The Chicago, South Shore and South Bend Railroad: The South Shore Line


The Chicago, South Shore and South Bend Railroad, also remembered as the "South Shore Line", was an interurban carrier stretching from Chicago to eastern Indiana at South Bend. The CSS&SB has its roots dating back to the beginning of the 20th century but the system best remembered was incorporated in the mid-1920s. As with all other interurbans the South Shore Line was mostly successful hauling passengers profitably after World War II but was able to survive due to its prolific freight operations. Unfortunately the railroad finally succumbed to bankruptcy in 1989 although it was saved when its passenger operations were state subsidized and freight services were taken over by the Anacostia & Pacific Company, renaming it the Chicago, SouthShore & South Bend Railroad. Today, the freight railroad earns a healthy profit while the commuter rail services continue on to carry local patrons to and from their place of work.

A CSS&SB freight motor, Little Joe #803, hustles a string of coal hoppers along the main line near Michigan City, Indiana during September of 1977.

The South Shore Line has its roots dating back to December 2, 1901 when the Chicago & Indiana Air Line Railway was incorporated an interurban line that connected East Chicago and Indiana Harbor, a distance of about three and a half miles. In 1904 the railroad reincorporates its name as the Chicago, Lake Shore & South Bend Railway to better reflect its intentions of connecting East Chicago with South Bend, a distance of about 67 miles.  By 1908 the original route between East Chicago and South Bend was opened and completely electrified operating on a 6600 volt, alternating current (AC) system (700 volts within city limits). For the electricity the railroad constructed eight substations spaced out across the system. A very well-built system it was capable of average speeds of 75 mph. Despite this new route that saw heavy passenger/commuter traffic, along with some freight service, the CLS&SB was still looking for a means to serve Chicago directly.

A year later it was able to do so through lease agreements with the Illinois Central-owned Kensington & Eastern Railroad which operated between Hammond and Chicago (Randolph Street), a distance of about 23 miles. The K&E was not electrified so commuters and passengers wanting to reach Chicago from the CLS&SB had to switch to steam-powered trains.  However, this changed after the CLS&SB fell into bankruptcy in 1925 and was taken over by Samuel Insull who incorporated the Chicago, South Shore and South Bend Railroad, which then purchased the CLS&SB on June 29th of that year. That same year Insull also took over controlling interest in the Illinois Central Railroad and proceeded to combine the K&E and CSS&SB into one, unified system entirely electrified (although the Hammond to Chicago segment still fell under IC jurisdiction).

The South Shore Line, which now operated directly through to Chicago at Randolph Street began conversion in 1926 from AC to direct current (DC), operating on a 1500-volt system which matched the IC's segment. The new DC system also required the building of new substations at Hammond, Gary, Ogden Dunes, Tremont, Michigan City, Tee Lake, New Carlisle and South Bend. By late August of 1926 the South Shore Line was operating 56 daily trains and a year later even introduced diner and parlor car services.

While the CSS&SB did provide some freight service along its route such as coal, merchandise and interchange traffic with railroads including the New York Central; Pennsylvania Railroad; Grand Trunk Western; Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (and B&O Chicago Terminal); Norfolk & Western; Elgin, Joliet & Eastern; Chesapeake & Ohio; Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad; Chicago & Eastern Illinois; Indiana Harbor Belt; and Monon Railroad its primary source of traffic, at least through the 1950s remained commuter and passenger service.

Most of the South Shore Line's motive power included motorcars and trolleys of various sizes and designs. However, three electric locomotives on the CSS&SB stood out, its three "Little Joe" 2-D+D-2 models, which were known as 800s on the railroad (as they were numbered 801-803). While these General Electric-built motors are most commonly associated with the Milwaukee Road, which rostered twelve of them for their Rocky Mountain Division out west, the South Shore picked up three for use in freight service. Painted in the railroad's classic two-tone orange livery they were certainly striking although looked a little out of place rumbling down city streets in East Chicago, Michigan City and South Bend (the three cities along the route which carried street-running).

Aging South Shore interurban equipment is seen here at the road's shops in Michigan City during October of 1977.

They lasted until 1983 making them the last main line freight electrics to be used in the US (#802 and #803 are currently preserved, the former at the B&O Railroad Museum and the latter at the Illinois Railway Museum).   As commuter rail service continued to decline and expenses rose through the 1960s the South Shore Line was purchased by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway in 1970 but C&O ownership was short-lived. In 1977 the CSS&SB began to be partially subsidized for its passenger services through the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD). However, commuter operations continued to drag down the railroad and in 1989 it finally declared bankruptcy.



South Shore Little Joe #803 travels down the middle of the street in Michigan City during September of 1977. Note the signal standing right next to the sidewalk. This trackage is still used today.

Luckily the state of Indiana saw a need for the railroad and in 1989 after the bankruptcy the NICTD purchased all assets of the railroad with the Anacostia & Pacific Company taking over the freight operations, renaming it the Chicago, SouthShore & South Bend Railroad. No longer burdened by commuter services the CSS&SB's freight business thrived, which continues even today.   Currently the South Shore Line fields a diesel locomotive roster which includes 10 GP38-2s painted in the railroad's original two-tone orange livery. And so, as it has done for over a century now, "America's Last Interurban" soldiers on moving both freight and passengers across northern Indiana.  For more information about the Chicago, South Shore and South Bend Railroad please click here to visit their website.

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