The CTA Chalks Up the Red Line South Rehab as a Major Success

A screen at the Garfield stop counts down the time left until the south Red Line reopens to tthe public. Photo: John Greenfield

At a time when the CTA has been coming under fire for the glitchy launch of the Ventra farecard system, today’s ribbon cutting for the Red Line Reconstruction project was a well-earned celebration for the transit agency, and a love fest for local politicians.

Many residents and journalists originally questioned the plan to completely shut down the line for five months to rebuild 10.2 miles of track, a stretch that was roughly 40 percent slow zones. But after the project started, it was widely acknowledged that the CTA had done a solid job of providing alternative service. These measures included rerouting Red Line trains to run on Green Line tracks through the South Side, and adding frequent shuttle bus service between the Garfield Green stop and shuttered Red Line stations further south.

Now that the $425 million reconstruction is complete, with service launching this Sunday, the CTA says riders will save 20 minutes on the roundtrip from 95th Street to Roosevelt Road. Eight stations, from Cermak/Chinatown to 87th Street, received new lighting, paint and Train Tracker screens, and Garfied, 63rd Street and 87th got new elevators, which means the entire south Red Line is now wheelchair accessible. 95th Street is slated for a full $240 million reconstruction next year.

Front row, L to R: Emanuel, Quinn, Claypool, IDOT Secretary Ann Schneider. Photo: John Greenfield

The city says the benefits for South Siders also included the creation of over 1,500 jobs during the construction project, with 400 bus drivers hired to operate the shuttles and other additional bus service during the shutdown. The drivers will continue to work at the CTA, and some of the construction workers from the project were permanently hired by the contractors and subcontractors. 29 percent of the track work and 40 percent of the station work was done by disadvantage business enterprise firms, with over $56.4 million going to African-American contractors.

At the Red Line celebration this morning at the Garfield Station, the podium was surrounded by South Side aldermen, congressmen and state reps. CTA Board President Terry Peterson took the microphone first. “Thanks to Governor [Pat] Quinn’s Illinois Jobs Now program and the visionary leadership of Mayor Emanuel, a new railroad has been built on Chicago’s South Side, and the people standing before you could not be more proud,” he said.

CTA President Forrest Claypool said he was pleased that the five-month shutdown caused relatively little inconvenience for riders. “There were many voices that predicted that the project would lead to chaos and confusion, that there was no way to move tens of thousands of [Red Line riders] on other trains and shuttle buses,” he said. “Starting from Day One, the feedback we received from the riders indicated the opposite.”

The Cermak/Chinatown platform. Photo: John Greenfield

“We’ve heard from a number of riders who said that the shuttle buses were faster than their old Red Line trains, something that really illustrates how badly this project was needed,” he added. “To those customers I say, ‘If you think the shuttle buses were fast, wait until you ride the new Red Line.’”

Governor Pat Quinn lauded the project as an outstanding achievement. “I think if Harold Washington was here today, he’d say we knocked the damn door down,” he said. “You ain’t seen nothing yet. We have to work on public transit for the CTA and Metra and Pace all across our region, northeastern Illinois. It’s very important we have a 21st Century transportation system.” These were encouraging words from the governor, but it’s worth noting that he has recently been pushing hard for the $2.75 billion Illiana Tollway, a decidedly 20th Century project that would compete with transit projects for limited transportation funds.

The test ride for CTA emploees and the press. Photo: John Greenfield

Mayor Rahm Emanuel noted that the south Red Line hasn’t been overhauled since it was built in 1969, back when Richard Nixon was president and Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. “We had to actually take a holistic approach and go whole-hog to fix this one and ensure that people on the South Side of Chicago were not watching bikes passing by because they were in a 10 mph zone on the train,” he said. “You know [the rehab] was successful, because if it wasn’t on time and on budget it would be Terry, Forrest and me here alone today.”

Speaking in the wake of the recently resolved government shutdown, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said the dysfunction in Washington stands in stark contrast to the collaboration that resulted in the new south Red Line. “What we have been through as a nation these last two weeks really comes home right here at the Garfield Station,” he said. “We should not be denying the services of government. We ought to be making those services more efficient and more responsive, so that the taxpayers believe that their money is invested in things that serve, that create a better quality of life, and create jobs, and I’m looking at one right here.”

Afterwards the press was invited to take a test run on the freshly laid tracks. I boarded a brand-new, New York City-style 5000 Series car with baby-blue seats and wall trim, and the train took off at a surprisingly fast pace, perhaps comparable to the Evanston Express before it was hobbled by slow zones. 380,000,000 pounds of new ballast and 7,797,460 pounds of new rail were used in the rehab, resulting in a smooth ride. Traveling nonstop, we covered the four miles between Garfield and Cermak in nine minutes – that’s almost 27 mph. By the time the pagoda-like structures of Chinatown came into view, it was clear that this faster, more comfortable service was worth the wait.


    John quit lying.The Illiana is going to be private partnership.If you can’t get your facts straight don’t report it.

  • Matt

    Why didnt they plan the 95th st station renovation during the southside reconstruction?

