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The straight dope on slow zones, swine flu prevention from the CTA

Since the CTA announced in April that federal stimulus dollars would fund more slow zone elimination work on the Blue Line, we've all had questions. And one of the biggest is: 1. What about all the work done in 2007-08? 2. How is this different? 3. And what's the full scope?

The CTA does a decent job answering those questions on its slow zone elimination page. Such as:

1. "During 2007 and 2008, track tie replacement and other improvements were made to eliminate existing slow zones that were substantially impacting travel times. Using the resources available, construction crews focused on the sections of track that were in the worst shape."

2. "Many track components in the subway, including aging track ties, will be replaced in the coming months to provide even more reliable service in the future."

3. The project is broken into three phases: North of Division to south of Grand, through the summer; south of Grand through Clark-Lake, in the fall; from Clark-Lake through the south tunnel portal past Clinton.

There's other Blue Line work outside the tunnel, currently around Damen.

Slow zone work 

Red and Purple Line work too: Many of you have been wondering about the slow zones around Sheridan and Wilson, plus the Purple tracks from Belmont to Howard. Wonder no more! The CTA says 6,000 feet of slow zones will be removed through 2009.

Swine flu prevention tips. But do we need them anymore? The "big scare" (or shall I say scam) appears to be over. But after  what Biden said last week, the CTA wants you to know what it's doing to prevent the spread. For instance, it's telling employees how to avoid it. And the reminds us riders to keep it clean -- and how the CTA keeps itself clean:

"Because swine flu is spread through person to person contact, CTA riders are advised to take basic precautions to protect themselves and their fellow riders, including frequent hand washing, covering their mouths or noses with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.  The CTA’s deep cleaning procedures include the washing and sanitizing of hand rails, poles and seats and the CTA uses several cleaning agents, including hospital grade disinfectant, that are approved as virucidal against swine flu.  Because CTA vehicles are heavily used, the CTA suggests that to keep their hands clean while traveling, riders may want to consider carrying tissues, hand-sanitizing gels or disinfecting wipes."

(Photo by the CTA)


6000 feet out of over 32,000 feet of slow zones on the north side main line and purple line express tracks? They have a lot more work to do. Hell, fixing the slow zones right at Sheridan is nearly 6,000 feet!

I think they could do better, so hopefully this is only the beginning. I just hope we're actually catching up on this work, not just staying even with the decay/neglect from the past. I'd hate for us to get near 100% and then have to start over on the stuff we just completed the last couple years. I realize they are using more durable materials, but they also implied they fixed the Dearborn subway in the past as well...

What's going on witht he Blue Line construction?

Last year the CTA launched the "Think of It As A Fast Zone" campaign with a special webpage claiming "Major construction on the Blue Line's O'Hare Branch is complete". You can still find it listed on google, but page is gone from their site.


So why is the CTA spending $88 million in stimulus money and causing major delays and shut downs in the same area in which, according to newspaper reports last year, slow zones had been eliminated? The Sun Times map from your post last year is the exact same place where an announcement said it may be the worst this year. And for a while the commute did speed up.

Now Daley claims "we did what we could afford to do and focused on the sections of track that were in the worst shape," but that wasn't what the CTA told us at the time.

While the likely explanation is the CTA was being less than honest to the public before, it does seem like there's another agenda. Daley invested millions into Block 37 in hopes of creating new O'Hare express on the Blue Line, which was nixed because it was impossible to runan express train on the local tracks without a millions to a billion in changes.

Whether Daley just wants to perfect the current line or is laying groundwork for his white elephant plan, it seems possible his priorities were a factor in how 1/3 of CTA's share of the stimulus is spent.

[So why is the CTA spending $88 million in stimulus money and causing major delays and shut downs in the same area in which, according to newspaper reports last year, slow zones had been eliminated?]

I honestly don't see the confusion. Let's review:

1) In 2007-2008, there was work to replace ties between Division and Grand in the Dearborn Subway.

2) Following that, there was major work to replace ties between Addison and O'Hare on the O'Hare branch. This was the focus of most of the "Think of it as a fast zone" campaign, and there is no work scheduled here this year.

3) Now, it is necessary to resume work in the Subway. While slow zones were eliminated during previous work - between Division and Grand - by replacing sections of track in the worst shape, it is now necessary to replace the rest.

4) Additionally, work is to be done on the remainder of the Subway, i.e., between Clinton and Grand. This is where the majority of this year's work is to be done, and it had nothing to do with previous Subway work.

5) Also, three track switches and minor slow zones near Damen will be replaced. Again, this had nothing to do with previous O'Hare branch work.

In short, only #3 is being done on a section of track where there was previous work. The explanation is given for why this is the case. You can believe it or not, but obviously there actually are slow zones there that need to be fixed, so I don't know why the conspiracy theories are supposed to make any sense.

