It happened! The Belmont Flyover finally debuted early Friday morning

Aerial view of the Belmont Flyover. Photo: Flickr user Jacob G.
Aerial view of the Belmont Flyover. Photo: Flickr user Jacob G.

Update 11/19/21:  Friday’s Belmont Flyover debut apparently went without a hitch. Here’s my Twitter thread on riding the first Brown Line run of the day at 4 a.m., ending with the trip on the overpass in a car full of CTA employees and transit buffs.

After an apparent false alarm earlier this week, the CTA’s Belmont Flyover, officially called the Red-Purple Bypass, the roller coaster-like piece of infrastructure that will eliminate a current Red/Purple/Brown logjam north of the Belmont station in Lakeview, will actually be going into service early Friday morning. The CTA says it’s the first new, permanent track line to go into service since the Orange Line debuted in 1993.

According agency spokesperson Tammy Chase, the first Brown Line train to use the overpass will depart the Kimball stop in Albany Park around 4 a.m. and head downtown. After completing the Loop Elevated circuit, it will head north again, arriving at Belmont around 5 a.m., and then continuing north and west over the flyover, giving riders a never-before-seen vista of the system and the city.

The $320 million bypass is the first chunk of work completed as part of the $2.1 billion Red and Purple Modernization Phase One project. (The agency confirmed yesterday that there will be a Phase Two, but they’re not exactly sure what that will entail, let alone when it will happen.) RPM is billed as the largest reconstruction project in CTA history, modernizing and replacing century-old rail structures and four stations stations.

The flyover gets rid of a 114-year-old rail intersection of the Red, Purple, and Brown lines that carried about 150,000 rides each weekday prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. As it stands, Red and Purple trains have to wait when northbound Brown trains turn west across the north-south tracks. The CTA says is a bottleneck for service across the entire rail system. The agency has promised that by unclogging the so-called Clark Junction, the flyover will enable the addition of up to eight more Red Line trains, carrying 30 percent (7,200) more riders per hour during rush periods.

The bypass should also shave a little time off commutes, since the trains are typically delayed by a couple dozen seconds as they wait for other lines to pass. (Former mayor Rahm Emanuel exaggerated the potential time savings as “three to four minutes” during a 2014 press conference.)

The current track configuration forces southbound Purple and Red Line trains, and northbound Red Line trains to wait while northbound Brown Line trains cross the tracks.
The current track configuration forces Purple and Red trains to wait while northbound Brown Line trains cross the tracks.

“I am pleased to be able to deliver on our promise of more reliable service to CTA rail customers,” said CTA president Dorval Carter, Jr. in a statement. “We are continuing to work hard on modernizing the Red Line through remaining RPM work now in progress, as well as continuing to pursuing funding for the new Red Line Extension Project.”

Although the construction of the flyover involved the demolition of about 16 buildings, the CTA says project has benefits for neighbors, “including noise walls that reduce noise at the street level; tulip-design columns, a wave pattern on the noise walls to soften the look of the structure, and lighting and street pavers to improve the street-level aesthetic.”

Here are the minor service changes associated with the flyover debut. The language is the CTA’s.

Brown Line, effective 4 a.m., Friday, November 19

“Bypass goes into service: Kimball-bound Brown Line trains will begin using the new Red-Purple Bypass between Belmont and Southport stations.”

Purple and Brown Lines, effective 4 a.m., Friday, November 19

“Boarding Change at Belmont: Kimball-bound Brown Line trains will resume stopping on normal track at Belmont station. Board/exit trains toward Kimball on the outer track of the Howard-, Linden- and Kimball-bound platform.

Linden-bound Purple Line Express trains will continue to board/exit on the inner track, normally used by the Red Line, of the Howard-, Linden- and Kimball-bound platform at the Belmont station. Linden-bound Purple Line trains continue their boarding change in preparation for the temporary closure of the two west tracks between Belmont and Addison stations for reconstruction as part of the RPM project.

Howard-bound Red Line trains are not affected.”

North Belmont Red-Purple Reconstruction

Now that the flyover is completed, the CTA will move forward with demolishing, rebuilding and realigning the 100-year-old Red and Purple Line tracks between Belmont and Cornelia Avenue, three blocks north. This project includes eliminating a curve that slows train speeds. The agency says this change will also allow CTA to run more trains during rush hours. These new structures will be “closed deck” with noise walls. The work, which is costing $250 million, is slated to begin in early 2022 and continue through 2024.

The bend in the Red and Purple tracks south of Cornelia is visible in this aerial. Image: Google Maps
The bend in the Red and Purple tracks south of Cornelia is visible in this aerial. Image: Google Maps

More on RPM Phase One

Other aspects of RPM Phase One include reconstruction of the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr Red Line stations into larger wheelchair-accessible stations, and replacement of track structures. That work began in spring 2021, with new stations projected to open by the end of 2024. The CTA is also installing a new signal system on 23 track miles between Howard and Belmont.

For more information about the RPM project, visit transitchicago.com/RPM. To sign up for project alerts, visit transitchicago.com/rpm/alerts.

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The Chicago Transit Authority published on Tuesday its federally mandated environmental assessment for the Red-Purple Bypass project, better known as the Belmont flyover. The bypass is part of the Red-Purple Modernization project, which will rebuild all of the tracks from Belmont to Linden station in Wilmette, and reconstruct several stations to add elevators and other amenities. This bypass would […]