When will the CTA rid the Brown Line of slow zones?

CTA Brown Line

Commuters are crowded on an inbound CTA Brown Line train near the Armitage Station on Monday. (Michael Tercha, Chicago Tribune / December 17, 2012)

As the RedEye's CTA columnist for the past five years, I've spent an excessive amount of time riding buses and trains.

I have taken every bus line from start to finish and visited every rail station. Once I rode CTA trains for nine consecutive hours through every rail station in a feat called the "L" challenge.

Riders ask me if I have a favorite bus line or rail station, which I don't, but I have spots on the system I like to avoid for efficiency.

One of them is along my daily commute. I have been a Brown Line rider since I moved to the West Lakeview area four years ago.

Typically, I board at the Paulina stop in Lakeview and switch two stops later at the Belmont station for the Red Line to downtown. There are some times when I don't want to wait a few minutes for a connecting Red Line, so I continue on the Brown Line.

I regret it every time.

The Brown Line is slow, especially if I just miss the morning rush hour period because non-rush hour is when crews are working on track south of Fullerton. It is very slow if there has been a Brown Line problem during morning rush because the incident can lead to train backup.

And don't get me started on the track between the Sedgwick and Chicago stops on the North Side.

I grit my teeth more there than I do at the dentist.

Last week I wrote a story about how the Brown Line is the slowest it has been in nearly two years. Twenty-three percent of Brown Line track is under slow zone, where trains travel 35 miles per hour or less, June data shows.

This was the highest slow zone percentage since October 2012, when it was 23.1 percent, according to CTA slow zone data. Trains can travel up to 55 miles per hour systemwide.

In a comment posted to the story, CTA president Forrest Claypool called the article "wildly misleading." My story, he wrote, "fails to immediately explain that the slow zones were put in place for CTA construction work designed to improve speeds on the Brown Line!"

Yes, the CTA is undergoing a $71 million overhaul of Brown Line track between Armitage and the Loop to eliminate slow zones. The Purple Line also uses that track during rush hour.

But slow zones were in place in that stretch long before the CTA began the first phase of its overhaul project in September—and it's unclear when that section of line will be rid of them.

I couldn't recall a time when Brown Line trains speedily moved through that area, so I combed through slow zone data. There has been at least one slow zone between the Armitage and Merchandise Mart stops since October 2010.

When there will be relief is anyone's guess. The project originally was announced in October 2012.

The first phase, which has been underway for 10 months, tackles the structural work. The second phase will focus on the track. The CTA said it hopes to have a contract awarded by September for the track work. The agency has not announced an approximate project end date.

Until the contract is awarded, it's not known the impact this project will have on riders. Other CTA slow zone work has included partial line shutdown with shuttle buses replacing trains.

The CTA has already run trains on a single track on some weekends as part of this project.

CTA spokesman Brian Steele said the CTA will launch an informational campaign in coming months to give specifics to riders about the second phase of the project including any reroutes or delays.

"We find that our customers like information that is pretty specific and comes pretty close to when the actual work is to begin," Steele said.

Until then, the Brown Line will continue to be the Frown Line—teeth grit and all.

Stationary
A weekly dispatch from a CTA station of note

This week: 69th Red Line

This station in Greater Grand Crossing was part of the CTA's southern Red Line overhaul last year. The station has long had an elevator, which three other stations received during the project. The last stop for the project at that station is the addition of new artwork called "Sanctuary" from Doug Fogelson, which looks like blue water over multiple windows. The artwork rendering was unveiled in June and will be installed in coming months.

Next up: Wilson Red Line

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