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CTA responds to Blue Line slow zone questions

Last week's report on the Blue Line slow zone work brought out the skeptics and conspiracy theorists. And many of you asked some good questions; I in turn asked the CTA for further clarification.

The questions primarily are: Did the CTA tear out recently replaced concrete ties, and if so, why? And, just what DID the CTA do in 2007-08 and is there any overlap here? If so, why? CTA spokesperson Noelle Gaffney provided the answers, and all quotes are attributable to her. (Bolded words are my own for emphasis.)

Are new concrete ties being replaced? The short answer is NO.

"The ties in question were not installed over the last two years. The bulk of the work under way right now is to replace wooden ties that date back to the opening of the subway. There are, however, some concrete ties that were installed in the late 90’sby the CTA on an emergency basis to replace badly deteriorated wooden ties. There are a limited number of them, mostly around the Division Station. 

"To ensure that we have a consistent product to the highest standard throughout the subway, we are replacing these older ties along with original wooden ties that are about 60 years old now. (The Dearborn subway opened in 1951). The new concrete ties use a special concrete mix that is a better grade than the one used for the 10 year old ties and it is designed to reach a high strength quickly."

Is the CTA "redoing" work done in 2007-08?Again the short answer is no, but they are working in some of the same areas because the CTA didn't have funds in 2007-08 to replace ALL ties.

"Most of the Blue Line slow zone work in 2007 and 2008 involved the northwest end of the branch, from Addison to O’Hare. But over 15,000 feet of slow zones were removed in the subway as well. Ties that were in the worst condition were replaced.  Not every tie was replaced, just those that were most deteriorated and contributing to slow zones at the time.  The federal stimulus program provided the opportunity to go back in and replace the remaining original ties. It would have been great to have had the resources to do it all at once;  we did what we could afford to do."

How long will riders be inconvenienced?

"The phase of work under way right now is the longest phase and is scheduled to finish by the end of August. The slow zones that were put into place due to the work will start being lifted in June as the replacement of ties progresses. In a nutshell, that means we are at about the peak of what the slow zones will be for this phase and it will start to ease up next month. The second phase of work will be shorter and will impact the track between Grand and the south end of Clark/Lake.  And the final phase will cover the rest of the subway to Halsted.

Looking at the big picture -- a marked improvement. Gaffney also noted that the CTA has made much progress in the last two years in removing all slow zones. And she reminds us that the CTA needs capital spending dollars to invest in its infrastructure.

"At the peak in fall 2007, slow zones were in place on more than 22% of the system. We are currently at about 9%, including the zones added due to the Blue Line work. So they have been greatly reduced and work is under way to prevent new ones from occurring. That said, the CTA is a large system as well as an older transit system that needs continual investment to keep it maintained and operating.  Without capital investment infrastructure will continue to age and show its wear and tear."

 

Comments

And why didn't those fools at the CTA put this out in the first place instead of letting it fester for a week?

Thanks Kevin, for getting some answers to these questions!

I would like to point out that Ed wrote, "So unless I am completely crazy or have amnesia, I swear these were the concrete ties POURED IN PLACE in 2007 that they have removed in the last 2-3 weeks."

I would like to point out to you Ed, that you apparently are crazy and/or have amnesia. Please go seek some help.

Going back to read the comments on that other thread is quite hilarious now. I guess all the "transit repair experts" have been silenced.

Although I do give everyone who spotted this happening major props for noticing it and bringing to the attention of this blog.

All this aside I think its rather fascinating that the city built the subway in the 50s and not at one point since then in the passed 60 years did it accrue to someone up top that they may have to put some serious cash into the infrastructure to keep in going. Mostly to avoid a massive overall like what rider generations now have to deal with.

[massive overall]

I think "massive overalls" are what Larry the Cable Guy wears.

I really appreciate your article here. I was incensed riding the train the other day when - after being told that slow zones from clark lake to division were completed last summer - they are back and worse than before.

I really hope the CTA gets on top of this and stops lying to us about the status of these upgrades. This is affecting people's commutes to work!

Also, what is up with the new trains that were supposed to be delivered in 2009? Was that a complete fabrication as well?

Only the 10 prototype cars are to be delivered in 2009 for testing (just like they've said all along). The production cars will start being delivered in 2010.

