2014 CTA Year in Review; 2015 Continues Historic Investment

January 16, 2015

Investment benefits CTA customers in 2014 and beyond; 2015 brings new investment in bus, rail operations that provide 1.7 million rides each weekday

In 2014, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) again provided the Chicago region with more than half a billion rides, linking people to jobs and contributing to the economic vibrancy of our region.

A look back at the year shows that 2014 was successful on many fronts, as the agency under the leadership of Mayor Rahm Emanuel continued its efforts to create a world-class transit system and modernize for the future.

As 2015 begins, the CTA will move forward with its aggressive plan of investment in Chicago’s largest mass transit system, recognizing the critical role transit plays for the region and the need for affordable, safe and reliable transportation.

Major projects include the continuing construction of a new 95th Street Terminal and reconstruction of the Wilson Red Line station. Additional projects that continue into 2015 include the Ravenswood Connector project that is increasing speeds and reliability of the Brown and Purple lines; the Your New Blue modernization of the Blue Line O’Hare branch; the opening of the new Cermak-McCormick Place Green Line station; and major bus and rail fleet upgrades, including procuring a contractor for the next generation of rail cars, the 7000-series.

Other projects that will begin in 2015 include the major rehabilitation of the Quincy Loop elevated station and the Illinois Medical District Blue Line station and the upgrade of CTA’s subway tunnel wireless communications to 4G technology. Also in 2015, the CTA will continue to develop plans to extend the Red Line from 95th Street to 130th Street and plans for Phase One of the Red and Purple Modernization Program to modernize Red and Purple lines on the North Side.

A recap of 2014:


Station rehabilitation: The Chicago Transit Board approved a plan to rehabilitate and improve the accessibility of the Blue Line’s Illinois Medical District (IMD) station by making all three station entrances accessible to customers with disabilities and additional upgrades, using $23 million of city tax-increment financing (TIF) funds. Constructed in 1958, the IMD station is the closest CTA rail stop for the nation’s largest urban medical district, which is home to four major hospital systems – the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System, the John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County, Rush University Medical Center and the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center. The Illinois Medical District has more than 29,000 employees and gets about 75,000 visitors each day.

Red Line South artwork: Following the 2013 completion of the Red Line South Reconstruction Project, the CTA awarded contracts to artists for the Cermak-Chinatown, Sox-35th, 47th, Garfield, 63rd, 69th, 79th and 87th stations, which were upgraded as part of the Red Line South project.


New buses: Mayor Emanuel and CTA President Forrest Claypool unveiled the newest CTA buses as part of the mayor’s major bus modernization program announced in 2012 to provide customers with an almost entirely new bus fleet within the next few years. The CTA began gradually adding the new buses to its fleet in mid-2014 and retiring old buses. The buses feature locally made, state-of-the-art bus seats, manufactured by 120-year-old Freedman Seating in Humboldt Park, that are made of lightweight and durable materials that help to reduce overall vehicle weight and, therefore, fuel costs to the CTA.

Blue Line project: The CTA awarded a $25.6 million contract to rehabilitate the Damen, Western and California stations as part of the Your New Blue project to improve and upgrade the O’Hare branch of the Blue Line. Also, the CTA approved contracts for artists to develop unique artwork for each station that reflects the neighboring community.

Apprentice program reinstated: The CTA and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 308 agreed to reinstate a second-chance program— 65 rail car servicer apprentice positions—that is providing life-changing employment opportunities for ex-offenders, people completing substance-abuse programs, victims of spousal abuse and others. The apprentices perform a wide range of cleaning and detailing of CTA rail cars—giving CTA customers a cleaner, more comfortable commute while offering employment to hard-to-employ individuals who are able to learn valuable job skills and build resumes and careers. Combined with a similar program introduced last year with ATU Local 241 offering 200 bus servicer apprenticeships, the reinstatement of the rail car servicer program restores CTA’s apprentice program to 265 total positions.


Blue Line work: The CTA began the first project for the Your New Blue improvement program for the Blue Line O’Hare branch, a major track improvement plan to upgrade rail infrastructure between the Damen and Logan Square stops. The upgrades, completed in late summer ahead of schedule, included replacing wooden rail ties, tie plates and other track materials on the section of Blue Line that opened in 1895 and still sits on the original structure. The result has been a reduction in commute times of as much as 10 minutes roundtrip.

