Historic project brings brand-new railroad to South Side, creates more than 1,500 jobs; riders will see faster, smoother commutes and more reliable service thanks to $425 million investment
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Governor Pat Quinn and city and state officials today provided a preview of the new Red Line South—one of the largest and most innovative transit projects in the country and a significant investment in the ongoing modernization of public transportation in Chicago.
The CTA was the first transit agency in the country to completely rip out and replace such a large stretch of railroad in such a tightly condensed period of time and with such an extensive alternative-service plan, a strategy that provided customers with a better railroad in a shorter amount of time, while saving taxpayer money.
The Mayor and the Governor—joined by CTA Board Chairman Terry Peterson, CTA President Forrest Claypool, and local and state elected officials—announced that the Red Line South between Cermak-Chinatown and 95th Street will reopen on schedule on Sunday, October 20.
The 10.2-mile stretch has been closed for five months to rebuild the railroad and upgrade eight stations along the rail line, which serves dozens of communities along Chicago’s South Side. The $425 million project—which created more than 1,500 jobs, many of which will continue after the project ends—will be completed on time and within budget.
“The reconstruction of the Red Line South is an historic investment in both the Red Line—the backbone of the CTA rail system—as well as the many communities it serves on Chicago’s South Side,” said Mayor Emanuel. “This brand-new railroad will provide faster and more comfortable commutes, and is an important step toward creating a 21st century transit experience for commuters.”
“The Red Line South reconstruction was among the largest and most important investments in my Illinois Jobs Now! capital construction program,” Governor Quinn said. “This historic project created more than 1,500 jobs and built a new Red Line that is faster, more efficient and easier to use for tens of thousands of people who will ride on it every day.”
Originally opened in 1969, the Red Line South was reconstructed from the ground up, including all the rails, ties, ballast, drainage systems and signaling equipment—improvements that will shave up to 20 minutes off the round-trip commute between 95th Street and downtown, while providing a smoother, more comfortable and more reliable ride.
“The rebuilding of the Red Line’s South Branch was a large and ambitious undertaking. As the line reopens, South Siders will see the patience they’ve shown during its construction rewarded by more reliable service, modernized stations, and much quicker trips to downtown and the North Side. I’m glad Chicago continues to prioritize infrastructure projects crucial to the city and its residents,” said U.S. Senator Dick Durbin.
“The completion of the CTA’s Red Line South Reconstruction Project not only allows for faster, more comfortable, and more reliable service for Red Line riders but is vital to the health of Chicago’s economy and environment,” said U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (5th District). “This project and the benefits it brings to our community showcase the importance of investments in sustainable infrastructure we should be prioritizing on a national level.”
“I am very pleased with not only the improvements made to the Red Line but also at how quickly the project was completed. The upgrades, such as improving access for the disabled and safety improvements were long overdue and are vital to the long-term safety and expansion of the Red Line,” U.S. Representative Robin Kelly (2nd District) said. “One of the best improvements made is the increased speed of the Red Line that will trim commute times by as much as 20 minutes. That is a huge benefit for my constituents, who have some of the longest commute times in the region.”
Condensing the work into five months saved $75 million over an alternative option to perform work on weekends only over a period of four years. The $75 million of savings was reinvested by the CTA in improvements to eight stations along the branch that received new lighting, painting, Train Tracker screens and other enhancements to improve the customer experience. The savings also paid for three new elevators at the Garfield, 63rd and 87th Street stations, making the entire Red Line South accessible to customers with disabilities.
During the project, the CTA provided the largest alternative-service plan in the agency’s history. Free shuttle buses, expanded bus service on regular routes, and Red Line trains running on Green Line tracks—as well as a 50-cent discount on bus routes south of 63rd Street—provided customers convenient, flexible and affordable options during construction.
To promote economic and job opportunities, the CTA ensured strong participation from Disadvantage Business Enterprise (DBE) contractors: 29 percent for the track work component and 40 percent for station work. More than $56.4 million in construction work was awarded to African-American contractors.
Of the more than 1,500 jobs created, roughly 1,000 were jobs in a variety of construction trades. About 130 of those individuals were hired in conjunction with the federal Workforce Investment Act, a federal program design to provide opportunities to individuals who qualify as “Disadvantaged Workers,” which typically includes, but is not limited to, those who meet income-specific guidelines and who’ve been laid-off, terminated or self-employed. Those jobs alone generated about $3 million in wages and benefits.
And many of those jobs will remain after the project is over. Prior to the project’s start, the CTA hired more than 400 bus drivers, many of whom operated the free shuttles and expanded bus service, and will remain with CTA. Additionally, some of the workers hired for construction jobs will stay with the contractors and subcontractors.
“Too often—and for far too long—significant participation in public or private capital construction projects has eluded South Side businesses and workers,” said CTA Board Chairman Peterson. “But that changed under Red Line South—and has become the new norm for the CTA,” Peterson added, referring to a project labor agreement (PLA) with building trades unions the CTA signed in September. The PLA requires contractors working on most CTA construction projects to provide employment opportunities to disadvantaged workers as established by the Workforce Investment Act.
Built in 1969, the Red Line South had served beyond its expected lifespan and needed complete replacement. Despite ongoing repairs and maintenance, around 40 percent of the branch had developed slow zones, where trains traveled well below the designed speed limit—and riders suffered long commutes, uncomfortable rides and frequent delays.
“South Side riders now have a brand-new railroad, rebuilt from the ground up, that will provide a much more pleasant, comfortable and reliable ride. It will provide a much quicker commute for the 80,000 riders who use the Red Line South on an average weekday,” CTA President Claypool said.
The Red Line South project is part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Building a New Chicago infrastructure renewal program, and was funded primarily by a $646 million investment from Governor Quinn’s Illinois Jobs Now! program. Of the $646 million investment, $220 million has been allocated to various projects on the North Side Red Line Branch and to eliminate Purple Line slow zones from Linden to Belmont and Blue Line slow zones from Logan Square to Belmont. Overall, the Governor’s Illinois Jobs Now! plan will provide $900 million to the CTA for a variety of needs across the entire system. With the state’s funding combined with city, federal and CTA funds, the total investment in the Red, Purple and Blue lines will be more than $1 billion.