By Jon Hilkevitch
9:30 PM CST, March 4, 2013
The CTA and Mayor Rahm Emanuel were proved correct Monday on their predictions that Brown Line riders would be inconvenienced by work that has closed the Wells Street rail bridge downtown until next week.
Mislabeled Brown Line trains and spotty customer communications threw commuters for a loop before they could get to the Loop, although other riders said their trips went better than expected.
By the evening rush period, the CTA said it had corrected misleading destination signs on trains that in the morning confused riders who had waited on elevated platforms.
But with the likelihood of a major snowstorm heading toward Chicago on Tuesday, signage mix-ups probably will become the least of the CTA's concerns.
Monday's mystery trains had left riders wondering which southbound Brown Line trains were traveling to the new, temporary end of the line at the Merchandise Mart station just north of the bridge, and which trains were dipping into the State Street subway along with Red Line trains.
In many cases, both Brown Line trains rerouted through the Red Line subway and Brown Line trains traveling the normal southbound route on elevated tracks displayed the regular brown destination banners marked "Loop."
"Hey @CTA! If your 'Brown Line' train is going Fullerton to Roosevelt 'via the subway,' pretty sure you should slap a Red Line sign on it,'' commuter Diana Cannon tweeted.
If it wasn't confusing enough, after some Brown Line trains operated through the subway to the Roosevelt stop, they subsequently turned into Orange Line trains and shot out to Midway Airport before becoming Brown Line trains again later.
The Brown Line trains heading from the Fullerton stop into the subway are supposed to display red banners with white lettering labeled "Roosevelt," to distinguish them from the other trains, CTA spokesman Brian Steele said.
On the Fullerton platform Monday morning, commuters and CTA personnel there to offer assistance had no clue about the destination of many southbound Brown Line trains marked "Loop" in brown.
Adding to the frustration, the destination banners on some rail cars said "Not in service, "O'Hare" or were simply blank.
Some train operators were slow to end the confusion by using the external loudspeakers on the trains to announce whether they were bound for downtown via the subway or the Merchandise Mart.
When the operators did finally make announcements on the trains stopped for extended periods at stations, some passengers let out anguished groans and bolted out of the cars onto the platform to wait for a different train.
Gina Gollan was among the disgruntled CTA customers. She said her commute took much longer than usual Monday morning.
"I need to figure out whether this Brown Line train is really a Red Line train," said Gollan, 29, an administrative associate. "I don't want to go to Roosevelt."
Gollan's destination was the Washington/Wells stop, a trip that usually takes 35 to 40 minutes from where she boards the Brown Line at the Rockwell station, she said. On Monday it had taken 40 minutes just to travel from Rockwell to Fullerton because of miscues about the train destinations, she said.
"We apologize to our customers for the confusion and pledge to improve," Steele said. "The issue won't occur tonight or tomorrow."
To help customers identify which Brown Line trains will be using the Red Line tracks, square red decals are being placed on the outside of rail cars under the motor cab windows and on the front of the head car by the car number, officials said.
CTA rail supervisors are also instructing train operators to make sure they are making the correct announcements in a timely manner to clearly identify the destination of their trains, Steele said.
Until normal service is restored Monday, Brown Line trains will operate 10 to 12 minutes apart, instead of every couple of minutes during the peak of rush periods, officials said.
Purple Line/Evanston Express service is canceled until Monday. Purple Line local service will continue to operate between Howard Street in Chicago and Linden Avenue in Wilmette.
The transit agency is also offering free shuttle trains that circle the Loop and alternative bus service to provide options for people affected by the bridge closing.
A half-million-pound bridge replacement leaf that was floated up the river by barge is scheduled to be installed starting Tuesday. Workers will then bolt the span into place and rebuild tracks in time for the morning commute Monday.
CTA service on the bridge will be suspended again from April 26 through May 5, when the northern half of the bridge will be replaced, marking the end of the $41.2 million project, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.
Tribune reporter Patrick Svitek and RedEye reporter Tracy Swartz contributed.
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