Ickes had overruled Chicago Mayor (and political rival) Ed Kelly’s 1937 plan for two east-west downtown streetcar subways for a revival of the Dearborn-Milwaukee plan, which dated back to the 1920s. Ickes solved the problem of what to connect this second subway with by routing it to the west in the median of the Congress expressway. You can trace the origins of that highway back to the 1909 Burnham Plan, but more as a boulevard, since there were no cars then capable of driving highway speeds. Kelly had wanted many of the west side “Ls” to be converted into New York-style elevated highways with buses running on them, except for the Garfield line, which would have been saved. Instead, the opposite happened. Garfield was transformed into the Congress line and the other “Ls” were kept.
The Illinois Commerce Commission ordered CRT to obtain 1000 new modern steel subway-L cars in 1939 by any means necessary, but the bankrupt private operator had no funds to do much more than to make a full-scale car mockup. As a backup plan, Ickes had the subways engineered so they could have been operated by bus. The newest L cars were the 4000-series, the last of which was built in the early 1920s by defunct Cincinnati Car Company. Where to get new inspiration from?
New York’s BMT (Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit) had a new three-section articulated car under development- commonly called the “Bluebird” but officially “Compartment Cars,” the first PCC rapid transit cars. Top speed was only 42mph but with rapid acceleration. BMT expected to use them as fast locals that could keep up with older, slower cars used in express service. Chicago was certainly impressed, showing Bluebirds as they would look running in the subways once finished. Newsreel footage of the Bluebird prototype made it into the promotional film “Streamlining Chicago” (http://vimeo.com/30568829) and the Bluebirds were the obvious inspiration for the first 5000-series L/subway cars here, built in 1947-48. (Not to be confused with the current 5000-series cars with AC propulsion and transverse seats.)
But like the 5000s, New York’s Bluebirds had a somewhat disappointing career. BMT had ordered 50 Bluebirds from Clark Equipment Company, supplier of PCC parts, but the City of New York took over the BMT in 1940 and immediately tried to cancel the contract. (BMT had intended to use them on many elevated lines that the city decided to tear down anyway.) Clark had completed five sets and NY had to take these. This meant only six sets in all, if you include the prototype that never had couplers installed.
The Bluebirds, as oddball equipment, lived out their service lives on the BMT Canarsie Line and the Franklin Avenue Shuttle, before being scrapped in 1956. Chicago’s four experimental 5000s had a somewhat similar fate, being relegated to occasional use before finally being assigned to the Skokie Swift in the mid-1960s. Chicago did not open the Dearborn-Milwaukee subway until 1951, and then only after receiving the initial order of 6000s, which were very much more successful cars than the Bluebirds or the 5000s ever were.
Categories: Chicago Area