Oct. 25--The George Benson Waterfront Streetcars will clang, clang, clang again after more than a decade in storage -- but not in Seattle.
This Northwest Wanderings took me to St. Louis, Mo., the city I grew up in, and to The Loop, the neighborhood where I lived.
That city bought three of the vintage cars for $200,000 and will run them on a 2.2-mile route, mainly in The Loop area along Delmar Boulevard. The Loop is named after the turnaround point for streetcars that stopped running there in 1966.
In a window display, the old Seattle waterfront trolleys are seen running in the Loop area in St. Louis. The tracks are laid and the actual trolleys will begin running in early 2017. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)
Getting streetcars along the Seattle waterfront was the signature accomplishment of the late Councilmember George Benson.
He traveled to Melbourne, Australia, and secured five streetcars that date to the 1920s. The waterfront line stopped service in 2005, one year after Benson died. Two cars remain in storage here.
The interiors of the vintage cars feature Tasmanian mahogany, white ash and brass hardware.
Native St. Louisan Joe Edwards has driven their streetcar project and the revitalization of The Loop.
He says it's been designated one of the 10 great streets by the American Planning Association.
"It's racially diverse, economically diverse and age diverse," says Edwards.
Just as Seattle's hometown rock 'n' roll legend Jimi Hendrix has a statue on Capitol Hill, The Loop has local, living legend Chuck Berry about to go into his famous duckwalk, while playing guitar, depicted in an 8-foot statue.
"He's just kicking it up," says Edwards, along the Walk of Fame on the sidewalk in The Loop, a series of brass stars and bronze plaques celebrating those from that city or creatively formed by that city.
Down the center of the street, the tracks are laid and overhead wires are being strung.
Edwards says, "People trust the fixed track. It's clean electric transit, the prototype of how to connect one neighborhood to another.
"We've very grateful to Seattle, salute Seattle. Here, they have a good home and we respect that type of transit in a good way."
The cars are on track to begin testing next month and carrying passengers next year.
Alan Berner: 206-464-8133 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2016 - The Seattle Times
Oct. 03--Operators of the South Shore Line will give the public a look at a project they say would slash commute times to Chicago at three workshops this week.
The project would add a second track to the commuter railroad and upgrade five stations between Gary and Michigan City in an effort to speed the trip to Chicago. The estimated cost of the project, dubbed Double Track NWI, is $210 million.
According to estimates included in a new Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority strategic plan, almost half an hour would be sliced off the ride from Michigan City, with total trip time dropping to an hour and 11 minutes compared to the current hour and 39 minutes. The ride from Miller would be cut by 18 minutes, with total trip time dropping to 49 minutes from the current hour and seven minutes.
The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District received the go-ahead from the Federal Transit Administration earlier this year to begin planning the project. It has hired the engineering firm HDR to do the initial environmental and engineering work for $4 million.
"We are well underway in conducting the significant engineering and environmental work required by the federal process," NICTD President Michael Noland told the railroad's board of trustees at its September meeting.
NICTD is meeting with a variety of agencies and companies to discuss Double Track NWI's impact, including NIPSCO, the National Park Service, the Indiana Department of Transportation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The railroad is also in discussions with South Shore Freight Railroad, which shares tracks with the commuter railroad, concerning two potential bottlenecks, Noland said. One is in west Gary and the other in the area of ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor steel mill and the Bailly Generating Station.
The Miller neighborhood in Gary and Michigan City would see the most noticeable evidence of the project.
In Miller, the plan requires the realignment of U.S. 12 "so we can keep our station in Gary right near Lake Street," Noland said. The point where U.S. 12 merges with U.S. 20 would be moved east, and a stretch of U.S. 12 between Clay Street and the South Howard Street area eliminated.
The work will allow a smoother track alignment, a full, high-level platform and new parking garage at the station.
In Michigan City, where tracks have run down the middle of streets for more than a century, NICTD is discussing new track and station layouts with city officials, Noland said. The mid-street tracks would be replaced by roadside tracks.