CTA Train Tracker upgrades: CTA’s popular Train Tracker displays at rail stations were improved with new features that included adding alerts of relevant temporary service changes, such as planned service alternatives or unexpected delays. CTA also reconfigured train arrival information on the displays to better show the most immediate trains that are coming in either direction. The CTA currently has about 1,000 Train Tracker displays installed all of its rail stations or planned for stations that are currently undergoing major construction work.


Red and Purple Modernization Program: Mayor Emanuel and the CTA announced the first phase of the Red and Purple Modernization (RPM) program, which will fully replace old, deteriorating infrastructure and stations along the entire north branch of the Red Line and the parallel Purple Line, and will pave the way for CTA to accommodate ridership demand for the next 80 years. 

This section of the Red and Purple lines carries one out of every five CTA rail rides and serves customers in some of the densest, most diverse neighborhoods in Chicago. Rush-hour ridership has jumped 40 percent in the last five years alone. The first phase includes rebuilding the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn, and Bryn Mawr stations and rebuilding all tracks, support structures, bridges and viaducts for the Red and Purple lines between Lawrence and Bryn Mawr, complementing the major reconstruction of Wilson station. The second component of the first phase also includes the construction of a bypass north of the Belmont station to allow the CTA to add train capacity to meet further demand, as the current junction, built in 1907, constrains the CTA’s ability to add train service in the future.

Red Line Extension: The CTA announced that it continued to make progress on its Draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the proposed 5.3-mile extension of the Red Line from 95th Street to 130th Street and that it would hold public meetings to gather input on proposed alternatives for the project. The plan includes building rail stations at 103rd Street, 111th Street, Michigan Avenue/116th Street and 130th Street, all with bus and parking facilities. The EIS is required before beginning the development of an engineering plan for the project.

Graffiti arrests: The CTA announced it was taking advantage of its widely expanding security camera network at rail stations, on trains and buses to crack down on vandals and taggers defacing CTA property. The agency announced it had begun filing lawsuits against the parents of minor children and others arrested for the crime to recover the cost of damages. In the first three months of 2014, the CTA’s efforts resulted in 60 graffiti-related arrests, the equivalent of all CTA vandalism arrests made in 2013, aided by the addition of cameras to older CTA rail cars in 2014.

Harrison station work: The CTA began the $10 million Harrison Red Line station rehabilitation, which upgraded the 70-year-old station with new paint, lighting, new flooring and canopies, waterproofing, more security cameras and extensive repairs throughout the station.

Yellow Line milestone: The CTA celebrated with customers the 50th anniversary of the Yellow Line – also known as the Skokie Swift – by hosting an event that included providing rides on two historic CTA train cars built in 1923 by the Cincinnati Car Company for the Chicago Elevated Railways, one of CTA’s predecessor companies. The Skokie Swift opened to the public on April 20, 1964, with service from Dempster to Howard.

95th Street funding: Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Senator Dick Durbin announced that funding new 95th Street Terminal was finalized, after being able to secure $79 million of funding through the through the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA), which provides various funding tools to finance surface transportation projects of national and regional significance. 


Security cameras: The CTA completed the installation of security cameras on more than 800 of its older rail cars, which means all CTA rail cars are now equipped with multiple security cameras to enhance safety for passengers and assist in crime-reduction efforts. The expansion of cameras in across the CTA system coincided with a 26 percent decrease in serious crimes in the first three months of 2014 across the transit system, compared with the same period a year ago. With the expansion to older trains, the CTA has more than 23,000 security cameras systemwide.

CTA veteran hiring: The CTA announced it had doubled the number of United States military veterans on staff since 2010, from 173 in 2010 to 348 as of Memorial Day. The increases are the result of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTA President Forrest Claypool’s focused efforts to promote and expand the hiring of veterans, which included President Claypool’s executive order in 2012 to create a veteran hiring preference. That order also set a goal of attracting at least a 20 percent pool of veterans during the application process for positions, including drivers, mechanics, engineers, managers and other workers. 


