The Yellow Line’s Revival Was Anything But (Skokie) Swift
The CTA Yellow Line, aka the Skokie Swift, and its “Swift Bird” logo, have finally rose from the ashes this morning, following an embankment collapse last May. Getting the rail line back in operation posed plenty of challenges for both the public and the CTA.
The Yellow Line runs between the Howard Street, at the Chicago / Evanston border, and Dempster Street in nort-suburban Skokie, with an intermediate stop at Oakton Street in Skokie. The trip takes an average of about 10 minutes. According to the April 2015 CTA ridership report, published just before the embankment collapse, the line had served 299,365 ride so far in 2015. That represents an average of 2,271 riders a day on weekdays, 1,533 riders on Saturdays and 1,301 riders on Sundays.
The collapse occurred on May 17 as a result of construction on adjacent property owned by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. Contractors were building an underground pipeline from the MWRD’s O’Brien Water Treatment Plant at Howard and McCormick Boulevard to a new disinfectant plant at Oakton Street and McCormick, just north of the Yellow Line embankmen The tunneling caused the collapse of the section of embankment just west of McCormick.
While the ‘L’ line was shut down, the CTA ran free shuttle buses on the same schedule as the train service. The buses traveled between the three stations via Dempster Street, Skokie Boulelvard and Howard, which generally took 30 minutes per trip instead of the usual ten, since the buses got stuck in traffic. The Village of Skokie offered free parking at Dempster during the outage in an effort to make up for the inconvenience.
Repairs to the embankment and rail line were a long and painstaking process. The CTA originally estimated that Yellow service would resume within a month, but the work and the coordination between the different involved parties proved to be more difficult than expected.
The CTA, MWRD, Village of Skokie and Walsh Construction, the contractor, eventually agreed that the pipeline work should be completed first before restoring train service, in order to ensure that there wouldn’t be a second service-disrupting collapse. Once the pipeline work was done, the CTA began performing repairs to the tracks and infrastructure. Once that work was completed, they ran unoccupied trains with weights to simulate a full load of passengers.
The CTA and the Village of Skokie have both suffered financial losses due to the service shutdown. According to the Chicago Tribune, the MWRD has taken responsibility for the accident and will reimburse the CTA for lost revenue and repairs. The estimate is around $3.5 million dollars for the loss of fare revenue, the cost of running the shuttles and the redirection of rail car maintenance operations to the South Side, which required transporting the rail cars by truck.
The loss in riders was severe. The CTA reported that the shuttles only saw about the half the typical ridership of the Yellow Line trains. Due to the much longer travel times between Yellow stations, many riders used other CTA, Metra, or Pace routes, or simply opted to drive instead.
The logistical challenges for rail car maintenance were a major issue as well. The CTA’s heavy maintenance facility known as the Skokie Shops was cut off from railway access. Operations were moved to the 63rd Street Yard along the CTA Green Line, which required trucking the rail cars.
Major repairs could only be performed at the Skokie Shops and redeployment had to occur at 63rd Street due to the amenities and equipment in the respective yards. Deployment of new railcars had to be moved to 63rd treet as well.
The Village of Skokie experienced a loss of commerce due to the reduced transit accessibility. Some businesses near the Oakton and Dempster stations reported declines in sales. The Village also lost revenue from waiving the fee for parking at the Dempster stop.
The Yellow Line returned to service early this morning. A public ceremony was held at the Oakton station with CTA President Dorval Carter, Jr., Skokie Village Mayor George Van Dusen, Congresswoman Jan Schakowski and a representative from the MWRD addressing the crowd. Two new 5000 Series Railcars were deployed, and customers also got to ride on Bicentennial-decorated 2400 series railcars, complete with disco-era advertising. Commuters on the trains expressed relief that they’ll no longer have to deal with a 30-minute trip from Dempster to Howard.
After 5 months without Yellow Line service, the CTA and the village of Skokie are hoping to regain lost ridership and commerce by offering incentives to lure back riders. These include free fares for riders boarding at the Dempster and Oakton Street stations through November 6th and free parking at the Dempster Station for the remainder of the year. They’re also spreading the good news about the resurrected service via fliers, signs at stations and key bus stops, customer audio alerts, social media, and door-to-do outreach in Skokie. Hopefully ridership will soon return to its pre-collapse levels.