I think it's too early to tell if the swine flu thing was a scam or a scare. Typically the flu season isn't spring but fall and winter. The CDC is keeping a close watch on flu in the southern hemisphere now (their flu season) to see if they can predict what will happen to us this fall.

The slow zone map I'm looking at grossly overstates the Red Line problem at Sheridan. Given that there are two curves and a stop in between, I'm not sure why there's any thought that 15 mph is an inadequate speed.

Also, newcomers might want to do the math on improving slow zones. I'm not going to revive a horse I've beaten pretty thoroughly here, but on that stretch between Wilson and Sheridan, even under the most idealized of circumstances (including assuming that inertia doesn't exist so trains can reach top speeds and also stop instantaneously), you save on the order of 7 or 8 seconds for every extra 10 mph of speed. The real world savings would likely be 3 or 4 seconds at best. At that point, in the real world, all a faster train means is that you stand at a streetlight for a few seconds less while waiting for the walk light.

Bob S,

That doesn't explain the such a small percentage of track that is set for slow zone work. If you don't touch anything there, they are still only fixing about 6000 out of 26000 feet of slow zone outside of the Sheridan stop. That is a rather low percentage.

Plus, you just pulled those numbers directly out of your butt. Even if they are close to correct, I'm reminded of the famous political quote, "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you're talking about real money!" The same thing applies to saving a few seconds here and there.

As for the work on the O'Hare branch. They marketed it as saving time in getting to the airport. If you take it from the Loop, you have to go through Dearborn, so it was heavily implied that the track was fixed. Most people don't realize the "O'Hare Branch" doesn't include the track in the Loop.

It took me 40 minutes to get from Logan Square to Jackson at around noon today. The train crept to Damen; crews were visible from California to that stop. Then the "real" slow zone, where as the engineer announced, we were limited to traveling no faster than 15 mph. How can the CTA possibly justify this kind of delay on top of the complete shutdown of a huge section of track on weekends?

Uh, no, chris, my butt was untouched and unused during the production of those numbers. (I assume by "numbers" you refer to my discussion of time savings at various speeds.)

The distance from Wilson to Sheridan is common knowledge, and from that, even you yourself can calculate how long it takes to travel that distance at various speeds. Were I an engineer, had I access to such figures as acceleration rates of trains of different lengths under different loads on straight and curved track, I would have used those.

But I don't, so I went with assuming it's a perfectly straight segment of track and a train can cover that distance at the full rated speed from start to finish. That the figures show the time savings to be insignificant even under these most idealized of circumstances strongly suggests that there's virtually no point in spending a dime on them in the real world.

Now, if you're the sort of person, and from your "few seconds here, few seconds there" rant I'm assuming you are, who calculates the door closest to the exit at your destination, stands up and blocks the aisle a stop or two early to make sure you're the first one out at *your* stop, and times your walk to the nearest intersection to hit the walk light in your direction, then yes, you can justify fixing the slow zones. But if any *one* of those bottlenecks affects you, it will slow you down more than the slow zone repair gives back to you.

Don't say stupid things. You can do this work yourself. I have no respect for or interest in people who can't be bothered to do the math.

And I didn't mention the Blue Line, FWIW.

For that matter, I didn't say the Red Line track isn't worth fixing. Slow zones aren't worth fixing, but the northern stretch of the Red Line desperately needs to be rebuilt, and it's perfectly reasonable to use the highest quality track and construction work for every defined segment of travel, which will in turn improve slow zones.

Still. Don't even reply until you've done that math.

Dear Bob S,

My irony meter just blew up. You say you have no respect for people who don't do the math, yet you didn't do them yourself either. Then, you also tell me not to reply until I've done the math. Pot meet kettle.

You also make an assumption about my train-exiting patterns, which are wrong. I do not exhibit such behavior.

"Slow zones aren't worth fixing..."

I sure hope what you wrote is a typo, since you just said slow zones AREN'T worth fixing.

My point is valid about the amount of slow zones they plan on fixing. It's a small number compared to the total. Also, the stretch between Wilson and Sheridan is very long. If you discount the curve after the station going northbound, I don't see why getting above 15mph is not feasible.

The comments about the blue line were in general, not directed at you. I just didn't want to make 2 posts.

Yea, a lousy 6,000 feet fixed on the Red and Purple lines will make no noticable difference in travel times. They have been working on the tracks near Sheridan for months now and no slow zones have been lifted, in fact, Southbound Red's slow zone now has been extended 15mph all the way into Addison. I still for the life of me do not understand why its all about the Blue line. So what! Just because it serves O'Hare airport and we are bidding for the Olympics it gets the lion's share of capital money to eliminate 100% of the slow zones. Meanwhile the North red line, with nearly double the ridership of the Blue line gets shafted once again! Looks like a minimum of another year before they even THINK about addressing slow zones in Rogers Park on Red and the LOOOOOONG Northbound Purple express slow zone from Wilson all the up to around Bryn Mawr.

