CTA decides to shut South Red Line for 5-month track rebuild in 2013

The CTA found itself on the horns of a dilemma.

Take four long years and pay an extra $75 million to rebuild the tracks along the South Red Line during weekend work.


Do that same work in five short months and spend that $75 million to make three stations accessible. But all nine stations south of Roosevelt on the Red Line would have to close.

The CTA chose the latter.

And I agree. But then, I don’t use that branch of the Red Line every day, as tens of thousands do.

The CTA announced Monday it will close the Red Line — from Cermak-Chinatown to its southern terminus at 95th Street — for five months beginning in May 2013. Crews will replace everything in the track bed: ties, rail, third rail, ballast (the stone material that holds the ties in place) and drainage systems. Some stations also will receive improvements ranging from new canopies, paint and lighting upgrades to new benches and bike racks.

Additionally, the stations at Garfield, 63rd and 87th will get new elevators, making all stations on the South Side Red Line accessible.

The CTA will try to sweeten what many South Side riders think is a sour deal. It will provide many service alternative for riders, according to the website:

  1. Free shuttle buses from 69th, 79th, 87th and 95th/Dan Ryan stations to the Garfield station on the Green Line,  including express service from stations and local, station-to-station service. (View alternate service map in larger size.)
  2. Free rail entry for shuttle bus riders at Garfield on the Green Line.
  3. 50 cent discounted bus rides on many South Side routes.
  4. The southern leg of the Red Line will run on Green Line tracks between Ashland/63rd and Roosevelt.
  5. Expanded bus service will be offered on existing routes.

The CTA also said it is working with the Chicago Urban League, Dawson Technical Institute, Hispanic American Construction Industry Association, Black Contractors United and other groups to promote opportunities, and is making efforts to ensure that local workers have the opportunity to pursue some of hundreds of jobs the work is expected to generate.

When the work $425 million project is completed in late 2013, riders from 95th Street will find about 20 minutes shaved off their trip to Roosevelt. Currently, slow zones cover about 40 percent of the 10-mile stretch south from Roosevelt, forcing speeds of 15 miles per hour or less. That’s even slower than autos sometimes travel during bumper-to-bumper traffic on the adjacent Dan Ryan Expressway.

What do you South Side riders think of this decision?


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  • I don't live in that area. The only questions I can think of offhand are

    1. Will it really take only five months?

    2. Will it really save $75M? If it does take longer, won't that whittle away at the savings?

  • The funny thing is that real railroads can replace tracks when they shut down a railroad at a pace of two miles per day or better. Cermak to 95th is about nine miles. I recognize that this is a little different than laying track on the Great Plains, but it shows the difference between government projects and projects where it is critical that the asset is put back to work as quickly as possible.

    I also know that we're talking about doing work in a very constricted area and probably having to strip this down to the roadbed and put sewers in. That said, it still seems like a lot of time on a project that has a completely dedicated right of way.

  • In reply to Patrick:

    What's your source for the two-mile per day figure and what are the conditions under which that track is replaced?

    I am not a railroad engineer, but 5 months seems quite short to replace all that track.

  • In reply to WestLooper:

    Here's one press release from the UP. Total tie and rail replacement... five miles in four work days. http://www.uprr.com/newsinfo/releases/capital_investment/2011/1115_kearneysub-trt.shtml Generally, they don't replace ballast, they clean it and put it right back. There was a news article where a worker indicated that they averaged two miles per day, but also set a record of over 26 miles. http://democratherald.com/news/local/article_5535bbbe-4952-11e0-a6d6-001cc4c002e0.html So replacing track and ties is actually a fairly speedy process.

    The variable is how much sewer work they have to do and the complexity of replacing the third rail and related infrastructure. Still, five months is a lot of time.

    My point is that the real railroads make these things happen quickly because they have revenue depending of getting the asset back in service. The CTA doesn't have that perspective.

