The CTA Reinvents Itself:
The "L" Heads Into the 21st Century (1990-present)


As the Chicago Transit Authority entered the 1990s, ridership was down to some of its lowest levels and costs were skyrocketing. Some tough decisions needed to be made regarding CTA service levels and it was during the last decade of the 20th century that they realized that some difficult and potentially unpopular changes needed to be made. The CTA began the 1990s with the last of their classic-style service cuts: on February 9, 1992, five "L" stations were closed (California/Lake, Laramie [Douglas], Grand/Milwaukee, Wentworth, and Harvard, which effectively created a two mile gap in stations on the Englewood branch), four station entrances were shuttered (Paulina at Medical Center, Pulaski at Irving Park [Kennedy], Lunt at Morse, and Spaulding at Logan Square), station hours were reduced (Thorndale closed on Sundays/Holidays and North/Clybourn closed on weekends), and owl service was reduced on the North-South and West-South Lines, all to make up for a budget deficit without raising fares. But, it treated the symptoms, not the disease, doing nothing to rectify some of the CTA's outdated service patterns. This problem would not be attacked for another five years. In the meantime, the CTA sought to solve two other problems with the rapid transit system: lack of service to the Southwest Side and realignment of the mismatched North-South and West-South Routes.


Through-Routes Realigned

The poor ridership balance between the North-South Route (Howard-Englewood-Jackson Park) and the West-South Route (Lake-Dan Ryan) continued to plague the CTA into the 1990s. As early as the 1970s, it became apparent that the high-demand Howard and Dan Ryan Lines were poorly matched to the lower-ridership Englewood-Jackson Park and Lake Lines, respectively. But, the connection necessary to link the Howard and Dan Ryan Lines would have increased the already high construction costs of the Dan Ryan project in 1969 and became financially unfeasible in the cash-strapped 1970s and 1980s. It was not until the late 1980s that work finally began on the necessary subway connection, though the work was slow and cumbersome. In the meantime, both lines had to maintain a high level of service, running long trains that were full on the Howard and Dan Ryan lines and virtually empty on the Lake and Englewood-Jackson Park lines.

The original construction of the State Street Subway assisted somewhat in the construction of the new connection. When Chicago's first subways were designed in the late 1930s, a number of extensions were planned to be built at a later stage. The way the initial system of subways (e.g. the State Street and Milwaukee-Dearborn Subways) were constructed included features to make these extensions easier. One type of this provision was the construction of junctions for the as-yet-unbuilt branches. One of the junctions for the planned but never built branches was a connection south of Roosevelt station between the State Street Subway and a proposed Archer Avenue Subway (see next section). As built, North-South trains ascended to the surface after Roosevelt through the 13th Street Portal and went onto the old Englewood-Jackson Park tracks. But for the Archer Avenue Subway, a junction was built at 13th/State where a set of tunnels continued south under State Street beyond the junction for a few hundred feet, then stopped. The junction was well constructed because the northbound "Archer-State" track never crosses the northbound Howard-Englewood-Jackson Park track (which could create crossing conflicts and delays, as currently happens at Clark Junction on the North Side). The southbound "Archer" tunnel simply diverged from the southbound Englewood-Jackson Park tunnel.

The Archer Avenue Subway was never built (ultimately another route was taken to the Southwest Side, see below), but the existence of the flying crossover at 13th/State made the connection to the Dan Ryan much easier and also allowed the connection to the South Side main line to stay in place for nonrevenue moves. The dead-end "Archer" tunnels were extended about another five blocks south to 18th/LaSalle, where they ascend to the surface below the Dan Ryan Connector, the elevated connection built in 1969 to connect the Dan Ryan Line to the South Side main line. The tracks merge with the Dan Ryan Line north of Cermak-Chinatown station, allowing Dan Ryan trains to be routed either into the State Street Subway or onto the Loop via the South Side elevated.

As early as January 1990, the connection was completed enough that test trains could be operated through. On February 21, 1993, the switch was officially made and the North-South and West-South Routes were reconfigured. At 0300 hours, Howard trains were through-routed to the Dan Ryan Line via the State Street Subway and the new connector between Roosevelt and Cermak-Chinatown. Meanwhile, Lake trains were routed to the Englewood and Jackson Park Lines via the Wabash and Lake legs of the Loop Elevated and the South Side main line. A/B skip-stop service was eliminated on the Dan Ryan Line due to high ridership and wider station intervals. It was also eliminated on the new Lake-Englewood-Jackson Park Line as a result of increased intervals between trains there, an economy justified by the lines' lower ridership and now made possible by the realignment.



