17.9.06

THE B TRAIN ALSO STOPS AT HARLEM. Live from the Third Rail comments on Chicago Tribune columnist John Hilkevitch's "Getting Around" contemplating the possible restoration of skip-stop services on the Northwestern Elevated.
Ask yourself this: if you had the choice during a -5 degree morning, would you rather spend more time on an exposed elevated platform watching trains pass by, or do you want to be in a heated train, even if it does crawl down the tracks?
The proposal arises amidst plans to rehabilitate parts of the Northwestern (which the youngsters refer to as the "Brown Line" and the "Red Line") at the same time that the Dan Ryan median strip line is being rehabilitated and the Dan Ryan "Expressway" is receiving an overhaul that will take several years.

A reasonably healthy person can get to downtown Chicago from the North Side more quickly riding a bicycle than taking the Red Line, which often takes more than an hour.

"The service is just awful. I prefer to take my bike because I get to the Loop faster," said Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association.

Reinstating skip-stop service would be easy "because the CTA was doing it before on basically the same track layout and it worked very well," Harnish said.

The problem, once again, is a failure to spend money expanding the road network, whether for lack of federal matching funds that are being sequestered to make the budget deficit look better or for fear of disrupting neighborhoods or calling out the greenie protestors is irrelevant. What matters is that yet again money is going to rebuild a major Chicago highway under traffic, rather than to providing additional capacity. The skip-stop service worked reasonably well when the Northwestern was through-routed with the South Side. Englewood branch trains made the A stops, and Jackson Park trains made the B stops.

The northerly portion of the Northwestern is ill-suited to skip-stop operation, the following quote notwithstanding.

Yet transit experts said the north segment of the Red Line--between Howard and some point north of Clark Junction--is the best location to restart skip-stop service and save commuters time. The stations are closely spaced, giving riders a choice of where to board depending on their destination.

Alternating train stops between nearby stations would also help deal with over-crowded rail platforms and trains during mornings and evenings, the experts say.

During the morning rush, all the seats usually are taken by the time southbound Red Line trains have traveled from the Howard Street terminal to the Loyola stop in Rogers Park. Everybody boarding south of that point must stuff themselves onto packed trains for the long ride downtown.

North of Clark Junction, where the Ravenswood branch diverges, the Clark-Howard-Linden-(Waukegan) was originally a two-track railroad with island stations. When it was quadrupled, the express tracks were laid outside the existing, local tracks, and new island platforms serving all tracks were built at Addison (for a baseball park), Sheridan, Wilson, Loyola, and Howard. Evanston Expresses and North Shore Line trains used the outside tracks. South of Clark Junction, however, the local tracks are the outer tracks, with platforms serving all four tracks at Belmont and Fullerton. (Evanston Expresses remain on the outer tracks and now call at all local stations south of Belmont.)

At one time, the elevated was four tracks from just north of Chicago Avenue to Armitage, the junction with the subway. The subway entrance uses the two inner tracks. Although trains may switch tracks at Armitage, the elevated becomes two tracks, with preferred routing on and off the outer tracks. The elevated also used to run a variety of express trains. If the current service fills up by the time trains reach Loyola, why not path a few trains onto the express tracks south of Loyola (trackage to permit this move used to be in place at Granville.) In like manner, have some trains turn at Loyola, making all stops to Wilson or Sheridan, and thence onto the express tracks. It's a somewhat more expensive proposition to replace the outer tracks south of Armitage (these have been out of service for over 40 years) but the notion of sending a few North Side trains around the loop and back to Wilson or Loyola or Addison occurred to the Rapid Transit management over 70 years ago.

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