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Wired magazine likes the Blue Line airport connection

OK, admittedly I've been holding on to this post for awhile before actually posting it today. (You know -- good for a rainy/snowy day!) But still, it's interesting to read the view of an "outsider" of our own rail system.

Dave turned me on to this Wired magazine story from last December, where the Blue Line connection to O'Hare is the only U.S. rail line cited among the "Five Best Airport to City Rail Connections." 

But even back then there were slow zones, which have largely been fixed. The weekend work lately is to repair crossovers.

From the story:

Both domestic terminals have underground walkways to the train platforms (international terminal has an automatic people mover to the station), where Blue Line trains depart every 5 minutes at peak hours, every 8 minutes during the day, and every 10-30 minutes during the night. Once in the downtown area, Washington, Monroe, and Jackson stations are in walking distance to most destinations in the Loop area. The trip takes 45 minutes, since the train makes local stops, but during rush hour, the 'L' becomes very competitive with cars. For only $2 (or $1.75 with a ChicagoCard), it's a deal!


What Washington station?

Definitely dated material


The Blue Line still stops at Washington.

I remember when we flew up here from Charlotte to look at apartments and neighborhoods. It was march (not the best weather transition) and the blue line seemed to take forever to reach the Loop. The large high school group that got on the same car as us didn't help any.

I was surprised at the time, because when we first visited Chicago way back in 2001, I remembered the Blue line from Rosemont (we stayed at some Motel 6 near there) wasn't that bad. So it seems the deterioration of the line took place very quickly.

The good news is that I rode the blue line out to the airport in August to greet my wife, who was returning from a business trip, and the train was noticeably faster. I can only assume that since more tracks have been repaired since then, it is even faster now.

Off topic question, but does anyone know when the Santa Express usually starts, or if there will be on this year? I recently moved to Wisconsin and I will be in Chicago the weekend after Thanksgiving and I would love to catch the train. It was always one of my favorite parts of the holidays in the city.

Hey, the Washington Stop and the beloved pedway was in the Red Eye this morning!


So there you have it KevinB! They say it will reopen by summer 2009. Feel free to complain until then.

YEA! Santa Train!!! I look forward to this annual opportunity to get in touch with my inner three-year-old.


I can see how you'd get misled by the hoary writing of the RedEye, but buried in that story was the fact that she was only talking about the pedway, not the station.

Gotta love the Redeye, 6 paragraphs on just exactly what misinformation people believe before the writer finally gives a paragraph of news. She leads into her pedway tidbit by quoting an unnamed source who is in turn quoting unnamed sources, upset that some CTA carpenter or electrician she talked to couldn't give her a detailed explanation of the financial arrangement at Block 37.

Such a short paper, but I'm constantly reminded why I still don't have time for it.

I also think that one's view of any aspect of the CTA depends on whether they need it in order to survive, to go to work, to go to the grocery store, etc., versus the occasional ride when they don't want to drive or when they are visiting our City. I have friends who rave about CTA transportation in a way that would put it on par with solving poverty, but they aren't from here and they are occasional riders who take it to avoid parking downtown during Grant Park events.

Estoy de acuerdo contigo, tamale chica.

I would also add in my perspective: I never lived anywhere (Charlotte, Asheville, Baltimore, Concord, NC) with a half-way decent transit system before.

So, while I've definitely seen all that is wrong with the CTA, I have to say, coming from cities where the only option is getting around by car, the CTA isn't all that bad. I would suspect that other people in my situation might feel the same way.

I've also used much better systems in other cities, but only as a visitor, not as a permanent resident.


Nope, the Red-line washington st station and underground transfer point will never re-open.

They are talking about the pedway UNDER block 37, the one that would get you from Macys to City Hall.

Pay attention! There will be a test. ;)

Oh, and Kevin, my bad about the Blue line Washington stop. Musta not had my wheaties this morning ;)


Even more bad MTA news. We might be in much better shape than we think;


Hmmm...things really get put in perspective. CTA - 60 million dollar deficit. MTA - 1.2 billion dollar deficit.

The pedway is what really matters anyway -- the underground transfer point is nice but duplicated (until something goes wrong at Jackson, anyway). And we really only need either Washington or Lake.

Reading the posts to the NY Times blog Painhertz linked above, it's interesting to see the many parallels to the gripes of the Tattler faithful. Perceptions about inept and bloated management as well as complaints about service, facilities and unsustainable labor contracts top the list.