On the same date, another significant change took place: route nomenclature changed from long often-hyphenated names to color codes. Thus, the six routes were renamed the Red Line (Howard-Dan Ryan), Blue Line (O'Hare-Congress-Douglas), Green Line (Lake-Englewood-Jackson Park), Brown Line (Ravenswood), Purple Line (Evanston), and Yellow Line (Skokie Swift). The longer names were retained as secondary names (and those still favored by many longtime Chicagoans) and still appeared on the car's destination signs, though the signs now used the line color as the background.



"A colorful inspiration at the CTA"

"L" To the Southwest Side: A New Way to Midway

An Orange Line train passes over the bridge at Archer near Western, west of 35th/Archer station, in August 1997. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by John Bell)

Southwest Chicago had long been neglected by rapid transit. The Douglas Branch of the Metropolitan "L" served what was then the southwest side in 1895, but the city soon grew far south of 22nd Street and west of the South Side "L"'s tracks, leaving a significant quadrant of the city unserved. As far back as the 1940s, when the State Street and Dearborn Street subways were being planned and constructed, the city proposed an elaborate system of subways to expand the "L" system, including a southwest route from the Loop to Municipal (now Midway) Airport. (See proposed subway map) For the next fifty years, various plans continued to be put forth. When the Stevenson Expressway was constructed, space was left in much of its length for a median rapid transit route (as was done in the Congress, Dan Ryan, and Kennedy Expressways), though this was never utilized. This may have been for the best: putting an "L" line in the median of an expressway often isolates it from the neighborhood it's supposed to serve.

Unfortunately, the citizens of this area would have to wait another fifty years before rapid transit would reach them, and then was on an "L", not in a subway. In 1980, Mayor Byrne announced the plans for the new Southwest Route using money from the canceled Crosstown Expressway, but a lack of federal funding assistance stalled the plan. Finally, in 1986, President Reagan entered into a funding deal with Mayor Harold Washington as a political favor to Representative William Lipinski (D-Ill.) for a vote cast on a critical issue and planning got underway on the Southwest Transit Project. The $500 million line is unusual in that it predominantly follows current or former freight railroad right-of-ways, including those previously used by the Illinois Central Railroad, Santa Fe Railway and the Belt Railway of Chicago. The Midway (Orange) Line begins at a terminal at Midway Airport (actually at 59th/Kilpatrick, across the street from the airport; this was done to allowing easier extension of the line), then follows the Belt Railway of Chicago, 49th Street, Leavitt Avenue, Archer Avenue, and the

A view of the Midway Terminal station in August 1997. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by John Bell)

Stevenson Expressway to a connection with the former Dan Ryan elevated trackage at 18th/Federal. At this point, the Orange Line follows the South Side main line to the Loop, where it terminates clockwise on the inner track. The route has seven stations approximately one mile apart (an eighth was planned but never built at California/49th) on the nine mile line, plus a new station at Roosevelt/Wabash to serve Orange and Green Line trains. The Midway terminal also includes a spacious yard and modern inspection shop, plus a layout conducive to extension south to Ford City (something planned in the early stages of the Southwest Route, but as yet unrealized).

On October 31, 1993, the Orange Line began operation at 0730 hours between Midway and the Loop. The line was unusual in several ways, a harbinger of things to come on the CTA rapid transit system. The line opened entirely equipped with brand-new 3200-series cars, which had full-width cabs, allowing one-person train operation (OPTO). Only the Yellow Line also had OPTO, which had been a feature since its opening in 1964; in two years, it would begin spreading to the rest of the system. Every station on the line was ADA-compliant, all but Kedzie and Roosevelt had park'n'ride lots (Kedzie had one added in 1999), and all had bus bays and turnarounds to facilitate intermodal transfers. The line also began operation without owl (late night) service, running only Monday through Saturday from 0500 to 2300 hours and Sundays/Holidays from 0730 to 2330 hours. But ridership proved better than expected and more trips were soon added. Today, the Orange Line serves as an integral part of the CTA's rapid transit system.



