Further details on CTA's earlier Dan Ryan Red Line project

Against my better judgment, today I’m printing further details on previous work done on the Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line. After reading the comments from two readers in Tuesday’s post accusing her of “lying,” CTA spokesperson Noelle Gaffney sent the following to me.

It’s against my better judgment because I suspect Jack and Scooter will still say she’s lying, regardless of what Gaffney says. The CTA’s construction staff provided this additional information, from which I quote Gaffney:

What I told you yesterday was and remains correct. The primary purpose of this project was to upgrade the power flow but there were other pieces such as signal work and the station work that I mentioned.

The track work that a few of the posters have mentioned was not a wholesale track replacement. The scope of the project included upgrading the signal system from 95th to Roosevelt and there was signal work done at eight crossovers and one middle track. Essentially, we went from having manual control at those locations to an automated system. In order to do that work, we built bypass tracks in what had been the shoulder of the expressway and rerouted the trains onto those temporary tracks while construction on the crossover was taking place. (

Download this document

. I’m not sure it is the final version, but it will help you visualize what I am describing.)

The locations were crossovers at 94th, 87th, 79th, 69th, 55th, 45th, 33rd and 23rd and one center track (63rd Middle) for a total of approximately 17,000 feet. So track was replaced in areas in and around crossovers in association with the signal work. In addition, later there was approximately 2400 feet of track work that was added to address slow zones between Cermak and 47th. This work totaled 19,400 feet or approximately 19% of the Ryan’s 102,000 feet of track.

The work that is needed on remaining stretches of the Ryan track includes removing ballast and repairing the underlying track drainage system. The ballast is original and has become less functional over time. It helps to understand the following about ballast:

  • The rough edges of the stone lock together and provide resistence to the vertical and horizontal movement of the track. As the stone wears, it becomes less able to provide this resistance and the track moves more. As it moves more, it reduces the service life of both the ballast and the track above it.
  • When the stone wears, the smaller stones and rubble fill the voids between the ballast and it drains less effectively. As moisture level of the system increases, the wear to ballast, track and other wayside components is increased and the service life is further reduced.
  • Complementing the replacement of the ballast system, the track drainage system, effectively a system of inlets and underground piping, needs heavy maintenance. This would include not only clearing blockages but also replacing collapsed sections.

The logistics of removing and replacing ballast, track and repairing the drainage system in a limited space that is most easily accessible at night or on the weekend (Red Line operates 24/7 so we would be scheduling work during hours when there is the most time between trains. In addition, we would need Dan Ryan lane closures to get equipment to the tracks and that is most likely to be approved for night or weekend work.) is the reason for the cost.

And just FYI, regarding the comments about the signal system’s “false positives,” there are some facts about the CTA system in general that may be useful to understand:

  • The system can affect train speed well beyond the typical line of sight. More directly, it can slow a train before it can be seen, even in a stretch of track exceeding 5000 feet.
  • The audible signal that passengers may hear in the head car is a signal for the operator to reduce speed. This reduction is typically due to a train ahead or to a changing track conditions such as a curve. It should be noted that train speed is adjusted for safety and comfort and includes reductions for many smaller curves that may not be apparent to all customers.

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  • You're damn right I'm going to say she's lying, plus she contradicts herself. She's an idiot of a spokeswoman!

    The shoefly tracks went on for blocks at a time!
    But the crossovers are each only a couple of hundred feet long.

    And they wouldn't have problems with the ballast wearing down if they bought granite ballast, like the C&NW always bought for its railway.
    I know the CTA trains are lightweights compared to a Class 1 railroad, but this is a case of repeatedly buying cheap crap no name detergent at the dollar store that must be expensively replaced, instead of spending a bit more for the better quality Tide at Costco!

    As for her statement: "The system can affect train speed well beyond the typical line of sight. More directly, it can slow a train before it can be seen, even in a stretch of track exceeding 5000 feet."

    What idiot has designed the software to do this?
    Again, this isn't a Class 1 RR running 100 car unit freight trains of coal hoppers that each weigh 100 tons & requires over a mile to stop! These are trains of eight, 25 ton CTA cars that can stop in a couple of hundred feet from top speed, due to the combination of dynamic & shoe braking!
    If you have 5000 feet of straight track & nothing in front of you, that train should be able to go at top speed for at least 4000 of those feet!
    The only possible reasons for these false positives are: incompetence in design, atrocious maintenance or the CTA thinks so poorly of its motormen, that they are terrified to allow them to travel at 55MPH, even when the tracks were designed for safe 70 MPH operations! No train should be getting 6 false positive warnings in a 500 foot section of track if there's no visible train ahead or no short radius turn ahead [like the Loop L turns]!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Is there a dislike button for Scooter? ;-)

  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:

    I wish. Or a redit/slashdot-style +/- moderation.