[Nope, the Red-line washington st station and underground transfer point will never re-open.]

'Never' is a very long time ... I'm sure when things are flush again the funding to re-open will be magically found somewhere.

But at any rate, while I'm not going to look for it now, I'd swear your biggest gripe with the station closure was the loss of the pedway, and that you'd be more or less happy if the pedway re-opened even if the station itself did not.

Well..no matter what it is or how well it works or doesn't work someone will complain about it. It's the nature of the beast. I'm not saying it's right or wrong just that it is.

I agree about the nature of the beast, Painhertz. It's also interesting that there have been several Tattler posts lately on the theme of less-than-optimal public transportation is better than no public transportation. Things could be worse.

...Or, for that matter, it could be the case that the CTA is so bad that it was completely unreliable as a means of transportation. It is not. Matters of bus-bunching aside, I think that even the sharpest critics of the CTA would have to admit that it does successfully get them where they're going and home again without significant delays of one kind or another more than 95% of the time. And I think that's pretty comparable to what drivers experience when you add up a year's worth of breakdowns, flat tires, accidents that clog freeway traffic for hours, and what have you.


I thought you made a big deal about walking outside in the winter because the pedway was closed. I know that you want the station reopened as well. Did you not complain about this very issue before? I thought you had...

As for what Kiel said about the harshest CTA critics, I think that applies to everyone except KevinB. :) He once famously said he has "NEVER" ridden the train where there was not a problem, delay or something that didn't operate as normal.

Sorry to be picking on you KevinB... I just remember some things you have said in the past.

I loves me some CTA - to the extent that I got rid of the car. Since I've been commuting regularly for the last 14 months, my bus route has performed admirably. This morning there was a disabled bus that caused service gaps, but breakdowns have become the rare exception rather than the rule. Sure, there's some boneheaded crap that I wish CTA wouldn't do, but on balance, I'm glad to have it and very thankful I have an alternative to driving.

I made a point about both of them being closed. I used to swipe my 30 day pass, enter the washington street station, walk to Lake, take the pedway over to the thompson center or take the transfer tunnel to the blue line and come up in the courthouse/daley center. Two ways to get to the thompson center...now neither one is available....and even after the pedway opens it won't be as convenient. Also, I know several of my friend who took the train from harrison and other stations south and got off at either washington or lake and did the same.

Also, just the record, it's not every train or bus I have a problem with. I'd say, the system works like it's supposed to about 15%-20% of the time.....

Had an interesting conversation with a Red line SB train operator when I got off at lake...asked him my favorite question, why should a SB redline train have to stop anywhere other than right before the Fullerton station Between Belmont and fullerton like we did this morning....stopped on the inner track at diversey and saw 2 brown/purple trains go through while we sat there almost half way between the stations for two minutes, his response was "I've always wondered that too".

Just cements some of my opinions about the train operations at the CTA....


"Also, just the record, it's not every train or bus I have a problem with. I'd say, the system works like it's supposed to about 15%-20% of the time....."

What rubbish. What exactly does "work like it's supposed to" mean, anyway? All it's "supposed" to do is get you where you're going, and it does. How often does it completely fail to do so? You're no more entitled to get where you're going as quickly and as easily as humanly possible than drivers are to catch green all of the signal lights they pass or find a parking spot right in front of their building.

The CTA's PR may promise "fast, on-time..." But so what? Car companies promise "low emissions" and tobacco companies promise "low tar" and politicians promise "transparency in government" and everybody knows and takes it in stride that they're lying. PR isn't about constantly admitting fault and incompetence to anyone who asks. Everything the CTA does it does for a reason (good and/or bad), and they're not under any obligation to explain to every impatient passenger why they're letting this train go first and that train - whatever - on this day, at this time, and in this place. Just because we don't know the reason(s) doesn't mean we can make one up and then fault them for it.

Maybe, rather than sit there with a few hundred people wanting to get to work while you chatted about random delays, he gave you a glib non-answer so he could get out of there?

KevinB, Have you ever had a girlfriend start telling you mysterious things about how you're part of an elaborate TV show, then inexplicably disappear? Are you afraid of the water because your father drowned when you were a child? Do you notice that traffic veers out of the way when you walk into the street? If so, you may be part of a "Truman Show"-like scenario, and your CTA travails could be a recurring joke for the audience's benefit.

