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Smoother, faster Red Line rolls through its first rush hour after overnight crash

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Updated: November 22, 2013 6:22AM

The newly renovated Red Line kicked off its first morning rush hour Monday — promising a smoother, faster ride — after a semitrailer truck on the Dan Ryan Expy. jumped the concrete wall and threatened to spoil the party.

Repairs to Red Line were completed early Monday after the truck hit the wall near the 69th Street station and landed on the southbound tracks, damaging the third rail, spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski said.

But all was fine early Monday by the time Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTA President Forrest Claypool greeted commuters at the 95th Street station, thanking them for putting up with a five-month shutdown while the southern portion of the line was rebuilt.

“As I said to a number of commuters, 55 mph beats 15 mph anytime,” Emanuel said Monday morning.

The mayor shook hands with commuters hustling for their trains.

“You’ll enjoy this ride more,” Emanuel said to one commuter. “Thanks for your patience.”

Emanuel and his entourage then took the Red Line downtown.

Sunday was the first day the doors to the nine Red Line stations from 95th to Cermak-Chinatown reopened since May — when the $425 million overhaul began. It was the first complete track replacement since the south branch opened more than 40 years ago.

Before the construction, almost half the Red Line South’s tracks carried trains that could travel only 15-35 mph instead of the 55 mph maximum that a straight track can bear.

The new track will cut the commute from 95th street to downtown by 10 minutes and 20 minutes round-trip, the CTA says.

Almost without exception, passengers pouring into the Red Line stop at 95th Monday were pleased with how CTA has handled the project.

“It’s been very organized,” said South Sider Donna Goodloe, 52, who commutes to work downtown. “As far as the shuttle, I thought I was going to have a problem with that, but it worked out very well. ... The bus worked out better for me. I got spoiled.”

Said Patricia Townsend, 43, a financial assistant who works downtown: “Originally, I didn’t think it would be a good idea. I was going to start driving to work. ... I thought it was unfair. After a couple of months dealing with the shuttle, it went really smoothly.”

Phillip Burton, 45, was a bit more of a skeptic.

“The slow zones (on the Red Line) were a bit cumbersome. So I’m glad they got those out of the way. My question for Mr. Claypool, if I had time, how long will this run worry free?”

It’s unclear how many commuters will return to the Red Line South on Monday, but weekday ridership was about 80,000 a day in the past. Ridership was light Sunday, and the reopening started off smoothly, said CTA spokesman Brian Steele.

“It definitely felt smoother — maybe not faster, but a lot smoother,” said Jaleel Sanchez, a 22-year-old Chatham resident and Chicago State chemistry student who rode the Red Line South on Sunday.

Not every rider was pleased, though. Fuller Park resident Marean Byrd said southbound trains were running infrequently.

“It’s been frustrating. I got to the [47th Street] station at 4 a.m., but the train didn’t get here until 4:50. So now I’m running late to work,” the 35-year-old bus driver said. “The ride’s smoother. But that didn’t help me this morning.”

Linda Brown, 52, also of Chatham, welcomed the return of the Red Line South. She was going to visit her sister in the hospital Sunday.

“It was a long time coming, but I think worth the wait,” Brown said. “People around here, especially, we need our public transportation.”

More than 91 percent of customers used alternate routes during the five-month project, CTA President Forrest Claypool said.

“Our customers gave us five months and looked to us to deliver on a promise to build a brand-new railroad . . . and we kept that promise,” he said.

In 154 days, crews reconstructed a 10.2-mile stretch of track from the ground up — including the rails, ties, ballast drainage systems and signaling equipment. Stations also got a face-lift, with a new coat of paint, new signs and a deep cleaning.

Stations that didn’t have elevators for the disabled — Garfield, 63rd and 87th — now will. There’s an added bonus: riders will be traveling downtown on the new 5000-series trains.

But the work isn’t over on the Red Line South: The CTA will begin construction next year on a new 95th Street terminal at a cost of $240 million.

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