Updated 10/21/13 – 10:11 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — As the rebuilt Dan Ryan branch of the CTA’s Red Line got its first rush hour test Monday morning, commuters were giving a thumbs up to the faster, smoother rides between 95th Street and downtown.

The Red Line had been closed for five months south of the Roosevelt station, as crews completely replaced the steel rails, wooden ties, limestone ballast, signals, and drainage systems. Contractors delivered the five-month, $425 million project on schedule and under budget.

The south end of the Red Line reopened early Sunday, but its first big test was Monday morning’s rush. Red Line commuters were clearly pleased with the improved speeds and smoother rides.

The reconstruction eliminated notorious slow zones along the Red Line South, allowing trains to go 55 miles per hour between stations, except on curves. When the project started, 60 percent of the Dan Ryan branch was restricted to slow zones, where trains had to go as slow as 15 mph.

“It was slower, it was dirtier … it was just a big inconvenience,” commuter Greg Moore said. “You know, sometimes they’d get somewhere, and they’d just stop and have to wait, and all that. Now, you’re just flowing straight through, and I think it’s a lot better. It’s great.”

Many other riders had rave reviews for the renovated Red Line.

“It was good. It was nice. It was much faster,” Erma Stevenson said. “It was a nice ride, real smooth. … I think it’s great. I really appreciate it.”

CTA officials have said the rebuilt tracks should help trains shave 10 minutes off a trip from 95th Street to downtown, though some commuters said it seemed even faster than that.

Moore said, before the overhaul, it would take up to 40 minutes to get from 95th Street to Roosevelt, but now it takes half that time.

While the Dan Ryan branch was shut down, Red Line trains were shifted to nearby Green Line tracks, and free shuttle buses connected Red Line stations south of Garfield to the Garfield stop on the Green Line.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel greeted commuters at the 95th Street station Monday morning before boarding a Red Line train to work.

“Fifty-five miles an hour beats 15 miles an hour anytime,” Emanuel said.

Several commuters shook the mayor’s hand, and a few even gave him a hug as they headed to their trains.

“A number of them were saying ‘Thank you very much,’ because they know the difference. One is they remember going at 15 miles an hour, and bikes were passing them by,” Emanuel said.

The renovation also brought elevators for the disabled to the three Red Line South stations that previously had none — Garfield, 63rd and 87th.

The line also now will be served by the new 5000-series trains, and every station has digital signage telling commuters when the next train will arrive.

There was one hiccup along the Red Line overnight, when a semi-trailer truck crashed and fell onto the third rail of the southbound tracks near 69th Street. Crews removed the truck and repaired the third rail long before the morning rush, but that section of third rail must be replaced Monday night. Until then, trains will have to slow to 35 mph between the 69th Street and 79th Street stations.

CTA President Forrest Claypool said riders made surprisingly few complaints during the overhaul, showing they knew that the work was needed, and worth the inconvenience, because it will result in a more reliable railroad.

“I was really moved by the way that folks stepped up,” he said. “Our regular customers said, ‘You know, this is worth it. We’re willing to take some hardship because we know it’s worth it.’

“They didn’t blink.”

CTA Board Chairman Terry Peterson said the project had an additional benefit for the community.

“Fifteen-hundred jobs were created on the South Side. Five hundred of those jobs are permanent jobs,” he said.

Bus lines that had extra service to accommodate passengers inconvenienced by the Red Line South Reconstruction project were back on normal schedules on Monday. For a link to new CTA bus and train schedules, click here.

Next spring, construction will begin on a $240 million reconstruction of the 95th Street terminal on the Red Line, which is expected to take until 2016.

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