  • In reply to Patrick:

    As you noted, this was track and tie only done by a track machine. No third rail, no ballast replacement, and not in the middle of a city. Apples and oranges.

  • In reply to Patrick:

    I disagree, the CTA does have a lot of revenue tied up in passenger traffic and thus incentive to get the track back in service.

    Also, in many construction contracts they write in fines that are issued if the construction is not finished by a deadline date. The contractor pays the fine if they don't finish on time.

  • After getting past the loose cannons, there is an interesting discussion on chicagobus.org under "Dan Ryan branch track project" about whether CTA will eventually back down. I cited Metra on the UPN single track, but Carole and Frank also did a significant amount of back tracking on the Brown Line three track, which the current press release ignores.

    I'm sure that the you know what will eventually hit the fan. And if I were to make any prediction about erratic CTA management, south of Garfield will get done first to take the pressure off the bus shuttles.

    Of course, the "working with the Urban League..." business is because those interests held up the Metra Create overpass in the same neighborhood.

  • Once again, the CTA is lying about what was done in 2006.
    They have a Q&A on the site with "Wasn't this done in 2006" followed by an answer that crossovers, power substations, & crossovers were rebuilt, ignoring that miles of track were totally rebuilt while a shoefly track was built in each direction on the inner shoulder of the Ryan except at the stations. That means all the ties & ballast were new, just that the ties were garbage, not properly treated & the CTA isn't suing the manufacturer for the cost as this project wouldn't be needed if the ties hadn't rotted away in 4-5 years!

    They also state that canopies & lighting will be replaced.
    Well I saw that canopies & lighting were replaced at 35th, 47th & Garfield, as that's how far south I ride. I also saw the electricians tear out & replace wiring that had been installed only weeks earlier!
    Are they going to use either the plastic or concrete ties this time? The plastic has an expected life of 40 years & won't rot! The concrete is used by Class 1 roads & takes 250 ton locomotives without problems!

    There seems to be a total inability by CTA management to tell the truth, the whole truth & nothing but the truth!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    If nothing else, even if you believe this release (and I don't), anything to which the substations and signal houses were connected is being ripped out.

    Clearly they were lying in 2007 about eliminating slow zones, but I don't really want to get into the argument with sam again.

    As I said with regard to to the north side project, let's see how long it stays rated at 55 mph. I bet not long.

    In that the latest Tribune article quotes people saying "why is the south side being closed down and the north isn't," I'm waiting for the calls of racism. It shouldn't take long, even if the alderpeople were asked to be tools.

  • In reply to jack:

    BTW, your comment about the canopies and lighting, and other work at Garfield, except putting in an elevator iin 2006, reminds me that we haven't heard from the poster asserting that there weren't latent defects at Fullerton chiming in on this "fine workmanship."

  • In reply to jack:

    I can give the South Side aldermen a simple & absolutely truthful reason why the Ryan has to shut down & the North Side doesn't.
    The North Side Main Line is a four track line so two tracks can be rebuilt at once & either you do one track in each direction, with temp platforms out to tracks 1 & 4, as was done some 20 years ago from Lawrence to just south of Howard or you do both tracks in one direction & eliminate service in one direction at some stations, as is being done now on weekends at Loyola, Morse & Jarvis.
    The Ryan line has only two tracks & apparently, they either don't want to spend the money on building almost 10 miles of shoefly tracks on the Ryan's inner shoulders, with extended temporary platforms or the state won't let them do that again.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Of course, that's a reason, but they are still tools. Sort of like most of them are all the time.

    I think that the Brown Line 3 track project is more analogous. I remember when that was first announced, Frank and Carole said "find some other way to get to work; people are getting off the Dan Ryan Expressway during its construction," but then they put on extra buses on Lincoln and made the deal with Carole Doris to put the extra trains from Winnetka to accommodate riders displaced from parallel CTA services. Maybe the free buses are similar, but--they never completely closed down the North Main at Fullerton and Belmont.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    The other reason the CTA wouldn't shut down the north Red Line completely is capacity.