The initial environmental and engineering work needs to be done in less than a year, to keep the project on track for construction in 2019 and 2020.
Submitting the project to the federal government in August would make it eligible for inclusion in the federal budget the next fiscal year.
"There is a real urgency getting into the federal pipeline," Noland said. "It's a competitive process. We're well served by getting this to the FTA in August."
Federal funding would cover half the project cost, leaving the other half to state and local sources. NICTD officials hope to have the state and local sources determined by next summer.
"We've been gaining significant traction" in earning support from state officials, Noland said.
The railroad is establishing a website for information about the project, set to be available after Tuesday, at www.DoubleTrackNWI.com.
See Sean Ryan's Full Real Estate Inc. article
Train manufacturer Talgo Inc. will return to Milwaukee’s Century City Business Park to refurbish trains under a $73 million contract with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority.
It marks a return for the Spanish train manufacturer, which left Milwaukee in spring 2014 after a lengthy battle with state officials over canceled contracts to manufacture and maintain trains. Talgo will move back into the building it formerly leased from the city of Milwaukee in the Century City Business Park.
Metra recently received the final two cars of its 160-car order for the Metra Electric Line, completing a 2010 purchase to outfit the line with a completely new and modern fleet.
The new cars use the latest technology and have a variety of new features, including larger windows, better seats with reversible seatbacks, brighter lighting, non-skid floors and an improved public address system. They also have power outlets for customer use. Most notably, half of the new Highliner cars have bathrooms, meaning that every train on the Metra Electric line will have at least one bathroom – a first for the line.
“Modernizing the Electric District’s fleet has been a priority for Metra for more than a decade,” said Executive Director/CEO Don Orseno. “With the delivery of the final cars, we are celebrating the completion of a major investment that has enabled us to provide our customers with more comfortable and reliable service.”
Since 1984, Metra has invested $1.6 billion in the Metra Electric – the most of any of Metra’s lines in the agency’s six-county service area.
The push to replace the original 40-plus-year-old Highliners with a more modern fleet began with an order for 26 stainless steel Highliner cars in 2004. The cars, delivered to Metra in 2006, were purchased with $76 million in funding provided through the state’s Illinois FIRST bond program. Another state bond program allowed Metra to move forward with the purchase of 160 more Highliners in 2010 when the Metra Board approved $585 million contract with Sumitomo Corp. of America/Nippon Sharyo.
The order from Metra spurred Nippon Sharyo to invest $35 million to build a new railcar factory in Rochelle, Ill., that employs hundreds of people while Illinois added a $12 million business investment package to support the new facility.
Highliners are electric, self-propelled cars unique to the Metra Electric Line. The new cars are propelled by alternating current (AC), which supplies more power and requires less maintenance that the direct current (DC) propulsion used by the original Highliners.
Although the Metra Electric Line cars cannot be used on the diesel lines, Metra has designed these cars so that, where possible, they share parts with those used on diesel bi-level cars.
The old Highliner fleet dated from the 1970s – before Metra was created – and the last six cars carried their final passengers from Chicago to University Park on Feb. 12, 2016. Twenty-four of the original Highliner cars have been sent to museums, including Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Ill.; Union Depot Railroad Museum in Mendota, Ill.; Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad/James H. Andrew Museum in Boone, Iowa; and the Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum in North Judson, Indiana.
The city of MILWAUKEE has hired Kiewit Infrastructure of Omaha, Neb., as
lead contractor for its downtown modern streetcar line and construction
could could begin this fall, Milwaukee Business Journal reports:
< *http://tinyurl.com/heghdvv >*
Milwaukee hires lead streetcar contractor, allowing work to begin as early
Aug 19, 2016, 2:24pm CDT
Reporter*Milwaukee Business Journal*
Kiewit Infrastructure Co. of Omaha, Neb., was selected for the estimated
$60 million contract to lead the first phases of Milwaukee’s streetcar
The international contractor has extensive experience in transportation
projects, which weighed heavily in its selection for the Milwaukee
commissioner Ghassan Korban
That experience shows Kiewit Infrastructure’s ability to minimize impacts
on businesses along the route, he said.
