Vintage photos show CTA rail cars, track through the years

In case you rail fans missed it, you must check out Chicago Magazine’s recent review of vintage CTA rail cars.

Drawing from photos on the CTA’s Flickr page, it pulled together a nice collection of historic photos with explanatory captions. I’ve feature some of the here, but it’s worth a stop there to check them all out.


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  • Curious that for at least a time, the Skokie Swift had a broad catenary pick-up instead of a trolley wheel.

  • In reply to emglatstein:

    The Swift ran under catenary from East Prairie Rd. to Dempster from the start until maybe 10 years ago.
    Evanston also ran under wire from South Blvd north to Linden until about 20 some years ago.
    Lake St. had catenary for the grade section in Oak Park & River Forest until it was raised to the C&NW embankment in the early 1960s

  • In reply to emglatstein:

    Skokie used catenary because it was built using the old North Shore high speed bypass, which was an alternative to the lake shore route, which ran parallel to the CNW (now UPN). It was built to interurban standards, even though the CNS&M used trolley poles.

    Krambles's book documents that the "pan trolley" (two poles connected by a shoe seen on the car) were used because a regular trolley pole couldn't maintain contact with the wire at the intended (55 mph or so) speed.

    Of course, I'm surprised that it hasn't been reported yet that someone has fried himself on the third rail at ground level.

    These cars were sort of freaky in that besides there being only 4 of their series and on an isolated branch of the system, 51 and 52 were about the last to have the "mercury green and swamp holly orange" paint. I was going to say that the picture had to have been taken before 1974, except that CERA does not list 51 as a bicentennial car.

    The cars were also on Evanston shuttle service on football weekends, since they had higher capacity than the single units otherwise used for that shuttle.

  • In reply to jack:

    They were used on the Ravenswood for rush hour only service in the late 1950s & early 60s until the Swift started.
    My favorites though were cars 1-4 which also were limited to rush hour service on the Ravenswood at that time. They had a red & white paint scheme with a lightning bolt on the side. The were built with higher speed motors.
    The CTA disposed of them with one being sold to GE for testing purposes.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    4 was the only one to survive on the Swift by the time I scoped it out (about 1972-76). By that time, most of the others were replaced by scattered single units mostly in the 20s.

  • In reply to jack:

    And the winner of the most ridiculous looking CTA train cars are the married pair at the NE corner of the Oakton Shops in South Side Rapid Transit colors, well really just one color, shit brown!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    I should add they're 2000 series cars.
    Really weird.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    I'll agree that the SSRT brown on the 2000s doesn't look too good. Of course, it has peeled more than since when the cars were isolated in the Harlem Yard while the Green Line was down.

    On the other hand, compared to what else was around in the early 70s, the 2000s looked pretty good, especially in the platinum and black scheme. Of course, CTA used consultants that suggested that scheme for everything.

  • The picture of the Market Street stub and the ribbon cutting ceremony with the guy in the cowboy outfit are interesting to me. Any idea why it was called the Market Street terminal?

    Did they change the LED's on the new 5000 series to show the colors of the respective lines and this is the old photo?

  • In reply to chris:

    Because it was then Market Street. The L was ripped out when Wacker Drive was built on the site. Similarly, South Water Street was that until the E-W portion of Wacker Drive was built there (and the piece in front of the old AAA building remained that until more recently renamed Wacker Place). You can use a source like and search for Wacker and "Market Street" for more information.

    On the latter, you'll have to ask the people at, who last indicated no.

  • In reply to jack:

    Thanks, I was thinking that Wacker might have been called Market St at that time, before the double decker Wacker Drive was built, but I couldn't find confirmation anywhere.

    Interesting, I didn't know there was a Wacker Place, as I thought the whole thing was still called South Water.

    The new signage will make it harder for tourists, or people new to CTA, to know which train to get on.

  • In reply to chris:

    Google Maps indicate E. Wacker Pl. between Wabash and Michigan, E. South Water under Illinois Center.

    I'm not sure about your last statement. Whether the roll sign or the LED one, it still says 54-Cermak. Supposedly, those changes were made in the 90s because people didn't know what "Douglas" or "Ravenswood" meant.

    CTA promised to switch to the color signs. While the color of the sign makes some difference, for instance for "Loop" at Belmont or Fullterton (Brown or Purple), there probably is the issue of the color blind rider, although Mr. CTA also says "this is a Purple Line Express to Linden," for instance.

  • Have you ever been to the New York Mass Transit Museum in Brooklyn? A truly fantastic museum that holds interest of toddlers through adults (probably not teens, but then what does?). My family makes it a point to visit every time we're in NYC. MTM.

  • In reply to Mary Tyler Mom:

    Looks like, from the site, that it is run by the MTA. Also, that those with contracts with the MTA (carbuilders, consultants) are the main patrons.

    In that CTA never really tried to establish something, around here the best choices are the Illinois Railway Museum, Fox River Trolley Museum, and a couple of horse and cable cars in the Museum of Science and Industry.

    What freaked me about IRM was that the first time I went there, it was mostly 70 year old equipment only chronicled in the books, but when I went back 25 years later, I had already ridden on many of the exhibits when they had been in revenue service. The "matchbox" street car from 1905 or so is still fun.

  • "And back to the present, with the introduction last year of the Series 5000 cars being put into service on the Pink Line." The caption doesn't match the picture. The picture features a train with a sign indicating "Midway" which would only be an Orange Line train, not Pink (which would only be "Loop" or 54/Cermak").

  • In reply to RBerlove:

    In fact, the lit up lights confirm this too- red and yellow, not red and white.

  • Of course you're right. RBerLove. I think this was taken when the announcement was made that testing was done and the cars were being put into service. And for some reason, they did it at Midway. Thanks.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    The reason was obvious, and I stated it before.

    CTA was not going to give Cicero Town President Larry Dominick a photo op at the 54 Yard, which is in Cicero. And Rahm was not going to have a photo op in Cicero, either. Heck, I'm surprised that Claypool showed up in Wilmette, but, fortunately, I missed him

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