An eastbound six-car Lake Street “L” A train approaches Oak Park Avenue in suburban Oak Park on March 23, 1955. Trains ran adjacent to South Boulevard until October 28, 1962, when they were relocated to the Chicago and North Western embankment. (Robert A. Selle Photo)
October 28, 2022 was the 60th anniversary of the elevation of the outer 2.5 miles of the Lake Street “L” (now the CTA Green Line). This was an important event in the history of suburban Oak Park and the Austin neighborhood in Chicago.
The steel Lake Street “L” structure, first opened in 1893, was only built as far west as Laramie Avenue (5200 W). Once the main “L” lines were built by the four original private companies, they extended service out to less populated areas at a greatly reduced cost by putting the tracks at ground level. The idea was to establish service, then wait until the surrounding area developed, and then elevate the tracks.
In some cases, this elevation never happened. To this day, portions of the Chicago Transit Authority’s Brown, Pink, Yellow, and Purple lines continue to run at ground level.
The Lake Street “L”‘s ground level extension opened in 1901. The Chicago and North Western’s tracks, which were adjacent to the “L”, were elevated circa 1909-1910, with extremely tight clearances the result. The ground level “L” operated much like a streetcar, using overhead wire instead of third rail, and used high-level platforms.
By the 1930s, the City of Chicago, under the influence of New York City, wanted to build subways to replace the Loop elevated. The subways that eventually were built (State Street, Milwaukee-Dearborn, and West Side) were very ambitious and costly projects which helped alleviate overcrowding on the Loop, but could not replace it outright.
City planners had ideas for putting portions of the Lake line into various subways, so portions of the elevated structure could be torn down. But once the Chicago Transit Authority took over operations in 1947, it was quickly determined that the outer portion of the line, the ground-level section, was the real difficulty.
There were 22 grade crossings in this section, all manually operated by a gateman 24 hours a day. In a similar situation, the City of Berwyn was uncooperative with the CTA’s plans to reduce the number of grade crossings and install automatic gates. As a result, service on the Douglas Park “L” was cut back from Oak Park Avenue (6800 W) to 54th Avenue (5400 W), where it remains today.
Faced with the possible truncation of the Lake Street “L” to Laramie Avenue, the Village of Oak Park took a different approach, working cooperatively with all the interested parties (the City of Chicago, Chicago Transit Authority, and the Chicago and North Western), and a plan came about that benefitted everyone.
The C&NW embankment had enough extra space on it to accommodate the CTA tracks, which permitted the Lake Street “L” to be elevated at last. Removing the tracks from the street eliminated all 22 grade crossings, reducing the CTA’s payroll.
“L” operations were speeded up, offering better service, and the North Western received new revenue from renting out the space. The railroad was allowed to close some lightly used commuter rail stations, ceding these customers to the CTA, which speeded up service for riders farther out.
Removing the ground-level tracks widened the street, reducing traffic congestion and increasing the amount of parking spaces available. It was a win-win for all.
Plans were finalized around 1958, but construction does not seem to have begun until 1961. Service was changed over to the embankment at 6:00pm on October 28, 1962 (see the newspaper article below).
I was seven years old when this transition took place, and rode the ground-level “L” many times. It was always a bit tense, as all 22 cross streets were blind crossings. Cars might come darting out from under a viaduct at the last second, and there were some collisions between “L” cars and autos.
The tight clearances also prevented the use of the CTA’s 6000-series “L” cars in the 1950s, as they had curved sides that stuck out farther than previous equipment. Once the line began running on the embankment, it was possible to use newer equipment, and the CTA assigned many of their new 2000-series rapid transit cars to the Lake line starting in 1964.
Now, the “L” has been running on the embankment for nearly the same length of time as the ground-level operation had. And practically every trace of that surface trackage and stations is long gone.
People who have grown up in the area since 1962 might not have any idea that the “L” ever ran anywhere but on the embankment, but this is an important part of Oak Park’s history, and it deserves to be remembered.
Fortunately, we recently collected various images showing both the construction work, and many taken on the very day of the ground-level operation, October 28, 1962. In addition to this, we have an excellent selection of other classic traction photos from around the country.