"The streetcar vehicles are being manufactured by Brookville
Equipment Corp. in Pennsylvania, and the first one will arrive in Milwaukee
in December 2017."
“They understand what it takes to build an urban rail system in the middle
of a downtown,” Korban said.
Kiewit Infrastructure was among seven companies that competed for the
Milwaukee streetcar contract. Its projects include subway work in Toronto,
a $350 million light rail project in Denver and Aurora, Colo., and rail
projects for the Chicago Transit Authority.
Kiewit Infrastructure will be construction manager for the initial downtown
loop of the streetcar, and the spur leading to the downtown lakefront. It
also will oversee construction of an operations and maintenance facility
for the streetcar vehicles on Fourth Street, underneath the interstate
bridges. The initial streetcar phase will open for service in 2018, and the
lakefront spur will start service in 2019.
Kiewit’s selection means construction work could begin in late fall on the
streetcar system, Korban said.
“The kind of work we would choose to move forward with would have to not be
impacted by inclement weather,” Korban said.
The company will coordinate project scheduling with the city in the coming
months, he said, including timing for ordering major materials such as
“They bring their insight, bring their experience to allow some tweaking to
help expedite or bring greater efficiency to the project,” Korban said.
In addition to experience, Kiewit Infrastructure committed to completing
the project within the city’s allotted budget, Korban said. It has shown a
“tremendous understanding of the local market,” to meet the city’s 21
percent goal for participation of disadvantaged business enterprises, he
said. The contractor also showed good understanding of the training
programs to help meet the city’s resident hiring programs on the
Milwaukee residents in the Residents Preference Program are to work 40
percent of the hours on the construction project.
“They’ve shown full understanding and commitment to adhere to those
requirements,” Korban said.
Edward B. Havens
Bradley Criss, aged 53, passed away quietly on the morning of June 29, 2016, after an extended illness. Bradley was an active member of CERA for many years and was a former member of the board of directors.
He is best known to CERA members for his layout and design work on Bulletin 146, Chicago Streetcar Pictorial: The PCC Car Era, 1936-1958. Bradley was also a talented audio/visual editor whose works included the DVD Chicago Streetcar Memories and the DVD Tribute to the North Shore Line (both with Jeff Wien). The latter was shown at CERA’s January 2013 meeting to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the railway’s abandonment. Most evident in the DVD was his talent for wedding sound bites to film clips and digitizing old film into a clean, professionally-edited digitized presentation.
Bradley’s North Shore Line program will be reprised for the January 2017 CERA meeting. Those who have previously seen (or heard about) this well-made production will agree that this program was not only a fitting tribute to the North Shore Line but is also a tribute to Bradley’s memory as well that can be shared by all of us.
Oh, Canada! Toronto Beats Chicago on Transit with More Riders, Funding
A streetcar makes its way through traffic along King street at Bay.
(Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)
Toronto is a Great Lakes city like Chicago in many ways: It has about the same population, hot summers, freezing winters and a colorful patchwork of ethnic neighborhoods.
But there are differences north of the border. The money is prettier. Crime is less violent. Milk comes in plastic bags.
One major contrast is in the sister cities' transit systems. Despite having fewer rail lines and stations, Toronto's public transit ridership has seen years of steady passenger growth — up 15 percent from 2008 to 2015, while the CTA's is down 1.6 percent over the same period. With 2.7 million daily boardings compared with the CTA's 1.6 million, the Toronto Transit Commission, or TTC, has become the busiest system in North America, after New York City and Mexico City.
TTC also is getting billions in capital dollars from the province of Ontario for service expansion, while Springfield lacks a current capital program. The entire Toronto region is undergoing a transit revolution and offers an example of what can be done for transit, if the political will and money are available.
