Chicago Red Line Extension Moves Forward as Some Push Cheaper Alternative

» Now with federal planning money, new access to city’s far South Side could significantly reduce travel time for thousands of commuters.

Last week, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) announced that it had received $285,000 in planning money from the federal government to pursue a draft environmental impact study on the extension of the Red Line rapid transit corridor south to 130th Street. The agency says that this project, which will bring rail transit service to the city’s southeastern border, is its top priority.

Inhabitants of the city’s far South Side have for years complained that they are left out of the rapid transit system, which was extended along the Dan Ryan Expressway to 95th Street in 1969. Their community is the city’s poorest but residents suffer from long travel times to reach the Loop downtown. Decades of plans have suggested lengthening the route further south, but to no avail; in recent years, the CTA has primarily focused its capital funds on the renovation of the older parts of its network.

Nonetheless, with most of the system upgraded to at least workable standards, the CTA is now promoting a 5.8-mile, $1.4 billion extension of its network, designed specifically to ensure rapid and transfer-free travel from the city center to its southern edge. This Red Line scheme, in addition to further extensions of the Yellow and Orange Lines, has been in planning for several years. Yet the high price of the project, combined with the existence of substantial transit infrastructure already in place in the area, suggests there may be other options.

Some local advocates and a taxpayers’ group argue that the conversion of an existing commuter rail line into rapid transit could be pursued at a cheaper price and provide many of the same benefits. They last made their appearance last summer when they were pushing for transit improvements to coincide with Chicago’s Olympics bid.

The CTA, though, contends that the best solution is to run its Red Line trains along an existing freight corridor owned by Union Pacific. An estimated 42,000 daily riders would be served by four new stations. The agency selected its preferred route last year; if funding becomes available, the project could be completed as early as 2016.

The corridor runs roughly halfway between the Metra Rock Island District commuter trains to the west and the Metra Electric District trains to the east. Most of the line would run along the same corridor planned for Metra’s Southeast Service, which has been put off for years because of inadequate funding. The south section, from about 115th Street to 130th Street, would share its right-of-way with the South Shore Line, which runs into Indiana.

Proponents of an alternative Gray Line plan, though, suggest a different project: Improving two branches of the Metra Electric District service by increasing train frequencies and improving stations. Commuters would get service downtown to the Millennium Station via Hyde Park and the rest of the South Side. This, advocates claim, would only cost $200 million — far less than what is necessary to extend the rapid transit service. Their argument is difficult to refute: Metra should focus on improving the use of its corridors within the City of Chicago. The infrastructure is already there, but it is far from being fully utilized: One can imagine a large increase in the use of the commuter trains if customers could purchase tickets at reasonable prices, travel at all times of the day, and transfer directly to CTA buses and trains.

To serve the people at the end of the proposed Red Line extension, a cheaper alternative could be adding a station to the South Shore service and allowing them to purchase tickets at local transit prices to travel to downtown in just over half an hour. The people at the terminus of the line — just below 130th Street — are mostly inhabitants of a public housing complex and suffer from incredibly inconvenient commutes into the city. It’s around an hour to the Loop and more to get to the North Side where many jobs are located.

Those solutions, on paper more simple to implement and in theory cheaper to construct, are not particularly politically realistic, however. Metra and the CTA (not to mention NICTD, the operator of the South Shore Line) do not act as if their fates are aligned, and have done little to improve matters for typical customers. The agencies have few stations where their services allow in-house transfers. You can’t use the same tickets for both lines (or transfer between them), and prices are more expensive on Metra than CTA, even for similar routes. And Metra’s very suburban orientation means it has demonstrated little active interest in promoting rapid transit-like service even along its in-town corridors, meaning most of its trains run at rush hours and are inconvenient for non-work trips.

Moreover, the Red Line extension, even at its high cost, has the benefit of offering commuters non-stop trips from one side of the city to the other, and it also provides easy transfers to other rapid transit lines. Metra routes, on the other hand, suffer from the fact that they all terminate downtown and have few direct connections to local transit. This seriously limits the usability of the lines and means that a Gray Line would likely not be able to attract the same number of riders as the Red Line extension. Finally, the Red Line’s new stations are more than half a mile from existing commuter rail stops, meaning that the project would open up a new market for transit and potentially induce new transit-oriented development.