We are pleased to report that our latest book The North Shore Line is now 100% complete and has gone to press. The publication date is February 20, 2023, and we are now taking pre-orders. You will find more information about that at the end of this post (and our Online Store).
Our friend Kenneth Gear now has a Facebook group for the Railroad Record Club. If you enjoy listening to audio recordings of classic railroad trains, whether steam, electric, or diesel, you might consider joining.
FYI, the Hoosier Traction Facebook Group celebrates electric transit in Indiana and the Midwest. It also supports the activities of the annual Hoosier Traction Meet in Dayton, OH (although not affiliated with the North American Transit Historical Society, which organizes that event).
The Lake Street “L” in Transition
In this July 16, 1961 view, work has just started on connecting the “L” with the nearby Chicago and North Western embankment. But the changeover point between overhead wire and third rail has already been moved to the Central Avenue ground-level station. This would otherwise have been a complicating factor in the transition process, as both routes would need to be operational for a short time simultaneously.
The view looking west from Laramie Avenue on August 27, 1961. A new temporary track has been built at left, supported by wooden pilings, to allow the ground-level operation to continue while the new “L” connection is being built. Note the Chicago and North Western freight train at right.
This picture, taken on August 27, 1961, shows how the “L” was shored up during construction of the new connection to the nearby railroad embankment.
On August 27, 1961, new steel has been added to the “L” structure at Laramie Avenue. This section of “L” was eventually rebuilt in the 1990s, when the line was shut down for about two years.
On September 10, 1961, new streel is being added to the “L” to support the additional tracks needed for the realignment.
Looking west from the Laramie Avenue “L” station on September 17, 1961. New tracks will be added to create a junction between the old and new alignments.
Third rail (here referred to as “trolley rail”) was installed between Laramie and Parkside Avenues on the Lake Street “L” as of May 8, 1961. This was one of the first actions taken in the project to move the “L” onto the nearby railroad embankment.
Work on the CTA’s new Congress “L” branch was finishing up just as work began on realigning the outer portion of the Lake Street “L”. Once these projects were finished, all the CTA grade crossings in Oak Park and Forest Park were eliminated.
The changeover point from third rail to overhead wire on the Lake Street “L” was moved from Laramie to Central Avenue on May 22, 1961, at the beginning of the relocation project.
Overhead wire was removed from the eastbound Lake Street “L” track between Central and Laramie on May 24, 1961.
Central Avenue and Lake Street on October 28, 1962. This was the only place on the “L” system where trains under wire crossed a trolley bus line. Motor buses replaced trolley buses on Central on January 17, 1970. This portion of Lake Street was renamed Corcoran Place a few years after this picture was taken, to honor a local alderman who had recently died.
We are looking east along what was then Lake Street at Mayfield Avenue on October 28, 1962. We are just east of where the dedication ceremony took place. The new Central Avenue “L” station can be seen in the distance.
We are looking to the northeast along what was then Lake Street (now Corcoran Place) just east of Austin Boulevard on October 28, 1962.
Chicago’s dedication ceremony for the new “L” alignment took place on what was then Lake Street (now Corcoran Place), between Austin Boulevard and Mason Avenue. Mayor Richard J, Daley and CTA chairman Virgil Gunlock presided. A similar ceremony was held in Oak Park.
CTA “L” car 4407 appears to have been decorated for the dedication event near the Austin stop on October 28, 1962.
I believe we are just west of the Austin Boulevard “L” station on October 28, 1962.
Clearances were extremely narrow on the ground level portion of the Lake Street “L”, and therefore, when the line was elevated, temporary entrances were used. Once the old “L” had been cleared away, construction of the permanent entrances continued.
Again, near Austin Boulevard on October 28, 1962. We are looking to the northeast.
An eastbound Lake Street “A” train is just east of Ridgeland Avenue on October 28, 1962.
We are looking west, just east of the Ridgeland Avenue “L” station on October 28, 1962. The building at left with the sign on it advertising a dry cleaner is now occupied by the Tayloe Glass Company.
We are looking west along South Boulevard at Marion Street in suburban Oak Park on October 28, 1962. A two-tone mid-50s Ford heads north on Marion, while an early 1960s Corvair is eastbound on South Boulevard. This is a rare opportunity to see “L” cars on both levels.