    The latest ridership reports show that the stretch of the Red Line south of Roosevelt has about 50,000 daily boardings.

    Both the Red and Brown lines north of the the loop have about 200,000 daily boardings.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    But, of course, they could keep the Pink Line (formerly Renew the Blue) open during the weekdays, even though it has minuscule ridership. I suppose that someone will say that the construction method was different.

    In fact, one reason given by Sullivan & Co. for rejecting the weekend option on the south side was "Weekend ridership along the Dan Ryan Branch is significant: over 39,000 on Saturdays and more than 29,000 on Sundays."

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to jack:

    I think we're on the same page now after our discussion on chicagobus. I'm looking at the whole station renewal claims now and can say thats fishy. Unless they plan on adding solar panels and brighter lighting like at 95th

  • In looking at the CTA system map, it appears that about a dozen bus routes terminate at the 95th Red Line station. Wouldn't it make sense to have these bus routes terminate at stations along the Green Line during the reconstruction rather than trying to squeeze all these people onto the bus shuttles? I've never been there, so I am not sure if it is an issue or not.

  • In reply to eBob:

    The Green Line platforms just couldn't hold all those people.
    Plus, none of them have a special bus lane to drop off & pick up passengers.

  • In reply to eBob:

    Basically, neither makes sense.

    The 95th Terminal is crowded with the buses that are already there (that is a justification for the 130th St. Extension), so how they are going to pull in a couple of artics a minute in addition is beyond me, even, if, for instance, they move the layover point for 29 State.

    On the other hand, besides the point Scooter makes, that would disrupt schedules on all those lines down to about 127th St. and Altgeld Gardens.

    Then throw in that 4 of those lines (352, 353, 359, 381) are Pace routes. Under this scenario those riders would have an additional transfer, but there is no way that Pace has the equipment or could endure having their schedules disrupted to such an extent that an hour would be added to each round trip (10 mile round trip 95th-Garfield-95th). plus all the additional equipment and cost that would entail. Anyway, CTA does not recognize Pace.

    Maybe people down there will migrate to the ME and RID, and as the Three Track proved, once they do, CTA loses them.

  • In reply to jack:

    Jack said: "Maybe people down there will migrate to the ME and RID, and as the Three Track proved, once they do, CTA loses them."

    Not sure you're right about that Jack. CTA ridership has improved every year since three track ended. Anecdotally, friends in Evanston and Rogers Park who used Metra because of three-tracking are back on the CTA, especially now with the Metra fare increase.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    Maybe some came back after the fare increase, but (a) those in Evanston complaining about the one track that was in effect for one week on Metra didn't say "we're taking the Purple Line," (b) the Ravenswood station is frequently reported as being the heaviest on the UPN line, justifying rebuilding it, (c) the South Side preachers got the fare increase mitigated in Zone B, which includes Ravenswood, and (d) the UPN schedule still reflects the trains starting at Winnetka at 7:01, 7:12, and 7:30, which Carole Brown asked Carole Doris to add.

    So, apparently your anecdotal people haven't affected macro traffic patterns. If I lived near Central St., I sure wouldn't want to deal with what is on your next post, either.

  • Off topic, but I saw several Pink Line trains with all 5000 series cars today during non rush hours. All were six cars, which means the CTA isn't sure they can make through the crossings & interlockers without problems as these trains are normally four cars when using 2400s.

  • I lived on the south side for over 28 years before relocating to the burbs and commuted on the Dan Ryan branch to and from work each day. I remember slow zones caused because the original concrete ties had deteriorated. The eventually replaced those with wooden ties and those went bad. They replaced them again. I drove on the Ryan expressway and noticed that the CTA removed and temporarily stored wooden ties right next to the expressway. The ties were severely rotted.

