Discussion related to commuter rail and rapid transit operations in the Chicago area including the South Shore Line, Metra Rail, and Chicago Transit Authority.

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  by doepack
 
U.S. to fund new Skokie Swift stop
By M. Daniel Gibbard
Tribune staff reporter

December 13, 2005

Skokie is on track to get its first new Chicago Transit Authority train stop in 40 years, thanks to $9.2 million in federal funding announced last week.

The Yellow Line station, which officials hope will be completed in 2008, is to be built downtown, just north of Oakton Street, west of Skokie Boulevard, next to the massive new Illinois Science + Technology Park.

"This ensures the station is going to get built," Mayor George Van Dusen said. "Getting $9.2 million was a great shot in the arm. In these kinds of things, you never know because there are a lot of competing projects and interests."

The funding will come from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program, which is administered by states.

Planning for the station on the line known as the Skokie Swift should begin next summer, Van Dusen said. It is expected to cost about $15 million, he said, and the village has also won $1 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The remaining $5 million will come from the state and, if necessary, the village, which could tap funds from a tax-increment financing district set up for the science center, Van Dusen said.

State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston), who lobbied state transportation officials for the money from Washington, said biotech giants Searle and Pfizer had to run shuttle buses to Dempster Street in Skokie or Howard Street in Chicago to get employees to work when they were located on the property.

"[The station] is inextricably linked to the potential success of the Science + Technology Park," Schoenberg said. "It will also help the rest of downtown, but my primary motivation was ... to unleash the potential of the park, to entice prospective tenants who would provide jobs in the high-tech and biotech sectors."

The 23-acre research complex is under development and is expected to create as many as 3,250 jobs, officials say.

The CTA's Yellow Line opened in 1964 along 5 miles of former commuter rail track. It runs non-stop from Dempster Street to Howard Street, where it links with the CTA's Red Line, and carries about 2,800 riders a day.

It does not run on weekends or holidays.

Skokie officials included the idea of a new station five years ago in a funding proposal to the Regional Transportation Authority that also included the possibility of extending the line north to Westfield Old Orchard, Van Dusen said. That idea has been around for decades but hasn't gotten past the planning stages.

The CTA has participated in feasibility studies and is on board with the project, spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said.

"A new station at Oakton is good for the entire region," Ziegler said. "It will increase ridership and it makes better use of existing service capacity". The station plan meshes with the redevelopment of Skokie's old business district around Oakton Street and Lincoln Avenue, which has been eclipsed by the Village Crossing commercial center to the south and Old Orchard to the north.

A special taxing district set up in 1990 has helped spark a renaissance in the area, once filled with empty storefronts and older houses.

New businesses have moved in, and hundreds of townhouses and condominiums have been built.

Those new residents are the other half of the equation, along with the research park, in the need for a new stop, village officials say.

That could cut down on the need for large parking areas, said Fred Schattner, Skokie's engineering director.

"It's more like an urban station to serve [pedestrians], people who are living or working downtown," he said. "Commuters would be parking at Dempster."

It's too early to say what the station might look like, but Van Dusen said he hoped it would make a splash architecturally. Cleveland developer Forest City Enterprises, which is investing more than $300 million in the research center, will likely have a say in the design, he said.

"We would like to see the design fit in with the park," he said.

"We want the scientists who work in the park to feel comfortable, to see it as a gateway to the park."

Schattner said a new stop has been a long time coming.

"I've worked for the village for 30 years, and I've always thought about a downtown station," Schattner said.

"I think it's a vital component to a city. I'm really excited about it."

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Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune

  by orangeline
 
Cool! I've ridden this line a few times, but don't claim to be really familiar with the area. Will it really take 2+ years to build a station there ( a island or 2 side platforms for 2-car trains)? I thought CTA already had some sort of plans already drawn up because a new station on the Skokie Swift had been discussed for some time.