We are looking west along South Boulevard at Marion Street on October 28, 1962. The sign at left advertises Blue Cab, and there is a cab waiting there to serve people getting off the “L”.
Looking west along South Boulevard at Marion Street on October 28, 1962. Due to the narrow width of South Boulevard in this area, it was a one-way street going east. This section is now a two-way street, although there is still a section that is one way westbound, between Oak Park Avenue and Home Avenue.
A closer view of the new and old “L” stations. The sign above the entrance advertises the all metal “L” cars the CTA had operated on Lake since the last wood cars were taken off this line in 1954.
At one time, Blue Cab had their headquarters on South Boulevard, but I don’t recall offhand whether they were located here. The Lake Street “L” ground-level trackage extended across Harlem Avenue a short distance west of here. In the distance, you can see construction is already underway on expanding the railroad embankment to create a new yard for Lake Street trains. It opened in 1964.
This slide, taken by the same photographer, has a processing date of May 1963. Lake Street trains are running on the embankment, with their trolley poles removed. The old tracks are still in place but will soon be ripped up. The adjacent street was widened and parking spaces added.
The Congress Expressway is under construction at Homan Avenue on October 9, 1955, and would soon open as far west as Laramie Avenue. Tracks are already being laid for the new CTA Congress “L” line, which opened on June 22, 1958, replacing the old Garfield Park “L”. Note the very flimsy barrier separating the “L” and highway. This soon proved completely inadequate and was eventually replaced by concrete barriers. Mayor Richard J. Daley drove the first spike for the new rails on July 8, 1955 near Pulaski Road. We are looking east. The entire story of the transition from the Garfield Park “L” to the Congress median line is told in my 2018 book Building Chicago’s Subways.
We were fortunately to recently purchase this original early red border Kodachrome slide, taken on September 7, 1941. It shows a fan taking a picture of Connecticut Company car 500, built in 1904 and described as the pride of the fleet, equipped with a kitchen, bathroom, and dining tables. It was acquired by the Shore Line Trolley Museum in 1948.
A view of the Chicago Transit Authority’s Stock Yards branch on September 16, 1956. Service was discontinued the following year, and it has now been 65 years since the last wooden “L” car ran in regular service in Chicago.
Some Milwaukee Electric interurban trains ran past the North Shore Line’s Milwaukee Terminal, although there does not seem to have been a track connection here. This picture dates to the 1940s. A TM interurban car did operate on a North Shore Line fantrip in 1949, so there must have been a track connection somewhere. An Electroliner is berthed at the terminal.
The Logan Square “L” Terminal, right around the end of service in late January 1970. Service was extended on this line via the new Kimball Subway and a median line in the Kennedy Expressway. Service went only to Jefferson Park at first, but now continues all the way to O’Hare Airport.
Another view of the old Logan Square “L” station near the end of service.
On December 6, 1958, CTA salt car AA98 was still on a trailer at the Electric Railway Historical Society (ERHS) location in Downers Grove. It was formerly Chicago Surface Lines car 2846 and was built in 1908 by the South Chicago City Railway. It went to the Illinois Railway Museum in 1973. (Robert A. Selle Photo)
The CTA Congress Expressway median line was not the first of its type, that distinction having been taken by the Pacific Electric in 1940. Here, we see a 600-series “Hollywood” car in Cahuenga Pass at Barham Boulevard. This print was made in 1946 but could have been taken earlier. PE service here ended in 1952 (this was part of the Van Nuys line) and the right-of-way was taken up by additional traffic lanes. (Stuart A. Liebman Photo)
Don’s Rail Photos: “(North Shore Line) 420 was was built by Pullman in 1928 as an observation. It was out of service by 1932. On July 21, 1943, it reentered service as a motorized coach. It was sold to Seashore Trolley Museum in 1963.” Here we see it prior to conversion.
North Shore Line diner 418 at the Milwaukee Terminal, when it was still in service as a diner. This print was made in 1945 but could have been taken earlier. Dining car service on the CNS&M ended in 1947, except for the Electroliners, and car 415, which was used in the “substitute Liner” and for charters.