In the longer-term, Chicago has a responsibility to encourage more interconnections between Metra and the CTA thereby making it possible for residents to use commuter rail and rapid transit interchangeably. Metra should be working to expand the frequencies of its service. For now, though, the Red Line extension is probably the best way to achieve better transit service for the far South Side.

64 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • The Red Line extension is a good project, but the price tag is beyond inflated. As with most US rail expansion projects, it benchmarks far higher than comparable projects overseas. What are we doing wrong in this country that our transit price tags are so out of line?

  • Part of the issue with Metra is that they do not receive any of the RTA transit tax raised inside the city. That goes entirely to the CTA. But you are 100% correct that Chicago’s transit agencies don’t seem to care about each other at all.

  • Um, what’s with the string of stations between Gresham and Blue Island? It seems like if CTA’s looking for low-hanging fruit, that would be a prime candidate for connecting to the rest of the el network.

    • That’s Metra’s Rock Island District line. It’s just a regular diesel commuter rail line.

      The Gray Line proposal would take the Metra Electric line and up the level of service. The Metra Electric line uses EMUs with high platform boarding.

      • There’s so many between Brainerd and Gresham! It looks like it should be light rail or heavy rail.

      • Ocean Railroader

        They should take Metra’s Rock Island District and convert it to electric to allow the trains on the Metra Electric line to run on it and they could add some new electric trains to it.

        • Nathanael

          While the Rock Island line is a good candidate for electrification, it would make sense to use low-platforming vehicles so as to avoid total reconstruction of all stations. Not sure there are any FRA-compliant low-platformers…

          • Nathanael

            Mmmm. Got it. Buy FRA-compliant low-platforming bilevels (already used by lots of places, like Toronto) and electric locos. Eventually someone will produce low-platforming EMUs which can intermix with freight.

          • The FLIRT is a low-platform EMU. Of course, it’s noncompliant, like all other rolling stock that’s actually good…

          • Yeah, just like Desiro, or Dosto, or maybe even the Talents, etc…

          • The new Nippon-Sharyo South Shore Bi-Levels would be perfect for this service, as they have both high and low-level boarding; and already run on the MED:

            http://www.nwitimes.com/business/local/article_db998caf-2ccc-594e-a812-1bb902240ae8.html

            A new track connection at 94th & Cottage would enable a connection between the MED Mainline and the Beverly Branch.

          • Those bilevels are FRA-compliant, i.e. too heavy. If you want a bilevel train, you could do worse than the MI 2N, which becomes legal on American railroad tracks as soon as the PTC mandate goes into effect later this decade.

          • Alon > I am not sure what you mean by “to heavy”.

            The Beverly Branch is presently operated by Metra trains of the exact same type of bi-level car (but non-electrified), pulled by much heavier diesel locomotives.

            Thought for a station location: At 90th & Vincennes, where the Beverly Branch would cross the RI mainline an interchange station could serve Beverly Branch, Rock Island, and new SES trains (Google Earth it).

          • It’s too heavy for modern transit operations. Commuter trains can be much heavier, but that increases their energy consumption, decreases performance, and wears the tracks more. In local service, you want the number of tons per car to begin with a 3 or 4 or, maybe, possibly, 5. The MI 2N weighs 56 tons per car, and that’s on the heavy side; its main feature is that it’s a three-door bilevel.

          • Max Wyss

            I agree with “too heavy”. However, the MI 2N looks to me to be adequately powered with 13.5 kW/t (in the RATP version with 3 powered cars). On the other hand, compared with the Stadler KISS for BLS with 27.5 kW/t (peak), they look lame.

            Do you (or anyone else) have this specific power rating for the South Shore units?

          • I looked and couldn’t find. I only found a thread on Railroad.net referring to the existing cars as too heavy, featuring in contrast a Youtube video showing how ungodly quickly the FLIRT accelerates.

          • Max Wyss

            Yeah, the FLIRT does accellerate nicely. I looked around a bit in the Stadler data sheets, and it is around 20 kW/t (depending a bit on the equipment). The data sheet claims an accelleration of 1.2 m/s^2.