  by byte
 
orangeline wrote:Cool! I've ridden this line a few times, but don't claim to be really familiar with the area. Will it really take 2+ years to build a station there ( a island or 2 side platforms for 2-car trains)? I thought CTA already had some sort of plans already drawn up because a new station on the Skokie Swift had been discussed for some time.
If another station is added, then it complicates the line's "shuttle" nature significantly, which adds questions (which are time consuming to settle) and construction costs/time. The car length issue is the biggest one - keep two car platforms, or expand to 4, 6, or 8? Current traffic levels would really only foresee a 4 car platform being necessary, but then again, that's with current levels, not how it will be with another station. Then, if it's decided to start running longer trains, the Dempster terminal needs to have longer platforms on both sides. Further complicating things is the potential extension to the Old Orchard Grove mall, which will mean a total reconfiguration of Dempster. Plus, the city of Evanston is now pushing for an intermediate stop within their city limits. So, in 20 years it's theoretically possible that the Yellow line will have been transformed from a two-car, two station shuttle operation to a full fledged five-station rapid transit line. That is, if there even is a yellow line anymore. They may decide to just extend the red line to wherever yellow's terminal is, and cut it back to Howard when yellow wouldn't normally run to Skokie. This will all depend on Howard's ability to handle 3 lines terminating there, all with at least 4 cars per train.

So, as you can see, there's a lot to figure out. :P
Last edited by byte on Thu Dec 15, 2005 11:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

  by EricL
 
I haven't heard anything either way about upping train lengths. IMHO, they'd be stupid not to build at least a 4-car-long platform at Oakton.

  by doepack
 
byte wrote:If another station is added, then it complicates the line's "shuttle" nature significantly, which adds questions (which are time consuming to settle) and construction costs/time. The car length issue is the biggest one - keep two car platforms, or expand to 4, 6, or 8? Current traffic levels would really only foresee a 4 car platform being necessary, but then again, that's with current levels, not how it will be with another station. Then, if it's decided to start running longer trains, the Dempster terminal needs to have longer platforms on both sides. Further complicating things is the potential extension to the Old Orchard Grove mall, which will mean a total reconfiguration of Dempster. Plus, the city of Evanston is now pushing for an intermediate stop within their city limits. So, in 20 years it's theoretically possible that the Yellow line will have been transformed from a two-car, two station shuttle operation to a full fledged five-station rapid transit line. That is, if there even is a yellow line anymore. They may decide to just extend the red line to wherever yellow's terminal is, and cut it back to Howard when yellow wouldn't normally run to Skokie. This will all depend on Howard's ability to handle 3 lines terminating there, all with at least 4 cars per train.

So, as you can see, there's a lot to figure out. :P
With an eye toward future expansion, two car trains will still probably be the norm for the time being, but I'd build the platform long enough to berth four-car trains. However, even though Howard St. seems to be handling its status as a current terminal for three routes fairly well, I don't see the Red line being extended past Howard into Skokie, even if the long-discussed Old Orchard extension gets built, which is still probably years away from being a reality.

But here's another idea: When (or if) the Yellow line becomes a regular rapid transit line with three intermediate stops between Howard and Old Orchard, why not run four-car trains during rush hours, and couple them onto Evanston Express (which, for the purposes of this new service, would be shortened to four cars during rush hours running at slightly shorter intervals) trains at Howard St. for an 8-car express run downtown via the Loop? Afterwards, once it arrives back at Howard St. northbound, the train would then split into two trains, with 4 cars to Evanston, and four to Skokie, and in between, one operator could operate the doors during the run to/from downtown. Two-car service on the Yellow line would still operate during off peak hours, and you'd probably need a small storage yard at Old Orchard (or perhaps Dempster) as well, to accomodate the extra equipment, since Howard St. yard is pretty much at capacity.

One of CTA's predecessor companies, the Chicago Rapid Transit Company, actually employed this practice long ago. For instance, on the Logan Square branch during rush hours, SB trains headed to the Loop from Logan Spuare would have one or two cars from the Humboldt Park branch couple onto the train at Damen, then continue onward to the Loop. Once the train came back north after making the Loop stops, the train would then split at Damen, with the extra car or two heading back to the Humboldt Park branch. As I understand it, the Kenwood and Stock Yard branches also had similar operations at one time. Admittedly, this type of operation is a longshot to actually be seriously reconsidered now, but I think that the feasibility of it would increase if the Yellow line experiences the kind of growth expected, and this new station could be an important first step toward stimulating that growth.

  by Scotty Burkhardt
 
Dempster currently has enough room to "turn around" 4 cars. It comes close but it has been done before. I saw one of the fan trips pull it off with 4 cars last summer.

  by MikeF
 
Hah, do you really think CTA's average ridership (not to mention its employees) could figure out a train that splits into two midway through its run? :P All kidding aside, it's not a bad idea, although I doubt the CTA would put both operators on the train between Howard and the Loop.