A five-car train of Chicago Aurora and Elgin wood cars, including 312, in Wheaton. This print was made in 1945, but the picture was probably taken earlier. (E. Dale Photo)
Chicago Aurora and Elgin wood car 24 in Wheaton. This print was made in 1945, but the picture was probably taken earlier. (E. Dale Photo)
Chicago Aurora and Elgin steel car 431, which was built by Pullman, in Wheaton. This print was made in 1945, but the picture was probably taken earlier. (E. Dale Photo)
A two-car Chicago Aurora and Elgin train, with 414 at the rear, heads west at Laramie Avenue as an Elgin Express. This picture was printed in 1945 but was probably taken earlier. (E. Dale Photo)
Chicago Surface Lines pre-war PCC 7020 heads west on Madison Street at Central Park Avenue. This print was made in 1946 but could have been taken earlier. There is another picture taken at this location in my 2017 book Chicago Trolleys, showing a postwar PCC. (Ken Kidder Photo)
Chicago Aurora and Elgin wood car 140, formerly from the North Shore Line. Don’s Rail Photos: “138 thru 141 were built by American Car in 1910. They were rebuilt for Elevated compatibility in 1919. They were also leased to the CA&E in 1936, returned to the CNS&M in 1945, and sold to the CA&E in 1946.” This print was made in 1945, but could have been taken earlier. (E. Dale Photo)
Chicago Aurora and Elgin steel car 417 heads up a Chicago Express at Laramie Avenue. This print was made in 1945, but could have been taken earlier. (E. Dale Photo)
Don’s Rail Photos: “In 1937, the CA&E needed additional equipment. Much was available, but most of the cars suffered from extended lack of maintenance. Finally, 5 coaches were found on the Washington Baltimore & Annapolis which were just the ticket. 35 thru 39, built by Cincinnati Car in 1913, were purchased and remodeled for service as 600 thru 604. The ends were narrowed for service on the El. They had been motors, but came out as control trailers. Other modifications included drawbars, control, etc. A new paint scheme was devised. Blue and grey with red trim and tan roof was adopted from several selections. They entered service between July and October in 1937. The following year, three more cars were acquired. 80 thru 82 were combines built by Cincinnati in 1913. On the CA&E, they were rebuilt in much the same manner as the 600s. The baggage compartment was fitted with seats and the cars were operated as full coaches numbered 700 thru 702. 700 was built by Cincinnati Car Co in 1913 as WB&A 80. It was sold as CA&E 700 in 1938.” This picture was printed in 1945, but could have been taken earlier. The location is the Wheaton Shops. (E. Dale Photo)
Chicago Aurora and Elgin 435 is westbound at Laramie Avenue on an Aurora Express. This photo was printed in 1945, but could have been taken earlier. (E. Dale Photo)
Chicago Aurora and Elgin 423 is running on the streets of Aurora as an express. The terminal was relocated off the street at the end of 1939, and the license plate on the car at left is from 1934 or 1936 (probably the former). This print was made in 1945. (E. Dale Photo)
Birney car 1501 is in Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1947. (Victor G. Wagner Photo)
This is the West Penn Railway in Greensburgh, Pennsylvania, which is 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
North Shore Line 714 heads up a southbound Chicago Express on the Shore Line Route in North Chicago in 1947. This car was built in 1926 by the Cincinnati Car Company. After the North Shore Line was abandoned in 1963, 714 went to the Illinois Railway Museum, where it is today. (Victor G. Wagner Photo)
A view of the Metropolitan “L” crossing the Chicago River on July 10, 1949. We are looking to the northwest.
Five Mile Beach Electric Railway car 32 in Wildwood, New Jersey in 1940. (G. Pilkington Photo)
CTA 2712 leads a two-car Douglas Park “L” train in the early 1950s. The train is headed towards Marshfield Junction, where Douglas Park, Garfield Park, Logan Square, and Humboldt Park lines converged into the Met “L” main line at Paulina. Construction is underway here for the Congress Expressway. A new north-south connection was built soon after this picture was taken, so that Douglas Park trains could be re-routed downtown via the former Logan Square tracks to a new connection with the Lake Street “L”. This allowed the Met main line to be removed east of here in 1954, where the “L” was in the way of the new highway.