"Midway 'L' finally ready to roll"

Green Line Closes for Rehabilitation

When the CTA created the Green Line in the 1993 realignment, they combined the city's oldest (Englewood-Jackson Park) and second oldest (Lake) rapid transit lines into a single route. And now the one hundred-plus year old lines were deteriorating, partially due to sheer age and partially due to subpar maintenance in the cash-strapped days of the 1970s and 80s. The structure was becoming a safety hazard, the CTA claimed, and there were only two choices: close the lines down and replace them with improved bus service or overhaul the entire line.

Some portions of the Green Line were severely deteriorated and in need of immediate repair, like this section of the Jackson Park branch at Ellis Avenue and 63rd Street in 1996. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Chris Walker for the Chicago Tribune)

The CTA seriously considered closing the lines for a time, but political and citizen pressure were major factors in their ultimate decision to leave the line open and rehabilitate it. To accelerate the speed of the work, however, the Green Line would need to be closed for approximately two years while the work went on. The CTA did not announce to the public its decision regarding the line until late November 1993, only a little over a month before the line was scheduled to be closed! This veil of secrecy seemed to cover the entire Green Line project from start to finish, creating an air of apprehension and mistrust through the project because the public interpreted the information control as a way to minimize opposition to potentially unpopular decisions.

The $300 million project would replace deteriorated structural steel; remove lead-based paint from the structure and apply a new coat of paint; pay for new ties, tracks, and signals; and pay for the construction of new stations and the rehabilitation of others. Stations, however, would prove to be one of the most controversial parts of the project: from the beginning, the CTA proclaimed that the line would reopen with fewer stops than it closed with due to budget constraints. To be spaced approximately a mile apart, the stations targeted early for closing were Oak Park, Austin, Laramie, Homan, Halsted, and Tech-35th. Paring the number of stations would increase train speeds, officials said, and reduce the cost of the rehab. By late December, more stations were mentioned for possible pruning, including Indiana, 47th, Garfield, Racine/63 and University, although new stops at 31st and Dorchester were also proposed. "There are too many stations," CTA President Belcaster said. "Some of these stations are within two blocks of each other. That's not a rapid transit system, that's a cab. The bottom line is we do not have enough money to reopen with the same number of stations. Do you want a rapid transit system with fewer stops , or no line at all? It's that simple." Citizens disagreed, citing that the convenience of more stops brings in riders, not repels them. "Some of our young people can't get around without the stops in their community," countered state Senator Rickey Hendon. "They'll have to cross through gang territory. We're just not going to take it."

On January 9, 1994, service over the Green Line was suspended for the rehabilitation project. During the construction, two new express bus routes were added. The #23 Washington Express replaced the Lake branch of the Green Line, running from Harlem/North Boulevard in Oak Park to Madison/Michigan in the Loop. The #38 Michigan Express replaced South Side service, running from both Stony Island/63 and Ashland/63 to Madison/Michigan via 63rd, Michigan, and Indiana. Riders were also encouraged to use the Congress branch of the Blue Line and Dan Ryan leg of the Red Line as alternates.

Above: CTA worker Bernard Smith drills holes in new ties on the Lake Street Line near Desplaines Street. For a larger view, click here.

Below: CTA workers secure new rail ties to the elevated structure along Lake Street. For a larger view, click here.

(Photos by Carl Wagner for the Chicago Tribune)

Only months after the lines closed, a new controversy arose: the fate of a new section of the Jackson Park branch between the terminal at University and a new terminal at Dorchester. Some members of the Woodlawn community where the line runs, led by Bishop Arthur Brazier of the Apostolic Church of God (located, perhaps not so coincidentally, at the proposed terminal at Dorchester/63), charged that the elevated line over 63rd Street would continue the neighborhood's blight and stunt redevelopment. "I believe if they leave the 'L'," Brazier charged, "they doom 63rd Street to be nothing more than a glorified alley over which that track runs." But not all South Side residents failed to see the connection between redevelopment and improved transportation. Fredricka Lightfoot, executive director of the New Englewood Village Corporation, pointed out that, "if more people are coming in, you will need more transit. They tear that down, no one's going to put up the money to put it back up. I don't care how successful that neighborhood is, once [the 'L' is] gone, it's gone." CTA President Belcaster said he'd consider the demolition proposal, but if the CTA did tear down the line, they feared that they might have to reimburse the federal government for the $7 million in grants that were used to construct the five block extension and lose the $6 million earmarked for the new Dorchester terminal. Ultimately, the decision would have to wait until after the Green Line reopened.

