Skokie Swift High-Wire Act Ending


By Robert C. Herguth

Date of Publication: January 15, 2002
Source: Chicago Sun-Times


The overhead wires on the Skokie Swift--a throwback to the trolley and streetcar era--will be taken down this summer and replaced with a third rail that powers the CTA's other train lines.

The change will make it easier for the Swift, also known as the Yellow Line, to be extended north to Old Orchard Shopping Center, a popular but still-conceptual project for the northern suburbs, officials said.

A third rail also should be more reliable in winter because the overhead "catenary" wires that run through half of the Swift line sometimes freeze, CTA President Frank Kruesi said.

And replacing the copper wires with the third rail will allow trains from other CTA routes to be used interchangeably on the Swift, making it easier to swap out a broken car or to add service, officials said.

"It gives us more options for more of the fleet," said Michael J. Shiffer, the CTA's vice president for planning and development. "More operational flexibility."

Still, there are potential drawbacks to removing the wires. A third rail at track level can, for one thing, be more of a safety hazard than the wires, which are 21 feet above the ground.

CTA officials say there's "no discernible noise difference," though, between the two power sources.

The overhead wires are regularly replaced for wear and tear. Many of the support towers that elevate them were built in 1925 by the old North Shore line.

Swift service began in 1964. Today, few heavy-rail transit systems enlist overhead wires, though a number of trolley and light-rail systems do. The Swift, which spans roughly five miles, is the last of the CTA's train routes to use overhead electrical power.

The conversion will cost about $6 million and will start in late summer and be completed by the end of 2003, CTA spokeswoman Maria Toscano said. Rail service will continue during the work, but there could be disruptions, officials said.

The Swift uses modified 3200 Series cars, the same basic models running on the Brown and Orange lines, and it has just two stops: the Dempster terminal in Skokie and Howard on the Evanston-Chicago border, which also is served by the Red and Purple lines.

Some will miss the distinctive Swift cars. "They've been here forever," Skokie resident Dawn Marabella, 32, said as she boarded a train Monday.

Pas Kiatthanakul, a 22-year-old political science student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, likes the idea that all train cars would be interchangeable. Then, in case of a breakdown, Kiatthanakul said, "We wouldn't have to wait."