A four-car train of CTA 4000s is (I presume) near Howard in the 1950s. Miles Beitler adds, “Photo aad702a looks like a train of 4000s leaving Howard Street southbound on track 1. If I’m correct that that the overhead wire has been removed and the trolley poles on the 4000s are down, this must be after third rail was installed on track 1, which would date the photo to around 1964 or later.”
Indiana Railroad high-speed car 69 is at Indianapolis on August 11, 1940.
A North Shore Line freight train is at the Rondout weigh station in January 1963.
North Shore Line combine 256 is at the front of a three-car train of “Greenliners” (a fan term) in a slide processed in June 1961.
The Ravinia Park Casino was built in 1904 and demolished in 1985. Ravinia Park was built by the Chicago and Milwaukee electric, which became the North Shore Line in 1916.
Indiana Railroad high-speed car 59 is at Indianapolis on August 11, 1940.
A Chicago Aurora and Elgin electric loco in Wheaton, where the lines diverged to go to either Aurora (shown here) or Elgin.
When I posted this circa 1954-55 Garfield Park “L” image to our Facebook group, it generated a lot of discussion as to whether or not this 4000-series “L” car was still in CRT brown paint. The CTA repainted these cars into green and cream starting around 1952. But after much consideration, my conclusion is that this is just a trick of the light, and the car is actually painted in the later CTA colors. It is in shadow and not in direct sunlight. By this time, all such cars should have been repainted and put into married pairs with various modifications (which are visible on this car). The car behind it, which is presumably its mate, is painted green and cream. We are at the east end of the Van Bure Street temporary trackage, which was used from 1953 to 1958. The photographer was apparently looking out the front end of a westbound train, and there was a ramp behind the photographer leading up to the old “L” structure heading to the Loop. The cross street here is Racine Avenue (1200 W).
I assume this picture of Chicago Surface Lines Peter Witt car 6311 was taken at Devon station. The date given with the negative was January 6, 1941 but this hardly seems likely, given the foliage and the open door. Perhaps month and date were reversed, and a date of June 1, 1941 is correct.
A view of the Indiana Railroad’s Muncie Terminal on August 10, 1940. The photo is by WVK, although I don’t know what those initials stand for.
Indiana Railroad high-speed car 78 in Indianapolis in the late 1930s.
A night shot of the North Shore Line’s Milwaukee Terminal in July 1962.
North Shore Line car 748 is part of a two-car train near North Chicago Junction on September 4, 1961.
This and the next picture shows a Aurora Elgin and Chicago (predecessor to the CA&E) monthly ticket book from June 1922.
The Chicago Aurora and Elgin used uncovered third rail in nearly all areas, including here, in Wheaton, where the Aurora and Elgin branches diverged. A small boy is playing in a nearby field, and people then were not terribly concerned with the danger posed by 600 volts of direct current. If the CA&E had survived, chances are additional protections would be in place.
North Shore Line wood car 132 and train at Ravinia Park in the early 1900s.
Starting in the 1930s, enterprising railfans such as the late Barney Neuberger sold prints of streetcars and interurbans. The smallest such prints were what is now called wallet size, and the going rate was usually 10 cents. Mr. Neuberger had flyers and catalogs printed. There are thousands and thousands of such photos that still circulate, and enrich our knowledge of the past.
CTA 2811 heads up a westbound Garfield Park “L” train of wood cars, circa 1953-54. The ramp connected to the temporary tracks on Van Buren Street/ We are near Sacramento Boulevard. For a time, these tracks crossed over the new Congress Expressway, which was built underneath it. Once the new Congress median line opened in 1958, this structure was removed.
A two-car Garfield Park “L” train, made up of 4000-series cars, heads west on temporary trackage in Van Buren Street on September 2, 1955. A portion of the Congress Expressway, then under construction, opened later that year.
A Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company Brill Master Unit is on West Chester Pike at Paoli Road in February 1945. (David H. Cope Photo)
The Chicago Aurora and Elgin station in Wheaton, probably in the 1920s.
CTA 6190-6189 is at Adams and Wabash on the Loop “L” in July 1954.
A northbound CTA train of curved-door 6000s is on the South Side “L” just north of 35th Street in 1954. The middle track had been used for express trains until the CTA realigned north-south service in 1949.
