlargement of the previous photo. Is this the same penny scale shown on the platform in the next picture?
CRT 2896 is westbound at Laramie. You can plainly see the penny scale on the platform. (Joe L. Diaz Photo, George Trapp Collection)
CRT 2721was a tool car, shown here at the Laramie Yards on the Garfield Park branch. According to Don’s Rail Photos, “2701 thru 2756 were built by Barney & Smith in 1895 as M-WSER 701 thru 756. In 1913 they were renumbered 2701 thru 2756 and in 1923 they became CRT 2701 thru 2756. 2721 was rebuilt in 1921.” (George Trapp Collection)
At first, I had difficulty determining this location, but soon figured out that the station at rear is Laramie on the old Garfield Park “L”. I believe we are looking east from Lockwood, where there was a grade crossing. The bulk of the yard was to the east of Laramie, although there were storage tracks for some cars west of Laramie, such as a small area that was once used for mid-day storage of CA&E trains. On the left of the picture, we see CTA buses along Harrison, and the gas station was located at the intersection of Harrison and Laramie. The Eisenhower Expressway is now to the right of this picture. The growth along some of these tracks would seem to indicate they were not being used much for storage by the time this picture was taken in the 1950s. (Allen T. Zagel Photo, George Trapp Collection)
A close-up of the previous picture, showing the intersection of Laramie and Harrison. (Allen T. Zagel Photo, George Trapp Collection)
Laramie and Harrison today. We are looking north.
I believe this photo shows the view looking west from Oak Park Avenue along the old Garfield Park “L”. The B&OCT tracks were to the south of the “L”, and we can even see a steam locomotive on a siding in the distance, serving businesses to the south. The eastbound and westbound “L” platforms here were on different sides of Oak Park Avenue. In the distance, we can see the next station west at Home Avenue. This is now the location of the Eisenhower Expressway, and all these tracks are now on the south side of the highway at this location, in an open cut. The only freight siding still in use along here is the Ferrara Pan Candy Company in Forest Park, about a mile west of here. (George Trapp Collection)
A close-up of the previous picture, showing a steam locomotive coming off a siding on the B&OCT. (George Trapp Collection)
There isn’t a lot of freight traffic on the B&OCT these days, but I did catch this short train near the Oak Park CTA station on June 30, 2016.
(Photo by David Sadowski)
The CTA’s Garfield Park “L” trains crossed the B&OCT freight tracks at grade between Harlem Avenue and DesPlaines in Forest Park. We are looking west, and the large “gas holder” tank at left was a local landmark for many years. Now, these tracks are grade separated along the Eisenhower Expressway right-of-way. (Allen T. Zagel Photo, George Trapp Collection) Sean Hunnicutt adds, “Cars 6227-6228.”
The CTA Blue Line and B&OCT cross each other today at more or less the same location they did before the expressway was built, but their tracks are grade separated. The CTA goes under the freight line, then up a ramp to cross over the highway and DesPlaines Avenue before reaching the terminal.
This photo shows an eastbound two-car Met “L” train at the old DesPlaines Avenue station, which was actually owned by the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin. The station was on the east side of the street, in an area now occupied by the Eisenhower Expressway. (George Trapp Collection)
More or less the same location today. The old DesPlaines station would be somewhere in today’s highway, off to the right. Today’s Blue Line crosses the highway and goes off a bit to the north to its present-day terminal. West of here, the expressway crosses over the DesPlaines River using an expanded version of the old Chicago, Aurora & Elgin interurban right-of-way. As part of construction, the CA&E trackage was moved slightly to the north, and work was completed by 1959 but the new tracks were never used.
This picture may show where the Westchester branch diverged from the CA&E main line (here running parallel to the CGW) in Bellwood. If so, we are looking east. (Allen T. Zagel Photo, George Trapp Collection)
mdfranklinnascar writes: “The white house in the background is still there at 3510 St Paul Ave, Bellwood.”
