5000-series Cars


In its original red and silver paint scheme and displaying the destination sign of the Garfield Park elevated line, 5000-series car 5001 is at the Fox River Trolley Museum on July 3, 2000. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Mike Farrell)



Built by: Pullman Car Co. (5001-02) and St. Louis Car Co. (5003-04)
Year: 1947
Length: 88'-7.5"
Width at Floor: 8'-8"
Width at Windows: 9'-4"
Height over Roof: 12'-2"
Trucks: Clark (5001-02) and St. Louis (5003-04)
Truck centers: 33'-8"
Truck wheelbase: 72"
Coupler: Form 5
Wheel diameter: 26"
Seats: 96
Weight (w/o passengers): 93,000 lb.
Motors per car: WH1432LK (5001-5002), GE 1220 (5003-5004)



Since the CRT and the city required steel cars for subway operation (and rightly so), the 4000s were being pressed into continual service on the Howard-Jackson Park runs and the need for a larger fleet of all-steel rolling stock became apparent. The prospect that local transportation in Chicago would soon be unified in the postwar years, and money would be made available for the purchase of new equipment, plans were set in motion for the design of new cars suitable for the system. Eager to innovate, CRT agreed with the Department of Subways and Superhighways (a municipal body) to try a car with an aluminum-sheathed body and a steel-reinforced frame utilizing all-electric PCC technology already in use in Brooklyn. Thirty such cars were ordered from the St. Louis Car Company, but the order was canceled due to financing difficulties. Ultimately, four were ordered, two from St. Louis and two from the Pullman Car Co., all with similar dimensions. The Pullmans, numbered 5001-5002, were delivered first (August 1947), followed by the St. Louis cars, numbered 5003-5004.

These became the 5000 series, of which only these four were built. By the time the final car was delivered, the CRT has been absorbed by the CTA and the cars were redesigned, becoming the 6000 series. Still, these cars possess a number of interesting features - some successful, others less so - that make them worth a look, as these cars continued in active revenue service until 1985.

The architecture of the 5000-series car represented a radical departure from what Chicago was used to. Each articulated car consisted of three compartments mounted on four trucks. The two trucks at each end form a complete independent four-motor equipment, using the all-electric PCC technology that had become the industry standard in streetcar service. A maximum of six of these cars could be coupled together into one train (at least theoretically, since there were never more than four made). When the 5000s were being designed, one of the features that was going to be incorporated was automatic coupling and uncoupling, from a button in the cab. (This was also the reason they went with an automatic electric coupler rather than a cable that had to be plugged in.) This was supposed to be accomplished by means of a hydraulic pump, run by electricity, that would move a piston that operated the coupler. More than likely, a desire to save money prevented it from being put onto the 6000s. Of the three compartments of each car, the end bodies are identical and are called A and Al, and the center body is called B. In the A and Al compartments there is a permanent motorman's cab in the right-hand corner.

At each outside end there is a train door to permit passage to other cars. Passage between compartments is through canvas diaphragm enclosing open archways. These openings are as wide as possible in consideration of the necessary flexibility, and they are flanked by narrow mirrors on each bulkhead. The whole effect as viewed within the car minimized the break between compartments and gives the impression of a single long body. One set of side doors are located in the center of each section, each side containing a set of two double blinker doors. Seating capacity of each car is 96. Each seat has its own individual window, which can be raised eight inches by means of a crank handle. The car bodies are built of aluminum alloy and have the concave-convex side contour developed for the North Shore and CA&E interurban cars to permit wider seats and aisles without encroaching on existing 8'-8" platform clearances. The doors on each side of a train made up of the cars can be controlled from any cab on the same side of the train or from a door control pedestal just inside the doors of the same side of each B compartment in the train. This placement of the conductor's stand - inside the car where he cannot check the exterior doors before proceeding - was later found to be unsafe and poor operationally, resulting in a 5000-series car rarely being placed in the middle of a multi-car train.

