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Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Avondale

With Blue Line Trains, System At Capacity Before COVID, CTA Eyes New Power Station In Avondale To Boost Service

Ridership has exploded along the Blue Line, which also is operating more higher-tech train cars. The CTA needs to bolster its power grid to meet demand.

Cragin Spring
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AVONDALE — The Chicago Transit Authority wants to build an electrical power station in Avondale to speed up operations on the Blue Line.

The CTA is targeting a vacant lot it owns at 3401 W. Barry Ave. in Avondale for a new substation, according to Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, whose 35th Ward includes the site.

Substations house electrical generators that power trains.

In recent years, the CTA has made significant improvements to the Blue Line in response to an explosion in ridership that created severe overcrowding before the coronavirus pandemic. Now the city agency needs more power to keep the train cars running and to meet future demand.

The project comes as Chicago is seeing a significant drop in public transit ridership due to the pandemic. The CTA didn’t respond to questions Tuesday, including how the ridership drop factors into the plan.

Ramirez-Rosa is holding a virtual community meeting on the project Aug. 31, though it does not require the community’s nor the alderman’s approval. The CTA needs approval from the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals, but not the City Council, the alderman said.

Ramirez-Rosa didn’t respond to a request for comment Tuesday. In an FAQ posted to his website, he said the CTA has been running as many trains on the Blue Line’s O’Hare branch as the current power and signal system allows and current substations are “now at capacity.”

The CTA has been replacing its 80s Blue Line train cars from the ’80s with higher-powered, faster train cars, and those new cars require more power to operate.

Credit: GoogleMaps
The vacant lot where the CTA wants to build a substation.

The Blue Line’s O’Hare branch has seen unprecedented ridership growth in recent years, with commuters flocking to the neighborhoods along the train line as development booms along Milwaukee Avenue.

The California and Logan Square stations saw the greatest ridership growth during morning rush hour of all “L” stations 2002-2017, data shows.

A new substation would allow the CTA to meet “current and future ridership demands,” Ramirez-Rosa said in a letter to constituents.

If approved, the Avondale substation will be designed by Carol Ross Barney, the same architect who designed the Belmont Blue Line station and the Chicago Riverwalk.

For more on the project and the community meeting, go to the alderman’s website.

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