Emergency stoppages bookend the work day for CTA Red Line riders

Monday was not a good day to be riding the CTA's Red Line during the morning or evening rush hour. I know this firsthand because I was stuck on trains at both ends of my work day for various emergencies.

First, at around 8 a.m., our motorman at North/Clybourn announced that all trains were stopped in the subway due to a "fire emergency" at Grand Avenue. And our train was the last one to enter the tunnel. All trains thereafter for about 30 minutes traveled "over the top," sharing the elevated track with the Purple and Brown Line trains. Many people got off the train to find other ways to work and school.

Experience has shown that "fire emergency" rarely means there's an actual fire. It usually means someone has seen or reported smelling smoke in the tunnel. In this case, it was the latter, according to the Tribune story. Over the last year or so the CTA has gotten much more cautious about reports of smoke, is rerouting traffic around it or stopping all together till all is clear.

Best to err on the side of caution, I suppose.

Monday afternoon at about 5 p.m., I was on the northbound Red Line at Belmont when I heard an announcement for the first time in riding the CTA for more than 30 years: Passengers were told to leave the train because it was being "turned around" to head back southbound. A supervisor on the platform informed us the rerouting was due to a "medical emergency" at Bryn Mawr.

Experience has shown that "medical emergency" or the alternative "police activity" usually has nothing to do with someone fainting or being arrested. It almost always involves someone on the tracks. In Monday's incident, a man in his 50s somehow fell face forward on the tracks at the Bryn Mawr station. Service was halted between Thorndale and Belmont for about 30 minutes.

On the Belmont platform, supervisors with walkie-talkies were telling passengers that shuttle buses would be taking passengers north. The platform emptied quickly.

I went to investigate, but never really considered getting on a shuttle bus. That's because the crowds on Belmont Avenue were thick and dangerous as they pushed to board the only shuttle bus I saw. I went back up to the platform.

On the Belmont platform I found both confused passengers and CTA personnel. One walkie-talkie guy was saying power we being restored, while another was ordering passengers off a recently arrived Red Line train. Meanwhile, the speaker announcer guy also was saying power was restored, but the walkie-talkie guy kept throwing passengers off the train. The next train in the station finally did proceed north with full power restored at about 5:30 p.m.

Service was shut down for just over 30 minutes, which is not bad considering power had to be shut down, the guy had to be rescued from the tracks, and then power had to be restored. The CTA is getting better at this.

So here's my advice in these emergency shutdown situations: Hold tight. It may take up to 30 minutes, but chances are you'll get to your destination faster if you just give the CTA time to work it out - especially if you still have more than a mile to travel.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE VIDEO

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  • When I get knocked off a train because of a police emergency, I head for the street and start walking toward wherever I'm going. Can't get on the buses anyway, as they are slow in coming and jammed when they do arrive, and the cabs are all full with fellow travelers. After a mile or more I've either gotten close to my destination or I keep walking until I've arrived or finally decided that I'd better cave in and take alternative transit. And sometime, yes, it's the very train line that I was kicked off of. It is what it is.

  • Having the CTA tweet about service delays is a vast improvement over going to the station only to find out the trains aren't running, or are running above ground.

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