About the same time, some good news began to surface. Belcaster said he favored the construction of a new station at Harvard/63 on the Englewood branch. The new stop would fill in the 2.25 mile station gap on the branch, could serve as a transfer point to the adjacent 63rd Street Dan Ryan station, and a park'n'ride lot there could help pull motorists onto the system and allow the CTA to tap U.S. clean air project funds for the project. Soon after, Belcaster also said that a new Laramie station on the Lake branch would also be added, funded by economizing at other stations and by transferring funds from other nonessential projects. The CTA also proposed constructing two new, experimental "super-stations" at Pulaski/Lake and at an unspecified location on the South Side (Garfield and 63rd/Calumet were both discussed). The stations would house a number of amenities for transit riders -- convenience store, day-care center, bank branch -- and serve as anchors for redevelopment. The hope was to give residents a high standard of living and a more stores and services, without the requirement of a car. The CTA worked closely with the West Side community in the development of the Pulaski super-station and tried for years to get it built, even after the Green Line reopened. But neither super-station ever got built and neither did the Harvard-63rd Transfer station on the Englewood branch. In 2001, the CTA finally constructed stations at Pulaski and Garfield: just run-of-the-mill cookie-cutter rapid transit facilities.

In early 1996, just as the CTA was finishing the rehab project, a new controversy entered the ring: consideration was being given to not restoring 24 hour service when the Green Line reopened. Again, the CTA made no formal announcement of the consideration; rather, it somehow "leaked" out to the public, further reinforcing an atmosphere of mistrust that had formed around the two-year project. However, the simple numbers revealed that owl period ridership on the Green Line was extremely low and the number of people that would have been inconvenienced was small compared to the potential cost savings. As the projected March 31, 1996 reopening date approached, the protests and controversies over the Green Line project mounted: in addition to the owl service question, many West Side and South Side citizens were still protesting the proposed closing of four stations and the potential demolition of the far east section of the Jackson Park branch.

As it turned out, the line wasn't to reopen on schedule anyway. Work was running behind schedule and employees still had to be retrained on the renovated line. Most stations needed additional work just to be useable. A new reopening date of May 12th was set, though work on some stations would continue into 1997. When it reopened -- with a massive Go Green Line campaign and an promotional 25 cent fare -- owl service was retained, at least for the time being. Ridership levels when the line reopened were unfortunately even lower than when it closed in 1994. Commuters, it seemed, had found other forms of transportation and would need to be lured back. Over time, the CTA won back most of these riders and ridership slowly but steadily climbed. The route had six fewer stations: Homan, Halsted, 58th, 61st, Racine and University were kept closed. Jackson Park trains terminated at Cottage Grove and a new station at Laramie remained unfinished, opening a year later. The California/Lake station, closed in the service revision of February 1992, was rebuilt and reopened. Terminal-to-terminal running time was cut by 10-15 minutes and the Green Line, the CTA's oldest segments, was now its most modern route.

With less than 24 hours notice, heavy machinery pulls down the Green Line tracks between Cottage Grove and Dorchester, including a never-used portion at the east end. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Phil Greer for the Chicago Tribune)

But one question still remained to be solved: the fate of the Univeristy-to-Dorchester segment of the Jackson Park branch. The segment from Cottage Grove to Dorchester remained finished but unopened while the CTA studied whether it should be reopened or demolished. Woodlawn residents seemed to support opening it. "[Tearing it down] is the dumbest thing I've ever heard of," said Timothy Callahan, manager of a local hardware store located along the tracks. "Transportation is the key to the growth of a community. It has dashed my hop to see a giant Metra link up a block-and-a-half away. It would have been tremendous for business." Opponents of the plan for demolition weren't entirely convinced that community leaders Bishop Brazier and Reverend Leon Finney, who were advocating demolition, were acting in the nest interest of the neighborhood. Rumors circulated that Brazier owned land along East 63rd Street (bought from the city at below-market prices) and that they wanted to build upscale housing along the elevated structure, which they feared would inhibit their plans. The CTA, however, claimed that resident input from hearings and surveys supported demolition. Debate continued to rage, even after the CTA Board voted in June 1996 to demolish the segment. For months, hope stayed afloat as the CTA left the structure intact. But on September 27, 1997, the CTA apparently reached their decision: with less then 24 hours of public notice, city workers moved in and dismantled the Univeristy-to-Dorchester segment. With the demolition of line -- which had cost $7 million to build and never actually been used -- went any hopes of an intermodal transit facility at Dorchester/63 between CTA trains and buses and Metra suburban trains to serve the Woodlawn community.



