20.9.06

SO MUCH FOR THE "A" TRAIN. The powers that be at the Chicago Transit Authority found a novel way to make talk of skip-stop expresses on the L go away.

So call it a huge coincidence, or call it what it is. Either way, Getting Around called on the CTA in last Monday's column to bring back skip-stop semi-express train runs to help restore some semblance of on-time service. All trains did not make stops at all stations under the skip-stop system that the CTA used successfully until it was phased out in 1995 on the Red Line, the Blue Line and the Brown Line.

CTA officials responded that such a low-cost quick-fix was not practical--not even temporarily--on any of the CTA's rail lines. The CTA eliminated skip stops, at zero cost, due to declining ridership. Today, ridership has rebounded while service has plummeted to record lows.

Although the popular skip-stop service has been gone for more than a decade, many of the old skip-stop signs, designating stations as stops for "A" trains, "B" trains or both, were left untouched.Immediately after last Monday's column appeared, however, the signs got a touch-up. Actually, it was more like a whitewash.The CTA sent crews to rail platforms across the city to paint over the skip-stop designations, first with a white primer, then with bright red paint.

Embarrassment eradicated, right? Maybe, except for the lethargic train service still encountered by 500,000 CTA train riders each day.

Spin, spin, spin.

Stations along the O'Hare and Forest Park branches of the Blue Line, the Loop elevated system and the Red and Blue Line subways had their outdated skip-stop signs "retouched" last week, CTA spokeswoman Sheila Gregory said Friday.

Gregory insisted it was part of routine maintenance, coming 11 years after the end of skip-stop service."While crews were out on the system cleaning graffiti earlier this week, they touched up the paint on all of the signs in need, including the A/B signs," Gregory said, adding that the cost of the paint job is "difficult to quantify."

CTA officials apparently see no rush to go after the low-hanging fruit--such as introducing economical operational solutions--while modernization of the system creeps ahead for many years.

To the chagrin of anybody who will be commuting on the CTA today, next week or several years from now, Gregory said:

"There is no quick fix to increased travel times. ... Even as the existing slow zones are addressed, new ones will continue to appear."

I'm tempted to go looking for relics of the North Shore Line along the L, and will advise if any of those were missed by the cleanup.

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