To the best of my recollection the CTA warned us that much of the Dearborn subway still needed work which was not done last year. They only went through and fixed the parts in the worst condition. It didn't get a rehab like the Addison-O'Hare leg.

Speaking of those new train cars? Have they been delivered yet, and if so, has anyone seen or ridden on one? They sound really neat.

"I really appreciate your article here. I was incensed riding the train the other day when - after being told that slow zones from clark lake to division were completed last summer - they are back and worse than before.

I really hope the CTA gets on top of this and stops lying to us about the status of these upgrades. This is affecting people's commutes to work!

Also, what is up with the new trains that were supposed to be delivered in 2009? Was that a complete fabrication as well?"

It was done last summer...then the Feds dropped a big pile of money on them and they're fixing the things that they couldn't last summer. They didn't lie. You just are clueless.

You whine like a freaking little girl.

Actually, both downtown subway tunnels were built in the 1940s, with State St. opening in 1943.
But the Dearborn work was suspended for the duration of WWII as the steel was needed for ships.

What's really appalling here is that the CTA has an overloaded PR dept., filled with numerous, unnecessary hacks who couldn't be bothered to put out the facts for over a week!

At least most of the work is done on the weekend, and the slow-zones don't cause that huge of a delay.

I thought Ron fixed all the Blue Line slow zones.

"It was done last summer...then the Feds dropped a big pile of money on them and they're fixing the things that they couldn't last summer. They didn't lie. You just are clueless."


Um, when the CTA says that the "slow zone elimination project is complete" which they did with regard to the clark/lake to division line and later I find out that it is not complete and will actually completed at the end of this summer (a year later) I consider that a lie. The slow zone has not been eliminated. It is not complete. There are still "slow zone" signs on the signal posts in that part of the subway and max speed is about 15mph causing what amounts to a significant delay. If that isn't a lie I don't know what is.

And yes, I am whining like a girl, is that somehow a bad thing?

I have no problem being put in my place when I am wrong (as I was about some things), but the unanswered question still is why were we told the slow zones were eliminated last year when they were not.

Hopefully I am incorrect about this part, too, but I don't recall being told that it was a patch job. Speeds improved dramatically after it was supposedly complete.

The 15mph slow zone is in place to facilitate construction, just like they did with the Red line last year. There are a couple 25mph track condition slow zones that appeared in the last month or sow between Division and Clark/Lake. I'm guessing further portions of the line started to show it's age after the obviously dangerous segments were repaired and faster trains were moving through.

They are due to deliver 1 or 2 8 car sets in Fall 2009 of the new ones, then the order picks up speed in 2010.

Look for them on the Blue Line phasing out the 2200's with their accordion doors :(

'g' said: "To the best of my recollection the CTA warned us that much of the Dearborn subway still needed work which was not done last year."

painhertz said: "It was done last summer...then the Feds dropped a big pile of money on them and they're fixing the things that they couldn't last summer. They didn't lie."

Ok. so clearly a couple of us have memories and recollections that are far superior to the rest of us. It seems that the majority of this blog have expressed some level of surprise that the central subway section of the Blue Line (the Dearborn subway, from Division to Clinton) needed work again. So whether the CTA did or did not tell the public that there was more work to be done; it still seems there was some level of PR-fuzziness that so many of us could be confused. Obviously, the proof that could put this all to rest would be a presentation , a press release, anything, that shows that CTA said this last year. Oh well, we'll have to rely on what they say this year to remind us what they must have told us last year.

Anyways, the question I still want asked is this: If the stimulus money had not come, and if this current construction was not done this year, how long would last year's work have lasted before the Dearborn Subway would have returned to safety-based slow zones?

Was it only going to last 3 years? 5 years? a decade? Two decades? If you think about what it would have meant to you if the answer last year was "3 years" you may have thought differently about last year's project. If the answer was 10 years, it makes you wonder about this year's project?

It's a legitimate question that helps us all try and understand how decisions get made over there and it helps us attempt to understand what CTA's "unmet" capital need really is.

"The 15mph slow zone is in place to facilitate construction, just like they did with the Red line last year."

Thank you, G, for answering Clint's question. It's too bad he asked it again after I had answered it the first time he asked. In fact, after I answered his quesion in that thread someone else actually asked the same question again. I then gave an even more detailed explanation.