"CTA to close some stations on Green Line"

"Some in Woodlawn Favor Demolishing a Part of Jackson Park 'L'"

"2 New Stops Planned for Green Line"

"Razing 'L' Would Hurt Woodlawn"

"CTA Board Backs Demolition of Green Line Woodlawn Leg"


1995 map

Booz-Allen Hamilton Service Cuts

Extending service to the Southwest Side via the new Orange Line and realigning the North-South and West-South Routes had put CTA rapid transit service where there was none before and finally created the long-awaited ridership balance on two of the city's trunk lines. The Green Line rehab had brought the city's oldest elevated line's up to a good state of repair and made it 73% ADA-complaint, the CTA's most accessible line outside of the Orange Line (which had the advantage of being built after the Americans with Disabilities Act had become law). But the CTA still had fundamental problems of oversupply and underfunding, using outdated routes and service levels to serve populations that had changed in the postwar period.

Collectively, these trends had been one major reason the CTA had had difficulty meeting its operating costs. Another is a reduction of federal operating subsidies from $41.5 million in 1991 to $ 17.2 million in 1997 (a 59% decrease) to zero in 1998. Without these essential funds, the CTA had to resort to obtaining their entire operating budget from through internally-generated revenues (fares, state-subsidy from reduced fares [which already doesn't cover the costs incurred by the numbers of riders utilizing the program], investment income, advertising revenues and contributors from the City of Chicago and Cook County) and public funding from the RTA (100% of the sales tax funds collected by the RTA in the City of Chicago, Federal Transit Administration funds and discretionary funding). The increased loss of riders has greatly affected the CTA's revenues: 52% of internally-generated revenues must come from the farebox, as per the CTA's 1945 charter.

The CTA retained a private consultant, Booz-Allen & Hamilton, to study, analyze, and recommend modifications to the CTA service network. The Booz-Allen & Hamilton CTA Service Restructuring Proposal was released in May 1997 and was adopted by the Chicago Transit Board the following month.

Since 1986, the CTA had lost 30% of its riders, but reduced service only 4%. While this was acceptable in terms of maximum service accessibility, it was not cost effective and added to the already increasing financial woes the CTA faces. Therefore, the CTA, with the aid of Booz-Allen & Hamilton consultants, proposed to alter or eliminate certain services provided on the CTA's three basic types of transit modes: the rapid transit "L" lines, carrying 29% of all CTA riders; the key fixed-route bus lines carrying 47% of all CTA riders; and the supplemental bus routes (generally serving specialized, local markets, often with significant performance lags) carrying 23% of all CTA riders.

The "L" actually received the least service changes under the plan. Overall service was maintained with no stations closings or line reductions or closings. Changes were made, however, to weekend and late-night "owl" service when ridership is low and could, in the CTA's view, be better served by lower-cost buses. They include:

  • Owl service on the Lake Street branch of the Green Line (1am-4am) was replaced by extended bus service on the #20 Madison route. Owl service on the Englewood-Jackson Park branches of the Green Line was to be accommodated by the Dan Ryan Red Line and existing bus services.
  • Owl service on the Purple Line (Evanston) was replaced on the weekends (2am-6am) and weekdays (1am-5am) by expanded #201 bus service.
  • Service was eliminated during weekend and owl hours (1am-4am) on the Douglas branch of the Blue Line. Passengers were to be accommodated with existing bus lines to the north and south and the Congress "L" to the north.

In addition, on the surface lines 15 bus routes were eliminated. Evening, owl or weekend service was reduced on 24 of the 46 key bus routes due to low ridership. Five other routes were shortened during unproductive time periods.