    For anyone visiting this website without being familiar with the topics involved, that the newest trains in regular use on the system go 55mph max (mostly on the yellow and parts of the purple lines in my north-side experience, track conditions and station density prevent any better). The 70mph referred to by scooter is the 5000 series trains, which are currently in limited test (btw - anyone use a GPS on the 5000 series yellow line runs? Do they go the max speed too?)

    If anyone is tempted by the comparison between the Class 1 RR and the CTA, remember that the weight will only matter so much to the tracks: the weight of a freight train is spread out pretty far. The frequency of use is much higher on CTA trains, so rapid transit rails require more maintenance regardless of the differences in rail equipment.

    I don't know the stopping distance for CTA trains, although I know for a automotive car going 55mph, it is already 150-300 feet (depending if you include perception time), so I wouldn't bet on several hundred feet for a train (especially taking into account comfort and leaving a margin of safety).

  • In reply to sargas:

    You aren't factually right either.

    If you had read Krambles's book, he said that all trains starting with the 2000s are capable of 70 m.p.h., but are governed by the signal system to 55. So, the 5000s aren't going to go 70 either.

    Maybe you should thank the Internet for letting someone who criticizes others spread misinformation.

  • In reply to jack:

    I'm sorry, I wasn't familiar with that book (are you referring to http://goo.gl/9P39n ? I never heard of that book, although I heard of the author. Looks worth picking up today at a library, seems my school has it in their collections. Thank you for the book)

    Sorry too about the misinformation, I was basing off the free speeds given on the pages in http://chicago-l.org/trains/roster/index.html . It is mentioned that the 2200 were built to go 70MPH but limited to match the 2000 series, I wasn't aware of that. Thank you for correcting me.

    When I've seen mentions of the 5000 series being able to go 70MPH, it is with the caveat that most of the tracks are not in good enough shape to handle that, so I wonder why the distinction would be made between the 5000 series and earlier cars if they are designed for the same speed. Or why chicago-l.org would list them with different speeds.

  • In reply to sargas:

    Re the book, yes.

    Another source of all things L during the period covered (and mechanical specs and track maps going back to the beginning) is Chicago's Rapid Transit, Volume II: Rolling Stock/1947-1976, Bulletin 115 of Central Electric Railfans' Association, ISBN 0-915348-15-2, (c) 1976.

    Thanks for responding here.

  • In reply to sargas:

    For a very small, but certainly egregious waste of money by the CTA, here's a great example.
    Several years ago, while on the CTA website, I read of a proposed "Red Line Extension". That's it, nothing else. So, out of curiosity, I clicked on it & got to a page that required me to register to find out what it was. Also ridiculous. It was the 130th St extension.
    But I used a fake name, a Yahoo email address that's just for registrations & a friend's office address. A short time later he calls me about a 9x12 manila envelope that showed up there. In it was a single sheet of paper thanking me for registering.
    One lousy, totally unnecessary sheet of paper sent out for at least $4!
    I received at least three more letters this way before it stopped!

  • In reply to sargas:

    In more transit news today, the Illinois Appellate Court, 1st District, upheld Rocky Wirtz's claim that the Illinois Jobs Now law was unconstitutional (Opinion).

    Now, if any of you remember, this was the one where Springfield was going to use increased license plate sticker fees, liquor taxes, and video poker to underwrite capital bonds, including for earmarks to CTA, Pace and Metra. Quinn made a big deal announcing disbursing some bond money, but it was 1/2 of the 2009 allotment, and only 1/4 of the total plan.

    So, I guess the point I made earlier about the state being all fouled up got quick reinforcement.

    Of course, like the Emanuel ruling, a prompt appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court is promised. On the other hand, while recipients may have received their 25%, don't expect any further disbursements soon.

  • In reply to sargas:

    Kevin, maybe you can work with ChicagoNow's programmers to offer a feature where we'd have to opt in to see Scooooter and Jack's comments?

  • In reply to BobS:


  • In reply to AlexanderRusso:


  • In reply to BobS:

    If you three don't like opposing views, maybe you should move to North Korea!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Ah yes, that's the Scooter we all know and love!

  • In reply to KevinO’Neil:

    Well, they seem to think that every statement from the CTA is the truth.
    Considering all the lies we've been fed by them over the last few years about maintenance issues, deliberate delays in putting some routes on Bustracker, because the routes were so screwed up, fires in the tunnels, the complete lack of communication with passengers during those fires, Gaffney's original omission that sections of track were totally replaced on the Ryan & now need to be replaced again in just 5 years, insane wastes of money & the lack of any oversight of the agency, yeah, I think I have a right to tell CTA worshippers that believe it can do no wrong & don't want to hear the truth to move to NK, where there is just one correct line or you're executed!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Don't be so hard on yourself, Scoooooter, babe. I don't want you to be executed. Exactly. Just kidding! But I know you're no more accurate than the CTA spokespersons -- and much crankier.

  • In reply to BobS:

    Since you also mentioned me, and say there has to be an upvote to view my comments, why do you want to stay willfully close minded and accept only propoganda?

