As CERA celebrates its 75th anniversary, we can look back on a long, rich history of inspection trips on electric railways all over the United States, and even some in foreign lands.
Years ago, people liked putting things into scrapbooks, and I recently purchased a railfan’s old scrapbook from the early 1960s on eBay. Just about everything and anything comes up for sale eventually, and chances are the original scrapbook owner is no longer with us, but his mementos fortunately remain.
Among them, I found a CERA fantrip brochure and ticket from 1964, nearly 50 years old. This was a trip on the South Shore Line using freight equipment. I did not find photos from the trip in the scrapbook, but I do have other South shore pictures from that general time period (1963-65), and I have included a few at the end of this post.
The fantrip took place a year after the North Shore Line quit, and about two years after what remained of the Chicago, Aurora and Elgin was finally scrapped. So railfans naturally turned their attention in 1964 to the South Shore, Chicago’s last remaining interurban.
There has been an ongoing debate for a long time whether it is America’s last interurban. Some people would put the Red Arrow lines, currently operated by SEPTA, into that category. These include the Media and Sharon Hill trolleys and the Norristown High-Speed Line. None of these approach the 90 mile length of the South Shore, however.
Is BART, which runs between San Francisco, Oakland, and many other places, an interurban? The PATCO line between Philadelphia and Lindenwold, NJ also has some characteristics of an “interurban,” which is a somewhat fuzzy concept to begin with, and no precise definition has been forthcoming. But the bulk of ridership on all such lines today is made up of commuters, and this includes the South Shore. But the line, under the operation of NICTD, still runs service between Michigan City and the outskirts of South Bend, along a single track right-of-way that still reflects its long interurban heritage. And a small amount of street running remains in Michigan City.
Gone are the days when you could flag down a South Shore train by holding up a burning newspaper. The classic 1920s South Shore railcars are long gone as well, replaced by more modern equipment in 1983. But for those of a certain age, the memories linger… along with the memorabilia, movies, and photographs of times now past. Many of the old South Shore trains are preserved in various railway museums around the country. They may not run as fast as they once did between Chicago and South Bend, but they are still worth a ride.