"We really need to campaign for the state to provide more funding for transit services — buses and rail," Freemark said. The council has been pushing for $43 billion in new capital funding for transportation infrastructure over the next decade.
The capital connection
Unlike Illinois, which has no current capital plan because of the state budget impasse, Ontario has committed $8.4 billion in support of new transit in Toronto. The province is putting $31.5 billion in capital investments over 10 years to build an integrated provincial transportation network. The total package includes improvements to roads and bridges and to the frequency of GO trains — Toronto's equivalent to Metra.
Canada is poised to become North America's new cannabis capital
An additional $2.1 billion is going to two other light rail lines. The TTC and the city are in the early stages of planning a new "relief" subway line to manage subway congestion downtown, and an extension to the Scarborough area, which will cost $3.56 billion in city, provincial and federal funds.
Due to open late next year is a 5.3-mile extension on the city's main Yonge-University line, built with provincial, federal and local funds.
New project funding is separate from the TTC's $9 billion 10-year capital program for maintaining the system, building elevators and buying streetcars, TTC spokesman Brad Ross said. The TTC is $2.7 billion shy for this program but proceeding as it can.
In contrast, the CTA needs $13 billion over the next 10 years to keep its much older system in a state of good repair. Its last all-new line, the Orange Line, opened in 1993.
Hate center-facing? Take a seat on 130 years of 'L' trains
But the agency lacks a reliable source of capital funding. It has a pledge of $1 billion in federal money, but that isn't guaranteed without a local match.
CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said the stop-and-start nature of capital funding makes it difficult to plan effectively.
"You have to constantly hope and work for funding, and you don't have the stable funding stream," Chase said.
The Toronto way
Toronto's system is slightly more expensive to ride than Chicago's. The adult cash price is $3.25 in Canadian dollars or about $2.52 in U.S. dollars, compared with $2.25 for the Chicago "L." Most Toronto riders use a monthly Metropass for $141.50, or about $110 in U.S. currency. The CTA 30-day pass costs $100.
TTC transfers are free, as are rides for children younger than 12, and there's a discount for college students. Fares cover about two-thirds of operations, while the city covers the other third, plus most good repair projects.
TTC's rail system is smaller — with four lines and 69 stations compared with the CTA's eight lines and 145 stations. TTC rail does not extend into the suburbs as the CTA does, and shuts down at night for maintenance, unlike CTA Blue and Red line trains, which run 24 hours.
The TTC can seem oddly inadequate — rail stations don't open until 8 a.m. on Sundays.
But Toronto does have a larger network of bus and streetcar service with about 170 routes, said Ross, compared with the CTA's 130 bus routes. Night service is offered through a network of buses and streetcars.
Ross noted that TTC service was cut under the former mayor, the controversial Rob Ford, who died earlier this year. The current mayor, John Tory, reinstated service that was cut. He also wants a separate initiative called SmartTrack, which would adapt a commuter rail corridor for urban use, with electrification and more stops.
One reason TTC's ridership is growing is because the city is. Toronto has 2.86 million people, according to the World Population Review, up from 2.5 million in 2006. Chicago's population has slipped to 2.72 million, according to U.S. Census data.
Toronto also has less highway capacity than Chicago, and rush hour traffic is horrendous.
"Because Toronto has fewer highways, it's encouraging people to take transit," Freemark said. About 68 percent of Toronto morning commuters use transit, said chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat. That's compared with 28 percent of Chicago commuters, according to 2014 Census figures. Of Toronto public transit commuters, 85 percent use the TTC, Ross said.
Another factor is Toronto's strategy of linking new development with transit corridors, Keesmaat said. Transit-oriented development — putting dense retail and residential development near train stations to encourage people to ditch their cars — is starting to happen in Chicago, with high-rises springing up near "L" stations.
But in Toronto, high-density development near transit corridors is part of a 10-year-old plan, Keesmaat said. The city has reduced requirements for parking spaces, and 80 percent of growth is on main transit corridors.
