Rail service outage shows CTA communication still needs improvement

We've written in the last few days about the lack of communication on the street closures and track work at the Red Line Morse "L" station this past weekend. The CTA acknowledged its mistake and promises better communication in the future on the Red Line North Interim Improvements project.

Good. Progress made.

Unfortunately, the CTA still has lots more work to do in getting information to the masses during a big emergency rail service outage, such as what happened last Tuesday when a furniture store just north of the Fullerton station on the Red/Brown/Purple lines burned to the ground. Service on this busy corridor was suspended for almost three hours during the evening rush.

I heard and read on Twitter and Facebook many complaints about the dearth of good info from the CTA about alternatives and generally about what was happening.

Now, I will say that the CTA's Twitter feed was updating followers frequently about what was happening. But that's only 10,000 followers, many of whom probably don't ride the Red/Brown/Purple line stretch that was affected. There are about 120,000 daily riders on the north Red Line, and about 60,000 on the Brown Line, according to the most recent ridership report.


  • Promised shuttle buses that didn't come.
  • Packed buses that weren't picking up passengers.
  • Unhelpful/uninformed customer service agents at various affected rail stations.

I think we all have to realize that the CTA will never be able to use buses to substitute for suspended rail service, especially on the busy Red/Brown/Purple north corridor. There's just not enough capacity. But we should expect better communication from the CTA about what's going on and alternative routes.

We all have our stories about how we got home that night. It took me about two hours to get to Rogers Park, but only because I squeezed on a #36 Broadway at Marina Towers.

Here's an account and photos from James, a frequent Tattler contributor.

When I got out of the Cubs game at 4:15 pm, the lines to the Addison station were backed up. The police said there was a fire and no trains south of Belmont. I walked down to the Belmont station. It was mass craziness. The crowds were flowing into the street under the station.

There was only one CTA supervisor. There were about 20 police. The police were more proactive and better informed than CTA folks.

I walked back to Halsted to catch the #8 bus. The bus was packed and the streets were gridlocked. Folks in the back of the bus would not move all the way back even when the driver asked many times to do so.

As the bus got close to North and Clybourn,  streams of riders were walking away from the station like it was Sept. 11 in New York when folks just walked to get home. At the Red Line North/Clybourn station it was a packed mess.

Folks pushed to  get down to the platform. There were many people that pushed ahead and shoved to get through the mass of waiting riders. One guy jumped on the side rails to pass over the stairs. The riders going down pushed the ascending riders on the stair to one lane to exit. This bottleneck made the clearing of the platform much slower.

There was no CTA staff giving direction on platform speakers. And remember, there was no service north of this station. The masses were so heavy if a fire marshal saw the crowd he would freak out. It was like E2 - many times over.

Once on the train the trip took the regular time. The bottom line was a 30 minutes trip took two-and-a-half hours.



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  • The Metra UP-N line being shut down at the same time didn't help matters much. Would be interesting to compare the communications levels between the two agencies (I can't speak for communications downtown, but I know there wasn't much being said to those of us stuck up in Lake County other then the information coming through the @MetraUPN twitter and the MyMetra alerts).

  • I think a fair distinction is that CTA didn't torch the furniture store. While communications could be better, it is one thing to have to scramble in an emergency, and another to start closing streets and dumping rail panels unannounced. They could have controlled that.

  • Am I wrong or is this a fairly common occurrence? By common I mean at least once every other year or so and by occurrence I mean a fire or some such so close to an el line that it gets shut down for an extended period of time.

    So the next question is does the CTA have a standard operating procedure? Does it have a SWAT team pre-organized who plan and act and practice before hand?

    Or is every time a new scramble? Would you check on this for us Kevin?

    My next question is about the bus bandage. I would think that the CTA would commandeer a corridor and declare it off limits to private cars to serve as a temporary BRT route. They would work with the police and put their own people on the street as well. Train office staff for the job of leaving their desks and directing traffic at critical corners etc. Empty the offices and hit the streets with all they've got for these events. Hell it would be a fun diversion for folks.

