Purple Line Express track work to eliminate slow zones on north end

The CTA is trying to put the “Express” back into the Purple Line Express with a $30 million track project that will start and finish by year’s end.

The project will fix aging track infrastructure, including replacing track ties and the restoration of track alignment from Lawrence to Jarvis on both Howard-bound and Loop-bound tracks. Currently there are almost two miles of slow zones in that area.

Work will start on July 20, with the project at full bore by early August. The CTA will do the track work on week nights and weekends when the Purple Line Express doesn’t run. The project will take about four months.

Purple Line Express passengers board at Howard. (Photo copyright Jeremiah Cox/SubwayNut.com)

Purple Line Express passengers board at Howard. (Photo copyright Jeremiah Cox/SubwayNut.com)

Red Line traffic may be affected during construction times as trains slow to let workers on the right-of-way move to safety. During the construction period, the track work won’t affect the schedule of the Purple Line Express.

The project includes the replacement of track ties, restoration of track alignment and partial replacement of running rail along aging Purple Line Express tracks that serve more than 3.5 million riders each year.

The last major renewal of these tracks occurred in the early 1970s. Aside from the spot replacement of a few ties, the majority of ties along this stretch of the Purple Line Express have reached the end of their useful life.

This newest Purple Line project complements other recent activity on the line.

Other improvements include the ongoing Ravenswood Connector project that is rehabilitating tracks shared by Brown and Purple Line Express trains between Armitage and the Merchandise Mart. It also follows a major track improvement project completed in 2013 that rehabilitated tracks and eliminated slow zones between Howard and Linden.


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  • Is the Purple Line still an express? Are there stations it doesn't stop at on the way downtown?

    While on the subject of Brown and Purple: For those whose vision isn't what it used to be, and when lighting conditions aren't ideal, it may be hard to tell brown from purple. The fact that both trains say "Loop" in the front doesn't help. I wonder if there is some way they could further identify the train so a person doesn't have to wonder if they made a mistake.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    The inbound Purple Line "express" is non-stop between Howard & Wilson, and the outbound Purple Line "express" is non-stop between Belmont & Howard. The Purple Line used to be a true express train, with Chicago stops only at Howard, Wilson, Chicago and the Merchandise Mart between 1976-1989. After 1989, more stops got added to ease overcrowding. Now, the "express" train serves all Brown Line stops from Belmont to the Loop, so any time saved while running express (compared to the Red Line) is quickly lost again.

    From personal experience and data from the CTA, the stops serving only the Red Line (Grand, Chicago, Clark/Division, North/Clybourn) stops serve more people (~1.1 million monthly) from the Loop to Belmont than the Brown Line stops (Merchandise Mart, Chicago, Sedgwick, Armitage, Diversey, Wellington) (~0.8 million monthly). Therefore, to ease crowding and save time, running the Purple Line through the subway would make much more sense than on the elevated tracks.

  • In reply to JasonMath:

    Link to data from the City of Chicago: https://data.cityofchicago.org/Transportation/CTA-Ridership-L-Station-Entries-Monthly-Day-Type-A/t2rn-p8d7

  • In reply to JasonMath:

    The Brown line is chronically overcrowded in the evenings. You really need to look at the peak boardings and current headways to figure which line needs the relief more. From my experience, during evening rush, the Brown Line is packed even with the Purple running. If they got rid of the Purple, I imagine it would be much worse.

  • In reply to Myshkin:

    Good point regarding peak boardings and headways - I admit that I don't ride either the CTA on the north side on a regular basis. The only time that I've been on the Brown Line on a weekday evening on the near N side is 6:30 pm, and it didn't seem too crowded. At the same time, it was standing room only at the same time on the NB Red Line on another 6:30 PM weekday line. Of course, the hourly boardings could be very different, and the Brown Line might have higher actual ridership at 5:00 pm. The boardings also don't account for the people on the train already or leaving the train, so the Brown Line might have more initial riders in the Loop.

    Since the data for the El stations in the Loop is not separated by line, a manual passenger count by a CTA employee on each line would be helpful. The Red Line does have shorter headways, so increasing the Brown Line and Purple Line headways would likely ease congestion on all three lines.

  • In reply to JasonMath:

    PS: I'll assume that the Brown Line is overcapacity during rush hour. Given my experiences on the Red Line, that train line also suffers from overcrowding. If the CTA could handle extra trains on the el and subway during rush hour and had enough money, equipment, staff, I would do two things:
    1. Convert the current Purple Line Express trains into Brown Line trains. The Brown Line would still run on the outer tracks of the Loop. The frequency of el service on the Brown Line corridor would stay the same.
    2. Reroute the current Purple Line to the Red Line tracks from Belmont to Roosevelt (southern terminus), creating additional service on the Red Line corridor.

    These two proposals would improve service on all three lines, and make the Purple Line a true "express" option during the rush hour.

  • In reply to JasonMath:

    PSS: If the Dan Ryan Red Line branch is overcapacity, the new Purple Line Express trains could be extended to 95th St. This would also help avoid conflicts with Red Line trains south of Roosevelt.

  • In reply to JasonMath:

    The reports were that the Dan Ryan has light ridership compared to the Howard. Latest Ridership Report (Mar. 2015) has the north side Red Line with 124,300 boardings, Dan Ryan 48,500. So, the numbers do not support your supposition. [I assume that an equal number depart as board.]

    If anything, the numbers supported a study to which the Tattler linked about 3 years ago (about the time CTA was floating debating the 3 track and subway alternatives for north of Belmont), which contended that there should be express service added only north of Roosevelt, and even that some southbound Red Line trains should end there.

  • In reply to JasonMath:

    Your recommendations are inconsistent, in that the only Purple Line south of Belmont is the express. #2, though, is consistent with the recommendation I mentioned in response to your PSS post. Then, maybe there would be more room to add Brown Line trains, although they would have to be stored in some other yard (as such as current Midway-Kimball trains).

  • In reply to jack:

    Basically, the new Purple Line would run express form Howard to Belmont, and continue on the Red Line tracks to Roosevelt.

  • In reply to jack:

    Basically, under this proposal, Purple Line Express trains would be moved to the subway from Belmont to Roosevelt (southern terminus). The rest of the Purple Line Express line would stay the same. Trains would also be added to the Brown Line during rush hour to relieve overcrowding.

    Thanks for the discussion - I enjoyed writing about this topic.

  • So why aren't they also fixing the Red Line tracks & the worn out Granville crossovers?

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Which gets back to all the derailments or whatever it was about 3 years ago at that location. Apparently another half-Homer Simpson job that didn't do the whole job.

    Also, apparently they aren't in such a hurry to rip out everything between Wilson and Ardmore like they said a couple of months ago.

  • How is this work being funded? Who's paying for it? Just the Feds or are Illinois and/or Chicago taxpayers also on the hook?

  • In reply to Commentator:

    CTA didn't report in the release who is paying for it.

  • This is obviously a good thing to do, but why did it take 40 years? Perhaps regular maintenance would have made this unnecessary.

  • In reply to Commentator:

    Lack of regular maintenance is the issue. As I mentioned above, they had the project to rebuilt north of Wilson, but now it looks like they only rebuilt tracks 2 and 3.

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