If none of those things are true, then you may be in something closer to "A Beautiful Mind."

Kiel--if you're buying a product or service from a private company with competition--for instance, soup from a restaurant--and you don't feel you're getting the value you're paying for, you're free to take your business across the street or next door. So to that business, you are a customer and are likely to get a good answer and an apology to a legitimate question...or maybe there won't be a problem to begin with because they have to try harder. And there is no officious bystander (or CTA worker, is that who you are?) who will lecture you "you're not entitled to any more than that, so shut up." Unless it's a TV sitcom and you are the sort that likes backtalk for your money. But for most of us, being treated well as a paying customer is the norm and we will go on expecting it from any operation, especially those that are a monopoly which purports to be necessary for our own good.

C C Writer - That's not a very good comparison. The CTA is not a private company. It's a public service that we as taxpayers consistently underfund, and then we have the nerve to blame them and call them incompetent when things don't go smoothly. That's not fair. If you ate at the same restaurant every day, and paid the bill but refused to tip, you'd get a rude waiter for your troubles, and deservedly so.

Bob S:

Nope. He was waiting for people to get out at lake. I was first off the train and he seem genuinely boggled as well.


Well, now that you mention it, I always thought I was special...and I think I had wondered more off the lines that either one of the Norse gods, Loki perhaps had taken a special interest in me or that God was a giant practical joker and I was one of his favorite objects of interest, much like Job..

But then, the meds kick in and I'm feeling much better now..lol..and before anyone gets any ideas, that was a joke.



That would be like saying that the diner raised the prices on the food so they could remodel and then they didn't have the money to finish up so they just gave you a big gaping hole for a toilet and then the owner blamed it on the previous manager....

Sound familiar?



There's Block37, and then there's day-to-day operations. Block37 sucks, yes, but it doesn't prove that every other aspect of CTA operations is hopelessly deficient and incompetent. You do get to work and back home every day, do you not?


Apparently he only gets there about 15-20 percent of the time. Sucks to be his boss!

I think the CTA deserves a hearty round of congratulations. Just a few months ago, KevinB said that he wished things would run normally just once. Now they're running normally 15-20% of the time. That's tremendous improvement over such a short time period!

Kiel--I missed the part where I as an individual or as a taxpayer am underfunding the system. I joined in the clamor on this blog for the state of Illinois to step up with a tax measure, and I deplored the Gov's "free rides for seniors" ploy. I stated that I'd be willing to accept a fare increase, and stand by my statement now that it's been passed. All I asked is that now they have the money, they please fix what's broke, for a change.

I stand by my contention that the ability to take one's business elsewhere is a powerful incentive to better service that is missing from monopolies. Are you suggesting it is replaced by some other motivator for the management and workers? And what would that be, and can you give me some examples of its effectiveness at the CTA, US Postal Service, electric company, cable company, etc?

I said, just one time I'd like the perfect commute....hasn't happened yet.

I don't know anywhere 15-20% would be acceptable...


C C Writer – I didn’t mean for you to take it personally, so if you did, I apologize.

Clarification: WE as Illinois taxpayers ALL agree to underfund the CTA. Most of the 8 million people who live and work in Chicago and its suburbs drive everywhere even when they don’t have to, and so repaving roads and expanding highways gets the lion’s share of state money, and public transportation languishes. WE as CTA riders I think do a fine job of lobbying on its behalf, but unfortunately, the argument that downstate voters don’t have the option of riding the El each day echoes very loudly in the halls of the Springfield statehouse.

The new taxes and fare increase aren’t going to solve anything. It’s not new money that the CTA can use to do things it doesn’t already do, it’s to fill a hole in next year’s budget so that they won’t have to cut service and can operate without going in the red. I want them to “fix what’s broke, for a change,” too, but that won’t happen without the $6 billion that the CTA claims it needs to get the system back into a state of good repair – which I don’t think is a made-up number, based on my own observations of the system’s current state of (dis)repair. Which brings me back to the original point I was making to KevinB – that faulting the CTA for having shitty customer service when they can’t afford to fix leaky roofs is almost as insipid as faulting them for not having the money to fix the leaky roof, when WE the Illinois electorate (indirectly through the legislature) hold the CTA’s purse-strings.

