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CTA Red Line To Get A Major Makeover

UPDATED 11/03/11 12:27 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Customers on the CTA's busiest rail line will soon have to put up with major construction, but the payoff will be a much faster and smoother ride.

The Chicago Transit Authority will spend about $1 billion to replace tracks and upgrade stations along the Red Line, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn said Thursday. The work will add 2,700 construction jobs.

The project, which will be paid for with a state capital investment grant and other federal and local funds, will also improve service on the Purple Line.

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The Red Line runs from 95th Street on the South Side to Howard Street on the border with north suburban Evanston. The Purple Line continues north to Linden Avenue in Wilmette.

Deteriorated tracks will be rebuilt to eliminate slow zones. The project will also replace or repair aging stations, install new power systems to improve performance and upgrade a significant portion of the Purple Line.

Construction starts in 2012 and will last three years.

The plan calls for replacement of the tracks between 18th and 95th streets and provide upgrades to stations between Cermak and 95th Streets.

Currently, almost 35 percent of the Dan Ryan branch is limited to speeds of less than 35 mph, with almost 20 percent of the branch restricted to a top speed of 15 mph.

Farther north, the Wilson and Clark/Division stations, along with the surrounding track, will be rebuilt. The ventilation system will be upgraded on the subway portion of the Red Line through downtown Chicago.

Activists for years have called the Wilson Red Line station everything from dilapidated to dangerous. When built into its current configuration as the Uptown Station in the 1920s, it was posh, but for decades, it has been a hodge-podge of deteriorating storefronts flanking a station mezzanine that is known for smelling of urine.

In addition to the work on the Red Line, ties will be replaced on the Purple Line track between the Belmont and Linden stations, eliminating slow zones.

The Red Line accommodated 79 million riders in 2010. Last year, the entire CTA rail system handled 211 million riders.

More ambitious plans and controversial plans for the Red Line remain under discussion.

The CTA is planning to replace the aging concrete embankment on which 'L' trains run between from Wilson Avenue north to the end of the Purple Line, and the agency has come up with six plans for doing so.

One would eliminate the Lawrence, Thorndale and Jarvis stops on the Red Line, and the South Boulevard and Foster stops on the Purple Line.

An even more radical plan calls for getting rid of the 'L' structure altogether between the Belmont and Loyola stops, and replacing it with a subway. New subway stations would be located at Addison, Irving Park, Wilson, Foster, Bryn Mawr and Glenlake, while the Argyle, Lawrence, Berwyn, Thorndale and Granville stops would vanish.

A study is also underway for an expansion of the Red Line south to 130th Street. Currently, CTA trains do not serve any neighborhood in the more than five miles of Chicago that are located south of 95th Street.

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