CTA Brown Line via Subway

CTA Brown Line Loop shuttle, March 8, 2013

CTA Brown Line Loop shuttle, March 8, 2013

CTA Brown Line Loop shuttle, March 8, 2013

CTA Brown Line Loop shuttle, March 8, 2013

CTA Brown Line Loop shuttle at Lake and LaSalle, March 8, 2013

CTA Brown Line Loop shuttle at Lake and LaSalle, March 8, 2013

CTA Brown Line train in the State Street Subway, March 8, 2013

CTA Brown Line train in the State Street Subway, March 8, 2013

CTA Brown Line train in the State Street Subway, March 8, 2013

CTA Brown Line train in the State Street Subway, March 8, 2013

Subway-bound CTA Brown Line train, southbound at Fullerton, March 8, 2013

Subway-bound CTA Brown Line train, southbound at Fullerton, March 8, 2013

CTA Brown Line subway trains passing each other at Armitage, March 8, 2013

CTA Brown Line subway trains passing each other at Armitage, March 8, 2013

CTA Brown Line train turning back at Merchandise Mart, March 8, 2013

CTA Brown Line train turning back at Merchandise Mart, March 8, 2013

Wells St. bridge replacement work, March 8, 2013

Wells St. bridge replacement work, March 8, 2013

While half the 91-year-old Wells Street bridge over the Chicago River is being replaced this week, railfans have a rare opportunity to ride the CTA Brown Line (formerly Ravenswood) “L” trains in the State Street subway. This is the first time Brown Line trains have run in the 70-year-old subway on anything like a regular basis.

When I rode the trains earlier today, looking for some photo opportunities, everything seemed to be running smoothly, with riders taking things in stride. With the bridge out temporarily, one out of every three Brown Line trains terminates at the Merchandise Mart, while the other two run through the Red Line subway. Meanwhile, to help move people around on the Loop “L”, they’ve revived the old Loop Shuttle train. Brown Line riders in the subway can go as far south as Roosevelt Road, although the trains turn back further south of there.

Brown Line trains are all back on the regular route by Fullerton and points north, but the subway trains have to skip Armitage, since it is past the crossover, and very close to the portal.

The CTA dovetailed some track work north and south of the bridge to coincide with the project, making the Mart station a literal one-track operation. The other track has been removed and is in the midst of being replaced. A bumper post is there to keep trains from getting too close to the bridge.

This rerouting also requires unusual signage. The Loop Shuttle has one of those old-fashioned metal hanging signs, the kind that used to say “Ball Game Today,” or “Last Stop River Road.”

Southbound Brown Lines that go through the subway are signed for Roosevelt. The new 5000s are not being used for this service, in part because the electronic signage supposedly cannot be reprogrammed, but also because there are still operators who have not yet been trained to run these cars.

Fears that the roof boards on some 3400s might have clearance problems turned out to be groundless. Those cars were the last to be equipped with overhead current “pan trolleys” in Yellow Line (Skokie Swift) service, but that line was completely converted to third-rail operation some years back.

Yes, a train of the 1-50 PCC single car units had its trolley poles ripped off in 1994, because of clearance problems, but this had to do with work being done by a contractor, and not an issue with the subway itself. So far, it appears to be smooth sailing in the State Street subway, but those rails must be pretty warm, being used at a much higher capacity than is typical. But years ago, those trains ran on some very tight headways indeed, often one train every two minutes or less.

The current diversion is merely Round 1, with Round 2 coming up in April when the other half of the Wells St. bridge gets the same treatment.

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, they have their own bridge problem, on the SEPTA Norristown High-Speed Line. The underwater supports for the Schuylkill River bridge leading to the Norristown terminal have deteriorated and need replacement. At present, funds are not available to do the work, and SEPTA announced last December that it would close the bridge, perhaps indefinitely, once warm weather returns.

I hope to be in Philadelphia on May 5 for a Friends of Philadelphia Trolleys fantrip on the SEPTA Media and Sharon Hill trolley lines, celebrating 100 years of service. I’m hoping the bridge will still be in use then, in spite of global warming, for one last ride to Norristown.

But I have a message for Philadelphia… take a look at what we can do in Chicago. Find the money somehow, and fix that bridge!

-David Sadowski

P&W "Bullet" car #200 on the Norristown High-Speed Line, in a picture probably taken in the late 1950s (Author's collection)

P&W “Bullet” car #200 on the Norristown High-Speed Line, in a picture probably taken in the late 1950s (Author’s collection)



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  1. CTA Red Line Reroute « CERA Members Blog

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