Elisa, I feel your pain. I was on a train last night for nearly an hour, going from Monroe to California. Only, after sitting and waiting in the subway between stops forever, eventually our train switched to run express from Damen to Logan Square, so we got off and waited for the next train to take us to Western and California.

And is anyone else getting lulled to sleep by the 15mph gentle rocking on the Blue Line between Damen and Clark and Lake? Every morning and every night I get sleepy. If only someone could invent something like that for my bed, I'd sleep much better! Of course that would also mean it wouldn't work half the time and my bedroom would smell like burning brakes...

chris, you assume I haven't done the math at all, when I merely haven't done it in front of *you.* Google is your friend. If you use it with thoughtfully chosen keywords, you could find the comment to a post last year where I laid out the math. But it would take less time to do it yourself. Here's a hint: Under the ideal, better-than-real-world conditions I used, there is a speed (at which track can be rated) at which it would take 49 seconds to get from Wilson to Sheridan. If you don't understand the value of what I just said for your Google search, you can still use the figure to check your math. The slow zone discussion started here long, long before you arrived relatively recently. Which is fine. But when someone says "I've done the math," you should sense that there's some history there.

Also, let's note that you're specifically not talking about something I *am* specifically talking about. Here you are saying "Also, the stretch between Wilson and Sheridan is very long. If you discount the curve after the station going northbound, I don't see why getting above 15mph is not feasible."

And in my first comment here, here I am saying "The slow zone map I'm looking at grossly overstates the Red Line problem at Sheridan. Given that there are two curves and a stop in between, I'm not sure why there's any thought that 15 mph is an inadequate speed."

Compare and contrast. You for some reason are "discounting" the specific stretch I was discussing. All of these slow zones under discussion are concentrated around the double curve surrounding Sheridan.

(Plus: "Very long"? No, no it isn't. It is the longest straight, uninterrupted stretch of track on the North Side, but it isn't really that long. You should know exactly how long it is -- this sort of knowledge, a very quick calculation, is part of daily Chicago life.)

But it's *irrelevant.* looking at the April 29 slow zone map, three of those four 15-mph segments begin and end with that curve and station. Only the southbound Red Line slow zone extends past the points at which the trains clear the curves, but that's going into Addison.

Along that stretch, the only marked slow zones north of Sheridan and south of Wilson are for southbound trains approaching or northbound trains exiting Sheridan.

Which is when trains are unlikely to be, and perhaps prevented by the laws of physics from, going more than 15 mph or so anyway.

I added the reference to my comments last year to today's comment for a little context regarding the value of improving slow zones. I apologize that it apparently confused you, but when I presented it here originally, a fair number of people accepted the results. Not all agreed with my conclusion, which is fair, and I'm fine with you not accepting it either as long as you accept that the math has been done.

But as far as I'm concerned, the reality is clear: Slow zone repairs are great PR that have little to do with actual travel time and, given the very unfortunate spending constraints on the CTA, not terribly cost-effective either.

Bob S,

Apparently you did some math on this a year ago, which I was unaware of even though I've visited this site for some time now. I commend you for taking the time to do so, but that was definitely not apparent from your post. But, you never said you had done the math, you simply said newcomers should do the math. At the same time, I'm not a newcomer so I didn't heed your call.

I don't agree with the idea that it's not a very long stretch in between those 2 stops. I'm comparing it to red line stops. If you want to compare it to distance to the moon and say it's not far, that's fine.

I believe you that you've done the math that somehow shows removing slow zones is not a good idea. Does your math account for what happens when something gets so bad that a train will no longer go across that section?

Also, since you have done the math, how does the CTA account for the fact that my travel times northbound to approximately the area we are talking about earlier are about 10 minutes quicker? If it has nothing to do with travel time and is all PR, how does your math account for this? Am I in an alternate reality? CTA also claims that trips to O'Hare were to be over 15 minutes quicker from downtown? How can this be if it is all PR?

So, I'm sorry I assumed no math had been done, but I still disagree with you either way.

Well, hey, I'm sorry my wording was vaguer than I realized. I thought it would be obvious from context that I had worked all this out but clearly it wasn't. And I didn't realize you've been around that long; for some reason I thought you'd started posting here more recently. (But still, on my side, you felt it was worth responding to, and not that it was *that* memorable, but you must have seen it mentioned a few times. Whatever.)

Anyway, yes, my larger point is that slow zones should be repaired as part of a larger overall rehab of the tracks north of Sheridan.

