Even though commutes on the south Red Line will be shortened by up to 20 minutes when the track-replacement project is completed and slow zones are lifted late next year, many affected riders, from Chinatown to the Roseland communities, couldn’t help but worry Monday about the upcoming pain.

Lucinda Myles said slow zones caused by deteriorated track have made the ride unbearable. Trains must travel at speeds as slow as 15 mph on 40 percent of the Dan Ryan branch because of deteriorated track.

The track project “is going to be a pain,’’ said Myles, 33, a daily Red Line rider who works in the food industry, “but in the end service will hopefully be better.’’ She said she will figure out another way to commute for five months.

The need for the track reconstruction, which also serves as a precursor for the planned extension of the Red Line from 95th to 130th streets whenever federal funds are made available, prompted other aldermen in addition to Sawyer to line up behind the five-month timetable to cease service.

“I’m not excited about the inconvenience residents are going to have, but I am excited about the all new rails and permanent jobs and 100 additional buses to accommodate commuters,” said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the City Council's Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Stretching out the repairs over four years would “set the Red Line extension back,” Beale said.

The track modernization will help foster economic development and build the case for the estimated $1.4 billion Red Line extension, “but we remain watchful to unwarranted cost over-runs and a disagreeable service delivery plan for South Siders during the five-month shutdown of the Red Line south leg,’’ said John Paul Jones, a community organizer with the non-profit Developing Communities Project.

The Red Line track project follows a 2006 project on the south branch that upgraded signals, a portion of the power system and included some work on tracks and stations.

The strategy to close the 43-year-old Dan Ryan branch for the overhaul marks only the second time in many years that the CTA will shut a whole branch or line.

In 1994, the Green Line was closed for more than two years for a $300 million rehabilitation. Several stations were closed permanently after the Green Line reopened in May 1996. The station closings were intended to streamline service by eliminating some closely spaced stops, but many riders were riled. It took several years for ridership to rebound after the Green Line reopened, as many commuters found alternative ways to travel and abandoned the rail service.

More recently, the CTA kept the Brown Line running on the North Side during a $530 million project to modernize stations and extend platforms to accommodate longer trains. Portions of the Blue Line to O’Hare International Airport were temporarily closed during track replacement work a few years ago, but the line remained open. In addition, a station upgrade project that is just beginning at seven North Side stations involves closing only one station at a time, officials said.

Beale said the CTA learned from its mistakes during the projects on the Green and Brown Lines.

But Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) said he still wants to see numbers to determine whether it’s truly beneficial to fast track the repairs and whether the alternative transportation provided to commuters will be adequate.

Tribune reporter Naomi Nix contributed




Twitter: @jhilkevitch