The last of the interurbans #3; the last American Interurban – The Chicago, Illinois / South Bend, Indiana: The South Shore Line

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The The South Shore Line, operating on both regular railway tracks and on, on-street trackage, is strong evidence that the Fraser Valley could still do the same in 2009 and beyond. In an age of expensive SkyTrain light-metro and even more expensive, glitzy subways like that RAV/Canada line, it is still interesting to note that the South Shore line still survives, working as it always had done as an interurban, taking people where they want to go affordable.

What should be of interest to ‘Rail for the Valley’ is that the South Shore Line is roughly the same distance as the Chilliwack to Vancouver Interurban and the quote “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!”, indicates that the valley interurban could travel from Chilliwack to Vancouver in two hours or less. This means a 7 am departure from Chilliwack would arrive in downtown Vancouver by 9 am; not bad when comparing a 70 minute to 90 minute car trip or even longer due to congested highways.

America’s last interurban can give valuable lessons for Canada’s newest interurban!

The following is from Jon Bell’s web site. Jon Bell is an Associate Professor Department of Physics and Computer Science Presbyterian College Clinton, South Carolina 29325 USA

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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