"As we grow, we want to not add cars but provide the option for people to primarily get around on transit," Keesmaat said. "We've linked our transit capital building projects to the vision of the city we're trying to create."
Freemark said improved bus service also is a factor in TTC's progress. CTA bus ridership has dropped while its rail ridership has gone up.
The TTC can be too popular, and rush hour trains and streetcars get "squishy," which shows the need for more capacity, Keesmaat said.
Besides the line expansions, the TTC is growing space for riders through investing in new train control technology that will allow more trains to run per hour, and adding new streetcars and trains with more room onboard, Ross said.
For example, newer trains on the system lack doors between cars, which allows riders to look down the entire train from end to end. This allows for about 10 percent more capacity, Ross said.
There are some hard choices ahead. Metrolinx, Ontario's regional transit agency, has been developing a plan to merge the fare systems of the Toronto region's transit operators.
A possible scenario would be to change the TTC's flat fare model, similar to the CTA's, to a distance-based model. But the TTC says this would require major renovations, and community activists fear it would result in big fare hikes.
A recent softening of TTC ridership may be caused by the economy slowing, or some people peeling off to take Uber or biking, Ross said. TTC riders gripe about their system just like CTA riders do. They complain about overcrowding, system breakdowns, riders who evade fares, and those who talk too loud or eat smelly food on the trains.
But TTC riders do have something to look forward to — big expansions to a system that most residents depend on every day.
"There's a big modernization effort going on," Ross said. "It does take time, though. It's a big ship to turn around."
Kyle Whitehead, campaign director for the Active Transportation Alliance, said the Chicago region needs to imitate Toronto in thinking bigger about transit improvement and expansion.
"There's been such stagnation in recent decades, I think a lot of people in Chicago think that's the way it is and that's the way it's always going to be," Whitehead said.
"If we can move forward with projects like Ashland Avenue bus rapid transit service, and other expansion projects, people will see the improvements and see more areas clamoring for improvements," Whitehead said. "I think that's what's happening in Toronto."
Proposed Fares, Operating Schedule
Announced for Milwaukee Streetcar
Rides for the Milwaukee streetcar will cost $1, and the car will operate from 5 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to midnight on Saturday and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday. Credit: Brookville Equipment Corp.
By Hannah Schwarz of the Journal Sentinel
Officials with the city and business community announced Thursday the proposed fares and operating hours of the city's planned streetcar — and said part of the lakefront route may go off-wire.
Officials also defended themselves against criticism that the project is unnecessary and too expensive.
The streetcar is to be completed by late 2019.
Rides will cost $1 per ride, and the streetcar will operate from 5 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to midnight on Saturday and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday, officials said at a Milwaukee Press Club luncheon. The wait time between cars will be around 10 to 15 minutes, officials said. There will be 21 stops along the line.
"This is one important critical aspect of building a competitive city," said Beth Weirick, the CEO of downtown's Business Improvement District No. 21 and a member of Thursday's panel.
"There's a war for talent going on in this country," and to attract growing businesses, the city needs to pick up on what other metropolitan areas are doing, she said.
"We are such a car-centric city," but people in cities across the U.S. are increasingly shifting away from vehicles, Weirick said, adding that 30% of the 22,000 residents who live in downtown Milwaukee don't own cars.
Groundbreaking for the streetcar will be this fall, and the first vehicle will be delivered in December 2017. The first route will be completed by the end of 2018, and the second route will be completed by the end of 2019, officials said.
Each car will hold up to 150 passengers, and will include 32 seats, said Ashley Booth, planning and technical services director at HNTB, the firm consulting with the city on the streetcar project. Each car will be wheelchair accessible.
Part of the lakefront route will likely be off-wire, but only if the streets can accommodate an exclusive lane for the streetcar, said City Engineer Jeffrey Polenske. When off-wire, the streetcar would run on battery power.