            The already mentioned KISS (note, this is a 4-car double-decker) for BLS will have an accelleration of 1.3 m/s^2, which would make it even more “ungodly”… however, we have to wait a little bit to have these numbers confirmed. But even the 6-car KISS for the Austrian Westbahn geared for 200 km/h reaches 0.85 m/s^2 with around 20 kW/t.

          • simple

            Worth noting also that Metra’s Rock Island Line is already nearly freight-free — perhaps could easily be time-of-day separated to accommodate non-FRA equipment for the commuter trains. The other problem would be addressing some at-grade crossings of the Rock Island line with busy freight lines in and near Joliet.

  • Both the CTA and Metra approaches have merit and both need to work a ticket sharing program, with better CTA bus connectivity for Metra.

    The real shame is why can’t $10B in wasteful Freeway “Congestion Relief” USDOT projects transfer to Rail Transit to actually solve transportation problems. With that level of funding our Top 25 Metro Areas nationwide would be able to balance urban with suburban transit needs without promoting more oil-based transportation infrastructure. Its crazy, we’re now spending more money to maintain freeways than it cost to build them, yet average freeway speeds are going down.

  • Ocean Railroader

    I drove though that area where they widened some of the freeways and tollways and I remeber it not being as bad as it was last time with all the construction going on and it does look like they did add one to two lanes. But what it kind of did though as a side effect is that it moved a lot of the bottle necks farther west and east along with farther south to the sections that are not being widenied. They should put some more money into some of these transit lines.

  • Metra would be a poor choice, because of its antiquated operating practices. Trains run at best every hour off-peak, conductors still punch every ticket just like they did in the 1930s, and the rolling stock is fully FRA-compliant.

  • D. Rock

    A few points of fact. First: NICTD, not NITCD. Northern Indiana Commuter Transit District. Second: The article is misleading: There have been times when Metra was cheaper than the CTA. Even now, CTA rail or bus with a transfer is $2.25 whereas a Metra ten-ride card works out to $2.00 between zones B and A. (Granted, 95th, Kensington, South Chicago, and Blue Island would be more expensive.)

    I think the objections about Metra as operator are nonsense. Most of those concerns have no effect on passengers. Metra runs very well: In years of taking the Electric between the Loop and Hyde Park, I experienced only a handful of late trains; and even then, most of those times were only a few minutes late. That includes times they serviced crush loads to McCormick Place and Bears games. From Hyde Park to the Loop is 9 minutes express and 12 minutes local — with complete grade separation from 63rd north to the Loop. The same trip on the Red Line takes 20-30 minutes.

    There used to be more than 30 trains per hour along the main line. If riders could transfer to CTA bus or rail from any station, usage would be much higher — and the CTA could stop running duplicative service. Hell, Metra could even run an S-Bahn-style service if fare integration made it attractive. (The RI, ED, MD-W/NCS, MD-N, and UP-NW have sufficiently many in-city stations.) But to say that Metra would be incapable of delivering such service? That strains credibility for anyone familiar with Metra.

    Finally: The article says “In the longer-term, Chicago has a responsibility to encourage more interconnections between Metra and the CTA….” Dealing with the suburban-dominated Metra board and city-dominated CTA board — and knocking those heads together in the name of cooperation — is the *RTA*’s job. It is just one they are doing rather poorly. Why else would they stay mum while the CTA builds a shit alignment that avoids neighborhoods but pokes a finger in Metra’s eye (making the SES alignment more complicated, refusing to even site stations to ease transfers to NICTD or Metra)?

    • Thanks for the correction on the NICTD name; I’ve changed it.

      Second, you’re right in your final point: The emphasis needs to be on the RTA in its role as the regional transportation authority to encourage cooperation between the CTA and Metra.

    • My criticism of Metra is precisely that it doesn’t run S-Bahn-style service. Its trains are infrequent and overstaffed, and have no fare or schedule integration with the CTA.

      • Tom Gonzales

        And my criticism of the CTA is that it’s slow and entirely mismanaged.

