The South Shore Line

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[as of June-2005]

The South Shore Line is an electrically powered interurban streetcar line operated by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) between Randolph Street Terminal in downtown Chicago, Illinois and the South Bend Regional Airport in South Bend, Indiana. The line was operated as the Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad (CSS&SB) until it went bankrupt in 1989, when the NICTD, formed in 1977 to help fund the line, took over operations. The line's freight service was picked up in 1990 by the new Chicago SouthShore and South Bend Railroad (AAR reporting mark CSS), which still operates freight service.

The line is one of the only surviving interurban streetcar lines in the United States, with only the Norristown High Speed Line and SEPTA Suburban Trolley Lines in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area in the same category. The main yard, shops and dispatching office are in Michigan City, and NICTD corporate headquarters are in Chesterton.


The oldest predecessor of the line was the Chicago and Indiana Air Line Railway, chartered on December 2, 1901. Service began in September 1903 between East Chicago, Indiana and Indiana Harbor. The following year it was renamed the Chicago, Lake Shore and South Bend Railway. Revenue service began July 1, 1908 on the line from Michigan City east to South Bend. An extension west to State Line Junction in Hammond, a transfer point for other railroads, opened September 8.

The Illinois Central Railroad-owned Kensington and Eastern Railroad was chartered in Illinois to complete the route, and was leased to the CLS&SB on April 4, 1909. That year the full line to Kensington, Illinois on the Illinois Central was completed, and on June 2, 1912 the trains started to be coupled to IC steam locomotives and ran all the way to downtown Chicago.

The line entered receivership on February 28, 1925 and was bought at foreclosure by Samuel Insull's Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad (incorporated June 23) on June 29. The power system was changed from AC to DC on July 28, 1926, allowing CSS&SB trains to operate directly to the Illinois Central's Randolph Street Terminal without an engine change, beginning August 29. That same year, the original line between East Chicago and Indiana Harbor was abandoned.

On September 16, 1956 a street-running section in East Chicago was removed with the building of a new alignment next to the Indiana Toll Road. A 1970 truncation to west of downtown South Bend removed street trackage in that city. However, street trackage still exists in downtown Michigan City.

The CSS&SB turned a profit during World War II due to the industrial nature of Northern Indiana. However, highway competition and suburban growth led to ridership declines. The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway bought the line in 1967. In 1976 the CSS&SB asked the Interstate Commerce Commission to abandon passenger service. The ICC gave the State of Indiana a chance to reply, and the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District was formed in 1977 to fund the service. The company went bankrupt, and passenger service was taken over by the NICTD in December 1989. In December 1990 the track was sold to the NICTD, and freight service was taken over by the new Chicago SouthShore and South Bend Railroad, a subsidiary of short line operator Anacostia and Pacific.

In November 1992 an extension was built from the old South Bend terminal at the Amtrak station to the South Bend Regional Airport.


The service is mostly peak hour oriented with the shortest headway during the height of rush hour only 12 minutes. The headway is up to 2 hours during off hours. Trains run every 2 hours during weekends and holidays. Some trains, however, make it only to Gary; most trains continue to Michigan City (the Carroll Ave Terminal); and only few trains make it as far as South Bend. Patrons might consider checking timetable carefully, as some unpredictable scheduling patterns take place during weekdays. For instance, the first train out of Chicago that actually makes it to Michigan City departs as late as 8:45AM (fall 2005 timetable). Also, there are no inbound trains out of Michigan City between 4:33PM and 8:28PM, the latter happens to be the last train of the day on weekdays. Trains are mostly close to schedule with slight delays most of which are due to throwbacks of single-track operation.


01-44 Nippon-Sharyo MU (1982-1983)
45-48 Nippon-Sharyo MU (1992)
101-110 Nippon-Sharyo MU (2001)
201-210 Nippon-Sharyo Trailer (2001)

Consists of 6 and 8 cars are used during rush hours. Trains might consist of 2 cars only during off peak hours.

An entire fleet consists of heavy rapid equipment that runs on the line some section of which would be better suitable for trams. This makes photographs taken within street running sections especially dramatic.


The main facility is at the Carroll Ave Terminal in Michigan City, IN.


Upon passing through Michigan City, IN, the line follows city streets for 1.9 mi. (3.06 km.). Arguably, this is the most famous stretch of railroad right-of-way in North America.

The line enters the city from the west at Sheridan Ave and W 10th St., follows W 10th St. to Chicago St, cuts over to W 11th St., follows W 11th St. through downtown Michigan City, W 11th St. then turns into E 11th St.; the line exits the city via E 11th St. at East Michigan Blvd.

Alternate lights of the leading car are flushed at all times while running via city streets. Trains generally sound warning bells upon passing through major intersections, but bells are not used when crossing minor streets. Trains charge through neighborhoods at full 30 mph, the official city speed limit for autos. This was measured by the author by following a number of trains in the car. At 11th St. and Wabash St. trains go through the school zone with 15 mph speed restriction. Traffic signs 'No Trucks' are posted along 11th St. in downtown Michigan City, in conjunction with notices 'You are now entering a public safety improvement zone', which is probably a poor attempt to cope with what is perceived by local authorities as dangers of train's street running. At Chicago St. the line crosses the Chesepeake and Ohio Railroad via W 10 St. by means of grade crossing.

The station in downtown Michigan City is officially known as the 11th St. Station. Passengers disembark from the 1st and 2nd cars only, one door per car is opened. While one end of the train is at East 11 St. and Pine St., the other end of 6-car and 8-car trains ends up on West (!) 11 St. between Washington St. and Franklin St. Thus, the city's main Franklin St. gets temporarily blocked off by the stopped train. Movement of cars via 11th St. is still possible while train is stopped in the station. The only protection passengers have from moving cars are the watchful eyes of the conductor and the sign that says 'Danger - Stop here for trains when lights flushing'.


Railfan photography is a common occurrence along this famous line, thus people with cameras are generally welcomed by the staff or, in worst cases, ignored. Expect to be greeted by local residents and passing motorists in Michigan City, and be prepared to answer many friendly questions.

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This page is partially based on the Wikipedia article "South Shore Line (NICTD) ". The content of this page ONLY is therefore licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
2005 Modifications: Yury Maller.