CTA plans Red and Purple Line renovations, prioritizing ADA accessibility and increased capacity


Katie Chen/The Daily Northwestern

The South Boulevard stop on the Purple Line. The Chicago Transit Authority hopes to improve customer experience on the Purple and Red lines through comprehensive renovations.

Olivia Mofus, Reporter

This is a modernization-bound train making all stops. Doors closing on the right. 

The Chicago Transit Authority announced work on the next phases of the Red and Purple Modernization Program, aiming to renovate and modernize the northern section of the Red and Purple lines. In public meetings on March 14 and 16, CTA staff members outlined their current timeline for the project’s execution. The RPM Next Phases Study will identify what needs to be fixed in order to enhance customer experience. 

Both lines have infrastructure issues that surveyors say prevent effective accessibility and promote congestion. The lines operate on structures more than 90 years old, which generate increased maintenance costs and slower speeds. Many stations are not fully ADA-accessible.

The Red and Purple Modernization Next Phases Study is the first phase of the CTA’s larger RPM Program. The RPM Program falls under the umbrella of Red Ahead, an initiative to modernize the Red Line that began in 2009. The project is set to be completed by 2025. So far, the CTA has completed construction on a Red and Purple Line bypass in 2021 at the Belmont stop.

Medill sophomore Sophia Perry, who volunteers at a preschool in Rogers Park, rides the Purple Line from Foster or Davis to Howard, then walks to the school.

Her main concerns with the CTA are the lack of public restrooms, large crowds and unreliable early and late trains. She also noted the discomfort of being a solo traveler on both cramped and near-empty train cars.

“If I’m traveling alone, it can be unsettling to be the only person in the car with one person,” Perry said. “Then other times, it can be unsettling to be in a completely crowded car.”

As of the meeting in March, the RPM Next Phases Study has entered its ideation and discovery portion, which includes researching recommendations for increasing capacity and infrastructure needs after the completion of Phase 1 of Red Ahead. The CTA will apply for federal funding from the Federal Transit Administration during this time once it has compiled the necessary data to support its appeal. 

The current timeline for the RPM program is tentative, but if it follows a similar timeline as Phase 1 of the Red Ahead Program, construction could begin in as many as 10 years. Christina Bader, CTA project manager, said though the program is long-term, the timeline is subject to changes in planning, funding and other external forces. 

“These complex infrastructure projects can take a long time and due diligence, which is why CTA is starting the next phases planning process now, overlapping with Phase 1 construction,” Bader said. “The timeline is highly dependent on the availability of federal funding.” 

Project elements under consideration by the CTA include reducing delays at the Howard and Linden yard stops, providing ADA accessibility at stations, extending platforms, replacing and updating signal systems, increasing speed and reliability, upgrading traction power and adding more train cars to each line — there is potential for 10 cars for the Red Line and eight for the Purple Line.

Although ridership decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic and has not fully returned to pre-pandemic levels, it began rising again in the past two years. The CTA tweeted that throughout 2022, “ridership has continued to climb as Chicagoans return to the office, events, and daily routines.”

“A lot has changed since the pandemic, but we know that ridership is recovering and Red and Purple lines will continue to be critical infrastructure for Chicago and the northern suburbs,” CTA Senior Manager of Strategic Planning Sonali Tandon said.

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