  • In reply to wegerje:

    It's at least a once a year happening & every single time, the CTA completely collapses at communicating with its passengers!
    And with the UP North Metra line shut down for almost two hours because of another selfish asshole that decided the best way to kill himself/herself was to lay down in front of a 500+ ton train & get sliced up into several pieces for the fire department to remove, North Side transit was a disaster. Yet another reason to eliminate gun control in Chicago, they could then do it in the privacy of their own home & only ruin their own family by it!
    I'm totally baffled as to why Metra & the CTA take close to two hours to clear suicide deaths. Metra has camera in all of its trains that record the suicide. It's a simple review to see if the engineer obeyed the rule book & had no chance of stopping.
    In reading about the much rarer suicides in & around NYC, they get their trains rolling in 30 minutes, sometimes less!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    BTW, Scooter, did Jon Hilevitch interview you for today's article, or just find someone of like mind????????

  • In reply to jack:

    It wasn't me & I was amazed that Hilkevitch agreed with regular increases.
    But I think a nickel a year is insufficient.
    I wonder if he's finally coming to realize that the CTA is just incompetent at the basics, let alone the complicated stuff of properly operating the system.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    He's shown independence from his first interview with Claypool, which was about a year ago.

    He certainly reiterated the point that Claypool was grasping at straws, including:

    Predictably, the unions haven't budged on Claypool's unenforceable demands for $80 million annually in union concessions in the next labor contract. So Claypool somehow came up with "one-time-only" internal savings totaling $80 million — money that Claypool previously said the CTA simply didn't have for use to prevent fare hikes and/or service reductions in 2012.

    Note his use of the word "unenforceable," which is about the same as my saying "he'll have to get it from an arbitrator, and he probably won't."

    Yet, some posters here believed Claypool.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    As far as CTA it was the second in two days, in that a track fire shut down the Green and Orange lines the day before. Of course, that doesn't cause the stranglehold on the system that shutting the north main at Fullerton does.

    But, as far as contingency plans, CTA should have had them from the tunnel puncture that flooded both subways to the track fire in the Blue Line that demonstrated that CTA employees don't do their jobs.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    While I agree with you that they take far too long to reopen the lines after someone goes splat, I would like to point out that your ire is directed at the wrong governmental agency. Metra and the CTA can't resume moving the trains until the local law enforcement lets them.

    When a train hits someone, it becomes a crime scene, even when it is a clear cut case of some nutjob jumping in front of the locomotive. As such, the trains can't move until the LEOs lift the crime scene designation. And from talking to the Metra conductors from when I've been trapped on a train, a majority of the idle time is waiting for a coroner to come out and say "Yup, he's dead" ... no, seriously, even if the guy's head is 100 feet from his torso, a coroner needs to come out and certify the death.

  • In reply to Espio:

    I agree with you on this. Undoubtedly, the inconsiderate perpetrators of suicide also take that into consideration, instead of turning on the natural gas. Just ask Phil Pagano.

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    I rode my bike that day and had zero issues getting home. The only way I even knew something happened was because I was checking Twitter after I got home.

  • The CTA just announced that they will shut down the Dan Ryan line for 5 months next year to rebuild it & use a bus shuttle in its place.
    What fun for those of us that use it!
    I hope they move the trains to the old South Side Main Line & increase service to more than every 10 minutes!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    The official announcement said that they would.

    The more interesting issue is that loose cannons affiliated with CTA contractors announced this on chicagobus.org a couple of months ago (when Kevin said that CTA said they had made no such decision), and again yesterday. I wonder:

    --if any contractor is going to be debarred because of this. Probably not.

    --those contractors were so leaky, but the north side ones said nothing.

  • The Twitter feeds are wonderful--I left work last Tuesday knowing there was no way I was getting home my normal route. I always assume there really aren't any shuttle buses where the CTA says they will be and plan accordingly. That being said, my normal 40 minutes was just over an hour on my back up, emergency route.

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