Most of the first three years of operation will be funded by a grant from the federal government, but how the city will pay for operating costs — aside from fares — hasn't yet been determined, Polenske said.
The city is looking into developing sponsorship and advertising programs, he added. Once the streetcar is in operation for a couple of years, the city will be eligible for more federal funding.
Milwaukee doesn't have a dedicated revenue source for transportation, making it unusual among metropolitan areas, Booth said.
Booth addressed concerns about low ridership by pointing to Kansas City, Mo., where ridership at 6,000 per day is more than three times what city officials projected.
The streetcar's 2.5-mile route will encompass the downtown area and a loop around the lakefront.
The Quincy "L" station, seen in this artist's rendering, will undergo renovations, including the addition of elevators for the disabled, CTA President Dorval Carter said June 8, 2016. (CTA / Handout)
In 1897, William McKinley was in the White House, aviator Amelia Earhart was a baby and the Quincy "L" station was built in Chicago's downtown.
Some 119 years later, the stop at Quincy and Wells streets in Chicago's Loop is still one of the busiest stations on the CTA system, located near the financial district and Willis Tower, with 2.2 million rides annually on the Brown, Orange, Pink and Purple lines. It's also one of the most attractive, with pressed metal wreaths and polished wood in the stationhouse, a ticket agent booth replicated in the 1980s based on original 1897 plans and old-time posters on the platform.
But even the best-preserved among us need the occasional makeover. So on Wednesday, the CTA board approved a contract for station renovations, which will include adding two elevators to make the station accessible to customers with disabilities.
The $18.2 million renovation also will include stair replacement, painting and lighting improvements, but it will preserve the appearance of the station, according to the CTA. The board awarded an $11.7 million contract to Park Ridge-based Ragnar Benson Construction LLC, which has done previous work for the CTA. That includes the Loop track renewal project in 2012, which replaced more than 2 miles of elevated rail and track components downtown, said CTA spokesman Jeffrey Tolman.
The Quincy CTA station at Quincy and Wells streets in Chicago's Loop, seen here in December 2014, will undergo renovations as the agency continues to preserve and restore several historic CTA locations. (Phil Velasquez / Chicago Tribune)
CTA adds Bus Tracker displays at 51 rail stops
CTA to test prepaid boarding on Belmont buses
Why was the streetcar system scrapped in Chicago? Was there a streetcar tunnel under the Chicago River? And are there any remnants from the Brookfield Zoo streetcar? Geoffrey Baer tracks down answers for these three questions about Chicago's bygone streetcar heyday.
I read that Chicago once had the largest street railway system in the world. Why was the system scrapped? Were the tracks pulled up or covered over?
– Martin Rowe, Lincolnwood
Chicago at one time did claim to have the largest streetcar system in the world, with a fleet of over 3,200 passenger cars and over 1,000 miles of track – a claim backed up in several sources we found.
It all started in 1859 with a horse-drawn car running along a single rail track down State Street. By the 1880s, a handful of different streetcar companies were in operation across the city. Gradually, the horse-drawn lines were replaced with cable cars – so called because they hooked to a constantly moving cable underneath the street. Electric streetcars powered by an overhead trolley line gradually replaced the cable cars.
In 1914, the streetcar companies unified under a new name: Chicago Surface Lines. A nickel would get you a ride to just about anywhere in the city.
The advent of affordable automobiles in the 1920s caused streetcar ridership to decline – but streetcar operators weren’t going to just give up. In 1929 they formed the Presidents’ Conference Committee, or PCC, which determined that the way to stop the decline in ridership was to make streetcars as fast, smooth, convenient and comfortable as the family car.
Chicago was chosen as the guinea pig city to test two experimental designs. The winning design became known as the PCC car and was used in cities all over the country. Chicago ordered 600 of them in 1945 and 1946. Here they were nicknamed Green Hornet streetcars because of their speed and the Chicago Surface Lines’ green paint job.
