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CTA's Skokie Swift Turns 50 Years Old

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The CTA's Skokie Swift is turning 50 years old, and there's a party Saturday to mark the anniversary.

Those who show up will be able to take rides on the CTA's historic 'L' train. There will be special mementoes and a big dose of history.

The Swift has quite a story, WBBM Newsradio's Bob Roberts reports.

CTA historian Bruce Moffat said that 'L' trains ran from 1925 till 1948 to what would become Skokie but were a failure, because few people lived there. At the time the line closed, it lost $200,000 a year.

But things changed rapidly once the 'L' trains were gone. By 1964, the housing boom had arrived, and the old North Shore Line, which had linked Chicago and Milwaukee, stopped at Dempster Street in Skokie and had shared its rails with the 'L' line, had also shut down.

The CTA and the village of Skokie took a gamble that people would want to ride a high speed train between Dempster and Howard to connect with the rest of the 'L' system. They asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development -- there was no Department of Transportation then -- to pay for start-up costs and underwrite a two-year service demonstration.

Moffat said no one expected what happened next. CTA management expected 1,000 riders a day, based on what the North Shore had carried. Instead, 4,000 riders showed up, parking lots and area streets were jammed with parked cars, and the four high-speed rail cars assigned to the line were overwhelmed.

"It was a runaway success," Moffat said.

Equipment was brought in from other 'L' lines, schedules were rewritten -- at first weekly -- and parking lots were paved and parking lots expanded several times.

Moffat said cars taken off area roads because of the Swift reduced traffic jams and resulted in cleaner air.

CTA was fortunate to inherit a line that had been maintained well until abandonment in 1963, but over the succeeding years it has been rebuilt completely.

The old 'L' stations that dotted the line were all torn down in the mid 1960s, but in 2013, a station reopened on the site of the original Oakton station in downtown Skokie.

The 1964-vintage Dempster station has been replaced, and there has been talk over the years of extending the line to both the Old Orchard and Northbrook Court shopping malls.

Although the CTA in the mid 1990s re-christened it the Yellow Line, many local residents and regular riders still refer to the line as "the Swift," and the bird that has been the line's emblem since it opened can still be found on CTA signage.

Saturday's party will begin at 11 a.m. at the Oakton station at 4800 Oakton St. in Skokie.

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