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CTA Red Line shutdown’s big test: ‘No problems at all,’ riders say

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Updated: June 22, 2013 6:11AM

Many South Side CTA L riders found their first workday commute without the Red Line to be smooth sailing Monday, but reviews from North Siders heading south were more mixed.

Hugely popular were free shuttle buses that gave some of the Red Line South’s 80,000 weekday commuters express rides from the branch’s four southernmost stops to the Garfield Green Line station.

“The shuttle buses that come here actually run faster than the [Red Line] trains,’’ said J’Waan Smith, 20, who was on his way home Monday evening, waiting for a free shuttle to 95th Street from the Garfield station. “It’s pretty smooth. It’s really not a problem.’’

CTA President Forrest Claypool declared the first weekday commute, after Sunday’s Red Line shutdown from 95th to Cermak, to be “a smooth day all around,’’ with shuttle-bus times beating even the CTA’s expectations.

Red Line commuters forced onto free Green Line trains at Garfield on Monday finally got to experience life without slow zones.

By the evening commute, Claypool said, “A lot of people said, ‘This is faster than the Red Line.’ I said, ‘That just shows why we need this project so much.’ ’’

Over the next five months, workers will rip out 10.2 miles of track all the way down to the foundation in the $425 million reconstruction project.

The CTA vowed to adjust a massive network of free and discounted buses as needed — and made the first tweak before the first evening rush hour. It added 10 more buses to the No. 29 State Street bus line after finding it overcrowded with morning commuters using it as a north-south alternative to the Red Line. More buses also were being added to the No. 3 King Drive.

The Garfield Green Line station boasted 17 new free turnstiles Monday to handle an expected tenfold jump in riders from shuttle buses. And all L rides out of that station are free through Oct. 19 as part of the reroute plan.

During the morning commute, South Sider Eunice Haynes, 61, said she had “no problems at all” taking the 87th Street shuttle to Garfield on her way downtown.

“I was surprised. There were enough CTA people, enough signs, there was enough information given out,” Haynes said. “But I gave myself some extra time.”

Some South Siders were so pleased with their commute that they were ready to keep the shuttles permanently.

“Now that it’s quicker, I wish they’d leave it like this,’’ said Denise Brown, 55, as she headed home to Grove Heights via the free L/free shuttle alternative.

But for some North Siders going south past downtown on Monday, the network of CTA alternatives was far from a snap.

Pradip Dasgupta, 50, said his normal Red Line commute, from Argyle to 63rd, went from less than an hour to a 90-minute ordeal because he had to take one L train and one express shuttle south, then backtrack on a local shuttle north.

“I’m having difficulties,’’ Dasgupta said. Going from “north to south is not considered enough” by CTA officials.

Other North Side commuters traveling south on the Red Line on Monday found themselves unexpectedly changing trains at Roosevelt. That’s because the runs of six southbound rush-hour Red Line trains ended at Roosevelt so they could be turned around and used on the heavier morning rush into the city.

Such trains bear no signs that they are “short runs,’’ but north-to-south Red Line riders who want to avoid them for the next five months should listen for platform announcements declaring: “This train will turn at Roosevelt,’’ CTA officials said.

North Sider Jason English, 35, got hit by a double-whammy Monday. His southbound Red Line train from Argyle was evacuated at Roosevelt because of a defect, and while he was waiting there for another Red Line train, he saw a “short-run” Red Line train zoom by that he couldn’t use either.

“It was really an inconvenience’’ English said. “It was a little hectic.’’

Mayor Rahm Emanuel popped by the Green Line’s Garfield station Monday to rally the troops.

“Forrest and his whole team have done an excellent job,’’ Emanuel told reporters. “We are at stage one of the first day.

“We are asking a lot of commuters,” he said. “They are the ones who actually know how much the Red Line has deteriorated” and needs to be brought “into the 21st century.’’

Not everyone at the Garfield L stop was waiting for a Red Line train Monday morning. Green Line passenger Crystal Jackson was irked to see three virtually empty Red Line trains arrive at the Garfield station while her own Green Line train was packed — so packed she let it pass.

“And here comes another Red Line train right now, and there’s no one here,” Jackson said.

Claypool said normal Green Line service is running during the Red Line project, but he acknowledged adjustments might need to be made.

“Obviously when you’re running both Red Line service and Green Line trains, that means there could be pinch points that might create issues we have to address,” Claypool said.

Some Red Line commuters were satisfied with the first rush hour but predicted the busy days of summer would be the real test.

“It’s going to be nuts,’’ said Willie Dodds, 48, a fund-raiser and Red Line rider.

“Lollapalooza? Taste of Chicago? Five months? . . . There’s gonna be a lot of kids from different neighborhoods colliding,’’ Dodds said.

“It’s going to be madness.’’

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