  • Chicagio

    Yeah, a lot of nerve for Quinn and Schneider to show up there.

    You mention 27 mph… What is the intended cruising speed of an EL car? (I know distance between stations matters but let’s assume they have a couple of miles.)

  • Tim Jeffries

    I’d reckon because the Red Line extension is still very much on the table; if they need to connect at 95th, there would likely be work that would need to be done near, on, and in the current station. No need to overhaul it only to rip it out in a few years.

  • I seem to recall that at top speeds, Blue Line cars on the O’Hare Line can, and do, travel 55-65 mph, roughly the same speed as free-flowing traffic on the Kennedy.

    That’s a straight shot (Cermak to Garfield), too, so maybe there’s something we’re both missing?

  • Chicagio

    Perhaps John is giving us the average speed of the whole trip, including stops?

  • Adam Herstein


    “We have to work on public transit for the CTA and Metra and Pace all across our region, northeastern Illinois. It’s very important we have a 21st Century transportation system.”

    What a hypocrite.

  • Adam Herstein

    free-flowing traffic on the Kennedy

    What is this mystical concept you speak of?

  • There were no stops. It was a direct trip between Garfield and Cermak, four miles in nine minutes. I assume the train could have gone faster if the wanted to put the metal down. Assuming this is the normal crusing speed, with stops the trains will probably average something like 20 mph.

  • The 95th station is a particularly large, busy, multimodal station, and completely rebuilding it involves reconfiguring Dan Ryan ramps, so it’s a big complicated, expensive project. I assume they didn’t want to open that can of worms at the same time as the track rehab.

  • Anne A

    I thought they had enough challenges dealing with the radically different bus traffic patterns at 95th St. station due to all the shuttle bus traffic. With NO extra room to spare (unlike the Garfield green line station), trying to do reconstruction at 95th at the same time would have guaranteed dysfunction and disaster.

  • Anonymous

    Which begs the question of why IDOT did not undertake coordinated planning and investment with CTA to see that any necessary changes were handled in connection with the Dan Ryan reconstruction.

  • Anonymous

    “rebuild 10.2 miles of track, a stretch that was roughly 40 percent slow zones”

    “four miles in nine minutes”

    Sounds to me like it’s still 40% slow zones.

    It that is the final, actual top speed, they did it wrong.

  • That’s the cruising speed. Sure beats the 10 mph speed through slow zones, and it should often be faster than traffic on the Rayan.

  • Some sections on the Blue Line (and probably now the new Red Line South tracks) allow for 50-55 MPH top speed.

  • Anonymous

    No, seriously John, if the “cruising speed” is only 27 mph, they did it wrong. That makes sense as the average speed, including stops. It’s hella slow for a 4 mile non-stop trip.

  • HJ

    The Dan Ryan branch was rebuilt with the capability to run trains at 70mph. The new 5000 series cars are also capable of operating at 70mph. However, CTA has a mandated speed limit of 55mph for all L trains.

  • HJ

    I fully agree. It sounds like they chose not to run the train and full operational speeds if it did indeed take 9 minutes to travel 4 miles without stops.

    These things should reach 55mph between stations with ease.

  • Chicagio
  • Anne A

    Before slow zones became the norm, my trips on the red line south of Cermak usually included segments where the train appeared to be going approx. 50-55 mph (compared to speed of adjacent traffic). For much of the distance from Cermak to 95th, the stops are 1 mile or more apart, so trains *can* get up to that speed.

  • Anne A

    Very good question, considering that serious deterioration of track conditions started with Dan Ryan reconstruction. It’s been my theory that the Ryan project majorly screwed up drainage for the CTA tracks. I don’t have any engineering evidence of that, just the patterns I’ve observed over the last several years.

    Before Dan Ryan reconstruction, track conditions tended to be fairly stable. Ride quality and travel time were predictable and acceptable. After Dan Ryan reconstruction, CTA crews had to go out there all the time doing patchwork jobs that would only last a few months. A section of tracks would become a serious slow zone. They’d do a fix-up. It would be better for a few months, then deteriorate into a slow zone again.

    The fixes were especially short-lived in extreme weather conditions.

    I hope that the current conditions will last a reasonable amount of time. I rode the red line from the Loop to 95th last night, and it was excellent. The ride was smooth and it 20 minutes from Cermak to 95th, as it did before Dan Ryan reconstruction.

  • Scott Wendt

    Well, shame on those opportunists who waited until the bitter end to jump on board as it were. I have to hand it to Mayor Rahm for calling his fellow DEMS on the carpet. Given the challenges I know CTA has, this conservative (maybe even a little Tea Partyish) couldn’t be prouder to congratulate them on a job well done. They have proven they are capable professionals and wise stewards of our scare resources. Its now become that much harder for their critics. Thank you for giving me the proof I need to show other conservatives that my support of mass transit and CTA is justified. I look forward to seeing a brand new 95th Street Station and even more miles of Red Line on the south side in the near future. Keep it up CTA, you’re on a roll!

  • Thanks for writing. It’s always nice to get a fresh perspective in the comments section, and I believe you’re the first pro-transit Tea Party sympathizer we’ve heard from!


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