TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Train Passengers Asked to Get out and Push Stalled Train

Re: Train Passengers Asked to Get out and Push Stalled Train
17 May 2007 12:53:42 -0700

On May 17, 11:14 am, wrote:

> [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note:

> They did away completely with street car and trolley busses in the
> late 1950's.

I believe Chicago's trolley buses lasted until the early 1970s.
There's a good book by George Krambles, a well respected long time CTA
official, on the history of the CTA. Krambles said the trolleybus
routes were taken off because the power distribution network was shot
and it would've been too costly to rebuild. Unfortunately, at that
time solid state rectifiers were still pretty expensive and
maintaining the complex web of positive and negative overhead wires
(and distribution feeders) was difficult.

> Their claim was streetcars were too 'inflexible'; busses with rubber
> tires could go anywhere and trolley busses (rubber tires but with
> overhead wires) were too expensive to maintain. At least that's what
> the bigwigs in *Detroit* convinced the bigwigs at CTA to say to the
> public. What you need is gasoline powered motors, Detroit told CTA and
> other transit companies.

At the end of WW II Chicago went out and purchased a large number of
high capacity "PCC" streetcars which were state of the art vehicles of
their day. They had excellent suspension, ventilation, and propulsion
and braking systems and very popular with riders. But shortly after
delivery Chicago decided to go to bus. The streetcars were sent back
to the factory, scrapped, and the parts used to build elevated
trains. Contrary to common belief, individual cars were not converted
into "L" cars, rather, the parts were used on a new heavier frame.

Would anyone know what kind of telephone system CTA used? Transit
systems had widespread networks of phones at terminals and in
tunnels. Was it privately owned and operated or leased from Bell?
Were their separate systems from the predecessor L and surface car and
bus companies?

> The excuses regards street cars were numerous also: (1) how do you do
> street repairs on a street which has streetcar tracks, and (2) how do
> firemen fight a fire with hoses spread all over the street when street
> cars are coming through, were two often times heard excuses.

I am a strong advocate of electric propulsion. Streetcars in city
streets do have the disadvantage of being easily blocked by errant
vehicles. Older streetcars (built before the PCCs) were not
comfortable. In my mother's day, she was willing to pay a higher fare
to ride a bus than the trolley, and she was frugal, but she did not
like riding the old trolley (she did like PCCs). She was glad when
Phila converted many of its trolley routes to bus.

In talking with transit people who actually are responsible to run the
system, buses were preferred over streetcars. For whatever the
reason, buses did have the flexibility. There was no track or power
maintenance which was costly.

However, streetcars on private right of way would perform far better
than a bus because they could carry more people faster.

Another problem was that the trolleys were old and spare parts not
available. If trolleys were as easily maintained as mass produced
buses, they'd be less of a headache.

Of course, today, so many people live out in sprawling suburbs where
mass transit isn't as efficient and must pay $3+ for gasoline.

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: CTA's telephone system used the third
rail for the telephone communications on the trains. Between the
headquarter's switchboard and the individual stations, they used
leased lines from Illinois Bell.

A bit of history for you to consider: The _original_ train routes
(Jackson Park Elevated Line, Lake Street Elevated Company, Chicago
Rapid Transit Company, The Union Loop Elevated Line, Metropolitan Rail
and others) and the _original_ bus and street car companies (Boulevard
Bus, Chicago Surface Lines and others) were all privately owned
companies. In 1932, Chicago Rapid Transit Company went into
receivership and bankruptcy when they were unable to pay their
_electric_ bill to the Chicago Edison Company, our electric supplier
at the time. A man named Samuel Insull was the president of Chicago
Rapid Transit and on the board of Edison. On the day Edison was set to
cut off the power to the rapid transit line, Insull cut a deal for
them. Chicago Edison would loan the money needed to Chicago Rapid
Transit, in the form of fifty year bonds. I guess they figured fifty
years hence (1982) was a long time away, why worry about it. In 1947,
City of Chicago municipalized (a polite term for theft when City of
Chicago does it out of politicians' greed) all seven or eight
transportation companies and merged them all into Chicago Transit

Since all the private companies knew about a year ahead of time they
were going to get screwed royally by City of Chicago politicians, they
decided to begin screwing back, and they entirely quit any/all maint-
ainence of their busses and trains except for dire emergency work. So
when the transition day arrived, the 'new' entity, CTA was left with a
rolling junk pile of old, worn out equipment, busses with bald tires,
you name it. CTA kept plodding along, and after a few years, everyone
forgot about the long term bonds coming due for payment in
1982. Everyone, that is, except for the bankers and Chicago Edison,
which in the 1940's became 'Commonwealth Edison'. In addition to his
position as president of the old Chicago Rapid Transit Company and his
seat on the board of Edison, Charles Insull was also on the board of
Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad. The North Shore Railroad
at his behest, built a perfectly marvelous train station in his honor
in a perfectly marvelous (at the time) Chicago neighborhood, Uptown
Station at Wilson and Broadway Avenues in the Uptown neighborhood.

This station marked the point where Chicago Rapid Transit at one time
ended its route and the North Shore line paused on its route. Please
note how the rails on stilts stop at that point and the rails on grade
level (albeit elevated grade level) begin. (North Shore ran all the
way south to downtown Chicago on Chicago Rapid Transit tracks to the
downtown area, then around the downtown area on the tracks of Union
Loop Company to its station on Wabash Avenue at Van Buren Street.)
Mr. Insull was a Bad Man. Mr. Insull wound up in prison, in part
because the US Attorney said he had cooked the books on Chicago Rapid
Transit Company and was less than totally forthright in his activities
at Edison and with North Shore Railroad, or for that matter, most of
his other companies, etc.

1982 comes around, Commonwealth Edison and the bankers stir from their
sleep and make demand on CTA: We want our money which we gave you in
1932 on those fifty year bonds! We want our money now! CTA replies, we
cannot pay you 'right now', times are still tough ... we would have to
raise the fares in order to pay you 'right now'. Edison's response
was, why should we care? We don't care if you have to raise the fares
to a _dollar per ride_ (in 1982 fares were thirty-five cents each,
however they had been one thin dime each a few years earlier). Go
ahead and raise the fares, we want our money! Charlie (Insull, long
before sent to prison and long since deceased) cut the deal for you
people to keep your trains running in 1932. Quit stalling and pay! So
CTA paid the several million due, and we got a HUGE fare increase that
same year. No new or better equipment, just a fare increase to pay for
Insull's earlier squandering of the cash and cooking the books. Part
of how CTA managed to make do was by letting Insull's Uptown Station
(by then known as the Wilson Avenue Elevated Station) go to hell along
with Dempster Street Station (later it was named 'Skokie Swift
terminal') which Insull also had had his hands in back in the 1920s
sometime. CTA was born out of total corruption to start with and has
seldom if ever gotten out of that mode since.

Charles Krambles was one shining star in the mess; Mr. Krambles was
brilliant regards public transit and so obviously CTA had to get rid
of him as soon as they could. Mr. Krambles was caught in an embarrass-
ing police sting operation in the men's room of the Illinois Central
Randolph Street Station. He was arrested, and CTA (up to their old
tricks once again) bought off the Chicago Police to keep the matter
quiet and drop charges, which they did but only half-heartedly. (The
Chicago Tribune had his name and picture and place of employment in
the paper the next day as was their custom in those days after police
raids, etc. and transit union members made sure _everyone_ saw his
picture and read the story of the activities of the night before.)
Shortly thereafter, Krambles resigned from his position as General
Manager of the Chicago Transit Authority, his transit career mostly in
shambles as a result. PAT]

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