Red Line South artwork: Mayor Emanuel and CTA President Claypool unveiled conceptual renderings of new, original works of art by local artists that will be installed at the eight rail stations between Cermak-Chinatown and 87th Street. The artwork, to be created by mostly local artists, is expected to be installed beginning in the spring 2015 and continuing through fall. 


Crime declines: The total number of violent crimes and thefts reported on CTA buses, trains and at rail stations and platforms for the first half of the 2014 declined 30 percent compared to the previous year, continuing a downward trend in overall crime on the CTA and following the latest expansion of systemwide security cameras to more than 23,000 in 2014. Additional crime fighting efforts included expanding police patrols and rail saturation missions on the CTA system and increased undercover operations targeting pick-pocket theft rings, vandalism and other crimes.

New rail cars and jobs: Mayor Emanuel announced that as part of the search for companies to manufacture the next generation of CTA rail cars, the CTA will include a “U.S. employment” provision in its Request for Proposals that will ask bidders to provide the number and type of new jobs they will create related to the production of the new rail cars. The provision, the result of collaboration between the CTA and the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL), will ask bidders to outline their job recruitment and workforce training plans.

New fare-payment system: The CTA became the first major U.S. transit agency to adopt and fully implement an open fare payment system, Ventra, which replaced both the CTA and Pace Bus’ separate fare payment systems that were nearly 20 years old. The new fare system is a contactless, account-based system that offers greater payment flexibility, faster boarding, account management, and balance protection for registered customers, and resolves the need for the CTA to make costly upgrades and maintenance on fare equipment that was reaching the end of its useful life. It also uses an open standard that allows customers to pay using devices such as bank cards and cell phones to pay for their fares without using a separate farecard.

Wireless upgrade: The CTA hired a contractor to upgrade wireless infrastructure in CTA subways and underground facilities that will increase the speed and reliability of all major wireless carriers. The improvements will help to provide continuous, reliable voice and data communications underground in all CTA subway platforms, mezzanines and tunnels, and improve safety by providing more reliable communication between CTA personnel and emergency responders. The 4G technology will replace existing infrastructure that dates back to 2005 -- before most smartphones, tablets and social networks were introduced.


Red Line Extension project: The CTA, as part of its planning process to extend rail service to 130th Street on the far South Side, narrowed down to two preliminary options for the proposed Red Line Extension (RLE) Project, and announced $5 million of bond funds to move forward on the required federal planning process for the rail line extension. Following the public feedback received by the agency in the spring, the CTA began focusing on one “preferred alternative” with two possible variations from five proposals that have been under consideration. Both options propose the extension be built along the Union Pacific Railroad.

Red, Purple funding: Mayor Emanuel, Sen. Dick Durbin and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, announced that Chicago was the first city to receive federal “Core Capacity” funds, a new program to help transit agencies expand capacity for the future. The Federal Transit Administration awarded $35 million in Core Capacity Program funds for the first phase of the CTA’s Red and Purple Modernization Program (RPM), a plan to completely rebuild the northern section of the Red Line and the parallel Purple Line that currently serves about 40 percent of all CTA rail customers. The grant is a signal of support from the federal government for the important project.

Brown, Purple Line work: The CTA launched the second phase of a major Brown and Purple Line renovation project by awarding a contract for track work along the Brown and Purple elevated line between Armitage and the Merchandise Mart – also known as the Ravenswood Connector – to eliminate slow zones and create a smoother, more reliable ride for customers. The track work begins as CTA ironworkers have been making repairs and upgrades on the elevated structure of the Connector for nearly a year, work that will continue. CTA crews also performed track renewal work that included rail tie replacement for immediate train-speed improvements south of Armitage.

Harrison completed: The CTA completed its restoration of the Harrison Red Line station, offering a modernized facility that included new CTA Train Tracker displays and extensive repairs and improvements in time for the new school year to begin at the nearby Jones College Prep High School.