This picture was taken from out of the front window of a Lake Street “L” train on July 17, 1954. We are near Garfield Park, and the 4000-series cars parked on the middle track are in mid-day storage. The middle track had been used by express trains prior to 1948, when the CTA inaugurated A/B “skip stop” service.
CTA 6047-6048 are looping via a wooden structure at DesPlaines Avenue on July 14, 1954. This was necessary once Chicago Aurora and Elgin service was cut back to Forest Park, starting in September 1953. The direct connection between the two railroads was severed and this loop took CTA trains over the CA&E tracks. Once CA&E was allowed to discontinue passenger service in July 1957, the ramp was no longer necessary. The entire yard area was revamped in 1959 in conjunction with nearby expressway construction.
Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company (aka Red Arrow Lines) double-ended car 19 is outbound on West Chester Pike, headed for West Chester, in the early 1950s. Buses replaced trolleys on this line in 1954 so the road could be widened.
Chicago and Illinois Valley (aka the Chicago Ottawa and Peoria, part of the Illinois Traction System) car 56 at Ottawa, Illinois. Don’s Rail Photos: “In 1901, the Illinois Valley Traction was incorporated to build the first part of what later became the CO&P. Various other companies were involved in the construction until the CO&P consolidated them all by 1909. The CO&P became the Valley Division of Illinois Traction Inc. in 1923. In 1929, a new company, the Chicago & Illinois Valley, took over the Valley Division and operated it until abandonment on May 14, 1934. It was always considered a part of the Illinois Traction, and this can be seen in its rolling stock. 55 and 56 were built by St. Louis in 1903. 55 was retired in 1921. 56 was used in Peoria from 1920 thru 1927 when it was returned to the Valley. It was scrapped in 1934.”
The next-to-last North Shore Line fantrip took place on January 12, 1963, and used coaches 150 and 160. Here, the train has made a photo stop at the old Chicago Rapid Transit Company “L” station at Kostner Avenue, which was in use from 1925 to 1948 on the Niles Center branch. The station was designed by Insull staff architect Arthur U. Gerber. North Shore trains never stopped here in regular service. (William C. Hoffman Photo) Scott Greig adds: “By the way, the last charter on the North Shore was the day after the one pictured. It was a CERA charter with four Silverliners on Sunday, January 13, 1963. Illini Railroad Club announced that they would have a charter on the last day, but they finally had to settle for an extra car added to a regular train.”
The two car fantrip train has stopped at the old Clark and Lake “L” station on January 12, 1963. (William C. Hoffman Photo)
North Shore Line coach 772 is southbound at North Chicago Junction on July 4, 1955, operating on the Shore Line Route that would be abandoned later that month. Skokie Valley Route trains went to the other side of the station. (William C. Hoffman Photo)
The North Shore Line Milwaukee Terminal on June 25, 1961.
Electroliner 803-804 is northbound on Fifth Street in Milwaukee at Maple on January 13, 1963. All the buildings on the right are gone now, as this is now the location of an expressway. (Jeffrey L. Wien Photo)
North Shore Line snow plow 605 at Pettibone Yards on August 29, 1964. Built by Russell in 1921, it became the last piece of NSL equipment to be scrapped on the property. David A. Myers Jr. says he found someone who was interested in taking it, but they procrastinated so long that the tracks were taken up around the car, and it was then scrapped in place. (Jeffrey L. Wien Photo)
Chicago Surface Lines prewar PCC 4048 is downtown, signed for the Madison-Fifth route which was a branch of Route 20 – Madison. The 83 cars in this series were built in 1936 and retired in 1956. The sole survivor is 4021, which is now at the Illinois Railway Museum.
Chicago Surface Lines work car H7. Don’s Rail Photos: “H7, mail car, was built by American Car Co in 1891, as a Cicero & Proviso Street Railway passenger car. It was rebuilt as Chicago Union Traction 8 in 1900 as a mail car and as Chicago Railways 8 in 1903. It was renumbered H7 in 1913 and became CSL H7 in 1914. It was retired on May 16, 1949.”