In spite of low ridership on some routes, the fact of the matter was that Chicagoans enjoyed very good transit service, far better than farebox revenues and usage levels suggested were warranted. Needless to say, the Booz-Allen Hamilton cuts were not popular with CTA riders. Public hearings conducted by the CTA on the cuts degenerated into chaotic rallies, with thoughtful public testimonies interspersed by angry shouts at Chairman Jarrett and the CTA panel as more protesters yelled and banged on the doors from outside the standing room-only hearing room. But in the end, the CTA passed all the cuts. Owl service on the Purple, Green, and Blue (Douglas) Lines and weekend service on the Douglas branch was suspended on Sunday, April 26, 1998. Though unpopular, the fact is that cuts finally brought the CTA's service levels into alignment with current population and ridership trends. With the "pork" of the system shed, the CTA was now in a position to balance their books and expand and rebuild the "L" system based on contemporary trends. Still, thousands of CTA riders were now saddled with less convenient service. It was another example of the age old question of publicly-funded mass transit: which is more important, full, equal service for all or a financially self-sustaining system? The transit industry as a whole has not come to a conclusion as of yet, though most agree that the answer lies somewhere in between.

Approximately one month after the Chicago Transit Board voted to adopt the service cuts, CTA President David Mosena resigned his post. Spending less than a year and a half in office, some believed Mosena was sent in on a kamikaze mission: to lead the formulation and adoption of the terribly unpopular service cuts necessary to fully update CTA service patterns, then leave office quietly. True or not, implementation of the cuts fell on a new CTA president, but the hard part was over. Now the CTA was prepared to look toward the future...



CTA in the 21st Century

Newly appointed CTA President Frank Kruesi happily shows his CTA TransitCard. For a larger view, click here. (Photo by Charles Osgood for the Chicago Tribune)

With the rapid transit system revised and updated to contemporary service demands, the CTA ended the 20th century with changes designed to further update and modernize "L" operations. Shortly after Mosena left, a new CTA president stepped in. Frank Kruesi, who had been Mayor Daley's policy chief until 1993, was an assistant US transportation secretary in charge of domestic transportation. Daley personally picked Kruesi to return to Chicago and take over the CTA, officially assuming the post October 6, 1997, just as the agency was preparing to implement the cuts approved under former-President Mosena.

Shortly after Kruesi took over the reins, the CTA began to post a yearly budget surplus, the first time the authority had not been in deficit since 1990. In 1997, the CTA moved from a cash-fare system to the use of magnetic-strip fare cards that could be recharged at vending machines located at every "L" station. In the summer of 1997, the $106 million Automatic Fare Collection (AFC) systems were activated and the ticket agents were transitioned into being customer assistants (CAs). As of September 15, 1997, all fare collection was through AFC equipment only, with cash no longer accepted by agents; the new fare card turnstiles continued to accept tokens until they too were discontinued on June 1, 1999.

Only two months later, another significant change took place. On November 9th, the Red and Blue Lines became the last "L" lines to be converted to one person train operation (OPTO), after the Brown Line had first done so with the assignment of the new 3200-series cars in 1995, and the conversion of the Green and Purple Lines in 1997. Motorman and conductors were replaced by an operator who operated the train, made announcements, and opened and closed the doors. Conductors were, however, retained on the subway portions of the Blue and Red Lines for safety reasons until March 2000. Due to the extra duties being performed, running times were increased. The CTA, however, anticipated saving millions of dollars in labor costs. Additionally, the CTA cuts $62.5 million worth of internal labor costs with the early retirement of 1,600 employees, only 800 of which were replaced.

The design for the new California station has a decidedly modern design, with a simple box-shaped glass and steel building beneath the elevated structure and an angular postmodern canopy. Also visible in this view is an enclosed walkway at elevated level (top left) leading to the auxiliary entrance/exit on the west side of California Avenue. For a larger view, click here. (Drawing provided courtesy of the Chicago Transit Authority)

The CTA was still not free of woes yet. A major goal of the agency was to bring the system up to a good state of repair. In 1998, it was estimated that $2.7 billion was needed to complete all upgrades and repairs to maintain the system infrastructure, but only $855 million in funds had been identified, leaving a $1.9 billion funding gap. In most severe need was the Douglas branch of the Blue Line. The branch line, built between 1895 and 1912, has deteriorated over time due to deferred maintenance and now much of its length between the Congress Line and it terminal at 54/Cermak in suburban Cicero is classified as slow zones, restricting speeds that should be 55mph to just 15mph. In 1999, the federal government pledged $552 million for CTA capital improvement projects, but it was unusable unless state matching funds could be located. The CTA warned that the Douglas branch had become so deteriorated that if funds could not be identified, the line would have to be closed within five years.