The CRT Westchester branch at Roosevelt Road, circa 1929-1930. Service along this line opened in 1926, and when the line was extended, local officials insisted that tracks not cross Roosevelt at grade, thereby necessitating this grade separation project. The platform at left was later moved into the open cut, although the original station house was retained. Service to Mannheim began in 1930. The line was abandoned in 1951. We are looking north. (Allen T. Zagel Photo, George Trapp Collection)
In this April 28, 1929 view, a steam shovel is digging out an underpass for Westchester trains at the Roosevelt Road station. We are looking north. (George Trapp Collection)
Westchester trains in storage at the Roosevelt end of the line, circa 1929. (George Trapp Collection)
The CRT Westchester branch, just south of the Roosevelt Road underpass. (Joe L. Diaz Photo, George Trapp Collection)
This appears to show the CRT Westchester right of way, looking south from Roosevelt Road, where the line extension to Mannheim and 22nd was single track. (George Trapp Collection)
Westchester trains changing ends south of the Roosevelt Road station. (Allen T. Zagel Photo, George Trapp Collection)
Since this two-car train of 4000s is using overhead wire and not third rail, this appears to be a Central Electric Railfans’ Association fantrip along the CA&E’s Mt. Carmel Branch on February 12, 1939. If so, one of the two cars used was 4317. (Edward Frank, Jr. Photo, George Trapp Collection)
CTA experimental high-speed cars 6129-6130 in the “Morgan middle” tracks on the Congress line circa 1960. Fans referred to the cars in this paint scheme as “circus wagons.” (George Trapp Collection)
CTA high-speed cars 1-3 and 6129-6130 on a test run along the Congress line, in the early 1960s. (George Trapp Collection)
CTA 6698 at DesPlaines Avenue terminal in June 1963. The track at right, where an old wooden “L” car is being used as an office, was originally intended for use by CA&E trains, if service could have resumed in 1959. (George Trapp Photo)
DesPlaines Avenue in June 1963. (George Trapp Photo)
CTA 6698 at DesPlaines Avenue terminal in June 1963. (George Trapp Photo)
CTA single-car unit 8 at Logan Square terminal in the Fall of 1963. (George Trapp Photo)
In this 1963 view at Logan Square, we see cars in the 6551-6600 series at left, in fresh paint, next to others from the 6601-6670 series at right in their original paint. (George Trapp Photo)
CTA 6705-6706 at Logan Square in 1963. (George Trapp Photo)
This picture is not from the George Trapp Collection, but we thought it would fit in well with the others here nonetheless:
A two-car Met “L” train crosses the Chicago River just west of the Loop in July 1951.
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Following up on our previous post CTA’s Westchester Branch – What Might Have Been, we decided to scout out the old right-of-way, more than 63 years since the last trains ran, to see what we could find. Fortunately, there are many traces of the old line that are still visible.
For your consideration, we present some modern-day shots of the same locations where “L” trains once ran, both along the CA&E main line and the Westchester branch. If you ever decide to go exploring, to see these areas for yourself, we hope our efforts will give you a bit of a “leg up” on the work.
Interestingly, one entire half-block where the Harrison station once was, remained vacant land as late as 2011. This has now been developed, and we have some “before and after” pictures for comparison.
Since there are so few streets that cross the former Westchester right-of-way south of I290, it would appear that some housing was built adjacent to the line even before abandonment in December 1951. The line still being in use would provide a logical reason for keeping new grade crossings to a minimum.
If the CTA Blue Line is ever extended west to Mannheim Road, it would cross the old Westchester right-of-way very close to this spot. If a station is built there, that would be even more ironic. Someday you may be able to take a CTA rapid transit train to much the same location that you could in 1951, but not since.
You might think that the CA&E followed a straight path to the DesPlaines terminal, but such was not the case. Heading east from First Avenue, where the Illinois Prairie Path ends now, it actually headed southeast before turning east and crossing the DesPlaines River where I290 does today, then connecting with the terminal from the south.
Approximately the same view as image 194 in our last post (showing a Westchester car heading west, crossing First Avenue). The old Refiner’s Pride gas station has long since been replaced by an oil change shop.
Looking southeast from First Avenue. The CA&E tracks headed through this area, before turning east to cross the DesPlaines River. There were also some storage tracks in this area, now occupied by Commonwealth Edison.
Looking east from First Avenue. The CA&E right-of-way veered off here to the right, while the Chicago Great Western freight line went straight ahead. Some years ago, a new bridge was built where the CGW crossed the DesPlaines River, for pedestrian and bike traffic.
The Illinois Prairie Path begins at First Avenue in Maywood. We are looking west.
We are looking east from 6th Avenue in Maywood, about the same view as seen in image 181 in our previous post (showing the CA&E 5th Avenue station).
The old CA&E right-of-way looking west from 6th Avenue in Maywood.