And I agree with your point about track maintenance, but that may or may not target slow zones per se. And clearly slow zones are being used not to signify how fast trains can run -- seriously, can anyone imagine even a Purple Line that doesn't have to stop at Sheridan going faster than 15 mph on that double curve? -- but as indications of track quality, so the CTA's being a little disingenuous there.

(FWIW, that stretch between Sheridan and Wilson is about 3/4 of a mile, and at the speeds I used last year -- 55 and 70 mph -- the time saving added up to about 10 seconds.)

As for your travel times, there are too many variables, especially because three-tracking was also a factor that considerably slowed down Red Line traffic in recent memory. Even under relatively optimal conditions, motormen may occasionally have been going slower than a marked slow zone allowed. Too many hypotheticals to know for sure. And as for the Blue Line, let's face it: Most of the track was a slow zone for a long time. I'm not saying there's *no* effect, and I'm not saying there's no cumulative effect when many are repaired. Given the condition of the Blue Line during its regular derailment days, I can easily imagine a 15-minute difference.

But again, around Sheridan, even after those slow zones are repaired, it's unlikely that trains are going to move any faster than 15 mph.

And is anyone else getting lulled to sleep by the 15mph gentle rocking on the Blue Line between Damen and Clark and Lake?
F%&^ no. That crap gives me a damn headache! It's almost as bad as the bus drivers...almost... Stop. GO. Stop. GO! Jesus, how about a consistent 15 MPH? Do they really need to slam on the brakes every 50 feet? They can clearly see the signals ahead, and they clearly know what the speed limit is. The CTA utterly baffles me.

I calculated a while ago that simply removing the slow zones from the NB purple line would save around three and half minutes under theoretical conditions. Of course a 6 car train has to clear a slow zone before speeding up, and then acceleration isn't instant and so I figure that around 5 minutes are added to a purple line trip by the slow zones.

What I don't understand is that they're replacing ties that had already been replaced a year or more ago. Look at Grand on the Blue Line. They've removed the concrete ties to replace them with? Better concrete ties? Am I missing something?

Oh my goodness. Come on, Dave. Asking about things that are clearly stated in the original post, the CTA page linked to in that post, and even more clearly in the third comment on this thread is not something we like to do here. That is more of the type of thing that is done on Tribune comment threads.

As I've stated before, I'm not at all convinced that this work really makes sense at this time. A key thing I would like to know is how long have the ties being replaced been in operation and how does that compare to what is recommended. How long before it can be projected that they would have been deteriorated enough to require slow zones? Nobody has mentioned this. The CTA obviously felt comfortable that they would have lasted a fairly long time when they advertised the fact that the slow zones were elimanated on that portion of track. There obviously is the real possibility, based on the available information, that all this work could have waited for several years. Perhaps even over a decade before everything really needed to be completed. This could easilly be an unfortunate money grab for stimulus project funds on something that would have been much wiser to spread out over time.

The stimulus bill, of course, had the intended purpose of stimulating the economy. But as I've said before, this portion of the project will likely cause far more harm to the economy than good. The blue line is a major contributor to the economic health of the region. So closing the most heavilly used portion of the route for several weekends at the busiest time of the year causes a pretty major decrease in economic activity. It really doesn't make sense to do this unless it is absolutely neccessary. People will decide not to visit the downtown area or will end up spending less time doing so because of the longer commute. This means less sales tax revenue and less healthy businesses. Many people also make decisions of where to live based on CTA service. I think that the fact that there have been some disruption in blue line service almost every weekend the past two years has effects there. There are people who work in areas near Rosemont (remember people do work on weekends), for example. If they live on the near north side, they haven't been able to conveinently get to work on weekends for awhile. The earlier work north of Addison was almost certainly neccessary. But there is no sense adding on to that some unneccessary closures. This does have effects on real estate tax revenue and making it more difficult for people to sell homes. It doesn't have to be a very large amount of people for this, combined with the decreased retail and other activity downtown and elsewhere, to substantually offset positive economic benefits from the jobs created by the work.

If they are going to do this entire project, I'm really baffled why they chose to do the most disruptive work at the most disruptive time of the year. If they had done that portion of the work early next year (or even this fall), the negative economic effects would have been substantually less. The summer is the height of the tourism season. Even non-tourists travel around the city more often on weekends. According to the CTA's website, the whole project will take until 2010, with the work north of Grand through August. Doesn't it logically make sense that they do the portion between Lake and Clinton this summer? That causes minimal negative economic effects. People can still conveinently get downtown. They may just need to walk a little farther. The pink line is a good alternative for those using the Forest Park branch (and less face it, that branch doesn't really contribute all that much to the economy). Their website states they are doing that early next year when much fewer people go downtown.

But in Chicago we don't get to debate these things until they already occur. The work, of course, began a few weeks ago so it is too late. But it would still be nice to get an answer to some of these questions.