    I really hope this time the CTA gets it right. There are railroads that date back to the 1830's aren't being replaced completely. Some are in trenches (below ground where water runs into). I know that profit motives ensure that railroads are kept in good working order. The CTA denies replacing any ties during the 2007 power and station upgrades and now we find out that a lot of the ties were replaced, which I can remember seeing while riding the line shortly after those upgrades were completed.
    Taxpayers (not just CTA riders) all across our area pay for these costly projects. I really hope the CTA gets it right this time.

    Even though it may seem unfair, the CTA has to close down portions of the line to replace the sewer system-the main cause of the problem. It will be a big inconvenience for thousands of commuters. When the North Main Line is rebuilt that line will probably remain open not because the CTA favors the North Side over the South side. There are four tracks which gives the CTA more room to work with. The Howard branch on an average weekday has about 125,000 rail entries The total daily boardings for the branch is probably closer to 200,00. Add another 40 thousand each weekday that ride the Purple line through the corridor. Shutting it down would be a nightmare. There is no way the Union Pacific North line could handle a substantial amount of those commuters. Traffic is very congested in the area which means replacement bus service would mean VERY long commute times. At least the Dan Ryan commuters have the option of using the Green Line to Garfield or 63rd Ashland with local/express bus service or taking the Metra Electric or Rock Island Line.

  • I don't see it as a loss if riders decide Metra is more convenient. They're still taking transit, after all - the pressures of high cost and traffic congestion are still preventing North Siders from driving. Metra and CTA offer differentiated services with various trade-offs. Some sort of competition for riders is misguided and stupid.

  • It is a shame that several very useful expansions on the South Side could not be completed before the Red Line overhaul. The Cermak station on the Green Line, the 79th station on the Rock Island, the Englewood flyover, etc.

  • In reply to ardecila:

    I'll throw it out there too for measure (but likely won't apply): carpooling and/or vanpooling (especially if you're in the Riverdale/Blue Island zone) with Pace.

    Won't have to worry about the transfers on one end; but it depends on how brutal 57/94 would be to get where you need to go.

  • I will be commenting to the June CTA Board of Directors Meeting this Wednesday at 10am during the Public Comment section.

    Initial Draft of Statement:

    CTA plans to use “Shuttle Buses” to replace the Red Line service South of Roosevelt — This plan however is fraught with possibilities for disaster: A traffic accident, a fire, bad weather and/or storms could block traffic for Hours.

    MANY things could easily disrupt such a service, and cause thousands to be late for (or miss) their jobs, or important events

    Altgeld Gardens residents could end up with a Three Hour trip Downtown.

    At just about any large event – CTA can assign portable Fare Boxes (at the back door of busea, and/or additional spaces in an ‘L’ station, like at Addison on the Red Line).

    With NO (REPEAT — NO) major changes to the Metre Electric Infrastructure whatsoever, you could assign TA Staff with portable Fareboxes (and a Cop) at the bottom of the MED station stairs (111th, 103rd, 95th, 87th, 83rd, 79th, 75th, etc., etc., etc…….), or in the station house — to control access to the platforms, and then just run the MED trains more frequently.

    This service would terminate at 111th St., so as not to interfere with Metra University Park and NICTD trains.

    NO “Shuttle Buses” needed, and as an added benefit Far South riders would not have to ride down to 95th t. to transfer to a “Shuttle”, to transfer to the Green Line at Garfield, to finally get where their going (3 vehicle changes, no matter what the fare situation).

    CTA and Pace bus routes from the Far South (#’s 34, 103, 106, 108, 111, 112, 352, 353, etc., etc…) could Terminate at 111th & Cottage Grove instead of 95th & State — GREATLY reducing travel times and fuel usage.

    CTA and Metra might N O T like the idea, but once the PUBLIC gets ahold of the possibilty of a R A I L alternative, I don’t think they will be satisfied with “Shuttle Buses”!

  • But will they have their hearing aids turned on? About as likely as I'll Take Another winning the Belmont.

  • On the other hand, Mike, read Hilkevitch's column today, which does refer to Metra saying they have the extra capacity.

    Maybe the hearing aids will be set to "low."

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