The 5000s spent the first years of their life in testing, shuffled around from line to line, seemingly the unwanted stepchild of the "L". Various early assignments included Westchester Express service, and some runs on the Howard, Englewood, Jackson Park and Douglas Lines, although these seemed to have been more the exception than the norm. Interestingly, the 5000s were precluded from Lake Street service due to clearance problems at the then-grade level west end of the line. It was not until July 1949 that these units received a regular assignment: the non-rush hour Evanston shuttle service. In 1955 their once-striking red and gray livery was replaced by the standard cream and green color scheme. Between 1955 and 1957 they served as "relief cars" for cars 6123-6130 on the Evanston Shoppers' Specials to downtown Chicago.

On October 7, 1957, the cars were reassigned to the Ravenswood Line. However, they were usually stored at Wilson Shops until 1959 when they entered Ravenswood tripper service. These articulated cars usually trailed four 6000-series cars, but there was a period when two six-car trippers of 5000-6000-5000 format operated. In any case, trains using 5000's were marshaled so as to avoid the conductor's location being in the 5000 as the conductor could not examine the side of his train from a 5000 after the doors were closed.

Exclusive operation of 1-50 series cars limited the passenger carrying potential of the Skokie Swift service, which began in 1964, during rush hours. A higher capacity single-unit car was needed. The 5000's were the obvious answer; thus, little time was lost in completely rehabilitating these cars and equipping them for the Skokie Swift service. Modifications including pan-trolleys and extended field shunting were made at a cost of approximately $30,000 per unit (original cost was $129,580 per unit). Improvements were paid for by the Skokie Swift demonstration project whereas costs of overhauling and repainting were assumed by CTA as normal operating expense. Finally, the cars returned to service numbered 51-54, a continuation of the 1-50 series.

Typically three articulated cars were interspersed with three 1-50 series cars to meet peak-hour service requirements. In addition, the articulateds make the first trip of the day to "polish" the rails with their multitude of wheels. Occasionally they appeared on heavy-traffic Saturdays and for the special Sunday service formerly operated for Chicago Bears football fans when that team played at Wrigley Field. Football shuttle service with these cars was also operated for Northwestern University football games after the Evanston line was converted to third rail. The "Wildcats" home games are played at Dyche Stadium, near the Central Street station.

In 1971 cars 53 and 54 were repainted in the mint green and alpine white color scheme. By 1974 the cars had become due for extensive overhaul. Car 52 entered Skokie Shops for a complete mechanical and electrical overhaul and repainting. The car emerged from the shops in January 1975, as car '75, in the accented silver mist, Bicentennial paint scheme. Car 53 followed 52 into the shops. A similar overhaul was completed on the remaining cars.

The cars lived out the remainder of their lives on the Skokie Swift, livered in the red, white, and blue Spirit of Chicago scheme (though the quarter-circle emblems on the car sides were modified to read, "cta Skokie Swift"). They remained in service until 1985-86, when the delivery of the last 2600s allowed a reshuffling of equipment that freed up enough 1-50s to fill the Swift's schedule. Cars 51 and 52 made their last trips in late 1985 and were retired; cars 53 and 54 followed in early 1986, with car 54 making the last trip the morning of Friday, April 4, 1986.

All four 5000-series cars were sold to museums, though only two remain today. Car 51 (5001), the only 5000-series car in working condition, is at the Fox River Trolley Museum in South Elgin, IL.; it was restored to its original livery for a special fantrip shortly before leaving CTA. Car 52 (5002) now resides at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, IL. Car 53 (5003) went to the Monticello Railroad Museum, where it was a stationary display for many years as the museum has no overhead wire and had no plan for electric operations. By the early 2010s, it was in disrepair and agreement was made to allow IRM to salvage parts from the car; it was subsquently scrapped. Car 54 was sold to a museum in Indiana but eventually scrapped when it fell into disrepair.

Excerpts from this car history are from Chicago's Rapid Transit, Volume I: Rolling Stock 1892-1947 by the Central Electric Railfans Association. Copyright 1976, CERA. All right reserved.