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CTA: 42 Years Of Wear & Tear Created Red Line Slow Zones

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Much of the steel track, wooden rail ties, and ballast -- stones used to hold the rails and ties firmly in place -- are badly deteriorated along the Dan Ryan branch of the CTA Red Line, after 43 years of use. (Credit: CBS)

Much of the steel track, wooden rail ties, and ballast — stones used to hold the rails and ties firmly in place — are badly deteriorated along the Dan Ryan branch of the CTA Red Line, after 43 years of use. (Credit: CBS)

Jim Williams (CBS) Jim Williams
Jim Williams, a native Chicagoan, co-anchors the CBS 2 Chicago Wee...
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CHICAGO (CBS) – The CTA is planning to shut down the entire Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line for five months next spring to help get rid of the notorious slow zones that sometimes limit trains to speeds of only 15 miles per hour.

CBS 2’s Jim Williams took a ride on the Red Line on Tuesday to find out just how bad the problem with slow zones has become on the Red Line – as well as what exactly causes those slow zones.

CTA Chief Infrastructure Officer Chris Bushell provided a firsthand look at one those Red Line slow zones.

The train was forced to creep along so slowly, Bushell said a bicyclist could move faster.

He compared CTA slow zones to a street with potholes.

“Except lots of potholes; so many potholes, so many defects in your street, that you can’t even get to your house; or if get to it, you get to it very slowly,” Bushell said.

What’s causing the slow stretch on the Red Line?

“You can see a couple different instances of deterioration through this area,” he said.

The tracks are simply worn out.

The ballast, stones which help keep the tracks and ties stable, are also in bad shape. When new ballast is installed, the rocks are rough and angular to hold the tracks and ties firmly in place, but years of use have caused the ballast on the Red Line to become too smooth.

“It no longer holds the ties, the track, or the rail in place, enabling us to travel at those higher speeds,” Bushell said.

The drainage system under the tracks also has to be replaced.

“If the water is no longer going out, and then subsequently going away in a drainage system, it’s staying right here (in the rail bed),” Bushell said. “The more it stays here, the more it wears down all these components.”

Forty-three years of life for the Dan Ryan leg of the Red Line have taken a toll on the wooden rail ties, too.

“It’s easy to see that this piece of wood has taken thousands, if not millions, of trains over the time that it’s served us,” Bushell said.

Finally, the rails have significantly deteriorated, because they are the same rails installed when the Dan Ryan branch opened in 1969.

They are so fragile, a piece of one rail broke right off when a worker hit the rail a couple times with a railroad spike.

Due to all the deteriorating infrastructure, the Dan Ryan stretch of the Red Line will undergo a massive renovation next spring, shutting down for five months next year.

Bushell promised it’ll be worth the headaches to commuters who rely on the south end of the Red Line.

After that five-month period is over, Bushell said the Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line will be “faster, more comfortable, (and) safer.”

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, a former South Side alderman, voiced support for the CTA plan to shut down the Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line for five months for repairs.

WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports Preckwinkle said the aging southern end of the Red Line needs major rehabilitation.

While she might not comment on the details of the CTA’s plans, she generally supports them.

“I’m a great believer in the importance of infrastructure, and public transportation,” she said. “While it will be an inconvenience for five months for people who use the Red Line, I think it’s well worth it for the long-term viability of the system.”

The agency has said commuters could shave as much as 20 minutes off their commutes on the Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line once the repairs are completed and the slow zones are eliminated.

The CTA has worked on parts of the Red Line tracks many times, but officials said all that piecemeal effort couldn’t keep up wear the wear and tear of 43 years of use. Right now, approximately 40 percent of the Dan Ryan branch consists of slow zones. By the time the repair project starts, that figure will climb to 60 percent.

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