Slow zones reach four-year high; hope for big fix is on the horizon

Slow zones reach four-year high; hope for big fix is on the horizon
Oct. 9: Slow zones reach four-year high; hope for big fix is on the horizon. (CTA photo)

Slow zones on CTA rail lines reached almost 16 percent, according to the most recent map by the CTA. That’s the most since the spring of 2008.

But recent announcements give hope – including one on Tuesday about a $66 million track rehab project on the Brown and Purple Lines between the Merchandise Mart and Armitage Avenue, known as the Ravenswood Connector.

Percentage-wise, the most slow zones can be found on:

  • The Purple Line (both in Evanston and on the express portion): 23.9%.
  • The Brown Line: 23.3%.
  • The Red Line: 20.8%
  • The Green Line: 20%

The lines with the fewest slow zones are the Orange (1.7%) and Yellow (3.5%).

There also is some hope for Red Line. Within a year, you would expect that the 31.5% of slow zones currently found on the Dan Ryan branch should be just about zero percent, with the completion of the completion of the Red South Track Renewal project. Similarly, by early next year many of the slow zones north of Wilson should be eliminated with the additional $15 million to be spent on North Red Line slow zone and viaduct repair.

On the Loop “L,” the Loop Track Renewal project should be complete in spring 2013, eliminating a good chunk of slow zones.

The other big news Tuesday about the Brown Line project is that the CTA and Iron Workers Union Local 1 agreed to work rule changes that will provide more flexibility and costs savings for the CTA.

The agreement will reduce overtime costs. And work rule changes will lower the number of workers required on the afternoon shift, which the CTA said is “typically the least-efficient shift.” The union workers will get an hourly wage increase of $1.04, and CTA contributions to the union’s health and pension funds.


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  • Let's check back in 2020 & see if the Dan Ryan Line needs to be rebuilt yet again, just like most of it was in 2005 & which the CTA desperately wants us to forget about!

  • "$66 million track rehab project on the Brown and Purple Lines between the Merchandise Mart and Armitage Avenue..."

    Refresh my memory--what was $500 million spent on the Brown Line for, besides wood without preservative?

    Maybe Forrest can tell you why the lines were allowed to get into such a state of disrepair, and what assurances he will give that after this $480 million dollars of work (including the total cost of about $400 million on lying on the Ryan).

  • In reply to jack:

    Refresh my memory--what was $500 million spent on the Brown Line for, besides wood without preservative?

    Capacity - longer platforms that would accommodate longer trains so as to carry more passengers.

    Accessibility - ramps or elevators at every station.

    I don't recall any mention of track rehab/renovation except as needed to re-align the tracks at Belmont and Fullerton after making the platforms wider.

  • In reply to answerman:

    So we are back the s.o.s. (first two letters stand for same old) that we had with Sam on the 2005-2007 project, which Sam later retracted.

    Another parser who goes along with CTA said they did some work, but apparently not correctly (cf. the platform rotting problems) and not in a manner to get the line fixed (even though they also claimed to have done structural work).

    answerman: It doesn't do much good to expand capacity if CTA then cuts down service 9% due to "funding issues" and can't keep the line running more than two years before major repairs are again needed.

    But since Frosty claims he rides the line to work, maybe he can see conditions for himself, which may be the reason for this new temporary fix.

    In the meantime answerman, explain to us how the Pink Line, which was completely rebuilt parallel to Cermak, has slow zones.

  • In reply to jack:

    Just before the capacity increase project, I watched them replacing all the ties on the Ravenswood L from Irving Park north to Montrose.
    Whether other areas were done, I didn't see, but they had Honore St. at Berteau all messed up for a while with their equipment.

  • Man I hate slow zones and now the CTA has a very serious slow zone epidemic on it's hands!! The Congress Branch of the Blue Line is now also riddled with slow zones end to end. And now I see brand new slow zones cropping up on the Orange and Pink lines, two of the newest lines. Not good. The Lake Street Green Line even has it's share of them now. Basically every major line except Orange has a large amount of trackage with reduced speeds. Honestly, seeing this latest map I don't think it will ever be under control where we see a total of 1-3% slow zone at any given time. Is the CTA using inferior ties and/or ballast? The tracks around Diversey and Fullerton were completely ripped up and replaced when the Brown line project was in progress. I saw this with my own eyes! And now just what, 4-5 years later these areas are down to 25mph? Disgraceful! Something is very wrong. As soon as Dan Ryan is done, they will be saying Congress is at risk of being shut down and needs a full rehab. It will never end.

  • In reply to Matt:

    Agreed. The tracks between Diversey and Wellington represent a good chunk of the slow zones on red/brown up north. This shouldn't be happening since they just put these in not that long ago.

    Is there any difference between the old trains and the new trains as far as wear and tear on the tracks? Just curious.

  • In reply to chris:

    Theoretically, there shouldn't. However:

    (1) with regenerative braking, they apparently can stop faster, so maybe that has some effect.

    (2) there is the talk (a) the Red Line is the next to get them, but (b) the Dan Ryan can't get them until it is fixed, even though (c) they were tested twice on the Red Line.

    But as far as anyone has reported, none has gone into regular service on the local between Diversey and Wellington.

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    What has been the result of all the weekend track work between Sheridan and Howard? The slow zones look largely unchanged.

  • In reply to Brian:

    We may have the inverse of the 2005 Dan Ryan project. They may now have to change the switches, since unlike testing out the ones for 3 track, there apparently was a malfunction last week or so.

  • In reply to Brian:

    Trains are definitely moving faster from Granville to Wilson.

  • BTW, if you want to send more construction money to the CTA, the Tribune reports that video gambling is as close as Stickney. Looks like you will have to take a Pace bus to get there, though.

  • A few observations this morning. Trains are a bit quicker from Bryn Mawr to Lawrence (mostly due to Berwyn being closed). Then from Lawrence to just South of Wilson crawls along slower than ever, then again from just North of the first Sheridan curve all the way past Addison is 15mph (a good 3/4 of a mile). The slow zone map shows NO slow zones in this area, but trains never go over 15mph until almost Clark Junction, I guess this means these is a permanent speed restriction. Up until a few years ago trains sped up once they cleared the 2nd Sheridan curve, but not anymore! Then just South of Belmont there are a series of slow zones affecting all four tracks. Worst of all....the Brown line South of Belmont all the way to the Loop has gotten progressively slower with each passing week. These long slow zones on Brown mean fewer trains per hour can travel this section of track, which is resulting in very visible overcrowding South of Belmont. I've never seen so many people waiting on trains at Diversey, Fullerton, Armitage, Sedgwick. And the CTA's answer is to cut various bus routes because the Brown line is an alternative? Great, yea let's make the line even more severely overcrowded. What a joke! Looks like this won't be fixed until early 2014 too. I'd be all for cutting the Brown line South of Belmont on late nights/weekends to get this fixed ASAP. 12-18 months is a long time to have commutes from hell.

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    That slow zone between 35th/Archer and Western is getting bigger lately, not smaller.

    There's a reason it's called "rapid transit." However, Forrest Gump doesn't seem to care.

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