    Should I be able to block you, AB, and Chris, as well as those who posted on the Tattler that the track inspectors were scapegoats?

    At least Carole let people reply to her, until she finally decided to quit.

  • In reply to jack:

    This would be a pretty boring place without jack's in-depth knowledge of the CTA.

  • In reply to BobS:

    Except I wasn't inaccurate.
    I said track was replaced & Gaffney at first said it wasn't.
    Gaffney said that signals between Cermak & 47th were rebuilt & I said they don't work properly, because they don't!
    Gaffney believes that an 8 car L train needs a mile of space between it & the train in front of it for safety. Absurd & she knows it. No other system runs like that. No more than 1000 feet is required & many run with far less..
    What we have here online are a whole bunch of people that know nothing about how trains or buses operate, so they take the CTA's word as gospel.
    Every time the CTA says it's repaired & eliminated slow zones, a few months later they've returned & are even longer.
    They tell so many lies they can't keep them straight anymore!

  • In reply to BobS:

    Thank you, Ms. Gaffney, for patiently answering the questions that have been brought up in the comments section here. The explanation is good enough for me.

    I consider myself fairly knowledgeable, but I had no idea the expressway-median lines have a drainage system... I assumed they drained directly into the ground like most at-grade rail lines. Replacing a complex system like that would require entire sections of track to be removed, along with the ballast, and such an operation would indeed be long/complex/costly.

  • In reply to sargas:

    Ditto. When I was a kid, all the trains did 70mph(and did it when passing skip stops, too), including the then new 2200's. I would look in the motorman's window and see the speed get to 70mph. When we went OVER 70 mph, then the signaling/beeping/slow down occurred. The trains are/were capable of 70 mph, they're just old now and the cars and track all around require either replacement or repair to safely and cost effectively run 70 mph.

  • In reply to sargas:

    Gaffney said 5000 feet was necessary for safe operation & I wrote that 1000 feet was more than enough under most circumstances.
    As for weights, 130 tons [car + contents] spread over 6 axles 60 feet apart is a far greater load than the CTA's 30 ton full passenger load spread over 45 feet on 4 axles. The CTA operates the shortest passenger cars of any system in the US.
    The C&NW/UP has not done a total replacement of the granite ballast on the North Line for as far back as I can remember & I've lived a block away for over 50 years. They've done track & tie replacement & possibly brought in the ballast undercutter & cleaner the C&NW bought back in the 1980s. But it's still much of what was there decades ago.
    The CTA's insistence on limestone is penny wise & pound foolish! And since this is Chicago, I'm going to guess that politics plays a role here & one of the limestone quarry operators is a big contributor to certain politicians that oversee the slow moving disaster we call the CTA!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    I haven't left much comments here since I started using a feed reader to get updates. Didn't know how person trolls were getting so carried away and personal, I'm sorry you've been dealing with it. Thank you for the service you've done providing interesting information and news. And thank you to all CTA personal (i.e., Noelle Gaffney) who provide details in the operations of the transit system we depend on (and many, including myself, are quite proud of). Made for a good read this morning, I didn't know the CTA setup temporary tracks in the dan ryan shoulders.

  • In reply to sargas:

    Let me point out
    1. Noelle only commented after I brought this up Monday, and Kevin decided to pursue it.

    2. Similarly, the fact that New Flyer claimed that it had an order for 140 buses from CTA, and then said it stopped production because CTA had deferred the order, first came up on chicagobus.org, which Kevin then picked up on the Tattler, and then Hilkevitch picked it up and finally asked the spokesperson, who only then confirmed it.

    3. I mentioned above Huberman hiding the NABI situation until a bus split.

    So, unless something is exposed here, Noelle is not talking.

    And if you didn't know about the temporary tracks that were conspicuous as hell in 2005-2006, that doesn't say much for you.

  • In reply to jack:

    I wasn't riding the CTA regularly back then, didn't start college (and the commuting with it) till fall 2007.

  • A better example about the CTA's insistence on buying cheap limestone ballast as opposed to buying granite would be buying half a dozen steel saw blades, which wastes time having to be changed out of the saw as opposed to buying one carbide tip blade, which will outlast all those plain steel ones!

  • Let me put it this way. I left it yesterday either that they were lying that the scope of the first project was to take care of the slow zones and they had, or now. So, finally Noelle comes up with some details and proves that it was at least then.

    I'm not going to get into Scooter territory, except to say that with all the defects in several CTA projects (Green Line, NABI buses, the two Blue Line tunnel derailments, the complaints last week about the Brown Line platforms, and now this), some Inspector General should look into it, but, again, even the idea of an independent inspector general has become enmeshed in politics.

    Since CTA trains are going off the track, let me go off the track too, and analyze what is really wrong here.

    During last night's State of the Union, President Obama said:

    "Let me take this one step further. We shouldn

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