Updated 06/04/12 - 6:03 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) -- The south branch of the CTA Red Line, one of the busiest on the system, will be shut down for five months next spring for a massive track overhaul, officials announced on Monday.
Once completed, the $425 million project will result in faster service along the line, which was built back in the late 1960s and is in desperate need of an upgrade, the CTA said. The line is called the Dan Ryan branch because it runs down the middle of the expressway.
With new tracks that will be able to better accommodate the new 5000-Series 'L' cars that are being put into service, the CTA said the travel time between 95th Street and Chinatown will be 10 minutes faster once the work is done.
CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports the move will also save approximately $75 million, which will be used to renovate Red Line stations on the South Side.
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CTA Board Chariman Terry Peterson said riders will probably feel the shutdown is worth the trouble, to get rid of all the slow zones on the Red Line. He said 40 percent of the Dan Ryan branch is restricted by slow zones, meaning trains go much slower than they should. By the time the project starts next spring, 60 percent of the Dan Ryan branch will be restricted by slow zones.
For example, Peterson said the stretch between Garfield and 59th Street, trains can go only 15 miles per hour.
"Trains should be able to travel at least 55 miles per hour, but because of the slow zones, they're only able to go 15 miles per hour. A cyclist could travel faster than our trains do along that stretch," he said. "When this work is complete, riders will shave 20 minutes off their (round-trip) commute from 95th Street to Roosevelt Road."
The decision to close the line from Chinatown to 95th Street was made to finish the work much faster, the CTA said. It would have taken four years to complete the project if work had been done only on weekends, compared to five months by shutting down the line completely to work every day.
"There is no way you can do a project of this scope and size without impacting service," Peterson said.
Opting for the four-year plan would have meant rolling station closures, and frequent schedule changes, at a higher cost.
"Not only would it have caused a lot of inconvenience for our riders, but it was also the most expensive way to go," Peterson said. "We have opted for the plan that allows us to complete the work in the least amount of time, and at the lowest cost."
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), who was among several South Side aldermen briefed on the CTA's plan, said she agrees it's a dramatic move that will save money and time while bringing much-needed repairs to the Red Line.
Dowell said condensing the work into five months by completely shutting down the Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line, rather than spreading the work out over four years by doing work only on weekends, is a dramatic way to speed up the project, and save money.
"I'm satisfied, from at least the initial briefing, that adequate transportation services will be provided to people who have to use the Red Line to get downtown," Dowell said. "You have to explain to people that the closure is temporary, and that there are alternatives, so that they're not inconvenienced. There will be, yes, some inconvenience; but I think the improvements – the benefits that come with the improvements that the CTA is going to make in the long-run – is great for our community."
The CTA will provide shuttle buses to Green Line rail stations as an alternative. The closures affect nine stations, between the 95th Street terminal and the Roosevelt 'L' station. (See map below)
The project will upgrade the track system and eliminate slow zones along the route, which currently cover about 40 percent of the branch. Trains are required to travel at a reduced speed along old, decaying portions of the track for safety reasons.
The faster timetable will also save about $75 million. That money will in turn be used for station improvements.
New rails, ties and ballast (the stone bedding under the tracks) will be installed from just north of Cermak-Chinatown station to 95th Street. The new tracks will also allow the CTA to run its new 5000 series trains on the line. In 2005, the CTA improved signals and power systems along the route.
The project is made possible by $1 billion in federal, state and local funding announced in late 2011 by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Pat Quinn for the Red and Purple Lines.
During construction, CTA will offer extensive alternate service providing multiple options for commuters.
- Free shuttle buses from 69th, 79th, 87th and 95th/Dan Ryan stations to the Garfield station on the Green Line
(a) including express service from stations and local, station-to-station service (entry at Garfield will be free for bus shuttle riders)
- Free rail entry for shuttle bus riders at Garfield on the Green Line
- 50 cent discounted bus rides on many South Side routes
- Red Line service on Green Line tracks between Ashland/63rd and Roosevelt
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's John Waelti reports
In addition, some existing bus lines that serve commuters who transfer to Red Line trains will have expanded service to get them to the Green Line, so that those commuters will still have just one bus ride and one train ride to get downtown.
"So today you might take an east-west connection to get to the Red Line. N ow you'll have extra buses to take you north, directly to the Green Line, so for many South Side residents, their commute will be exactly the same; one bus ride, one rail ride," CTA President Forrest Claypool said.
Peterson said, right now, there are about 100 buses that operate in the affected area on a daily basis. During the project, the CTA will double that number to 200 buses.
The project will also allow the CTA to make every station on the Dan Ryan branch accessible for customers in wheelchairs, by installing elevators at the 87th Street, 63rd Street, and Garfield stations, which are not currently handicapped accessible.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), a South Side alderman who chairs the City Council Transportation Committee, called the project necessary for the proposed extension of the Red Line south to 130th Street.
"You cannot even think about putting the Red Line extension in place when you have a rail line that's already deteriorating," he said. "This is gonna bring it up to standards, get us to where we need to be, so then we won't lose any time with the Red Line extension."
In the mid-1990s, the CTA shut down the Green Line for a total overhaul. At the time, it was the oldest line in the system at around 100 years. That project included both new track and new stations and lasted much longer than the proposed Dan Ryan initiative.
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