The old CA&E main line, looking west from Madison and 19th.
Looking east from 25h near Madison, where a former CA&E station was located.
Looking west from Madison and 25th. Some of the same high tension lines are visible in image 196 in our previous post.
The Illinois Prairie Path, at right, follows the right-of-way of the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin interurban.
Where the CA&E main line once crossed under the Indiana Harbor Belt RR. Since the railroad was scrapped in 1962, some concrete walls have been erected.
The Westchester line branched off from the CA&E main line near the top of the picture, then curved to the south to fololow a path between Marshall and Bellwood Avenues. This was approximately the location of Mark Drive, which is designated as a street for a short stretch, but is mostly an alley. From Jackson it headed south, and there was a station at Harrison just west of Bellwood Avenue.
An exception to the rule that you can follow the right-of-way via the telephone poles. These connect with the ones that follow the Westchester line, but the tracks were actually a bit west of this location on Madison Street (as can be seen in some of our other photos that show the actual location).
This house can also seen in image 199 in our previous post, in a photo showing a Westchester car crossing Madison Street.
The Westchester line crossed Madison at approximately this spot, where the house in the middle of the picture is now located. From here, the track curved off to run to the west of Bellwood Avenue.
Looking southeast at the old Westchester right-of-way, at Monroe between Bellwood and Marshall Avenues.
Along Mark Drive in Bellwood.
Along Mark Drive in Bellwood.
Along Mark Drive in Bellwood.
Along Mark Drive in Bellwood.
Along Mark Drive in Bellwood.
Along Mark Drive in Bellwood.
Along Mark Drive in Bellwood.
Along Mark Drive in Bellwood.
Looking north from Van Buren.
Part of the old Westchester right of way has been turned into “Park Place,” which appears to be a new street.
Looking north from Van Buren.
Looking north from Van Buren.
Bellwood Estates, as seen from the corner of Bellwood Avenue and Harrison, just north of I290. This development was not here in 2011.
Looking south from Van Buren. The new Bellwood Estates development is at left.
Looking north from Van Buren, the approximate right-of-way of the Westchester branch is now called Park Place.
Looking south at the old Westchester right-of-way from Van Buren in 2011. The tracks followed the alignment of the telephone poles. This area has been built up since then.
This 2011 view of the then-empty half block at Harrison and Bellwood, looking much as it had 60 years earlier.
Undeveloped land near the old Harrison station, as it appeared in 2011 prior to the construction of Bellwood Estates.
Bellwood and Harrison in 2011, before the construction of Bellwood Estates.
After crossing where I290 is today, the Westchester branch headed south and ran alongside the eastern edge of what is now Gladstone Park. The line went under the Illinois Central tracks and there was a station at Roosevelt Road, along with a couple of storage tracks.
The right-of-way looking north from Kitchner Street in Westchester, just south of I290.
Grace Central Church on Kitchner Street in Westchester, some of the construction that has built up in the area since 1951.
Looking south from Kitchner Street.
Looking south from Kitchner Street.
In places, it is only possible to follow the path of the old right-of-way via telephone poles.
Looking south from Kitchner Street in Westchester.
Looking north from the IC underpass.
A dirt road passes under the partly filled-in Illinois Central underpass. We are looking south.
The Illinois Central underpass, as viewed from the south.
The partially filled-in underpass that once took Westchester trains under the Illinois Central.
Here, the line continued to run south between Balmoral Avenue and Westchester Boulevard.
Finally, heading south past the station at Canterbury, the line curved to the southwest, following the general alignment of Balmoral Avenue until ending just short of Mannheim and 22nd. Insull planned for eventual extension west from this point to what we now call Oakbrook.
The #317 Pace bus stops at the exact location of the former Westchester rapid transit station at Canterbury.
Looking north from Canterbury.
The right-of-way looking south from Canterbury.
Near Mannheim and 22nd Street.
Near Mannheim and 22nd Street.
Near Mannheim and 22nd Street.
The Westchester right-of-way near Mannheim and 22nd Street, looking north.
A bank now occupies the end of the Westchester line at Mannheim and 22nd Street.
Bill Shapotkin writes:
It is interesting to see that the idea of looking at the r-o-w (such as the Westchester ‘L’) is not just my own personnel domain anymore. We can still learn a lot about the past by reviewing the remains of the present. (I especially like the before/after photos of the same house on Madison St in Bellwood (shown below).)