95th Street Terminal project begins: Mayor Emanuel and the CTA broke ground for the new 95th Street Terminal on the Red Line, one of the largest rail station projects in CTA history and an investment that will modernize transit and promote economic opportunity on Chicago’s South Side. The reconstruction project will create a signature transit hub serving the CTA’s busiest rail line and hundreds of buses that will also serve as a community focal point and an anchor for economic opportunity on Chicago’s South Side.

Back to school: The CTA again provided free bus and train rides to students and their accompanying parent or guardian on the first day of school, September 2, in the fourth straight year of the CTA’s “First Day, Free Rides” program. The First Day, Free Rides program was sponsored by Sun-Times Media Productions, LLC for a third straight year.

Rail car upgrades: The CTA continued with its plan to overhaul its 3200-series rail cars on the Orange, Brown lines by awarding a contract for materials that will extend the life of the rail cars and improve their performance, efficiency and reliability. The overhauls will be done in 2015 and 2016 and will add six years to the rail cars’ lifespans.


Balanced budget: CTA President Claypool announced a balanced budget for 2015 of $1.44 billion that, for a fourth straight year, froze base fares while continuing historic investment in projects and programs to improve the customer experience and modernize regional transit. The budget included expanded rail service to meet growing rail ridership, including additional morning and evening rush-hour trips on the Red, Blue, Brown and Orange lines, as well as additional service on other lines.     

Ventra mobile app: CTA riders will have the ability to manage and pay fares via a mobile app that will be developed, allowing transit users across the Chicago region to fully access CTA, Metra and Pace in 2015. The free app, which will be developed by the CTA, Metra and Pace, will be available for use on Apple and Android smartphones and tablets starting in 2015.

Minimum wage: The Chicago Transit Board approved an ordinance that as of November 15, 2014, would require all CTA contractors and subcontractors to pay their eligible employees a minimum wage of $13 per hour. The CTA was the first Chicago sister agency to raise the minimum wage requirement following a September executive order signed by Mayor Emanuel, requiring a $13 per hour minimum wage.

California station opens: The first station to be renovated as part of Your New Blue, California, reopened. The station received extensive interior and exterior improvements that included new lighting, signage, refurbished walls, stairs and platforms, more bike racks and a larger stationhouse footprint.

Rail car manufacturer search: The CTA officially began the search process for a manufacturer to make the CTA’s next generation of rail cars as part of the agency’s modernization of its rail fleet, the 7000-series. Bid submissions will be evaluated on a number of criteria, with their plan for job creation factoring into the evaluation of bids received. The initial base order will seek 400 rail cars, with the ability to purchase as many as 846 new cars.

Electric bus: CTA began offering bus service on its first all-electric powered buses. The two new buses, paid for by a federal grant, provide a cleaner, quieter ride that reduces fuel costs and significantly decreases emissions, improving air quality for customers and the general public. The CTA is the first of any major U.S. transit agency to use all electric-powered buses as part of regular service.


Fare fraud targeted: The agency said it is cracking down on the fraudulent use of free and reduced-fare cards, as part of a comprehensive, ongoing effort to analyze the steady rise over the past year in the number of free and reduced-fare rides taken on CTA trains and buses. Because of the improper use of cards by people not authorized for free or discounted rides, the estimated cost annually to the CTA is about $2.8 million of lost revenue.

Safety initiative: The CTA was chosen by Federal Transit Administration to participate in a first-of-its-kind safety program, the FTA’s Safety Management System (SMS), which will serve as a model for transit agencies throughout the country and will develop uniform standards to upgrade and ensure safety for rail operations throughout the country.


Holiday Bus and Train: The CTA’s new Holiday Bus went into service, providing bus customers with similar holiday commuting fun as the popular annual CTA Holiday Train does for rail customers.

Damen station opens: The second station to be renovated as part of Your New Blue, the Damen station reopened after undergoing extensive interior and exterior improvements. Project work included preservation of the historic aspects of the station as well as new lighting, signage, refurbished walls, stairs and platforms, more bike racks and a larger stationhouse footprint.

NYE free rides: The CTA continued a nearly 30-year tradition of providing free rides on all buses and trains on New Year’s Eve. The free rides are sponsored by Miller Lite, which covers the cost of the rides.



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Purple Line
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Yellow Line
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