CTA's Brown Line rehab was a dream compared to Metra's jinxed UP North project

We’ve been known to criticize the CTA when they deserve it. Now after reading about the fiasco around the Metra Union Pacific North Line bridge rebuilding project, I want to give the CTA some props.

Late last year the CTA finished the $530 million Brown Line expansion project. It took many years and lots of logistical planning. Stations were closed for up to a year. The busy corridor from north of Belmont to south of Fullerton saw track capacity reduced by 25% for about three years due to the three-tracking project.

And yet, everything went off pretty well, all things considered. The CTA finished the project on time. While trains were delayed by up to 10-15 minutes during rush hour, the trains did keep running. Capacity dropped some, but the CTA did a good job of telling passengers to use alternate bus routes instead.

Overall, they did a much better job on this major project than Metra is doing on its major project. It had barely started when passengers complained so loudly that it halted the project for further review. Now Metra has decided to go back to the drawing board and try to reconfigure the entire project — after contracts had already been signed.

Is the CTA perfect, and did the Brown Line project come off without a hitch? No. And I’m sure my pal jackonthebus and others will tell us about the problems.

But all in all, I do think the CTA deserves much credit for pulling it off fairly successfully, compared to what we’re seeing with the Metra UP North project.


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  • While I agree that the Brown Line project went fairly well, I must mention one thing about the Metra system that is systematically different. Frequencies. When a Brown Line train is "delayed up to 10-15 minutes during rush hour," that is OK because you know the next train is coming a few minutes behind. With Metra during rush hour, frequencies are much more limited. You might have to wait another half hour for the train. That's a much different scenario for commuters who cannot afford a service delay like that.

    I think one thing that Metra should take note on from the CTA Brown Line project was the advance p.r. work that went on before construction even began. Metra, meanwhile, had no advance p.r. and drastically changed schedules with little public notice. That is unacceptable.

  • Actually, I'm not going to criticize as you expected. Despite what one would have thought about putting in all the new switches to run 3-track, it did seem to work, and CTA also put on the extra bus service and told Metra to put on extra trains on the parallel--this--route. The only questionable thing is that while they can now run 8 car trains on the Brown Line, whether they have in fact increased capacity or just reduced frequency.

    The more notable thing is that despite Metra advertising for eons that it was the best run railroad, it now has repeatedly proved that it isn't, between this and the Pagano mess.

    So, I admit that CTA engineers put more thought into the Brown Line than Metra engineers did into this one. I certainly couldn't see how Metra could maintain one track for eight years.
    and since most of the complainers were at Central St., Evanston, whether they would have migrated to the Purple Line if the projected hell had lasted that long.

  • In reply to jack:

    The Evanston complainers were simply the best organized, everyone & I mean everyone hated the new schedules & that included the crews.
    Plus I get emails from Metra on delays & there hasn't been a single day for months without at least one due to track construction. Almost every non-rush inbound train is 10-15 minutes late, every day!

  • I do ride the North Line & the real problem is that Metra should have totally rethought the project after Pagano committed suicide last May.
    Pagano didn't know what was best for Metra in general or this project in particular.
    What should be done is build all new bridges where track 0 [that's how Metra designates it] used to be & an entire new track there, then move northbound one track west & remove track 1 & rebuild it. Then when track 1 is done, replace the track 2 bridges & they will have a 3 track line again.
    But that's only part of the problem.
    The bridges they are planning to replace are from 1901 or so. But north of there in Edgewater, Rogers Park & Evanston, the bridges are from 1907.
    So instead of an 8 year long project with single track operation, in reality it was going to end up a 15-16 year project with single track operation.
    Metra was lying its ass off on this!