Kudos to you, Dave.
A few thoughts concerning the Westchester ‘L’ as it relates to the present-day: Some time ago, a fellow wrote (in a thread to this group) how the Westchester ‘L’ is missed (by the present-day residents) today. Not so — but just how are the residents of the area served today?
It appears that whatever REAL traffic potential along the route of the ‘L’ is along Madison St — NOT in Bellwood or Westchester.
That said, PACE #301 http://www.pacebus.com/pdf/schedules/301sched.pdf now provides frequent (thirty minute or better) along Roosevelt Rd on Weekdays/Saturday and forty-five minute service on Sunday. Of course, this also provides service along a route one mile south of Madison St and provides better west-end destinations (Hillside Mall (at least what is left of it), Oakbrook and (on weekdays), points along Roosevelt as far west as Wheaton. Wow! I can recall when this was a weekday-only route (on a sixty-minute headway) betw Des Plaines Ave and Hillside — and did not operate after 7:00 PM.
Further south, PACE #322 http://www.pacebus.com/pdf/schedules/322sched.pdf operates on a thirty-minute headway (Weekdays and Saturday) and hourly on Sunday (Sunday being the only real hours-restrictive portion of the operation. Like the #301, there are good west-end destinations (Oakbrook and Yorktown).
Sadly, the north-south service of PACE #330 http://www.pacebus.com/pdf/schedules/330sched.pdf has not lived up to (what I believe is) its full potential. If the route served the Midway ‘L’ (instead of Archer/Neva) on its south end and actually served Metra’s MILWW line on a full-time basis (i.e.: served the Franklin Park (instead of the Mannheim) station), it would have a lot more of a following — and the corresponding service levels that the other routes now serving the area now have.
I believe many of us (and I include myself to a certain degree) have rose-colored glasses on when we look at some of the long-gone rail transit services. It appears to me that the present-day routes actually serve the are better — providing service to where people actually live and/or where they want to travel, which sadly the ‘L’ would not be able to do.
Slowly but surely (heavy on the slowly, light on the surely), I am documenting the Westchester ‘L’ and its present-day bus replacement services. Good Lord willing, this documentation will be completed later this year. When completed, the program will be offered to any interested group (such as CERA or OSA) for public viewing.
The “Westchester-Maywood” route, from a 1948 CTA map.
This 1943 map shows where the Westchester branch ran.
Today’s photo essay features pictures of the former Chicago Rapid Transit/Chicago Transit Authority Westchester branch, which ran from 1926 to 1951. You can find an excellent track map here. (You can also read our follow-up post, showing what traces of the old line are still visible here.)
It’s always interesting to speculate on what “might have been,” especially in the case of the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin, whose trains ran from 1902 to 1957 in Chicago’s western suburbs. What could have been saved? What should have been saved? And, what can we learn today?
As you may know, ultimately nothing was saved, except the portion between DesPlaines Avenue and Laramie, which was taken over by the CTA in the early 1950s. That operates today as the outer portion of the Chicago Transit Authority‘s Forest Park branch of the Blue Line.
Speculation usually centers on whether the entire railroad could have been saved, bought by the State of Illinois, or at least, the portion to Wheaton. But in general, this section, the most viable part of the interurban, ran parallel to the Chicago & North Western‘s West Line, which continues to operate today under the aegis of Metra.
The State of Illinois made an offer to buy CA&E in 1956, and then backed out of the deal for various reasons. The only public entity that could have operated any portion of the railroad would have been the CTA, and yet their operating area was limited to most of Cook County.
Still, the CTA did some engineering studies.* In the short run, the idea was to put third rail shoes on some of the remaining PCC streetcars, and run a shuttle service between Forest Park and Wheaton. Just as with the CA&E operations between 1953-57, this would not have been a “one-seat ride” to the Loop. (Some say these studies were made to demonstrate the impracticality of CTA actually doing it.)
In the long run, CTA would have ordered more new rapid transit cars, high speed versions of the single car units 1-50 that were built in 1960. These type of cars would also have been used if the CTA had been able to take over larger portions of the North Shore Line than the five miles that became the Skokie Swift (today’s Yellow Line) in 1964.