And just to clearly state what seems to me to be the logical way to replace rail ties that have not been completely detiorated. You do scattered small projects over a long period of time. Perhaps over the next six to eight years you close that that portion of the line one or two weekends a year. Maybe you can even do it only during the overnight hours on weekends along with some overnight weeknight work. This can be targetted towards the least travelled times of the year, January through March. This is the subway so weather is not a problem. This doesn't scare many people away from Chicago or significantelly harm the level of economic activity. I realize that the city and the CTA like to immedietely rush towards a pile of money provided by the federal government. But sometimes that money ends up costing more in the long run. Not to mention, I'm confident that if the CTA had asked the feds would have gladly agreed to fund something else with the same amount. Perhaps a station at the United Center, for example.

MK. MK. MK. Absolutely correct on all counts.

CTA may have cleared things up this year about last year, but at the time last year, the Blue Line was getting fixed to zip people to Ohare in 40 minutes! The idea that they had more to do and, if funded, they needed to do that right away, was never made.

What is their $6 Billion "Unmet" Capital need? How much of that are projects that don't have to be done right away?

These are all legit questions and we shouldn't paint-over them just because they've clarified things this year.

There is more going on here that only regular Blue Line riders will know. We were told repeatedly that that the prior slow zone work would fix the problem. Until a few weeks ago it seemed that was true. The trains moved at normal fast speeds and we all thought things were fixed.

Then, all of a sudden, and at the exact same time the CTA announced the new slow zone work, slow zones were back. Out of nowhere. Quite the coincidence, no? So am I to believe that trains moving ~30 MPH (or whatever) instantaneously now have to slow down to < 10 MPH? Really? Did things deteriorate that much overnight?

In addition, the slow zones are RAPIDLY expanding, as any alert passenger can tell you. At first it was just one track between Division and Grand. Now it's both sides from Clark/Lake (where I get on and off, so I don't know what happens past that) to a spot between Damen and Western. This happened over a period of a few weeks.

To me there are a few possible reasons for all this, some mentioned above:

1. The CTA lied to us before about fixing the slow zones. This would be a huge disappointment considering the strides in CTA customer service I've seen since Huberman had taken over.

2. The nefarious Daley plots noted above. The guy is such a schemer who bullies anyone in his path to get what he wants that I wouldn't put this past him. It would certainly explain #1.

3. Congress dumped a bunch of cash on the CTA and they are looking for an excuse to spend it. All of a sudden: POOF! We have slow zones! On one hand, this is a ridiculous way to spend a lump of cash handed to you (unless specifically earmarked to do so). On the other, maybe Daley's new guy in charge is either incompetent or his lackey and there is a concrete tie-laying union to buy off.

I actually consider #3 most likely, but I don't even care very much because the whole idea of these new slow zones just infuriates me.


The construction project has already begun. That is why there are now slow zones.

They're fixing track that has been neglected for decades!!!! Conspiracy!!!!!!!!

MK, I don't think that replacing concrete ties that had already been replaced was addressed in the article nor in strannix's comment. The idea was that the old wooden ties were deteriorating and that the concrete ones would last forever. My point was that they are taking out the concrete ties and replacing them with - concrete that will last for a long time. What is wrong with the concrete that was there? This is not an area that has been neglected for a long time. This is work that was already done. If there is more improvements to be made I'd certainly be all for it. But this looks like repeating work that was meant to last for many years (the implication was they would last longer than the wood ties which lasted ~50 years).


How did you see this? Do you have pictures?

I saw it because I'm at Grand every day. I don't have pictures and certainly they wouldn't be of much use now since they have already removed the concrete ties.

Do you know if they were actually removing them, or were they simply lifting them up to do work on the track above... Could there be another explanation?

They're fixing track that has been neglected for decades!!!! Conspiracy!!!!!!!!
Bu they "fixed" it last year!!!! Remember the "putting rapid back into transit" posters? The construction maps outlined EXACTLY the same areas that are being fixed now. Yea yea, that was last year, I know...so what did they "fix" it with, elmers glue?

F@*$ the CTA. I don't know why people defend them so much.

I also saw them removing the concrete ties that were installed about a year ago. What the heck is going on? I am not a conspiracy person, but something is indeed going on. Are we forgetting what state/county/city we are in? The posterchild of government corruption.

I also have seen the concrete ties being removed. It did not seem that they were being removed for any reason but to replace them. I cannot see why they would need to be removed in order to work on the track which they support because they are under the track. It must just be that a new concrete company bought Daley some special new toy and needed some stimulus itself.

Oh geez ... this thread has brought out some stupid people.

You've all convinced me. There are no slow zones in the Dearborn Subway. It's all a plot for Daley to enrich his concrete cronies.

Forget I ever said anything.

Then it's the unions! Removing concrete ties, shuffling them around, putting them back. Seriously, what could be the reason for re-doing these alleged impervious-to-everything-supposed-to-last-forever concrete ties after less than one year?

