CTA Straightens Out System


by Ian Salisbury

Date of Publication: May 20, 2003
Source: Medill News Service


Old cities have crooked roads. London's ancient streets are said to have grown up from cow paths. In Boston, Storrow Drive winds along the Charles River.

But Chicago's modern thoroughfares are straight and wide, except for the serpentine 'L'. It is among the oldest mass transit systems in the world, and as any rider through the Loop knows, the tracks twist and turn as if on a pin.

Now in the interest of progress, the CTA is straightening out one of the tightest knots in the system, the 90 degree S-turn on the Green and Orange lines over Harrison Street.

The conversion, which will be activated over Memorial Day weekend, will allow trains to enter the loop at 35 mph instead of slowing to 10 mph to safely make the turns. The project will reduce noise, allow more trains to enter the Loop every hour and shorten the commute for 58,000 South Side residents.

But some have mixed feelings.

"It is one of those quirky aspects of 'the L' that gives it character," said Graham Garfield, a CTA worker who runs chicago-L.org, a website dedicated to the city's transit history. "Certainly people are sad to see it go."

The Harrison curve is the site of the original connection between the Loop and the first 'L', the South Side Rapid Transit, according to Garfield. When the elevated tracks around the Loop were built in 1897, the private developers, who did not have recourse to eminent domain, deemed it too expensive to acquire private land. As a result, engineers weaved the tracks between four buildings&emdash;creating the S-turn.

In the years since, the buildings were demolished, and the curve now snakes its way between parking lots. "It is an anachronism, something that goes around nonexistent obstacles," adds Garfield, who nonetheless spent Tuesday morning taking pictures of the soon-to-be replaced piece of track.

Construction on project actually began in October 2002. Over Memorial Day the Harrison Curve track will be disconnected and the new, straighter track connected in place. Trains will be running over the new track by Tuesday. The Harrison Curve itself will dismantled over the summer.

Some CTA Green and Orange line service in the Loop will be interrupted between Friday night and Tuesday morning.

CTA Service Interruptions include:

Rail service on the Orange and Green Lines will be suspended over the three-day period from Friday, May 23 at 9 p.m. until Tuesday, May 27 at 2 a.m. Trains will resume their regular schedules on Tuesday morning along the new tracks, with faster service in and out of the Loop.

CTA customers will have several travel options for completing their trips on the Orange and Green Lines over Memorial Day weekend.

Customers in the Loop who want to connect to southbound trains heading to Midway, 63rd/Cottage Grove or Ashland/63rd, should take any train to the State/Lake elevated station and transfer to the Red Line. Customers can take the Red Line south (95th/ Dan Ryan) to Roosevelt where they can transfer back to the Orange and Green Lines.

Customers traveling north to the Loop on the Orange and Green Lines should travel to the Roosevelt station and use the transfer tunnel to make a free connection to the Red Line subway. Customers can take the Red Line north (Howard) to the State/Lake station. From the State/Lake subway station, they can transfer to the State/Lake elevated station to connect with Orange, Green, and Brown Line trains.

An Orange Line Shuttle train will operate in the Loop along the inner elevated tracks, making all regularly scheduled stops.

Green Line trains heading inbound from Harlem will operate along their normal route to Clinton, and then circle the outer Loop counterclockwise instead of its normal clockwise route. It will make all stops in the Loop before heading outbound to Harlem.

All trains will run on their normal schedules and additional customer assistants will be on hand at rail stations to help customers with travel questions and to distribute fare cards at the Library-State/Van Buren stop for paid customers who want to access the Red Line at Jackson. Additionally, paratransit service will be available between accessible stations for customers with disabilities.