WICKER PARK — Relief is in sight — but a few years off — for Blue Line riders who are tired of overcrowded trains, the CTA says.
Within the next three years, the CTA plans to replace 1980s-era Blue Line train cars with higher-powered, faster trains — a move the CTA hopes will alleviate congestion as neighborhoods like Logan Square and Wicker Park continue to boom.
During a monthly Wicker Park Committee neighborhood meeting last week, CTA spokesperson Maria-Teresa Román described the authority’s plan to swap existing Blue Line cars for newer, faster 7000 series cars.
The plan requires the CTA to build two substations on the Blue Line — one in Wicker Park and another in Albany Park — which are needed to power the 7000-series cars.
The CTA plans to construct the substations in the next “two to two-and-a-half years,” Román said.
In its 2020 budget proposal, the CTA stated its plans to spend $278 million on 400 7000-series rail cars between 2021-2021. (The CTA may purchase up to 846 cars, according to the budget).
In addition to being faster and more energy-efficient, the 7000-series cars will be able to pack more riders because they have fewer seats, Román said.
The CTA expects to receive its first 10 7000-series cars by the end of this year. Those cars will be tested early next year in a citywide pilot, Román said.
According to the budget proposal, the 7000-series are the first rail cars purchased by the CTA in more than a decade.
As development along Milwaukee Avenue continues to boom, riders of the busiest “L” line find themselves crushed into trains or on platforms having to wait as multiple packed trains pass them by.
Overcrowding on the CTA Blue Line is a well-documented problem that commuters fear isn’t going to get better any time soon.
A 2017 Chicago Magazine analysis of average weekday Blue Line ridership between July 2002 and July 2017 found ridership skyrocketed at train stops in Logan Square: ridership increased 109 percent at the California Avenue stop; 64 percent at the Logan Square stop and 75 percent at the Western Avenue stop.
In Wicker Park, ridership increased by 29 percent at the Damen Avenue stop and 54 percent at the Division Avenue stop.
The CTA is well aware of the crowding, and has been working on a solution since it rolled out its “Your New Blue” initiative in 2013.
The $492 million project led to overhauls of stations along the O’Hare branch of the Blue Line and recent renovations of the Division Street stop.
In September 2018, the CTA added a total of 15 trains to the Blue Line.
The CTA also added two inbound trips between 8 and 8:30 a.m. and one outbound trip between 5 and 5:30 p.m.
During the Wednesday community meeting in Wicker Park, Román said the CTA is maxed out in terms of the number of physical trains that can be on the Blue Line tracks at a time.
Due to the curved nature of the tracks, she added, current trains cannot be lengthened with additional cars.
The only option, she said, is to make trains faster, a goal that will be accomplished with the 7000-series train car.
Before the CTA can add the faster cars, substations must be built in Wicker Park and Albany Park, Román said.
To explain the importance of these upgrades, Román used the analogy of a thinly stretched electrical outlet; without a substation, running a 7000 series car would be like trying to use a single outlet to power a microwave, hair dryer and other appliances at once.
Román, a resident of Logan Square, told Wicker Park neighbors she herself relies on the Blue Line and that she understands their frustrations.
Between now and the addition of the 7000 series cars, she suggested riders seek alternate routes downtown via the bus.
The No. 52 California Avenue and the No. 9 Ashland Avenue busses connect riders to the Green Line. The No. 56 Milwaukee Avenue bus takes riders straight to downtown.
From Damen Avenue to downtown, Román said, the Milwaukee Avenue bus adds about 18 minutes to the standard Blue Line commute — time that may be added on anyway by waiting for an open train.
Riders who have questions or feedback are encouraged to reach CTA via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
During the meeting, neighbors Mary Tamminga and Leah Root asked Román about the increase in transit-oriented development projects in Wicker Park and Logan Square.
These projects, the neighbors said, have worsened Blue Line congestion considerably in recent years.
Tamminga asked Roman why aldermen and the CTA continue to sign off on these projects in areas where train congestion is a documented problem.
Román said she didn’t have an answer and would confer with “senior staff.”
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