Red Line to Get Major Rehab


By Robert C. Herguth

Date of Publication: January 15, 2002
Source: Chicago Sun-Times


The Red Line's Dan Ryan branch will undergo a $238 million renovation next year to refurbish its notoriously dingy stations and improve the flow of electricity through the third rail, which should speed trains, the Chicago Sun-Times learned.

"It hasn't had a significant rehabilitation since it opened in 1969," said Michael J. Shiffer, the CTA's vice president for planning and development.

Suburban extension on transit wish list

With the federal government's main transportation bill expiring in 2003, the CTA and Metra are discussing the next big-ticket capital projects they want funded.

Both agencies were successful under the current six-year measure, securing four full-funding grant agreements for rail renovation and expansion initiatives. A fifth agreement, for the CTA's Brown Line renovation, is not yet finalized.

Among the projects being considered by the CTA this round:

  • Express Blue Line service to O'Hare Airport.
  • Blue Line extension to Schaumburg.
  • Orange Line extension to Ford City.
  • Yellow Line extension to Old Orchard.
  • Red Line extension to 130th.

CTA President Frank Kruesi said it's a "fair guess" that at least two will be aggressively pursued for grants and other federal funding.

Metra's priorities, meanwhile, are its inner and outer "circumferential" train routes, which could connect O'Hare to Midway, and Waukegan to the Indiana state line, both using existing freight lines, officials said.

The entire Red Line is the CTA's busiest and is one of only two 24-hour lines it operates.

Eight of the nine stations between Chinatown and the Far South Side--Cermak, 35th, 47th, Garfield, 63rd, 69th, 79th and 87th--will be rehabbed. That includes replacement of all escalators, addition of an elevator at 47th, the lengthening of platforms at 47th and 79th, and improvements to floors, canopies and lighting, officials said.

In terms of the stations' outward appearance, "it's hard to tell what we'll get out of the designs," said Chris Harris, vice president for capital construction at the CTA. "There's a good chance they might be different."

But Shiffer added: "Most of the money isn't going into stations, it's track and power."

During busy rushes and on hot days when trains operate air conditioning, more power is sucked from the third rail and problems sometimes arise. Most often between 37th and 79th, "the train suddenly gets less power and it slows, or loses power," said CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney.

"So if we put in two additional substations, we'll have more power, and we'll also aluminum-clad the third rail--that will help provide a more consistent source of power so . . . we won't encounter that problem as much, of trains sputtering or having to stop and start," she said.

Trains now crawling through these zones could return to full speed, officials said. That could lead to more trains operating for the 53,500 daily weekday passengers on the Dan Ryan branch, they said.

The branch will stay open during the project, slated to begin July 2003 and end July 2005, although riders will see disruptions, officials said.

The timing of the work will overlap with the $483 million reconstruction of the Blue Line's Douglas Branch, which has already begun, and the Brown Line, which is expected to begin in late 2002 or early 2003, Harris said.

All those jackhammers could make for some messy commutes. But starting the Red Line project before the $500 million renovation of the Brown Line, which shares some stations and track with the Red Line's Howard Branch, should ease the pain, said CTA President Frank Kruesi. Most significant Red Line work will be done before rail work begins at the megastations of Fullerton and Belmont, which are shared by the Howard branch and the Brown Line, CTA consultant Alaaeldien Waziry said.

The Federal Transit Administration will cover about $132 million, while the Regional Transportation Authority will pay $73.7 million and the Illinois FIRST program will chip in about $30 million. The state and CTA will cover the rest.

The ninth Dan Ryan station, 95th, is being rebuilt as part of a separate project.