Last point: I agree that competition is better than monopoly, but public utilities have to be monopolies. Otherwise, without government regulation and subsidies, lots of people wouldn’t be able to afford the ‘actual’ costs of things like a round trip to downtown, garbage pick-up, and heat during the winter (Illinois had to make it illegal for People’s Energy to turn off someone’s natural gas during the winter due to inability to pay). Well, not all at once anyway. You bring up a good point about the US Postal Service, though. It is NOT underfunded. It’s employees are reasonably well paid and have excellent benefits. With the exception of some long lines, I find customer service there excellent, and haven’t lost something in the mail in years (yes! I know that’s not everyone’s experience!). And it only costs $0.42 to send any lightweight correspondence anywhere in the country in a matter of 2 or 3 days, which is pretty extraordinary compared to the post in most parts of the world.

Apologies for the long-winded post :)

"I said, just one time I'd like the perfect commute....hasn't happened yet."

Well, I think you'd agree that expecting perfection out of the CTA is completely unrealistic. If you're looking for the perfect commute, I suggest investing in a limousine with plush seats and a minibar, and perhaps retractable wings and a jet engine.

"I don't know anywhere 15-20% would be acceptable..."

I don't either, but since you pulled those numbers out of your ass, well then who cares?

Sorry, KevinB, but, y'know, throw a dog a bone... :-D

I had what I consider to be a perfect commute yesterday. I checked Bus Tracker before leaving home and figured I had just enough time to make the next express. I caught two red lights en route, which delayed my walk to the stop. I arrived to see the bus pulling out, but the bus operator stopped when he saw me running. I thanked him profusely and he said, "No problem, darling" with a smile. I got my favorite seat, the one that affords me optimal paper folding space (yes, I'm that much of a geek). The temperature was neither too hot nor too cold. The announcements weren't loud and obtrusive. The bus arrived at my stop roughly 5 minutes earlier than it usually does. It was a good day. Today wasn't so good. Tomorrow may be better.

Until the Red Line is extended to Brookport, you will find that most of the state's residents will prefer having paved roads to drive on rather than funding public transit.


I have no clue why you think the CTA is a monopoly. There are many other transportation choices. People can drive, take a cab, ride a bike, walk, get a ride from a friend, or take the Metra. Obviously some of these options are not feesable for every rider. For example, driving is not an attractive option for people who live in the city and work in the loop during the usual 9 to 5ish hours(although you wouldn't know that by listening to the ratioanal for the BRT lines and the media coverage of them). And the Metra is only a viable alternative for some people. But each of the options is very attractive for some riders on every bus and train run. The notion that the CTA does not have competition is ludicrous. It is like saying that McDonald's has a monopoly because it is the only firm that produces McDonald's hamburgers. So your entire premise is wrong.

Kiel--I haven't taken anything you said personally. But you have illustrated the problem of funding something collectively, vs. the private model where individuals' choices how to spend their money add up. Bad service is as much, maybe more, a matter of attitude than money. Employess of private businesses can't get away with it for long.
By the way, the USPS has competition now, in the form of e-mail and FedEx and UPS. So they are trying harder.

MK--no, my premise is not wrong. You just admitted it--your so-called alternatives aren't real for most people. Burger King is a direct competitor to McDonald's for fast-food hamburgers. They are often in close proximity to each other, and trying to outdo each other in coming up with new menu items and/or bargain prices. Ditto for United and American airlines. Where's the "other" CTA?

I've been commuting to and from work via the CTA for the last 15 years. Never once have I not arrived at my destination. 100% of the time I have been delivered to my destination of choice. 100% of the time. I've gone literally everywhere in the city and arrived. I can ask no more than that. I sold my car the omonth I arrived here and haven't regretted it for a second.

"You just admitted it--your so-called alternatives aren't real for most people. "

Where did I say that? I didn't. I said that some people do not have good alternatives. But the reality is as long as there are good alternatives for a significant amount of riders then the CTA is not a monopoly. Many riders have very good other options for transportation. So as long as the business of these people's are threatened, the CTA has it in their interest to make sure that the service is good.

Yeah, it's a good deal for the money. But it would be a whole lot better if the ride wasn't slow as molasses. Why can't we get a few express trains per day to the airport? Now that would be nice!

I found this cool O'Hare Tee that represents my favorite airport.


KevinB: the Red Line train was probably held so that, of the Brown and Purple Line trains you saw, one could pass the other!

That's scheduling. Recall that the Purple Line is sort of piggybacked -- it doesn't have a dedicated track.

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