        More frequently scheduled trains sounds like the easier obstacle to overcome.

        As for overstaffed, Metra may have conductors, but they don’t have continuously manned stations like the CTA.

        The biggest thing that I don’t understand is why integration of Metra and CTA would be a long-term goal, while a multi-billion dollar, half-decade capital construction project is a short term goal. It seems to me that rerouting buses, offering transfer bonuses, and building a couple infill Metra stations would be a lot cheaper and faster than new rail alignments. Nobody in this country has the political will or guts to do anything logical or reasonable.

        • Continuously manned stations involve far, far less labor than five conductors on a train, at least when the train comes with reasonable frequency. Metra gets to pull multi-conductor trains off because its off-peak frequency is crap.

          But even manned stations are unnecessary, unless the trains are really crowded. POP takes care of this problem.

          • IMHO continuously manned stations are a very important safety and security issue from the often ignored point of view of women travelling alone.

            You will NEVER see a woman alone waiting for a 10:30pm Metra Electric train at the presently unmanned 71st & Stony Island Metra Electric station (big loss of potential ridership).

            But there would be a station attendant at the 71st & Stony Island CTA Gray Line station to make riders (and equipment) be safer.

            POP still lets anyone onto station platforms.

          • Yes, anyone can go on station platforms in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and most of France. It’s no big deal.

          • The S-Bahn system in West Berlin had huge security issues in the late 70ies and 80ies. The system was run by the East Germany (some cold war artifact), and thus shunned by the West Berliners. It also did not have integrated ticketing with the rest of the transit system. That caused the system to spiral down to fractional mode share percentage within a decade. And the rundown empty, stations served by infrequent 2-car trains (instead of 8) became a huge secruity concern.

            Nowadays, when they restored the system, the service, the image and integrated the ticketing, it now serves more than a million people a day; very few stations are manned; but it’s not an issue anymore. Something to be learned here.

        • Nathanael

          “The biggest thing that I don’t understand is why integration of Metra and CTA would be a long-term goal, while a multi-billion dollar, half-decade capital construction project is a short term goal.”

          Yeah. Apparently changing institutional structure is Just Too Hard in this country. Compare attempts to merge Metro-North and the LIRR, which should have been done 30 years ago.

  • A question has been asked concerning transfers and access between the Gray Line, and other CTA ‘L’ services in downtown Chicago.

    Downtown at the Millenium Park Metra/GrayLine/South Shore Line Station, the entrance on the SW corner of Randolph & Michigan is 1 short block from the CTA Loop ‘L’ Station at Randolph & Wabash. And the Metra Van Buren St. Station’s Jackson Blvd. exit is 2 blocks from the Adams & Wabash ‘L’ Station. CTA’s Red and Blue Lines are accessible downtown through the ADA Compliant Pedway System.

    At State & Lake, and Library/State & Van Buren transfers are accomplished between the CTA ‘L’ and Subway Lines by using a CTA Fare Instrument, from which a fare or transfer is NOT deducted within 2 hours of boarding a Rapid Transit (‘L’) Line – thus giving a free transfer between ‘L’ Lines without an actual paid-fare physical connection like the Red/Green/Orange Lines at Roosevelt Rd.

    The same operations would allow free transfers between the Gray Line and other CTA ‘L’ Lines downtown.

  • Yeah, I agree. Transfer penalties can probably reduced with much more cheaply compared to building new subway lines.

  • Harvey Kahler

    The Red Line Extension is a costly duplication of existing rail infrastructure that cannot be justified on projected ridership or lack of Metra-Gray Line connections downtown.
    First, the entire Green Line to East 63rd and to Ashland doesn’t generate the projected volume for the extension. This comes mostly from Pace suburban feeder services that would more efficiently serve Metra Electric stations and from park & ride taking advantage of the existing CTA-Metra fare disparity.

    Since Metra monthly passes are actually cheaper than CTA for Zones A & B, the costs for both are pretty close; and the extra cost for extending CTA service is little different than for Metra.

