The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Ask Chicagoist: North Shore Line?

By Thales Exoo in Miscellaneous on Aug 24, 2006 4:05PM

Okay, so I know there's a southshore train line into Chicago. What about a northshore?

Train Freak

2006_08_asknorthshore.jpgDear T.F.,

In our junior high science class we learned all about Newton's Third Law of Motion, which states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Apparently this explains things like rocket launches, riding a bike, and bouncing balls. We, naturally, like to concentrate on its more philosophical implications -- our natural tendency to wonder about "up" after exploring "down," or "left" when we go "right," or the "north shore" train when we ride the "south shore."

The Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad (under a variety of names) ran from 1896 until 1963. It began as the Bluff City Electric Street Railway, a single-car trolley that made the rounds from Waukegan to the factories in North Chicago. The company quickly went bankrupt and was purchased by the Chicago and Milwaukee Electric Railway Company. More cars were added to the trains and the line was expanded south to Evanston, and then later over to Libertyville from Lake Bluff. The line grew north in the early 1900s, extending to Kenosha, Racine, and then finally Milwaukee in 1908.

Unfortunately, the company went bankrupt (we sense a theme), so on May 1, 1916, Samuel Insull, a Chicago tycoon, bought the company for $4.5 million and renamed it the Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad. Insull negotiated the rights to use Chicago's elevated track from the CTA in order to bring the train right into the city, connecting Chicago and Milwaukee. In order to speed up the process and take the tracks off of the city streets, Insull also bought up land around the Skokie Valley and laid new track for a high speed route.

Then came the Depression, and the train company went into (you guessed it) bankruptcy.

World War II pulled it out of bankruptcy (without the need to sell), as the train was responsible for transporting sailors from the Great Lakes Naval Training Station to their leave in Chicago (and back), and as a result most trains were completely full on the weekends. In 1946 the company recovered from bankruptcy.

But it didn't last too long. More and more people were getting cars, and the new expressways were beginning to be used (this was before they were backed up for miles with road-raged commuters). The original Shore Line route (through Evanston) was closed down in 1955 after a battle with the Interstate Commerce Commission. Around this time the CTA started requiring North Shore trains into the city to stop at platforms outside the prepaid platforms at Howard, Wilson, and Belmont, and they also raised the rent on the use of the track.

In 1958 the company put in requests to the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Illinois Commerce Commission, and Wisconsin to be completely shut down. After years of court battles, compromises, and heated debate, on January 21, 1963, the the Skokie Valley route ceased operations as well. The final train arrived in Milwaukee at 2:55 a.m.

Sad you missed out on the North Shore experience? You can always hop on the CTA's Yellow Line -- the Skokie Swift was created from the end of the Skokie Valley route. Other bits of the old railroad have been converted to pedestrian and bike trails. You can also see old Electroliner trains and passenger cars over at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, IL.

Or, you could always buy a t-shirt.

Image via pixeljones

Wanna do the locomotion? Need some advice? Email ask(at)chicagoist(dot)com.