CTA to renew Loop rail

By Chris Loeber

Rail passengers may have access to a smoother, more dependable ride on Chicago Transit Authority trains in the Loop following a construction project that will begin later this spring.

The CTA’s Loop Track Renewal project, announced in 2011, is scheduled to begin upgrading portions of elevated track downtown in mid-April and will continue through most of 2012.

“This is somewhat akin to rebuilding a roadway where you’re putting a brand new base in place for the vehicle to operate on so the ride will be smoother and faster,” said Brian Steele, spokesman for the CTA. “This is essentially going to provide a smoother and more convenient ride for CTA customers.”

The project will include the replacement of 11,500 feet of elevated rail and track parts that were installed in the 1980s.

Construction will take place at the tracks on North Wells and West Van Buren streets, a stretch of track located on Wabash Avenue between West Adams and West Van Buren streets and on the track just north of the Merchandise Mart el stop.

Funding was provided by the state in the amount of $53 million, according to a statement from Diane Palmer, spokeswoman for the Regional Transportation Authority.

The CTA approved a $33.8 million contract in 2011 to start work on the project. Ragnar Benson Construction, 250 S. Northwest Highway in Park Ridge, Ill., was awarded the contract through a competitive bidding process.

“The contractor will use industry-approved and industry-standard materials and methods on this construction project,” Steele said. “We anticipate multiple decades of service life out [of] these improvements.”

According to him, the improvements will eliminate slow zones on deteriorated rail sections, thereby reducing delays and helping trains stay on schedule.

Work on the Loop tracks will take place on Fridays and weekends—low points for rail traffic—to minimize delays for CTA customers, Steele said, and there may be temporary street closures if necessary.

“There will be some train reroutes and some trains will go the opposite direction on the elevated tracks than they normally do,” he said. “On Saturdays and Sundays, there will be some full closures of portions of the track, which will mean the occasional closure of a station or two.”

Construction may delay drivers if streets are blocked, but the abundance of train stations downtown will provide adequate access to businesses, said Aris Gallios, co-owner of Miller’s Pub, 134 S. Wabash Ave.

“If they’re blocking vehicles, there might be some disruption for theater-goers,” Gallios said. “Other than that, most of our customers are pedestrian, so I don’t think it will be that much of a disruption.”

Steele echoed Gallios’ sentiment, agreeing that the presence of many stations and their proximity to one another would make up for delays caused by station closures.

The CTA plans to market the project to make sure customers are aware of any service changes.

“It’s a pretty interesting project. The Loop elevated structure is 100-plus years old,” Steele said. “I don’t think a lot of people realize the complexity of a project like this and the positive impacts that it will bring.”