To recap, the CTA didn't lie when they stated they fixed the slow zones in this area the first time. They did. I'm not defending the CTA. I agree they certainly gave the impression that they fixed the track long-term. But the slow zones that exist now have nothing to do with deteirated track. It is put in place because of the CONTRUCTION. And the CTA shouldn't only upgrade track when there already are slow zones because of their deteiration. Ideally, every inch of track should be in good condition. So the fact that there were no (or few) slow zones prior to the project doesn't provide any conclusions as to whether the work was neccessary at this time. Neither does the fact that these were old ties. So there is nothing conlusive to me one way or the other as to whether the CTA should have asked for stimulus funds to do this.

MK, G didn't answer my question (and neither did you the first time). He is only assuming what's happening. Again, I'll go back to my original question, worded differently to suit your tastes: why is there construction going on to upgrade the tracks when we were told it was complete?

On to another point, though, since you seem to think I am just being cranky or worse: when the slow zones first popped up a few years ago, they were in response to trains derailing (to the best of my recollection) since at faster speeds they could jump off the tracks. There was no construction going on for quite a while to fix them after that. Then a big announcement was made and work was done to fix the bad track. I can understand that current construction would be a reason for trains running at lower speeds, but that is not the only reason for them doing so.

To now say that they are only doing some upgrades to improve the conditions from acceptable to excellent, as I think is your point, is incorrect, as Gaffney said above:

"It would have been great to have had the resources to do it all at once; we did what we could afford to do."

That tells me that the CTA knew there were problems with the tracks last year and didn't have the money to fix them.

It was never my understanding that they did the entire subway, just the critical portions. You could tell they hadn't touched a large chunk of the subway line just by looking at any of the track in the stations inside the loop.

Given that the ties down in the Dearborn subway are nearly as old what was in the Red line it's no surprise that they're showing their age. The CTA was presented an opportunity to secure funding for the work that would have to be done in a couple years anyway so they took it.

[Again, I'll go back to my original question, worded differently to suit your tastes: why is there construction going on to upgrade the tracks when we were told it was complete?]

They have answered this - there's work going on because they have money to do what they didn't have money to do before.

I understand the frustration of Blue Liners on this score, since they had good reason to believe that the work between Division and Grand was done, but at this point the CTA has made it very clear why they're doing what they're doing.

What you're essentially asking is why the CTA didn't say in 2007, "OK, we're doing a good bit of work, and things will be better when we're done, but we're going to be doing more work in a little less than two years." But the answer to this is pretty obvious, isn't it? They didn't say this because they had no idea that they'd be doing more work in this short of a time frame.

Now they've had money fall from the sky, and they're taking advantage of the situation to patch things up. Again, I understand why the situation is frustrating, since Blue Line disruptions are a major hassle, but it's really time to stop pretending that things are somehow unclear.

I was puzzled to see the this happening recently too. Coincidentally, this weekend I was rummaging through a drawer and found some of those "slow zone construction complete" double-arrow buttons that were (amusingly) handed out at Clark/Lake last year. I really hope somebody can get the full story.

But there are other things they can do to improve that won't cost a dime. Like provide more transparency around these "UIC-Halsted" only trains that sometimes run toward the loop. These are a major headache for anyone who rides all the way to Forest Park, since they usually cause a delay to the next train following them. Commuters going to Forest Park often miss connections becuase of this. It wouldn't be a problem if they just said "UIC-Halsted" trains run at such-and-such times, and when they run the next train may be delayed by N minutes. But currently all they will say is just "(some weekday rush period trips end at UIC-Halsted)" which isn't terribly helpful.

And maybe someone who is more familiar with this matters can answer this one. Why does ongoing construction require trains to go slower even when no workers are present?

[And maybe someone who is more familiar with this matters can answer this one. Why does ongoing construction require trains to go slower even when no workers are present?]

For the same reason that road speed limits are lowered during construction periods, even when no workers are present - normal speeds aren't safe until the work is finished. The tracks themselves can't handle high speeds between the time the old ties are removed and the new concrete ties are poured (this doesn't happen all in one weekend on any given stretch of track).

I would imagine that there's also a lag period between the time that the work is finished and the time that inspectors clear the track for normal speeds, but I don't know that for sure.

CTA lied. Stop standing up for them.

Take that, whoever-blah-is-talking-to!

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