    The lack of CTA connections downtown is greatly exaggerated. Both the Millennium Park and Van Buren St station exit to Michigan Avenue CTA bus routes to the North and West Sides. The Green Line to Oak Park and Brown and Purple Lines to the North Side are only a block away, the Red Line is just two blocks away, and the Blue Line to Forest Park and O’Hare is a reasonable three blocks away.

  • Nathanael

    Grey Line and Red Line Extension are not “alternatives” and should not be treated as “competing”. They serve different communities for the most part.

    Both are good ideas, but I’d do the cheaper one first, which means the Grey Line.

    I’m also surprised at the general unwillingness to do multimodal planning. There should be a Kensington “superstation”, with a South Shore Line flyover of the long-distance/freight lines, the Red Line with a station with passenger interconnection, and Amtrak platforms for the long distance services. But proposals continue to be non-integrated.

  • laldm

    I have no idea why the Gray Line idea gets so much media coverage, both by the Trib (world’s worst newspaper) and sites like this. It is a completely unrealistic idea given the political realities of Chicago. Metra is not interested in working with the CTA, is not particularly interested in increasing service in the city, and added transit service to this area is not its priority. The Southeast Service, while proposed, has seen no action for years. Also, for all the criticism it gets, the management of the CTA is no worse than Metra. Note the Pagano corruption affair of recent months as an example. The CTA does a lot, given that it gets half as much money per rider in funding as Metra does, and still provides more frequent service.

    While the Gray Line idea is a pipe-dream of some unrealistic group sticking their noses where they shouldn’t be, the Red Line Extension is a very active project that is practical and necessary and has been in planning since the 1950s. The part of the south side it proposes to serve is auto-centric despite being extremely poor simply because transit is so inefficient there. Buses have to go so far to get to the ‘L’ at 95th Street that the trips become unfeasible for many. As a result, the ridership of the buses in that area is low, and frequencies are typically 20-30 minutes, which is as bad as it gets in Chicago. Extending the Red Line would serve a group of potential users that desperately needs and wants transit. It is also a group that needs transit at other times than rush hour – so nix Metra on that.

    • I have no idea why the Gray Line idea gets so much media coverage, both by the Trib (world’s worst newspaper) and sites like this. It is a completely unrealistic idea given the political realities of Chicago. Metra is not interested in working with the CTA, is not particularly interested in increasing service in the city, and added transit service to this area is not its priority.

      >>You are exactly right as to it’s being completely unrealistic given the political climate; EVERYTHING CAN BE CHANGED, Rosa Parks accomplished that for one example.

      The Southeast Service, while proposed, has seen no action for years. Also, for all the criticism it gets, the management of the CTA is no worse than Metra. Note the Pagano corruption affair of recent months as an example. The CTA does a lot, given that it gets half as much money per rider in funding as Metra does, and still provides more frequent service.

      >> I agree, but I wonder if you have ever lived on the South Side of Chicago?

      While the Gray Line idea is a pipe-dream of some unrealistic group sticking their noses where they shouldn’t be

      >> What an offensive thing to say, you sound like a Plantation owner who knows what’s best for his darkies.
      >> This infrastructure runs right through the middle of MY community (not yours), and I will stick my nose right down their @$#%&*+ throats.

      The Red Line Extension is a very active project that is practical and necessary and has been in planning since the 1950s. The part of the south side it proposes to serve is auto-centric despite being extremely poor simply because transit is so inefficient there. Buses have to go so far to get to the ‘L’ at 95th Street that the trips become unfeasible for many. As a result, the ridership of the buses in that area is low, and frequencies are typically 20-30 minutes, which is as bad as it gets in Chicago. Extending the Red Line would serve a group of potential users that desperately needs and wants transit. It is also a group that needs transit at other times than rush hour – so nix Metra on that.

      >> The Gray Line would serve the SAME area MUCH better, for a fraction of the cost; and serve the entire Southeast Lakefront Corridor besides. What would the Red Line Extension do for Hyde Park??

    • http://www.illinoispirg.org/uploads/C3/Yv/C3YvO-xHoA5eWCFoMMQhvQ/Getting-on-Track.pdf

      Please laldm, download and read this Getting-on-track pdf,
      read especially pages 18 and 19; and explain how I managed to influence them into making that rather strong statement.