    And just wait until the CTA has to replace all the concrete bridges north of Lawrence on the Howard Line. They're from 1922 & the concrete is crumbling. Almost every one of them has been reinforced with steel cribbing to keep them from falling down. Since the stations were built on the same abutments, that might mean station closings. They never should have rebuilt the Howard station without rebuilding the bridges over Howard & Rogers first!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    On your last paragraph, CTA demonstrated in Evanston (and over Wacker Drive) that it could build a steel bridge next to the original, then over a weekend knock out the original and slide the steel one in. Someone previously replied to me that the reason Metra couldn't was that they were increasing the grade. I'm fairly sure a Red Line reconstruction wouldn't have involved that.

  • In reply to jack:

    Personally, I feel that the best way for Metra is to shut the line down for 30-60 days & replace all the bridges at once. There are plenty of places nearby to construct & store them.
    And it is believed that Metra wants to increase the road clearances as many of the viaducts are less than 10 feet high in Lakeview. I think Melrose Ave. is 9'10".
    The entire project was poorly thought out.
    I'm also amazed that Metra doesn't get all three former C&NW lines to run right handed as every other train line in America does!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    The explanation given for the North line is that Walter Gurnee built the stations on that side of the tracks before it was double tracked. Reversing now would require that, if we assume that most traffic is "To Chicago," passengers waiting in many stations would have to cross the tracks where a crossing does not now exist, such as at Braeside (see Google Map). Of course it is the opposite situation in downtown Highland Park, but a crossing is provided there.

  • In reply to jack:

    That explanation is such a crock of shit, it's not funny!
    The C&NW's official explanation was that when the original line to Galena was built, the station houses were built on the north side of the tracks to protect people from the cold north wind.
    That explanation doesn't make any sense for the Wisconsin Division [now the Northwest Line] & even less sense for the Milwaukee Division [now the North Line].
    The explanation that everyone believes is that the railroad was financed by British interests which demanded it.
    It's totally baffling that the Union Pacific & Metra haven't reversed this as all the lines now have full signaling for bidirectional operation. When UP trains hit former C&NW tracks, their engineers have to switch over. I'm amazed there hasn't been a problem.

  • In reply to jack:

    "You cannot separate transit and other transportation and pit the two things against each other."

    Isn't this how funding works now?

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Highway funds should be used for this project since they want to raise the bridges for truck traffic. Supposedly the raising of the grade is the main reason they don't want to go to three tracks.

    Even if they don't want to go three tracks now, it's very bad long term planning to foreclose on three tracks for the future.

    This project is going through one of the best urban ecosystems in the world. Catering to bigger trucks and yet not working with that quality urban reality with three tracks is criminal. We don't need to be wasting money to bring bigger trucks into that urban landscape. We do need three tracks.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Metra's downfall was treating the UP North line like its any other Metra line. Most Metra lines have a majority of their riders going into the city in the morning, and going all the way in. The UP North line, in terms of riding patterns, is much more like a CTA pattern then your normal Metra pattern. The new schedule was built around people doing the normal full commute, leaving people (like me) who do a reverse commute out in the cold. It was not friendly towards people whose endpoints did not include Ogilvie either. When told of these concerns at the "public comment" sessions they had a week or so before implementing the new schedule, I was told point blank that they couldn't accommodate people who did not fit the normal Metra rider profile when redoing the schedules. Hopefully they will keep us non-normal riders in mind during the redo.

  • In reply to Espio:

    Metra's attitude, as described, was pretty dumb. In fact, if they pulled something like that on the Milwaukee North Line, it would be worse, given the obviousness of reverse commuters using the Pace reverse feeders from the North Glenview, Deerfield, and especially Lake Cook stations. On the UP N, there are still 3 of them running from Braeside.

  • Of course I said all that on general principle, specifics be damned. On general principle too much gas tax is spent on cars and not enough is spent on train. On general principle the oil/gas from the ground should have not been mostly focused on auto development especially in urban environments.

    A third track is for express trains, which you likely know. True my support of a third track is based on "more is better" rational and the abstract rather than any concrete.

  • It would be great for an express train from the Billy Mitchell Airport. :)

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