Let's go out on a limb of the conspiracy tree for a minute. Is it possible that the concrete that was poured for the ties was not allowed to dry sufficiently and is now structurally compromised in some way? As I've stated before, I'm not a structural engineer, but I could play one on TV.

strannix - why are we stupid? I'm asking why concrete ties that were supposed to last 50+ years are being replaced 2 years after they were installed. That's not conspiracy, that's an honest question that deserves an answer. As someone who dealt with the blue line slow zones (in summer heat) 2 years ago I'm frustrated by the idea of reliving that this year.


If the ties were not allowed to sufficiently dry to the standards required by the CTA contract, this would be a breach of contract. Sure, it probably wouldn't be a material breach, but the CTA would certainly be getting new ties or damages to buy new ties. I do not think the CTA would be "cool" with paying for brand new ties when the current ones were, at most, negligently manufactured.

For the record, I am not a structural engineer or self proclaimed conspiracy theorist. I simply do not see the stupidity in asking for some answers when it is OUR money and the money of our progeny being spent. Just because there is a seemingly unending amount of cash coming this way, does not mean the government should waste it.
I have a few friends clerking at the CTA legal dept. I'm going to see if I can get any unprivileged information re: this.

yeah, the reappearance of slow zones on the Blue Line is a complete crock of s***. On the train today the conductor said the tunnel zone would last until December. Ugh.

Frankly, I don't know what is going on. Hubie either lied through his shiny teeth about fixing all the BL slow zones or they had to find a way to spend the stimulus money.

I mean, look at this:


and the map from the Sun-Times. Nowhere does it say "we got all that we could do with the money we had done". It says the slow zones are GONE. FIXED. HISTORY. And now they are back within a couple of days with no advance announcement.

And, not surprisingly, all the references to the previous "Fast Zone" crap has been scrubbed from the CTA website. Unfortunately archive.org doesn't have any history past June of 2007.

Idiots. Bastards. Most certainly both.

Let's just get something straight. I don't believe any of us are workers for the CTA that are doing track-work. None of us have any idea what it would take to do this work, so making guesses as to why they might be moving a concrete tie and saying there is "no reason" to do so, is at best a little silly. What might make no sense to you, might make perfect sense to someone doing the actual work.

Plus, I don't think they pour these ties in place. I would imagine they are moved in, pre-poured, but I could be wrong...

I'm pretty sure they pour them in place.
That's what they did in the State St. tunnel.

All the concrete tie work in both the Blue and Red line subways in the last 2 years were poured in place. They are not concrete blocks that can be removed, moved and put back into place. They are permanently fused to the concrete subway tunnel floor. They have to be jackhammered out in chucks to be removed. Therefore, unless there were some older concrete half-ties in the Blue line subway from years ago, they are just about completely redoing work done 2 years ago.

Lets not forget the Blue line from Jefferson Park to O'Hare opened in 1984 with ties that were supposed to last many decades and in 20 years they were completely shot. The CTA even admitted the contractor used inferior wood ties. Or how about the 200 buses that lasted only FOUR years before being pulled off the streets permanently. Hmmmm, or just like how they have to repaint all the metal components of the Addison Red line station about every 6 weeks all summer long with white paint. And don't even mention the Block 37 station lies, deception and cover up. Re-replacing some sections of ties in the blue line tunnels starts to not seem quite so far fetched if you think about it. Also, doesn't nearly 1 year to replace seem like a VERY long time? It seems to me they were able to do the entire Red line tunnel project in about 4-5 months.

[Let's just get something straight. I don't believe any of us are workers for the CTA that are doing track-work. None of us have any idea what it would take to do this work, so making guesses as to why they might be moving a concrete tie and saying there is "no reason" to do so, is at best a little silly.]

Thanks, Chris, for actually making some sense.

Silly like running express trains on the same tracks as locals? Making sense like having the same workers who perform a task do the QA (as was revealed after the 2006 blue line derailment)? Let's not pretend the CTA is above this kind of waste or poor decision making.

That said, I think we're all asking the question and willing to listen. At least I am.

It would be nice if some of you who say you have seen concrete ties being removed would mention why you know for sure that they are concrete ties. Do you see both wooden and concrete ties on a regular basis and clearly know what they both look like? Are you certain you saw specific ties being installed during the last work project that are now being removed? If so, how are you sure you remember the location correctly? It really would not surprise me all that much if these complaints are genuine and the CTA actually is removing ties that were just installed. At this point, I think that is a long shot but given the way everything in the city is secret and many questionable decisions are made I don't think it is totally out of the question. But it does no good for people to simply mention they've seen concrete ties being removed without attempting to make it clear that you know what you are talking about. It is not as if one can easilly determine whether a tie is made of wood or concrete based on looking at it from platform level. When this was first mentioned by Dave, he didn't even mention that he was even talking about something he saw directly. It apperently didn't occur to him that most people would interpret his post to be simply commenting on what had been announced like everyone else had been doing. Why is it so hard for people to attempt to put themselves in the position of someone reading their post? The people reading this thread are not psychics and do not have access inside a poster's mind. We cannot automatically figure out everything that is not made clear.