    • D. Rock

      laldm: The Gray Line concept gets continuing coverage because it is a simple, brilliant idea. It’s not even that new: the Illinois Central ran the trains as rapid transport. Go look at old maps of Chicago rapid transit service and you will see the IC (now Metra Electric) shown.

      Further, the lines serve an area that is very dense and transit-oriented. And, the current setup sucks: two agencies running competing service and neither being able to reach economies of scale.

      You say the Gray Line is unrealistic due to the realities of Chicago and Illinois politics? Bull. Daley is stepping down, Stroger is going down as well, and Pagano’s suicide leaves the Metra board without one of its most stubborn opponents of working with the CTA. Further, we have a national government that, perhaps more than in decades, would be receptive to using current infrastructure to increase service (i.e. doing more with less). If Rahmbo asked for a way to make it worth Metra’s while to run frequent in-city service, LaHood and the administration would find a way to make it happen.

  • Roland S

    ………”While the Gray Line idea is a pipe-dream of some unrealistic group sticking their noses where they shouldn’t be, the Red Line Extension is a very active project that is practical and necessary and has been in planning since the 1950s.”…….

    I’m sorry, who do you think you are? Transit planners exist to serve the community, not the other way around. Yonah has noted the shortcomings of the Grey Line proposal already, but it would offer a great advantage to the South Side. It would especially benefit the south lakefront, the only part of the South Side with a good chance of seeing redevelopment in the next few decades, as well as stable, solidly middle-class areas like South Shore and Pullman.

    The Grey Line group has been willing to tackle the biggest elephant in the room when it comes to Chicago transit – the huge rift between CTA and Metra in providing transit service. If transit planners are so self-absorbed that they don’t recognize the problem or think it needs fixing, then they’re the ones who aren’t where they belong.

  • david vartanoff

    Speaking as a former resident of South Shore, the Gray Line concept is spot on. Historically the IC ran very frequent service within Chicago into the 50s with less signaling sophistication than Metra has now. Second, there used to be more local stations both on the IC and the Rock Island each of which accessed a CTA crosstown route. Third, IC pioneered electronic faregates in the 60s Metra Electric does NOT need to have multiple ticket punchers.
    The major defect in the Gray Line scheme is reduced opportunity for consultants, and others to siphon off funding.

  • david vartanoff

    On a longer term, OF COURSE the Rock Island line should be electrified, but the EMU’s should be Metra Electric/South Shore Line Compatible. Having interchangeable cars means RI specials could run via ME Blue Island to Soldiers Field or Millenium for major events. The old C&WI(now UP) route can be easily connected to the Rock Island restoring service to Dolton (Metra’s Southeast plan) A “super station” based around Kensington on the ME including the flyover for the South Shore will make all of it work much better.

    The most important reason NOT to extend the Red line is capacity. Given the congestion between the Red, Purple and Brown Lines on the North Side, adding many new riders to the Red Line cannot go on forever. Conversely, Metra’s rail routes have large unused capacity already paid for.

    • On the contrary, the congestion on the North Side of the Red Line means that extending it to the south would be a good use of operating resources, if the capital costs could be kept down. The reason is that the South Side isn’t as congested, which means trains either run empty (inefficient) or have to turn back in the middle (complicated).

      An extension to the far South Side would not actually increase congestion on the North Side. The existing congestion is in the peak direction; it would get worse only if an extension induced travel from the North Side to the far South Side, which is unlikely as the areas the extension would pass through are residential.

      • Aaron Brown

        Also, I’d assume that the re-routing of buses could save some resources as well (since they won’t all have to go to 95th). Granted, the same could happen with the Gray Line, but – again – this requires a lot of progress in CTA-Metra cooperation.

        I’d view these two proposals as complementary. The benefits of the Red Line extension is its integration with the rest of the system, which could spur ridership and development on the far South Side. While the Gray Line would primarily be a chance to provide a much-improved transit option to under-served but densely-populated and mainly stable communities along the south lakefront.

        Mike – I have two questions for you:

        1) Have you looked to involve the U of C in your proposal? I would think they would support it, given the lack of transit options in Hyde Park (and the University has some political clout). A Gray Line on the east end of the neighborhood would definitely make Hyde Park even more attractive to students, teachers, and visitors.

