Updated 05/20/13 – 10:16 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — CTA officials said so far, so good on the first weekday of the five-month project to shut down the Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line, forcing tens of thousands of commuters to use free shuttle buses or other alternate routes on the South Side.

CTA Board Chairman Terry Peterson said “so far this morning, bus and rail has continued to operate smoothly” as the CTA got its first test of rush hour service after closing the south end of the Red Line for the next five months to replace the tracks.

Peterson said CTA workers would be at every Red Line station on Monday to answer commuters’ questions and provide them with information on alternative service.

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CTA President Forrest Claypool said shuttle buses had ample room on Sunday, when the project started, but were expected to be more crowded on Monday.

“Overall, our alternative service and operations plan went smoothly, and most customers had a fairly smooth time navigating the changes,” Claypool said.

The Red Line has been shut down south of the Roosevelt station. Instead, Red Line trains will run on Green Line tracks from Roosevelt to 63rd Street. Free shuttle buses will take riders who normally use the Red Line from Red Line stops south of 63rd Street to the Garfield stop on the Green Line, for free train rides downtown.

Approximately 80,000 people use the Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line every day. Though, from the lack of a crush of commuters at the Garfield stop on the Green Line, it appeared many regular Red Line riders did not take advantage of the free shuttle buses to Garfield for a free ride downtown.

Claypool said that doesn’t mean it will always be that way.

“Once people are aware that the first day went smoothly, they may try the shuttle service. On the other hand, people also may have experimented and found that the added service we put northbound connecting to the Green Line at 63rd, or other options to Orange [Line trains], or the Lake Shore Express may work better for them, and they may stick with that,” he said.

Claypool said, no matter what, the CTA would try to react to Red Line rider-related problems in real time and correct them.

“We know there will be some glitches along the way. When they occur, we will do everything we can to fix them quickly,” he said.

CBS 2’s Courtney Gousman caught up with some CTA passengers who were using the free shuttle buses.

Passengers who used the shuttle buses said it was smooth sailing early Monday as they got off shuttle buses at the Garfield stop on the Green Line. Some even said their commute was quicker than normal.

Donald Austin said the shuttle bus service shaved 15 to 20 minutes off his usual morning commute. He said he normally drives to the 87th Street Red Line station and parks at the nearby Jewel before taking the Red Line.

Deloise Goldsmith said she was a little nervous about the alternative service before she left home Monday morning.

“I’m still a little nervous, because I want to get to work on time,” she said. “So far, it’s on time.”

CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole rode one of the shuttle buses Monday morning to talk to passengers about the alternative service. Commuter Clarence Jackson said “it’s working out real good; real, real good.”

“At this early hour, it’s going very well,” he said after boarding a shuttle bus that left the 95th Street Red Line station shortly after 6 a.m.

The CTA is offering free train rides to all passengers who use the Garfield stop on the Green Line during the five-month Red Line project. The CTA also has provided 50 cent discounts on all bus routes south of 63rd Street while the Red Line is shut down, and most South Side bus routes have been beefed up with extra buses.

The CTA is replacing Red Line tracks that are more than 40 years old, and 42 percent of the tracks between the Roosevelt and 95th Street stations have been designated as “slow zones,” meaning trains must slow from a top speed of 55 mph to no more than 15 mph.

The CTA will be providing free express shuttle buses from the closed Red Line stations at the 95th, 87th, 79th, 69th street stations directly to the Green Line station on Garfield Boulevard.

The CTA will not charge riders who board the Green Line at Garfield throughout the Red Line project.

There will also be free shuttle buses connecting the five Red Line stations between 95th Street and 63rd Street every day from 4 a.m. to 1 a.m. A local “Owl Service” shuttle will also connect the six stations between Garfield and 95th street between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m.

Further, the CTA is doubling from 100 to 200 the number of buses operating in the areas served by the Red Line, and offering a 50 cent discount on those routes during the entirety of the project.

CTA officials have said the track replacement will eliminate the slow zones on the Red Line, and make the ride from the 95th Street station to Roosevelt 10 minutes shorter.

The project is scheduled to continue through mid-October.

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