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Chicago, Illinois / South Bend, Indiana:
The South Shore Line

History and Description

The South Shore Line, sometimes called "America's last electric interurban railroad," was originally built in 1908 as the Chicago, Lake Shore & South Bend Railroad. In 1925 it became part of Samuel Insull's transportation and utilities empire and was renamed the Chicago, South Shore & South Bend Railroad. After Insull's empire collapsed during the Great Depression, the CSS&SB outlasted the other interurbans with the help of significant freight revenues, and survived into the era of government subsidies. The portion of the line in Indiana is now owned by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which operates passenger service and grants a franchise for freight traffic to the Chicago SouthShore and South Bend Railroad (note no space in SouthShore!). All freight service is now hauled by diesel locomotives.

The South Shore does not use its own tracks into downtown Chicago. Instead, it shares the tracks of the Metra Electric (formerly Illinois Central) commuter rail lines between Kensington (115th Street) and the terminal at Randolph Street in downtown Chicago. Originally, the South Shore used 6600-volt alternating current power, and the Illinois Central lines were steam powered. There were some through coaches, but most passengers had to change trains at Kensington. After Insull took over the Illinois Central and the South Shore, he converted both lines to 1500-volt direct current power. Since 1926 the South Shore has run through to Randolph Street.

From its beginnings as the CLS&SB, the line was built to high standards. Most of it is on private right of way, with few sharp curves and little in-street operation mixed with automobile traffic. Peak speeds are now in the 65 to 70 mph range, and trains take 2 hours and 20 minutes to cover the 90 miles between Chicago and South Bend. During the Insull era, some trains managed to make the trip in just under two hours!

There were once three sections of in-street operation, in East Chicago (Indiana), Michigan City and South Bend. The East Chicago section was eliminated by a new route alongside the Indiana Toll Road in 1956, and the South Bend section was eliminated when the eastern end of the line was cut back to the outskirts of the city in 1970.

Between Gary and Chicago especially, the South Shore now feels like a suburban commuter railroad. But in Michigan City, trains still run down the middle of 10th and 11th Streets, and passengers still board electric interurban trains streetcar-style, the only place in the U.S. where this is still done. The eastern section of the line running from Michigan City to South Bend still has much of the flavor of the old rural Midwestern interurbans: a single-track line through meadows and cornfields.

From 1970 until 1992, the eastern end of the line was in the outskirts of South Bend, at a shabby concrete-block station shared with Amtrak, which uses a parallel freight line through South Bend. In 1992, the line was rerouted over a former industrial freight spur and some new trackage to the South Bend Regional Airport. The South Shore station is attached to the end of the airport terminal building, and part of the airport parking lot is set aside for railroad passengers.


[picture] This view shows the South Shore terminal attached to the end of the airport terminal building, with a train waiting to leave. The platform is slightly longer than two cars, so the front car of this three-car train extends beyond the station.

[picture] Passengers alight from a train arriving at the airport in the evening.

[picture] A westbound train heads south alongside Bendix Drive shortly after leaving the South Bend airport.

[picture] An eastbound train has just passed the rural crossing at Olive, between New Carlisle and South Bend. On the other side of the track (visible beyond the crossing gates) is a parallel Norfolk Southern (ex New York Central) freight line. The strip on the near side of the track was once the right of way of a competing interurban, the Chicago, South Bend and Northern Indiana.

[picture] A westbound train rolls through Hudson Lake.

[picture] Hudson Lake is a flag stop, so passengers must signal to the engineer by activating a strobe light in order for the train to stop.

[picture] An eastbound train approaches the Springfield crossing between Hudson Lake and Michigan City. Here the South Shore's single track runs by itself through the Indiana countryside.

[picture] The Carroll Avenue station and shops in Michigan City, looking west from the Roeske Avenue bridge which passes over the yard.

[picture] An eastbound train recedes from us as it approaches a curve on 11th Street in Michigan City, a few blocks east of the downtown station.

[picture] A westbound train a little bit further west on 11th Street in Michigan City, shortly before stopping at the station.

[picture] The same train as above is about to leave the 11th Street station, after picking up passengers streetcar-style. In the background is the former station building from the 1920s, which has not been used since the mid-1980s.

[picture] Interior of a car. The restroom is in the middle of the car on the left, opposite the center door on the right. The three-and-two seating indicates that this car is from the second batch of Sumitomo cars ordered in 1990; the first batch from 1984 has two-and-two seating.

[picture] A motorman reaches for the cord to blow the horn on an eastbound train approaching Michigan City.

[picture] The classic Beverly Shores station dates to the 1920s. Recently restored, it now serves as a local museum and art gallery. The South Shore Line no longer staffs this station; it is a flag stop.

[picture] The elevated station at Gary was built in 1984, replacing a street-level station at the foot of Broadway. It is part of the Gary Metro Center, which also serves local and long-distance buses. Here we see a six-car eastbound train pulling out in late afternoon.

[picture] A westbound train arrives in a light rain at Hegewisch, just after crossing from Indiana into Illinois.

[picture] A few minutes after starting its eastbound run at Randolph Street, a train pulls into Van Buren Street, in a view from above with the Chicago skyline in the background.

[picture] The cars that ran from the 1920s into the 1980s now survive only in museums, such as this one at the Fox Valley Trolley Museum in South Elgin, Illinois.

[picture] In the dark days of the late 1970s, when the line came close to abandonment, and the old cars were kept running only with heroic efforts, they received this appropriate logo.

This page was last updated on 29 May 2005, and reviewed on 4 December 2007.

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