No CTA Backup Plan Leads to Loss of Loop ‘L’ Service

(Photo: And the sucking sound gets louder before a single weekend has passed…)

Just in from the Chicago Tribune:

“A cable fire near some Loop elevated tracks late Saturday forced the CTA to shut down all elevated train service in the Loop for almost seven hours.”

Oddly enough, I was wondering what would happen to ‘L’ service in the Loop if a problem forced the closure of the entire circle of elevated tracks. I was wondering that this weekend, thanks to the CTA’s bone-headed decision to eliminate ‘L’ service in the State Street subway and along the Lake Street and Wabash Avenue legs of the Loop elevated for most evenings and weekends during the rest of 2008 to accommodate track and signal work.

Boy, that answer came quickly. It was only Friday that I:

1.) Called out CTA honcho Ron Huberman on this thoughtless, poorly staged plan to accelerate track work by essentially screwing downtown Chicago residents and leisure visitors wanting to use the ‘L’ in River North and the Loop outside of business hours; and

2.) Subsequently ran into clueless CTA customer service attendants during Friday night’s closures who had no idea how to help lost riders navigate all the service diversions.

Saturday morning, in a better mood, I figured I would take a walk along the river and watch CDOT open the bascule bridges from Franklin to Michigan to let the pleasure boats into Lake Michigan for the season. But before I could take the 101 photos I eventually shot of the fun experience, I stood beneath the Wells Street bridge while CDOT workers attemped to raise it.

Unfortunately, it was stuck. And for 20 minutes, all “over-the-top” service came to a standstill while rusty gears could be coaxed into turning. With no alternate way to run service from the north side of Chicago into the Loop thanks to that forward-thinking plan to eliminate all extra wiggle room on evening and weekend, there was no State Street subway for trains to use to bypass the delay.

I shook my head, because in this town you really can’t fight City Hall or, as we transit advocates are learning, the CTA. I figured, what the heck, the bridges only open once a weekend. No big deal. What else could go wrong.

Silly me, for underestimating the cloud of suck that continues to surround the CTA. Because last night that aforementioned fire next to downtown elevated tracks caused the suspension of all elevated service through downtown Chicago. And with the Red Line subway simultaneously shuttered, that means if you weren’t a Blue Line rider last night, you had no trains at all in the Loop.

For seven hours.

Let me bullet that out for those of you keeping score on this:

1.) CTA decides to suspend service in the State Street subway and on the Loop ‘L’ along Lake and Wabash most hours outside of business hours for the rest of 2008;

2.) CTA personnel posted at shuttered stops to help riders themselves have no clue how to figure out the diversions; and

3.) In the span of 24 hours, a simple, weekly bridge lift and a small fire force Loop elevated service to be suspended for almost seven and a half hours.

On the first weekend of rerouted service.

Whoever came up with this project staging plan and the service plan that surrounds it should be fired. Eliminating your back-up plan is a rotten way to try and accelerate capital work. I’d rather have track work take longer than have skeleton ‘L’ service–and the threat of no service if one small thing goes wrong.

Ron Huberman should be held accountable for this plan and should change it, immediately. It is already an embarrassment: a service plan that results in no service.

And for the record, I had my first driving lesson over the weekend. Unlike the CTA, I intend to put my money where my mouth is.

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