CNS&M Train No. 805, The Electroliner on S. 6th St. between W. Washington Ave. and Scott Ave, October 21, 1962. Click to enlarge.

(Photo by Roger Puta, Marty Bernard from U.S.A., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Electroliner logo


The Electroliners are a pair of streamlined interurban trainsets built by the St. Louis Car Company in 1941. Initially numbered 801–802 and 803–804, they were operated by the Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad from 1941 to 1963, followed by the Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company (later SEPTA) from 1964 to 1978. Since their retirement, both trainsets have been preserved in railway museums.


Each set consists of two end coaches and two center coaches. The coaches are articulated using Jacobs bogies. Each end coach is divided at the side doors into a Luxury Coach, which seats 30, and a Smoking Coach, which seats 10 and also has a restroom. Each door has steps and a trap door to permit boarding from street level, low-level and high-level platforms. One center coach seats 40, and the other is a Tavern Lounge that seats 26. All cars are air-conditioned, a first among new traction (interurban and trolley) equipment of the time.

The sets were designed to operate with the high platforms, sharp curves, and narrow clearances of the Chicago Loop and the Chicago 'L', to run at speeds of 80 miles per hour (130 km/h) or more on the North Shore's main line, and to use city streets to the downtown Milwaukee Terminal. The sets' styling resembled that of the Pioneer Zephyr and influenced the styling of other electric trainsets, notably the Odakyū 3000 series SE Romance Cars. The articulated truck design allowed very smooth running with none of the horizontal movement characteristic of non-articulated equipment. Although they were streamlined, the sets were not permitted to run faster than conventional North Shore equipment. From the front passenger seat adjacent to the motorman's half cab, if the door was propped open, a passenger could see the speedometer pegged at 90 mph on the long stretch between Dempster Street and North Chicago Junction. When the sets were received in 1941, during one test run the traction motors were allowed full field shunt to determine absolute maximum speed. It reached just over 110 mph (180 km/h), but at that speed the train reached highway crossings before the crossing gates fully closed, a dangerous situation. Thereafter, the sets were limited to 90 mph (140 km/h).


The North Shore was struggling financially in 1940 and was on the edge of bankruptcy. The effects of the Great Depression were still being felt, plus it had almost side-by-side competition from the Chicago and North Western Railroad and the nearby Milwaukee Road. All of its operating equipment had been constructed in the 1920s and exhibited wear. But it offered convenient stops around the Loop on the Chicago 'L', to which it ran from the Chicago-Evanston city boundary. The North Shore's unionized work force was concerned about job losses if the line closed, so when company management approached them with a proposal to purchase new streamliners to invigorate passenger service, employees agreed to a reduction in pay. The sets were designed by the St Louis Car Company and North Shore's engineering staff. When they arrived in 1941, they were well received by the public. The nation's economy was beginning to improve; earnings increased, older equipment was refurbished for appearance and comfort, and the North Shore changed from a typical mid-western interurban to a high-speed regional commuter railroad, running at high speed between two major cities. In the 1960s, competition from freeways eroded ridership, income dropped, maintenance and operating costs climbed, and the line was abandoned in January 1963.

Liberty Liners

After the North Shore ceased operations, the sets were sold to the Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company, known as the Red Arrow Lines, and renamed Liberty Liners. The trolley poles and steps were removed, new doors were added in the center coach sections, and updated third-rail contact shoes were installed to operate on the Norristown High Speed Line, which uses third rail and high-level platforms between Upper Darby and Norristown. The tavern-lounges continued in service, providing coffee and pastry in the morning, and beverages and snacks in the evening. 801-802 was named "Valley Forge", while 803-804 became "Independence Hall". They were retired in 1978.


Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad public timetable dated February 9, 1941 — the first day of Electroliner service. Scan from contributor's collection. Click to enlarge. (By  JonRoma~commonswiki Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons)

Postcard photo of a Chicaho North Shore and Milwaukee Electroliner. These streamlined electric trains went into service on the line in 1941. Date: 3 December 1941. Click to enlarge. (Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad, Public domain, via W. Lenheim Collection)

Passengers boarding the restored Electroliner at Illinois Railway Museum. Click to enlarge. (Photo by Sean Lamb, Slambo, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia)

Diagram of an Electroliner. Click to enlarge.

(ElectrolinerCNSRRVSEng.jpg CC3.0 via Wikimedia)


In service: 1941–1978
Manufacturer: St. Louis Car Company
Constructed: 1941
Entered service: 1941
Refurbished: 1963
Number built: 2
Number preserved: 2
Fleet numbers: 801–802, 803–804
Operators: Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad, Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company, SEPTA
Lines served: Skokie Valley Route, Milwaukee Division, Norristown High Speed Line
Train length: 155 feet 4 inches (47.35 m)
Height: 12 feet 7 inches (3.84 m)
Doors: 4 passenger, 2 cab
Maximum speed: 110 mph (180 km/h)
Weight: 214,000 pounds (97,000 kg)
Electric system: 600 V DC
Current collectors: trolley pole, third rail
Trucks: Jacobs trucks
Braking system: Westinghouse
Multiple working (MU): No
Track gauge: 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge


A famous name train which operated for many years between Chicago and Milwaukee, the North Shore Line's "Electro-liner" stands on elevated railway track in the Roosevelt Road Yard, Chicago on January 18, 1963. Click to enlarge.

([Electro-liner in the Roosevelt Road Yard]photographJanuary 18, 1963; ( March 23, 2023), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,; crediting Museum of the American Railroad.)


Menu from the Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee Railway's "Electro-Liner" train No. 805, northbound enroute to Milwaukee. April 1958. Click to enlarge.

([Menu from the "Electro-Liner"]photographApril 1958; ( March 23, 2023), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,; crediting Museum of the American Railroad.)

The Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee Railway's "Electro-Liner" enroute between Chicago and Milwaukee on a winter day in February 1941. Click to enlarge.

(["Electro-Liner" between Milwaukee and Chicago]photographFebruary 1941; ( March 23, 2023), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,; crediting Museum of the American Railroad.)