CTA rail cars use unconventional route to get to the shop – Chicago Tribune
Collisions, workers changing lightbulbs on the side of the road or police vehicles with emergency lights ablaze are the typical reasons that rubbernecking motorists slow down to see what’s happening.
Now, add CTA rail cars to the list of things that cause the familiar gaper’s block, a behavior that in this particular case is often accompanied by horns honking, cameras clicking pictures and wild cheers through open windows.
It’s not the daily routine of trains on the Red and Blue lines rumbling up and down the separated median of three Chicago expressways that evokes this response from motorists and their passengers.
No, these rail cars are hitting the road on the actual expressway lanes, as well as on busy city and suburban streets, chained to flatbed trailers that are hauled by truck between CTA rail facilities on the South Side and Skokie.
“I get all kinds of looks and weird stuff,” said Mark Roop, a commercial trucker who has made the majority of rail car deliveries.
“People stand up out of their sunroofs to take pictures and shoot video. Kids try to get me to honk my horn back at them. It’s quite humorous, actually,” said Roop, 41, who works for P&C Trucking Ent. Inc., based in Gary.
It has been this way for the past 3 1/2 months, since the abrupt shutdown of the CTA Yellow Line on May 17 as the result of a track embankment collapse just west of McCormick Boulevard near Howard Street in Skokie. The accident occurred during construction nearby at the waste treatment plant operated by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.
Normally, new rail cars and older cars undergoing repairs would enter and exit the CTA track system using a spur connecting the Skokie Shop rail heavy maintenance facility, at 3701 W. Oakton St. in Skokie, to the Yellow Line tracks on the embankment just to the south.
Due to the embankment accident, however, rail cars must be trucked up and back between the Skokie Shop and a CTA storage yard at 210 E. 63rd St. in Chicago. The South Side yard is currently the only CTA facility that has the right layout and equipment to load rail cars onto trucks from tracks and offload them onto the rails, officials said.
It’s a delicate procedure in which each 54,000-pound rail car is coupled to a yard locomotive and rolled on a ramp either up onto a truck flatbed embedded with rails, or down a ramp onto tracks.
Thomas Dietrich, general manager of rail heavy maintenance at Skokie Shop, said he views the more complicated and time-consuming method of transferring rail cars in and out of service as simply a need to “switch gears. It’s a matter of adjusting what our normal process is,” Dietrich said.
The Yellow Line is not expected to reopen until October, authorities said. But the shutdown didn’t stop the CTA or Roop on Thursday from delivering the 700th 5000 Series rail car, No. 5700, manufactured by Bombardier Transit Corp. The total order is for 714 cars under the $1.14 billion contract signed when Richard M. Daley was mayor. The last car, No. 5714, is expected to arrive by truck any day now from Bombardier’s assembly plant in Plattsburgh, N.Y. The trip usually takes 2 1/2 days, officials said.
“Car 5700 is a milestone, absolutely. It’s always a really big deal. When car No. 5714 is delivered, that is a huge milestone,” Dietrich said. “Quite frankly, everybody is going to want their picture taken with that special car.”
The embankment collapse has cost the CTA $2 million to $3 million through June, officials have tentatively calculated. After the incident, the CTA signed a $155,000 contract with P&C Trucking to transport rail cars between Skokie and the 63rd Street storage yard, said CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase.
Due to the extended loss of the Yellow Line, each weekday a roughly 35-year-old CTA 2600 Series rail car that is headed to the scrap yard, or a 3200 Series car due for an overhaul, travels via truck about 22 miles in the regular traffic lanes from the CTA’s 63rd Street yard. It moves along South State Street and Pershing Road before merging onto the Dan Ryan Expressway and continuing on to the Kennedy and Edens expressways on its way to Skokie Shop, said Sean McCloskey, a CTA labor leader at the shop.
There, at Skokie Shop, a brand-new 5000 Series rail car is loaded up on the trailer and ferried on the reverse route, starting out on Oakton Street, making tight turns on McCormick Boulevard and Touhy Avenue, leading up to the truck driver navigating the looping interchange entrance ramp to the southbound Edens for the trip back along the Kennedy and the Ryan, McCloskey said.
It is the best and safest route that the CTA and the Illinois Department of Transportation could plot, officials said.
Roop, the truck driver, said it’s all about patience, especially when transporting precious cargo. He waits for traffic to clear before making turns, he said, and then he uses every inch of pavement to round corners with his 85-foot-long trailer, which cradles the 54,000-pound, 48-foot-long rail car.
“This is definitely an experience,” said Roop, of Valparaiso, Ind., modestly explaining that “it does take a little bit of skill.”
The 5000 Series cars, which are outfitted with mostly aisle-facing seats, are in service on the Red, Purple, Yellow, Green and Pink lines.
The CTA has trucked 26 5000 Series cars from Skokie to the 63rd Street yard since the Yellow Line embankment collapse, said Chase, the CTA spokeswoman.
“We made a decision to find a way to keep these new rail cars coming in, inspect them and put them into service,” Chase said. “We made some modifications to our operations so we could continue that process, rather than ask our customers to wait longer for new rail cars.”
Roop was behind the wheel on 17 of the 26 deliveries, as well as 17 trips transporting older rail cars requiring maintenance from 63rd to Skokie.
“We’ve got a couple of turns that are a little stupid,” Roop said. “You’ve just got to work through them. Turning off of McCormick onto Touhy, that’s a tight turn there. Pershing to State Street and pulling into the gate at 63rd, that’s a real tight one there.
“You just need to take your time, and go with it,” he added.
The trip typically takes an hour and 15 minutes each way, he said, but it took an hour and a half on Thursday when the Tribune was on scene observing the operation.
Your Getting Around reporter pointed out to Roop that it generally would take equally long riding the Red Line from Howard Street to the South Side. He responded:
“To tell you the truth, I’ve never even rode on a CTA train. I am going to have to make a trip to Chicago just to ride on one.”