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North Shore Line


Samuel Insull made the North Shore Line one of the best of its genre in the country.  Because of the grade separation project in the early 1940's the Shore Line in Winnetka represented the newest interurban construction with its complex cantenary and block signals.  Quite a contrast for a line that had street running a few miles to the south and a gauntlet just to the north.  The Shore Line also represented the choice way of going to Chicago, even though the Northwestern's commuter service ran next to it.  There were even races between the two modes from time to time with the North Shore winning for a while until it had to make a local stop while the Northwestern didn't.  When the Shore Line was finally abandoned in July, 1955 the Northwestern became one of the choices; the other the North Shore Line's Skokie Line which ran a few miles to the west of Winnetka.

The Skokie Line was the high speed by-pass that Insull build in the mid-1920's for the Chicago to Milwaukee trains.  It also hosted commuter service to Waukegan, and on the branch line, to Libertyville and Mundelein.  This was the high speed line even for the commuter trains.  With the exception of the "Electroliner" the cars were not air conditioned but were always comfortable.  If you wanted "air conditioning" you opened the windows and enjoyed the fresh air. It would be one of my means of going from Chicago to Winnetka as long as someone was able to drive me home from the Northfield station.  My traditional seat, as always, was that side seat looking into the motorman's compartment.  Not only could I see what he was doing but I could also enjoy the scenery.  Somehow getting on when there was a baggage coach spoiled my fun!

Because there are so many books about the North Shore Line I am not going to take the time to discuss the history or the demise in great detail.  The death of the North Shore Line came at a time when the holding company, Susquehanna, had on its board, Ben Heinemann, then Chairman of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad.  In the late 1950's the CNW was in the process of revamping its entire commuter operation with brand new bi-level push pull cars.   There is little doubt that Heinemann was also instrumental in helping to kill the North Shore even though there had been a number of valid offers to save the line and even buy it.  Unlike the transit scandals in Los Angeles and Minneapolis, nothing was ever done to connect Heinemann with the North Shore's demise officially.  A pity as the evidence on the freeways and toll roads reflected the need of additional mass transportation afterwards.  It was not until 1996 when the transit agency, Metra, opened new commuter service from Mundelein to downtown Chicago that relief came.  At this point that new line has been a resounding success.  It only took over 30 years to realize what had been lost.

All that remains of the North Shore Line today are memories and a few good bike paths.  The pictures were taken in May, 1955; April, 1956; April, 1958; and May, 1962.  There are a few that were taken at other times as well.  There are also some shots that were taken at the Illinois Railway Museum at Union, Illinois after the line was abandoned.  At the present time the IRM is the best source to see a wide variety of rolling stock from the railroad.

Revised 22 December, 2011 0:02

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