At almost the same time the Chicago Surface Lines and the ‘L’ were consolidated as the CTA – and the CTA’s general manager Walter McCarter wasn’t a fan of streetcars and their unsightly web of overhead wires. He oversaw phasing out streetcars in favor of buses starting in 1947, just a year after the Green Hornets went into service. The last Chicago streetcar click-clacked down Vincennes Avenue on June 21, 1958.
There are still lasting vestiges of the streetcar system in Chicago. Many of today’s CTA bus routes and route numbers are the same as they were in the days of streetcars. And as for the tracks – a few of the streets had the tracks pulled up, but most were covered with asphalt and are still in the streets under pavement.
PCC streetcars are still in operation in a number of places including Kenosha, Wisconsin; San Francisco and at the Illinois Railway Museum.
Our key source for this answer was “Chicago Streetcar Pictorial,” a book just released by the Central Electric Railfans’ Association. It details just about everything you could want to know about Chicago PCC streetcars.
I am 84 years old. I grew up in Chicago and have a memory of riding on a street car as it went through a tunnel under the Chicago River. Is the memory of this old man accurate or a fantasy?
– Ron Graham, Bensenville
We’ve actually done this question before, but we thought we’d bring it back for this segment. Our viewer’s memory is 100 percent accurate – there were in fact three tunnels under the river.
The tunnels were proposed in the mid-1800s to solve a traffic problem. There were so many ships traveling up and down the river that the old swing bridges were constantly opening, causing huge traffic jams on land.
The first tunnel opened in 1869 on Washington Street. The LaSalle Street tunnel opened in 1871, just before the Chicago Fire. It became a vital escape route for people fleeing the fire after the wooden bridges burned.
The tunnels originally were for carriages and pedestrians. Later, the cable car companies ran tracks through the tunnels because they couldn’t run cables across movable bridges.
A third tunnel was built at Van Buren Street specifically for streetcars.
When the river was reversed in 1900, the current in the river exposed the tunnels that had been 18 feet below the riverbed so new tunnels had to be built at a lower depth.
The LaSalle Street tunnel was fabricated of steel above ground, then floated into place and then lowered into a trench in the river bottom. You can still see the entrance of that tunnel today north of the river, but it now leads to a parking area. That tunnel was closed to traffic in 1939.
The Van Buren tunnel closed in 1924, and the last one at Washington Street closed in 1954 as the streetcar era came to a close.
During WW II there was a streetcar route that went into the Brookfield Zoo from the east side. I believe that it originated from a terminal at Archer Avenue and 55th Street. Are there remnants of this line existing today?
– Frank Coyle, Romeoville
The line that ran beginning in the 1920s to Brookfield Zoo was not a Chicago Surface Lines streetcar, but was operated by the Chicago & West Towns Railway.
It ran from Cermak and Kenton in Cicero and passed through what were then the somewhat rural suburbs of Berwyn and North Riverside, past Brookfield Zoo and ending in LaGrange. The streetcar one was replaced with a motor bus in 1947.
According to the Central Electric Railfans Association, today’s PACE buses follow the same route to the zoo.
As far as physical relics there are concrete bridge piers where the streetcar line once ran over Salt Creek.
A restored blue and white 1924 streetcar, #141, is at theIllinois Railway Museum in Union, Illinois. A different railway historical society had purchased the car in 1959 but it sat unrestored under a tarp in Lisle for more than 10 years until a rail enthusiast named Frank Sirinek stumbled on it.
It took 30 years to restore the car, using parts like a controller found in Milan, Italy, and a fare register found in San Diego. Other parts were re-manufactured based on original schematics. The restored car made its first run in 65 years at the Railway Museum on March 3, 2013 with Frank Sirinek as motorman.
Photographed: Frank Sirinek
For more information and to watch the entire Ask Geoffrey segment please click here.
Copyright 2018 Central Electric Railfans' Association. All Right Reserved
Central Electric Railfans' Association is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. P.O. Box 503, Chicago, IL 60690