Regarding the need to build a yard at Dempster or Old Orchard -- would there not be enough capacity at Skokie Yard?

  by Scotty Burkhardt
 
There's no yard at Dempster.

As far as I can tell, there is no room for a yard at Dempser. I don't see a need for a yard at the end of the Yellow line. The Yellow currently shares a yard with the Red and Purple. [/img]

  by EricL
 
I believe Mike is referring to the Skokie Shops facility.

  by MikeF
 
That is correct, EricL.

  by octr202
 
Here's a question for the Chicagoans:

Would increasing the number of stops on the Skokie get to the point, in your opinion, that turning what's now just the Evanston Expresses into a full day operation? As a lot of people mentioned, I realized when I rode the Red Line (in order to get out to the Skokie for a ride...unfortunately I got there not too long after the catenary was removed) just how long ans slow a ride it was on the Red up to Howard. Either thru alternating trains (one Yellow, one Purple), or thru combining the trains at Howard, would there be enough demand for this? What kind of potential traffic generators are there going out to Skokie? Also, from looking at track maps, it looks like a couple of stops could be added back in to the expreses if they operated mid-day (Wilson & Sheridan)...perhaps that would help generate enough ridership to justify more express service.

Even given the one stop serivce there now, I was quite amazed by the mid-day trip I took on the Skokie Swift -- middle of the day on a January weekday, and the train was almost full both ways. Not quite the isolated park & ride I was expecting to ride out to. :)

  by byte
 
The problem with the slowness of the Red line isn't really station stops, though. It's mainly slow zones (track areas that have restricted speeds because they need to be rehabilitated). The north side main could use a good rehab.

  by doepack
 
Another reason that rapid transit service on the Red line doesn't seem so rapid is because the stations north of Wilson are densely packed together, i.e., on average, stations are spaced every 2 to 3 blocks or so. I've always thought that having nine stations in a 3 1/2 mile stretch between Wilson and Howard was a bit much. If CTA had to abolish the A/B "skip-stop" service systemwide, then perhaps some stations north of Wilson such as Argyle and/or Thorndale should've been closed in order to streamline the service, since there is no east-west bus feeder service currently serving either station.

I'm not inclined to think that adding stops on the Yellow (Skokie) line would be enough of a catalyst to transform the Evanston Express into an all-day operation. I don't know that much about Skokie's demographics, and although it's been about 5 years since I last lived on Chicago's north side, I don't believe there's been any other significant retail, residential or other commercial development in the area around Howard St. that would be enough to stimulate the addtional demand. Strip malls still seem to rule. Meanwhile, DePaul, Loyola, and Northwestern universities, plus AON corporation are still supplying the bulk of the Red line's traffic. You could throw Wrigley Field in there too of course, but as we know, that's "seasonal"...

  by Scotty Burkhardt
 
Sorry Mike, I thought you meant to put a yard at the end of the yellow line. The yellow line cars are not stored at the Skokie shops, they are stored at the howard yard. The area around the Howard terminal has seen an unbelievable amount of growth in the last 2 years. The whole bus terminal has been rebuilt as has the block across the street (to the west) Howard Ave. has been repaved as has the sidewalks. I dont want to get off topic, but the whole area is really turning around.

Once the Yellow line is expanded and all the stations open. Does anybody think it would be a good idea to run it all the way express into the loop? I Know the purple line already does this but it makes all stops south of belmont, but I think more people would see it an advantage if they didn't make all of those stops.....any thoughts on yellow line express service?

  by doepack
 
Theoretically, it sounds like a good idea, but the real question is, can the Loop efficiently handle the extra capacity? They're already talking about routing the Cermak branch of the Blue line via the outer Loop (i.e., Lake-Wells-Van Buren-Wabash-Lake), and if that happens, there will be four routes using the Loop as a downtown terminal, plus the Green line on the Lake and Wabash segments in both directions. Unless Brown and Orange were through-routed, there wouldn't be any room to put Yellow line express trains on the Loop, unless they were combined at Howard with Purple line expresses, as per my earlier suggestion.

That said, I do agree that removing the Purple line expresses' local segment south of Belmont would make the service more attractive. Indeed, it should be restored to being a mostly non-stop run from Howard to Merchandise Mart, with perhaps a transfer stop at Belmont and/or Fullerton...