        2) Is there any ongoing campaign to push the CTA/RTA/Metra to seriously consider your proposal? For people like me who think it’s a worthy cause, it would be great to offer some support.

  • Thank you much Aaron for your comments.

    1 U of C granted me use of their International Hall (free, and they provided coffee and cookies) to put on a presentation about the Gray Line a few years back; I haven’t contacted them since due to some staff changes there. But I am going to contact them shortly in relation to them possibly hosting the upcoming RTA/CDOT SouthEast Lakefront Corridor Study.

    2 At the Study (which should be starting soon according to CDOT staff) I will re-announce the pre-existing Gray Line Coalition and try to enroll supporters; it can be used to organize actions and events.

    • Aaron Brown

      Thanks Mike. I suppose I’ll be able to find information on the Study at your website at some point?

      I’d love to attend if it’s open to the public.

  • DBX

    I’m all for the Gray Line idea.

    First, the Illinois Central (Metra Electric) was built for high frequency operation. Trains typically ran every ten minutes from the 1926 electrification and grade separation project through to the 1960s. The every-hour nonsense that has prevailed since the 1970s grossly underutilizes what is one of the highest capacity pieces of commuter rail infrastructure in North America — four electrified tracks on the main line, plus the two currently non-electrified heavy rail tracks running alongside, and with every crossing out beyond the Lincoln Highway grade separated. And the existing electric network serves the underserved portions of the southside.

    Second, it’s an opportunity to finally knock Metra into the current century with regard to fare structures, ticket handling and integration with the rest of the transit network. The carrot of a Gray Line upgrade comes with the condition of making Metra and CTA cooperate, and the stick of finally introducing Metra to items such as ticket barriers — unless of course they remain OK with the idea of having conductors check tickets. (It’s not beyond the realm of imagination that conductors could carry wireless devices like those machines you use to pay restaurant bills in Europe that could read credit cards and any magnetic-stripe-equipped CTA ticket.)

    • The wireless devices that check tickets are just as easy to implement with POP than with conductors checking all tickets. In Singapore, POP checks on buses use those devices, which easily interface with the local transit smartcard.

      • Max Wyss

        Similar devices are used in Lyon, where the Metro lines have gates, but tram and bus don’t. The devices the ticket checking agents carry have a ticket reader (French style with a magnetic stripe in the middle), and can read out the relevant information. It seems to work reasonably well.

    • FG

      You are of course aware that Metra Electric HAD fare gates but were removed because people were jumping and vandalizing them which made them inoperative for law abiding people. This meant that tickets HAD to be checked.

      The grey line is totally unrealistic – it doesn’t take into account how the trains will interface with suburban traffic at all nor how more frequent trains will affect traffic in South Shore. The answers I’ve gotten are totally unsatisfactory. And as far as I can tell, no actual transit agency takes it seriously. Only the anti-city tribune pays it much mind.

  • DBX

    Oh, and before I forget, the electric lines are the one part of the CTA network that connect through pedestrian tunnel to the el — from Millennium Station to the Red Line at Lake, and, for pass holders, through the Block 37 lower level to the Blue Line at Washington. They’d have connected to the Green Line as well were it not for Bishop Brazier in the 1990s getting the CTA to demolish trackage they’d already renovated from Cottage Grove to Stony Island/63rd, so that he could redevelop 63rd around his church in his vision — as a 1950s suburb.

  • The original fare gates on the Metra Electric were at UN-MANNED stations which allowed access for vandalism. Gray Line stations (like ALL other CTA ‘L’ stations) would be staffed during all train operating hours, both for the perception and reality of security.

    Gray Line trains would operate on the two center local train tracks (of four tracks) from downtown to Kensington; Metra University Park and South Shore Line trains would use the two outer express train tracks. Since Gray Line and Metra/South Shore trains would never operate on the same tracks, there would be no conflicts.

    Gray Line trains in South Shore would only tie up street crossings for a few moments; we aren’t talking 250 car freight trains here.