Indiana Railroad car 65. Don’s Rail Photos: “65 was built by Pullman in 1931, #6399. The lounge section was replaced by a baggage section. 65 was sold to the Cedar Rapids & Iowa City as 120 in 1941. In 1954 it was purchased as the first car of the Illinois Railway Museum, which was known as the Illinois Electric Railway Museum at that time. I put in many enjoyable hours working on that car prior to 1960 when I moved to Peoria.”
Our Latest Book, Now Available for Pre-Order:
The North Shore Line
Publication Date: February 20, 2023
FYI, my new Arcadia Publishing book The North Shore Line is now finished and has gone to press. My publisher decided to expand it to 160 pages, instead of the usual 128. That’s a 25% increase, without any change to the $23.99 price. I am quite pleased with how this turned out.
From the back cover:
As late as 1963, it was possible to board high-speed electric trains on Chicago’s famous Loop “L” that ran 90 miles north to Milwaukee. This was the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee Railroad, commonly known as the North Shore Line. It rose from humble origins in the 1890s as a local streetcar line in Waukegan to eventually become America’s fastest interurban under the visionary management of Midwest utilities tycoon Samuel Insull. The North Shore Line, under Insull, became a worthy competitor to the established steam railroads. Hobbled by the Great Depression, the road fought back in 1941 with two streamlined, air-conditioned, articulated trains called Electroliners, which included dining service. It regained its popularity during World War II, when gasoline and tires were rationed, but eventually, it fell victim to highways and the automobile. The North Shore Line had intercity rail, commuter rail, electric freight, city streetcars, and even buses. It has been gone for nearly 60 years, but it will always remain the Road of Service.
Each copy purchased here will be signed by the author, and you will also receive a bonus North Shore Line map. Books will ship by USPS Media Mail as soon as we receive them, on or before February 20, 2023.
Chapters: 01. Beginnings 02. The Milwaukee Division 03. The Shore Line Route 04. The Skokie Valley Route 05. The Mundelein Branch 06. On the “L” 07. City Streetcars 08. Trolley Freight 09. The Long Goodbye 10. The Legacy
Title The North Shore Line
Images of America
Author David Sadowski
Publisher Arcadia Publishing (SC), 2023
ISBN 1467108960, 978-1467108966
Length 160 pages
The price of $23.99 includes shipping within the United States.
For Shipping to US Addresses:
New Compact Disc, Now Available:
The Last Chicago Streetcars 1958
# of Discs – 1
Until now, it seemed as though audio recordings of Chicago streetcars were practically non-existent. For whatever reason, the late William A. Steventon does not appear to have made any for his Railroad Record Club, even though he did make other recordings in the Chicago area in 1956.
Now, audio recordings of the last runs of Chicago streetcars have been found, in the collections of the late Jeffrey L. Wien (who was one of the riders on that last car). We do not know who made these recordings, but this must have been done using a portable reel-to-reel machine.
These important recordings will finally fill a gap in transit history. The last Chicago Transit Authority streetcar finished its run in the early hours of June 21, 1958. Now you can experience these events just as Chicagoans did.
As a bonus, we have included Keeping Pace, a 1939 Chicago Surface Lines employee training program. This was digitally transferred from an original 16” transcription disc. These recordings were unheard for 80 years.
Total time – 74:38
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A North Shore Line train on the Shore Line Route is southbound in Winnetka in September 1954. This section was grade-separated in 1940, along with the adjacent Chicago & North Western tracks, following a series of pedestrian accidents. Harold L. Ickes, Secretary of the Interior under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, approved Federal aid that paid for part of this work, in a similar fashion to Chicago’s Initial System of Subways. Ickes had lived in the area for many years. The train is moving towards the photographer, and the front is blurred due to the shutter speed that had to be used, in the days when Kodachrome was ISO 10.
As part of my ongoing research for my upcoming North Shore Line book, I decided to read all the other books that are out there. Today’s post features one that may be obscure, but is still very important–The Winnetka Grade Separation Project by Robert L. Anderson. As this was a dissertation, and part of the work Anderson did to receive an engineering degree, I didn’t know what to expect.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover this highly professional, thorough report on one of the outstanding public works projects in the New Deal era. The project’s cost would equate to about $86m in today’s dollars, and was one of two major projects that received 45% federal government funding from the PWA (Public Works Administration), headed by Harold L. Ickes (1874-1952).