In retrospect, the opening of the Congress (now Eisenhower) expressway would have depressed ridership, so there is no way of knowing if such a CTA shuttle service would have been successful. But there was no way to pay for it, in the political context of the time, and therefore these plans were unrealized. But, if it had happened, most likely such a service would today be a treasured part of Chicagoland’s transit infrastructure.
But if we go back a little further in time, incredibly, there was rapid transit service operated by the CTA that ran to Mannheim and 22nd Street as late as 1951. This was the 5.6 mile long Westchester branch, a victim of budget cuts and expressway construction.
The Westchester branch was part of an ambitious mid-1920s Insull plan to create a high-speed CA&E bypass, similar to the North Shore Line’s Skokie Valley Route. However, there was less of a need for it, and by the time the Depression hit and Samuel Insull‘s empire collapsed, only 2.2 miles of it had been built off the CA&E main line, and local service was being provided by the Chicago Rapid Transit Company.
The Depression also put a stop to the pace of housing development in Bellwood and Westchester, as it had in Niles Center, where the CRT ran local service in a similar fashion. The “build it, and they will come” strategy was not unusual at the time, and had been successfully followed some years earlier when rapid transit service was extended to the Ravenswood neighborhood.
With the CRT in receivership, things remained “status quo” until the creation of the Chicago Transit Authority, which took over operations on October 1, 1947. In these heady early days, it was thought that modernization would reaped quick benefits, and there were efforts by the CTA to improve service to outlying areas, with the creation of extension bus lines and express buses.
Within a few years, however, there was nothing but red ink, and without taxing authority, the cash-strapped CTA had no choice but to cut unprofitable services wherever possible. The lightly-used Westchester branch was an obvious target for elimination, since CTA was a tenant, paying rent to the CA&E, who owned the tracks.
From CTA’s point of view, they saved money by eliminating rapid transit service west of DesPlaines Avenue, and tried to retain whatever ridership was there with replacement bus service, creating the #17 route, which continued to run for decades (and has now been completely replaced by parallel Pace suburban bus service, the #317).
Expressway construction was also a factor. The CA&E and CTA shared each other’s tracks, and compensated each other in turn. By the early 1950’s, these payments totaled about $250,000 per year and largely cancelled each other out. But a 2.5 mile section of the CTA’s Garfield Park/Met “L” would need to be relocated for five years, since it ran smack dab in the middle of where the Congress expressway would be built.
After nearly 50 years of joint operation on Chicago’s west side, coordinating the plethora of daily CTA and CA&E trains was difficult at best, and required near split-second timing. Schedules were complicated and there were various passing sidings, where expresses would be routed ahead of locals.
The CTA (and the City of Chicago’s) original idea for relocating Garfield service was for a wooden “L” structure along Van Buren Street. Presumably this grade separated service would have been fine with the CA&E, but the local alderman objected, and rather than face a lawsuit, which would have delayed the project, the City Council turned to Plan B– grade level rapid transit service, bisected by several cross streets.
This was originally promoted as a “street railway” service, which may be how they justified not using crossing gates. At first, it was thought that overhead wire could be used, but the Met cars did not have trolley poles, and this would have involved shifting around a lot of equipment. So, ultimately, the Van Buren Street temporary trackage used third rail without any more crossing protection than stop lights.
In 1951, CA&E management decided that this plan was unworkable for them, and would cause too many problems for efficient and safe operation. In a letter to their shareholders, CA&E proposed elimination of rail service on the interurban (presumably, freight service would continue), to be replaced by buses that would take riders from the western suburbs to the CTA Lake Street and Douglas Park “L”s.
CTA, for their part, anticipating that CA&E would soon become a bus operator only, began planning for a bus-to-rail transfer point between CA&E and CTA. At first, it was thought this would take place at Central Avenue, a point just west of where CTA’s own rails ended. But by 1953, this transfer point was moved west to DesPlaines Avenue in Forest Park.
Meanwhile, existing bus operators in the western suburbs had successfully blocked CA&E’s plans to substitute bus service for rail. Therefore, they had no real alternative to cutting back rail service to DesPlaines Avenue. This is how service was operated from September 1953 to July 1957. By then, CA&E ridership had been decimated, adn the railroad successfully petitioned to “temporarily” abandon rail service.