    Since I am the sole creator of the Gray Line Project, only ask me if you want valid answers; either here, or contact: grayline15@yahoo.com

    RTA and CMAP take it seriously, but they have N O type of control over CTA and Metra; however utilizing the upcoming RTA/CDOT South Lakefront Corridor Study I will try to gain much local public support: http://alwaysintransit.typepad.com/hyde_park_urbanist/2009/08/rta-projects-include-southeast-chicago-study.html

    • Why not expand the Gray Line to include University Park, and run express as well as local trains to all branches?

    • FG

      “Gray Line trains in South Shore would only tie up street crossings for a few moments; we aren’t talking 250 car freight trains here.”

      BS

      This isn’t like the two car Skokie Swift service zipping by at high speeds over lightly trafficked streets, but big heavy passenger cars accelerating from stations at very busy streets. I don’t think the new cars on order are that much faster than the existing ones either.

      Job Creation? Oh, good grief! There won’t be any change in that no matter who runs the trains.

  • The University Park service is mostly way outside Chicago’s city limits, and to me would be subject to the same open platform distance-based zone fares collected on train as all the other Metra lines.

    Info: At the CMAP Go To 2040 Meeting this morning I was able to speak briefly about the project with Sen. Dick Durbin, and he told me I could contact his scheduler to set up an appointment to discuss the Gray Line; and how to get CTA and Metra to work together (carrot-n’-stick with their transit funds).

    • simple

      Mike, I agree that the Gray Line proposal has its merits (yet so does the Red Line extension), but your arguments are hindered by two points you consistently fail to mention:

      1) Your capital cost estimates are mostly fiction – based on a rough back-of-envelope estimate by a consultant know for rose-colored estimates about ten years ago.

      2) At the end of the day the issue here is every bit as much operating costs as capital costs. The costs of operating the Red Line to 95th are fixed. Extending it to 130th has a relatively minimal impact on its costs (and should lower bus operating costs due to more direct transfer connections), and as Alon correctly pointed out a Red Line extension would actually help balance demand with North Side boardings, increasing efficiency. On the other hand, significantly increasing MED service would consume enormous operating resources (I assume we’re talking 6-8 trains per hour off-peak like on the Red Line – if not it’s not an apples-apples comparison because that’s the kind of service the Red Line extension proponents want). You may be able to cut some bus services along the south lakefront to offset Gray Line operating costs, but in the end, who’s going to pay for the large net increase (CTA won’t cut all the service)? In addition, would shifting the bus traffic to MED trains really improve service? By my estimates (using Google Transit), the current CTA express bus services provide better door-to-door travel times to most of downtown from most of the South Shore, South Chicago, and Avalon Park neighborhoods than the best possible Metra-based travel times. How do you sell longer travel times to the community?

      I believe that these topics are going to be the subject of an upcoming RTA-funded study (led by CDOT, I think). Should be interesting to see the results.

      • simple Thank you for your comments, and you are partly correct about the cost estimate.

        I don’t know about Google Transit time estimates, but I have lived before in South Shore and South Chicago for many years (have you?) and public transit there is S * * T.

        Did Google Transit project waiting FORTY-FIVE minutes (at -10 deg in Feb.) at 8pm at 91st and Commercial for a WB 95th St bus to the Red Line (there is NO direct downtown bus service outside of rush-hours); then riding for FORTY minutes to get to the Red Line (I DID MANY, MANY TIMES).

        Now I’ve spent an hour and 25 minutes, and not moved even 1 foot North toward downtown.

        Any trains on the MED do NOT get blocked by the HUGE Lakefront traffic jams during ALL rush hours, and any type of Lakefront events.

        How many of the various SW side Archer Ave. and Stevenson Expy. Express bus services remain after the Orange Line?

        Also, the primary goal of the Gray Line is not additional transit options but Job Creation and Economic Development (TOD and permanent in-community walk-to jobs around 37 stations); NO type of CTA bus service creates or attracts any type of Economic Development (bus service offers no route permanence).

        And no other plan relieves the South Shore of severely overcrowding itself carrying forcefully subsidized Illinois passengers to/from Hegewisch; or provides presently non-existent public transit to the 130th and Torrence Ford Plant.

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