Thanks to Illinois Governor George Ryan's massive Illinois FIRST infrastructure funding program, the CTA got the funding it needed and more. The state filled the $86 million need left unfulfilled by the federal government's $320 million pledge. The Illinois FIRST program also allotted funds for 150 new rail cars, various station projects, and other capital improvements. The CTA was also seeking funds for a $310 million expansion project on the Brown (Ravenswood) Line to expand the line's operating capacity from six- to eight-car trains to better handle the line's overcrowding during rush hours due to a surge in popularity of the communities it runs through. With state funding identified, the CTA has been less successful in obtaining federal funding. Although the feds have pledged $254 million, none have actually been appropriated yet, an important distinction in the contest for government money. The Douglas branch, however, faired better: it has received a full funding grant agreement, guaranteeing the CTA will get the necessary funds for the high priority project.

The end of the 20th century continued bringing more changes and modernizations to the CTA's rapid transit system. In 2000, the CTA implemented an automated announcement system called the Operator's Control Unit (OCU) on their trains to take over calling stations and making announcements from the rapid transit operators (RTOs). The recorded messages are digitized and compressed, then loaded into the memory of an electronic card in the car's onboard communications equipment. In emergencies, the operator can override the system and make manual announcements. On March 25, 2000, the last rapid transit conductors were eliminated from the subway portions of the Red and Blue Lines, with little attention from the press or the Amalgamated Transit Union and only two railfans present on the final run. On June 10, 2000, six "L" and subway stations (LaSalle/Congress, Chicago/Milwaukee, Harrison, Madison/Wabash, LaSalle/Van Buren, and Washington/Wells) and seven station entrances (Loomis [Racine station], Adams-Jackson [Jackson station], Monroe-Adams [Monroe station], Washington-Madison [Washington station], and 203 N. LaSalle [Clark/Lake station] on the Blue Line and Monroe-Adams [Monroe station] and Washington-Madison [Washington station] on the Red Line) that were closed late at night or on weekends were reopened at all hours that trains are in service, ending the era of part-time stations and entrances. On July 16th, the CTA extended Brown Line service to the Loop on nights and weekends until midnight; Ravenswood service to the Loop had been cut back on Saturday nights and all day Sunday to Armitage in 1952, further cut back to Belmont in the 1980s. Further modernizing their fare collection system, on August 1, 2000 the CTA launched their Smart Card pilot program, designed to offer customers another TransitCard option using a credit card-like plastic pass with a computer chip inside. The 3,500 cards made available in the pilot program have the added speed of "touch and go" access through the turnstiles and bus fareboxes, plus the added convenience of a more durable plastic card that won't lose its remaining value even if it gets lost.

So, what awaits the Chicago Transit Authority's rapid transit system in the 21st century? The CTA's main focus in 2001 is the rehabilitation work on the Douglas branch that is set to begin in spring. Design work is complete, with various revisions being performed as necessary, and the CTA has announced that the line will remain open during the project -- possible because of the extra time available since the withdrawal of night and weekend service -- which is scheduled to be completed around 2005. Whether the CTA will restore weekend and owl service when the project is complete remains to be seen. The CTA is also working to further secure funds for the Brown Line expansion project. In the next two years, the CTA will receive 150 new rapid transit cars. Although their design has not been publicly released, it is believed they will simply be a continuation of the 3200-series cars, with the CTA's "next generation" rapid transit car coming in whatever series is to eventually follow. The CTA is also completing several new station facilities in 2001, including ones at Indiana, Garfield, Pulaski/Lake, UIC-Halsted, Western/Milwaukee, and an all-new stop at Conservatory.

Looking farther into the future, several new rapid transit lines and extensions have been put forth in the Destination 2020 transportation plan for Chicago, including additions to the Red Line to 130th Street, Orange Line to Ford City, Yellow Line to Lake-Cook Road in Northbrook, IL, and Blue Line to Schaumburg, IL, plus the all-new Mid-Town Line beltway. But with the multiyear Douglas and Brown Line projects on the CTA's plate and a need for strong legislative support in many levels of government, it is unlikely any of these projects will get off the ground before 2010 at the earliest.

One thing is for sure: as it has been for the last hundred years, Chicago rapid transit remains a system in flux, continuing to adapt to changing trends, needs, and technologies.

1997 map

1999 map

"Not just president, he's also a client"

"Late deal swings funds for CTA line"

"End of the line for Douglas 'L'?"

"Douglas Blue Line to get major overhaul"

"Federal Funds Prompt CTA To Speed Up"

"Blue Line Plans Inch Forward"

"CTA's ridership surges"