If these people are correct and they are removing ties installed less than two years ago I think that is very troubling. But like I said, at this point I am far from convinced of that. But I am also not convinced that the ties they are removing (even if we assume they are all old) really need to be replaced in the near future. The CTA didn't give any information as to how long they have been in operation, their recommended life, and as to how soon they would be creating problems if they remained. Their triumphant advertising of the fact that they fixed the slow zones last time indicate that they expected it would be awhile before any of the remaining ties created problems. If the answers to these questions indicate this project really makes sense at this time then the CTA is doing a very poor job of PR by not mentioning them in their press releases or on their website. If the answers indicate otherwise then it raises serious questions about why the CTA asked for this as their major stimulus project.

By the way, I will mention (since otherwise I will probably be called a hypocrite after this post) that there is a difference between making something clear and spelling everything out for others that they should have been easilly able to figure out for themselves. For instance, Tom stated "yeah, the reappearance of slow zones on the Blue Line is a complete crock of s***...Frankly, I don't know what is going on. Hubie either lied through his shiny teeth about fixing all the BL slow zones or they had to find a way to spend the stimulus money." This was after I explained to Clint (after he made a similar comment) that the slow zones that were implemented within the past few weeks would not be because of deteirated track. It would be because they were doing the construction. You might notice that they first remove the old ties before they install the new ties. Obviously, the trains cannot go at full speed if there are not ties. Of course, I didn't explicitly say this in my other post. I stated "Clint, the construction project has already begun. That is why there are now slow zones." Apperently it was too subtle for Tom to interpret the "that is why there are now slow zones" to be an indication to Clint that his original belief about the reason for the slow zones was incorrect (despite the fact that his post was right above mine so anyone reading the thread would see it exactly as if two people made these comments one after the other in the course of a conversation).

As far as I know, there were no slow zones in the blue line subway before the project. The CTA isn't disputing this. They are not advertising this project as a project to "remove slow zones" like they have with previous projects. That doesn't mean the project wasn't neccessary. But there doesn't seem to be a lot out there to convince me that it is. So hopefully some information could come about as to the answers to the questions I asked about the track. The CTA is either doing a very bad PR job or is engaging in an unneccessary project that, despite being payed for by stimulus funds, will damage the economy more than it helps.

You're right, MK. I'll concede that I didn't write my original post very clearly, nor in a way that would be most friendly to another reader. And for that I've been called stupid and worse - a Chicago Tribune reader.

To answer your question - as I nor doubt didn't make it clear before - I speak specifically of the ties at the Grand/Milwaukee station. Would saying it was northbound and I looked down at the track help, MK? I stand there nearly every week day. I can visibly tell the difference between concrete and wood ties (concrete are the ones with the grain and termites, right?)

Look, I take interest in how things are done and transit in particular. I assume others here do as well - that's why we frequent a transit blog. I specifically remember them doing exactly the same thing - removing the old ties and putting up temporary ties made of basically shims in between where the existing ties would go. I assume this is phase one (when they shut down between C/L and Western for the weekend). Phase two is pouring and letting cure the concrete, I would imagine. I'm seeing exactly the same thing happening now.

Listen, I'm not a transit worker. I'm a computer nerd. As I said, I'm interested in the way things work. I'm more than willing to concede that there is a reasonable explanation for the CTA's actions. But I do know the CTA does not have a great track record (no pun intended). They're a government agency and anyone who has worked for one (as I have) will tell you there's a lot of waste and a lot of mismanagement. As a taxpayer I would like to know that my tax dollars are being well spent. As someone who was on the 2006 derailment I would like to know that the work is being done so that the trains are safe.

I'm also willing to concede that my original comment was rather flippant. But ask yourself this: What if the CTA announced tomorrow that they were granted more stimulus money and they were going to redo the three-tracking - that was a stop-gap solution and *now* they're gonna do the real thing. No really - Honest this time!

Well, that's how those of us on the Blue Line feel. And I'm not looking forward to this summer.

[It is not as if one can easilly determine whether a tie is made of wood or concrete based on looking at it from platform level.]

Well, actually, it sort of is. The two things don't look at all alike.

I actually believe Dave that concrete ties are being replaced. I see no reason to doubt it.

I do, however, think it's asinine to assume that it's being done to enrich Daley's buddies, or to further some kind of airport express scheme, or because of some nefarious plot by the unions, or whatever other dumbassery this post has brought us (none of which, I should note, was said by Dave).

