Photo by Tudor Van Hampton
Chicagos $1-billion Red Line rehab falls on the heels of a $530-million modernization of its Brown Line, which wrapped up in 2009. The Red Line is one of the busiest transit routes in the U.S.

A $1-billion program to modernize Chicago Transit Authority's Red Line—the backbone of the city's century-old urban rail and one of the busiest routes in the U.S.—is about to get under way.

The long-overdue project will rehab Chicago's most traveled passenger rail, which serves 240,000 daily riders. The train stations are outmoded, and track deterioration has prompted slow zones that bog down riders' commutes.

"The Red Line must be fixed," says Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D). "You can't keep a city growing on a 20th-century infrastructure with a 21st-century economy."

Because the CTA says it is in the early stages of this project, the agency is not providing details on bid packages, milestone completion dates or its partners. However, ENR has learned that transportation engineer T.Y. Lin International, San Francisco, is acting as a prime consultant. The company declined to comment.

The project is expected to bring an economic boost to the region. "This is going to create 2,700 jobs—jobs that you can support a family on, construction jobs," says Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D).

Originally built during the Great Depression and expanded in the 1960s, the 22-mile-long, double-track corridor runs at-grade, elevated and underground. The line will receive upgrades along its north and south branches, also called the Howard and Dan Ryan routes, respectively, which come together in a subway underneath the city's downtown Loop. The work will also rebuild parts of the adjacent Purple Line, which provides express service between Evanston, a suburb north of the city, and the Loop.

The improvements on the north end will include major upgrades to stations and the full reconstruction of two stations. In addition, the line will receive track replacement and signal work, subway ventilation upgrades, improvements to viaducts and rehabilitation of three electrical substations.

South of downtown, plans include replacing tracks, ties and ballasts, drainage improvements and station upgrades.

Illinois is putting up $702.4 million for the Red Line work, part of a $31-billion statewide capital plan. The balance comes from $255.5 million in federal and $44.1 million in city funding.

"This is an unprecedented investment in upgrading our system," says Forrest Claypool, CTA president. The Red Line is badly outdated for the service it provides, making this construction project long overdue.