The Chicago Transit Authority announced details last week regarding a modernization project for two of its major north side elevated train lines. The lines at issue are the Red and Purple which serve the Loop, Lakeview, Uptown, Rogers Park and the suburban communities of Evanston and Wilmette.
Like most of Chicago’s elevated rail system, the Red and Purple lines are in dire need of modernization, upkeep, and expansion. Determining exactly what should be done in the context of limited funds is going to be a challenge.
This month the CTA is presenting various modernization options for public comment. Here is a thumbnail sketch of what is contained in the Notice of Intent document released last week.
Currently the Purple Line runs local from Wilmette through Evanston and then express to Belmont in Lakeview where it follows the Brown line stops to downtown. The Purple Line only runs on the weekdays during the rush hours.
Purple and Red Lines Current Configuration
The Red Line is a local train that runs at all hours, seven days a week between Howard St. at the city’s northernmost boundary down to 95th Street on the city’s south side.
Taken together, the lines generate 128,000 trips on an average weekday and are responsible for about 20% of all CTA rail trips.
In addition to doing nothing, one option being considered is the “Basic Rehabilitation Alternative.” This alternative keeps existing stations and service, but brings the system “into a minimal state of good repair.” This option entails making a handful of stations ADA-compliant and doing minimal upgrades.
The second option is a “Basic Rehabilitation with Transfer Stations.” option. This would follow the above model, but would add Wilson and Loyola as transfer stations for the Purple Line. This would slow down the Purple line for Evanston commuters, but allow two more stops for riders in Uptown and Rogers Park.
The third option is the “Modernization 4-Track Alternative.” This option decreases the number of stations north of Belmont from 21 to 17. You would still have the two new transfer stations, but the South Boulevard Purple Line station in Evanston would be eliminated as well as the Lawrence, Thorndale, and Jarvis stations on the Red Line.
To compensate for the loss of stations, platforms would be extended and new entrances would be built in key stations and there could be “potential expanded hours of express service.”
Modernization 4-Track Alternative
The next option is the “Modernization 3-Track Alternative.” This follows the station closures of the previous option, but instead of having the expanded express service you actually have a decrease in express service. Currently the Purple Line operates both north and south during weekday rush hours between Belmont and Howard on two of the tracks while the Red Line operates local service on the other two tracks. The rationale for switching to a three-track option is to improve stations and make them ADA compliant. This requires widening platforms–something that can be done within the existing right-of-way if you remove one of the tracks. The catch is that the express train will only run inbound in the morning and outbound in the afternoon.
People who commute from the city to Evanston would be negatively impacted by this change.
The final alternative is called the “Modernization 2-Track Alternative.” Under this scenario, the existing above-ground Red Line would be transformed into a subway. The train would go underground north of Belmont and emerge above ground at Loyola. The elevated stops between Morse and Belmont would be eliminated and essentially be replaced by seven subway stations on the same streets as the “Modernization” options listed above.
It is unclear what would happen to the elevated section, but this option would eliminate ALL express trains. Apparently this would be compensated somewhat by better track alignment in the new subway section.
Assessment: First, these lines are in dire need of upgrades. The CTA is still running a nineteenth-century transit system. Dilapidated viaducts result in slow zones and many stations are not ADA-compliant and in dire need of makeovers. This is largely due to decades of minimal investment.
That said, I’m generally unenthusiastic about removing transit stops. In each of the areas where there are proposed stop eliminations many small businesses are located. And the more stops you have, there is a higher propensity for people to use transit instead of driving.
It is true that the more stops you have on a train line can result in longer trips since the train stops more frequently.
One curious omission from the proposals is to revert back to the old Red Line configuration which used an A/B “skip stop” system. This speeds up the Red Line by reducing the number of trains that stop at smaller stations.
Given the shaky economic environment, some of the options presented–like the subway –seem overly ambitious.