The abandonment actually helped facilitate expressway construction near the DesPlaines River, since no temporary service would need to be built. The railroad, in a sense, was still “made whole,” since by 1959 new rails were put in place for a connection to the CTA DesPlaines terminal. These are plainly visible in an aerial view in the 1961 CTA Annual Report, but they were never used, and the CA&E did not resume regular passenger service, and was liquidated in 1961. Attempts to save the interurban were too little, too late, and the suburbs that would have benefited from continuing service refused to contribute with tax revenue.
Between 1948 and 1957, the CTA eliminated about 25% of the rapid transit system it had inherited from CRT. This was mainly by slashing lightly-used branch lines (Stockyards, Kenwood, Humboldt Park, Normal Park, Niles Center, and Westchester). At one point, the CTA even proposed turning over the Evanston branch to the North Shore Line, but this did not happen.
By 1964, it seems the CTA had changed its mind about branch lines, for in April of that year, the phenomenally successful Skokie Swift service began running between Dempster and Howard, over five miles of former CNS&M right-of-way. By this time, some federal funding was available through a pilot program. CTA had to buy half of the Swift trackage anyway, just to access Skokie Shops.
Here, the CTA used fast, frequent service and a large park-and-ride lot to attract riders. And although it scarcely seems possible that the Westchester branch could have been saved in 1951, it would really fill a need today.
Imagine a west side corollary to the Skokie Swift.
By the early 50s, Bellwood and Westchester were prime areas for the postwar housing boom. This is especially true since these areas would soon have access to an important new highway. Growth in Westchester was being held back, however, since the same developer that had owned much of the property since the 1920s wanted to build all the housing themselves, thereby limiting construction somewhat.
After the CTA abandoned the Westchester branch, the CA&E liquidated the property, and the proceeds were distributed to the shareholders, instead of being reinvested in the money-losing railroad. This was the first of CA&E’s large-scale liquidations, where various portions of the railroad were sold to benefit the stockholders.
Getting back to what “might have been,” imagine how well the CTA would be doing today, if it had built a large park-and-ride lot at Mannheim and 22nd Street in the 1950s and kept the Westchester branch. As the area boomed in the mid-1950s, this service would have had tremendous potential.
And while this did not come to pass, the need persists, and something like a replacement for the Westchester branch may still be in CTA’s future. The Illinois Department of Transportation is working on plans for expanding and improving I-290 in the western suburbs, as the Chicago Tribune reported on February 27, 2013:
State transportation officials presented a narrowed list of four proposals that they say will improve travel on the Eisenhower Expressway, all of which include adding a lane to the highway and also extending the CTA Blue Line.
The four proposals, all of which include widening the highway between Austin Boulevard and Mannheim Road, extending the Blue Line to Mannheim and express bus service extending westward from Mannheim, were presented to a community task force. They will be further evaluated by state transportation officials as they study ways to make Interstate Highway 290 more efficient, said a manager of the project, Peter Harmet, bureau chief of programming for the Illinois Department of Transportation.
So, what “might have been,” may still be yet. We shall see.
PS- Christopher J. Lemm writes:
After reading your January 2015 story on the CTA Westchester Branch, the picture of the train crossing Madison street in Bellwood brought back some great memories. I grew up in that house, my grandfather was Clarence Lemm, track foreman for the Aurora and Elgin Railroad, he died in 1936. My father followed in grandpa’s footsteps, he worked at CTA 43 years, he started as a clerk and retired as the head of insurance and pensions. When my brother and I were very young my dad would take us for rides on the Aurora and Elgin, he used grandpa’s Sunset Lines employee pin and we all road free of charge. Thank you for some great memories!
According to transit historian Art Peterson:
CTA prepared studies for operation of both the CA&E (from Wheaton to Desplaines Av.) and for the North Shore from the Loop to Waukegan. The CA&E study was based on use of the pre-War PCCs; for the North Shore it would have been higher-performance rapid transit PCC cars and an A/B service pattern up the Skokie Valley. Both went no place, for lack of suitable funding sources. CTA was prepared to accommodate CA&E in the Congress-Dearborn-Milwaukee subway (the west side connection to that opened on June 22, 1958, by which time CA&E was freight only.)
Some knowledgeable sources reported that CTA retained a section of the Humboldt Park Branch after the “L” shuttle service quit running in the E50s, to use as a CA&E turnback/layup facility. Humboldt Park was the “L” line that ran parallel and to the north of North Avenue, joining the Milwaukee Avenue “L” line at the North/Damen station.
