Monday, March 25, 2013

40 years ago today! Chicago's electric trolleybus era comes to a close. Sunday, March 25th, 1973.

Hello everyone! This is Eddie K, Your host and photographer here at Eddie's Railfan Page. I was born in Chicago during the year of 1962, and I have happy childhood memories of riding and observing the Chicago Transit Authority's fleet of electric powered trolleybuses, during their final years of operation on Chicago's many city streets. Chicago's trolleybuses reigned in daily transit service from 1930 until 1973. Electric trolleybuses were originally a cost effective way to augment service on transit routes, rather than build new streetcar routes by the late 1920's. Although electric city streetcars were the industry standard since the 1890's, they would prove to be costly to operate and maintain. The Chicago Surface Lines Company ( 1914 -1947) began experimenting with gasoline powered transit buses from the Twin Coach Company of Kent Ohio in 1927, and later electric trolleybuses begining in 1930. The old gasoline powered buses and the early electric trolleybuses, were originally used in feeder route extension service, traveling a few miles or so past the streetcar terminals. The CSL trolleybuses would soon prove to be a popular mode of public transportation, as they were pollution free, quiet and smooth riding. When introduced, the CSL trolleybuses were cost effective, as they used existing overhead wires and on line power substations used by the electric streetcars. After the succesor company known as the Chicago Transit Authority began operations on October 1st, 1947 new streetcars and buses that were ordered by the CSL during World War 2 were delivered. Buses would prove to be economical to operate, and some electric streetcar routes would substitute buses on weekends. Buses also featured the flexibility of operation that electric streetcars couldn't offer. Between 1947 and 1955, several former electric streetcar lines were converted to electric trolleybus operation using the existing overhead wires and facilities once used by the streetcars. New gasoline, propane and diesel buses were delivered to the CTA during this period as well, as a number of former streetcar lines converted to motor bus operation from the start. Just as high operating, maintenance costs and traffic accidents eventually did in the Chicago city streetcars by 1958, the same operating and maintenance costs eventually caught up to the operations of Chicago's electric trolleybuses. Overhead wires needed to be constantly maintained, sometimes they would require expensive and specialized repairs. The trolleybuses themselves were straight electric vehicles that could only operate on routes with overhead wires. Eventually the buses would become prone to numerous mechanical failures. Chicago''s first trolleybus route Rt # 76 Diversey Avenue from 1930, was converted to diesel and propane bus operation in June of 1955. Begining in 1959, the remaining CTA electric trolleybus routes were phased out on a one by one, case by case basis through out the 1960's and early 1970's. New diesel buses from General Motors and Flxible delivered in the early to mid 1960's, helped hasten the demise of Chicago's electric trolleybuses. Although the final operation of CTA trolleybuses took place on Sunday, March 25th 1973, the last two in service on that day, are preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union Illinois, and are operated occasionally for the public at this wonderful transportation museum. Thanks. Eddie K.


Anthony C said...

What route was the last one operating on that March 25, 1973 final day?

Eddie said...

As I found out recently, most of the remaining routes such as the Rt # 80 / Irving Park Road, the Route # 77 / Belmont Avenue, the Route # 78 / Montrose Avenue, the Route # 72 / North Avenue, the Route # 12 / Roosevelt Road, and the Route # 65 / Grand Avenue CTA trolleybus lines, were converted to diesel bus operation in January of 1973.

It appears that the last two CTA electric trolleybus routes in service near the end of March in 1973, were the Route # 53B / Pulaski Road and the Route # 54B / Cicero Avenue lines.

During 1974, the remaining 124 1951 and 1952 built Marmon Harrington trolleybuses, were shipped by rail to Guadalajara Mexico, where they would operate in daily transit service for several more years after rebuilding.

Eddie K.