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What is the North Shore?

What is the North Shore?

The North Shore Line is a nickname for the Chicago, North Shore, and Milwaukee railroad. This was an interurban that operated between Chicago and Milwaukee, and through all of the towns in between along the North Shore.

The North Shore was an interurban railroad. An interurban was a railroad that operated between two large cities or out of a large city. It is similar to a commuter railroad like Metra today. These lines were typically electrically powered, and entered a city using some form of rapid transit such as streetcar lines, subway, or elevated. Sometimes the railroad owned the city lines too, other times they simply had trackage rights like the North Shore.

At the turn of the century, transportation was difficult. Steam railroads made travel between cities possible, but it still took some time and was fairly costly. It was not something one would want to do every day. In an effort to get more business, and give city residents a place to go, streetcar companies constructed lines out of cities. People in the towns along these lines had a quick and cheap way to get into the city. Thus, the concept of a commuter came to be. These companies frequently built parks along lines to get business on weekends. Ravinia is an example of one constructed by the North Shore Line.

The North Shore Line paralleled the existing C&NW passenger line through the North Shore communities. They were still able to get business though since the C&NW was not ideal for commuters. Using standard coaches and steam locomotives, they were not able to operate as many trains with as many stops as the North Shore. Their ticket prices were more expensive, making them less accessable to the working class. The electric powered North Shore could make frequent starts and stops, and accelerate quickly. They also operated directly into the loop over the El, meaning you not only entered downtown Chicago, but could travel around the loop and be very close to where you wanted to go. The C&NW did not become really competitive until the late 1950s with the introduction of diesel powered air conditioned bi-levels. The air conditioning was a big advantage over the non-air conditioned North Shore cars during the summer. The installation of major highways in the Chicago area drew most of the business away from both the North Shore and the C&NW. The North Shore could not sustain itself until public funds were available, with the creation of Amtrak and metra. The C&NW could sustain itself being a larger railroad, with a larger freight base.

In 1955 the railroad was granted permission to abandon the older shoreline route. Within a couple years, the railroad was petitioning for complete abandonment. Group of commuters and the Illinois commerce commission attempted to fight this, but they ultimately lost. In 1963, the railroad was granted permission for complete abandonment. On a cold night on January 20, 1963, the final trains of the North Shore arrived at their stations. All assets were available for sale, and many pieces of rolling stock were purchased by various museums and railroads. A group of commuters tried to raise funds to buy out the railroad, but failed to secure the money needed. The section of track from Howard to Skokie was taken over by the CTA for an experimental line, which today is the Yellow Line. The C&NW purchased various sections of the line near Skokie, which were used to replace their deteiorated freight tracks. Ownership of all of the electric transmission lines and substations reverted back to Commonwealth Edison, the original owner. The remaining assets, including track, structures, and vehicles were then destroyed. Today, most of the right of way is occupied by the North Shore Path, a series of bike paths in the region. Some various traces of the line still remain along these paths, and they are shown in the pictures on this site. All of the photographs were taken in the Summer of 2002.

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Pages created by Joe Stupar '03