I believe we are looking east near Central Avenue, where the line curved around the south end of Columbus Park. This is approximately where the CTA Blue Line goes through the Lotus Tunnel. A small portion of Columbus Park soon gave way to the Congress (now Eisenhower) expressway.
An eastbound single car near Central Avenue, at the south end of Columbus Park, now the site of the Eisenhower expressway.
The passing tracks in this photo are a clue that we are near the Gunderson Avenue station in Oak Park. The Forest Park gas tank is at rear, so we are looking west.
Looking west where the rapid transit crossed the B&OCT. Behind the car, the freight line branched off in two directions, to the CGW and Soo Line.
A pair of Met cars crosses the B&OCT heading east. This has since been grade separated. The gas tank in the background was a Forest Park landmark for many years.
Here the the same crossing, but now we are looking east. This is now where I-290 runs through.
CTA 6051-6052 at the DesPlaines Avenue terminal in the 1950s. The Acme Feeds (7715 W. Van Buren) towers at are at the background. Among other things, they sold a product called Acme Worm Bouncer. After being abandoned for many years, the towers caught fire in 1980 and were demolished.
This is one of my favorite shots. An eastbound single car passes cemeteries in Forest Park, having just crossed over the DesPlaines River. This is the approximate location of the Eisenhower expressway today. The train is curving towards the DesPlaines Avenue station. The iconic gas tank was removed many years ago.
An eastbound Westchester car passes by Concordia Cemetery at right, having just crossed the DesPlaines River. This is where the Eisenhower expressway runs today.
This picture presents somewhat of a mystery. Car 2311, signed for Westchester, is identified as being in Maywood on July 21, 1934, with a 4000-series car behind it. There were some storage tracks east of First Avenue, but I am not sure whether CRT used these. Or perhaps these cars are near DesPlaines Avenue.
Here, we are just east of First Avenue, with an eastbound train approaching. You can just make out the sign on the Refiner’s Pride gas station behind the car. We are looking northwest. Commonwealth Edison occupies this site today.
A westbound Westchester car crosses First Avenue in Maywood. East of here (right), the line ran at an angle before crossing the DesPlaines River. This is where the Illinois Prairie Path starts today. The “Refiner’s Pride” gas station at left was part of a chain run by “Montana Charlie” Reid, who also owned a restaurant in Villa Park. An oil change business now occupies the site of the former gas station. Reid also owned Montana Charlie’s Flea Market in Bolingbrook, along historic Route 66, which is still in operation.
On December 7, 1958, CA&E wood cars 319 and 320 operated the last passenger train on that venerable railroad as a charter. Here, we are at Fifth Avenue station looking east. After the CTA abandoned the Westchester branch, this station was repainted in CA&E colors, and the interurban took over all service here from 1951-57.
While I’m not sure of the exact location, we are looking to the northwest along that portion of the CA&E main line, where it ran parallel to the CGW through Bellwood and Maywood.
We are looking west, with the IHB crossing in the background. 25th Avenue would be behind us, and Madison Street is to our left. Here, the CA&E ran parallel to the CGW. The Illinois Prairie Path runs here now.
A westbound Westchester car passing under the Indiana Harbor Belt. The two lines were grade separated in 1930-31. This is now the site of the Illinois Prairie Path.
A southbound Westchester train crosses Madison Street in Bellwood, where Marshall Avenue begins today. The house at right is still standing. The Bellwood station was just north of here, near where the line merged back into the CA&E main line. We are just west of Bellwood Avenue.
A northbound train at Harrison Street, with new postwar housing in the background. In the foreground, sidewalks that were already about 20 years old go past an empty lot.
Westchester car 2814 heading south at Harrison. A small child in blue jeans waits for the train to pass.
A southbound single car passes storage tracks just north of Roosevelt Road, which was the original terminal before the line was extended in 1930.
A single Westchester car passes under the Illinois Central near the Roosevelt Road station.
A two car train passes under the Illinois Central near the Roosevelt Road station.
Here we see the south end of the Roosevelt Road station.
A single car at the Roosevelt Road station.
Here, we are just south of Roosevelt Road, at the beginning of double track.
We are just south of the Roosevelt Road station looking north. From here to Mannheim and 22nd, it was single track.
The Chicago & West Towns Railways also had some private right-of-way in the western suburbs. Car 160 is shown near LaGrange in December 1945.
PS- You can read more about Acme Worm Bouncer here. You can also see some additional pictures of the Westchester branch here.