Basically, re-reading these comments I see two legitmate criticisms:

1) The CTA was less than upfront about the work done previously between Division and Grand. I can sympathize with this, but even if this is the case, it has little bearing on what needs to be done now.

Additionally, it's important to remember that, as I noted above, this is only one part of the work being done in the subway. As far as I can tell, the CTA never claimed to have fixed anything between Grand and Clinton, which will account for the bulk of the work done this year.

2) That even though there is work to be done, there are higher priority needs in the system. The corollary to this is that the work is not a high enough priority to do during this particular time of year.

I don't personally have an opinion on this, but at least it's an actual argument and not conspiratorial garbage.

[They are not advertising this project as a project to "remove slow zones" like they have with previous projects.]

From the page Kevin linked to above:

"This work will replace the remainder of older wooden track ties and replace them with new concrete ties to eliminate any remaining slow zones and prevent future slow zones."

And from the press release announcing the project:

"Mayor Richard M. Daley, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and CTA officials said today work has begun on the first major transit project to be paid for with funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – replacement of more than seven miles of track to eliminate slow zones in the Blue Line’s Dearborn subway."

This is very disturbing. The people stating that they have seen concrete ties removed seem to be credible. I'm having a difficult time thinking of any legitimate explanation for removing ties that were just installed in 2007. As Ed said, these ties are fused into the structure. You don't just remove them to do some work underneath and then put them back. I can understand if maybe a very small percentage of the ties recently installed had to be replaced for some reason. But the comments here indicate it is more than a few. Something looks to be very wrong here.

If the CTA PR folks or the upper management is reading this I highly suggest they respond immedietely. If there is some confusion and no recently installed ties are being replaced then they should make that clear. Perhaps explain what may have caused the confusion and give clear statistics on how many ties were replaced during the last project and how many will be now. And they also should explain exactly why this project needed to be done now rather than in scattered incriments over the next several years that would cause fewer disruptions to riders and the economy. How long have the ties being replaced been in use and how does that compare to their recommended life-span? How long before they would have been deteriorated enough to cause problems? And why in the world did they choose to do the Grand to Damon part of the project during the height of the tourism season when an enormously higher number of people are travelling on the blue line? Did they just decide this randomely? As I said before, if they did the portion of the track south of Lake at this time it would cause much more minimal disruptions. Everyone could still use the train to travel to downtown and the north side during the summer months and they can transfer to all other rail lines. People may just need to walk a little farther once they are downtown but most people don't mind walking in that area. It seems to me that the Grand to Damon portion could easilly have been targeted to times when much fewer people are travelling.

So maybe Kevin could talk to some of the CTA's PR folks and ask them about these things. Or maybe someone at the Tribune or Sun-Times is reading this and will rush to do this before Kevin. Hopefully they realize the negative implications that being scooped by a blog might have on their employer's ability to succeed once they emerge from bankruptcy. Jon Hilkevitch, the Tribune's transportation reporter, seems to have actually improved his reporting since around the time I gave a very harsh critisism of his work on this blog. I haven't needed to critisize any of his articles for months. So perhaps he is reading this and will decide to ask some of these questions to the CTA.

[You don't just remove them to do some work underneath and then put them back.]

Yesterday you didn't know the difference between a concrete tie and a wood tie. Now you're an expert on how the work is done. OK.

Strannix, I think I understand where you are coming from in that none of us are identifiably experts in the field. However, I think the overall impetus for most of these comments is the fact that it feels like the CTA is not being as transparent as they should be. There is at least one reasonable understanding for each side. I don't think that you would be against more transparency, I mean, I don't want to assume, I am just guessing.

What makes this issue a powder-keg is that fact that this money is coming from our pockets the pockets of our progeny, and for that reason I think it is reasonable to merely request some accountability and transparency regarding the work on the concrete ties.

If they are faulty, it may simply be a breach of contract and not costing the CTA a dime. But is it unreasonable for them to simply tell their funding public?

Exactly. I think many people in this city forget that we are all taxpayers and it is our job to ask questions and make sure things are being operated well. I don't understand Strannix's attitude of "well, we don't know everything so therefore we should just all shut up". There is definetely enough evidence of troubling oddities for serious questions to be asked. If there is a legitimate explanation, great. The CTA can explain that. But in a democracy it is imperative that the people are involved in decision-making and that the elected leaders (and those appointed by them) are held accountable. In most other places people take this for granted. In Chicago, everyone just decides to throw up their hands and give-in to the fact that we basically have no say in anything.

I didn't say I was unaware of the difference between concrete and wood ties. I said it is difficult to tell the material a tie is made of from observing them at platform level. But I suppose since the blue line subway apparently, at this time, has both kinds of ties it might be easier for its riders to tell the difference.

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