19th century railroads ran at ground level in the Chicagoland area, but as population increased, grade crossing accidents became more and more of a public safety issue. When Chicago was chosen by Congress as the site of the World’s Columbia Exposition in 1890, the City began making local railroads elevate their tracks. This grade separation movement continued on through the 20th century.
In the area covered by the Winnetka project, which to a lesser extent also involved the suburbs of Glencoe and Kenilworth, there were two railroads running parallel to each other– the Chicago & North Western, and the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee (aka the North Shore Line).
This was the Shore Line Route, the interurban’s original route north from Wilmette, where it connected to the Chicago Rapid Transit Company “L” going downtown. The small space between the two train lines undoubtedly created a more dangerous situation than would otherwise have been the case.
The 1921 Plan of Winnetka, spearheaded by pioneer city planner Edward H. Bennett (1874-1954), recommended relocating the two sets of railroad tracks into an open cut. These plans continued to evolve until the late 1930s.
The Village of Winnetka applied for a grant from the PWA in 1938, and it was quickly approved. It did not hurt that FDR’s Secretary of the Interior (and thus, head of the PWA) Harold L. Ickes had been a former resident of Winnetka and therefore, knew there was a need.
Robert Landau Anderson (1906-1974), the author of this book, began working for Winnetka in 1929, and was appointed the head of Public Works in 1935, a position he held until his retirement in 1966. Anderson helped draft some of the plans, and was intimately involved with the project once it received federal approval. As Public Works chief, he helped oversee and coordinate much of the work, representing the village. At times, he also served as acting Village Manager.
He wrote this book in 1941 as his dissertation towards an engineering degree from Northwestern University. At that time, the project was largely complete, but was not 100% finished until 1943. His book is in the public domain, which we present here in full, and we are also including a magazine article he wrote in 1944, based on a presentation he gave for the Western Society of Engineers.
Both railroads were expected to kick in some portion of the cost for this project, but both were technically bankrupt at the time, as this was the Great Depression. The solution to this problem was quite creative.
Cost savings were estimated out for each railroad, based on the anticipated reductions in the need to maintain crossing signals. Bonds were issued in this amount, and immediately purchased by the PWA (in addition to their 45% share of the entire project cost). These were to be repurchased by the two railroads over a period of 30 years.
The North Shore Line abandoned the Shore Line Route in 1955, and the rest of the service went in 1963. At the time of abandonment, there still would have been an outstanding balance on the interurban’s share for a portion of these bonds, but I do not know how much money the government ultimately received.
The former North Shore Line right-of-way in Winnetka is now part of the recreational Green Bay Trail. Diesel replaced steam on the Chicago & North Western in 1956, and commuter rail service continues there today on Metra’s Union Pacific North Line between downtown Chicago and Kenosha.
Our scans were made from what may be the only remaining copy of this book, which is the best account of the Winnetka Grade Separation Project that I have found to date. I am glad we can now share this important history with you.
Sadly, Robert L. Anderson died from a heart attack in 1974, while on vacation in Montana with his wife. His dissertation earned him a Civil Engineering degree from Northwestern in 1941.
Interestingly, his younger brother James Stuart Anderson (1912-1954) was also an engineer, and also worked on the grade separation project as an employee of one of the firms that did the work.
It is entirely possible that this project influenced construction of the Congress Expressway (now I-290) through Oak Park and Forest Park in the late 1950s. After all, both projects involved relocating two sets of railroad tracks from ground level into an open cut, with trains leapfrogging from one set of temporary tracks to another.
Our friend Kenneth Gear now has a Facebook group for the Railroad Record Club. If you enjoy listening to audio recordings of classic railroad trains, whether steam, electric, or diesel, you might consider joining.
Work on our North Shore Line book is ongoing. Donations are needed in order to bring this to a successful conclusion. You will find donation links at the top and bottom of each post. We thank you in advance for your time and consideration.
The Winnetka Grade Separation Project by Robert L. Anderson
Between 1938 and 1943, the Winnetka Grade Separation Project eliminated several dangerous grade crossings along nearly four miles of trackage between Kenilworth and Glencoe. Two railroads were involved– the Chicago & North Western, and Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee (aka the North Shore Line).