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Stimulus Money Paying for Chicago Transit System Repairs

Sat May 02, 2009 - Midwest Edition

CHICAGO (AP) The nation’s second largest transit system has already begun using federal stimulus money to repair Chicago’s aging subway network, officials said April 20.

Nearly $90 million is being spent to update the Chicago Transit Authority’s Blue Line, with some of the work already starting, Mayor Richard Daley said at a news conference outside a subway station.

One of the goals is to remove slow zones in some places and prevent their creation elsewhere, including by replacing rotting wooden ties with concrete ones.

“Last year, we did what we could afford to do and focused on the sections of track that were in the worst shape,” Daley said. “The stimulus money allows us to go back in and replace everything that we didn’t get to replace last year.”

The Blue Line repairs would employ 400 people, said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, who joined Daley at the news conference.

“The work done here will also have benefits in other parts of the country hard hit by the economy — the steel, ties and concrete are all made in USA,” said Durbin, speaking as trains rumbled in and out of the station nearby.

Some stretches of Chicago’s 242 mi. (389 km) of track are so shoddy that trains meant to travel more than 50 mph must slow to the pace of a horse at trot — though the city has fixed some of the worst sections in recent years, including on the Blue Line.

The Blue Line became a focus of scrutiny after a 2006 subway derailment that injured more than 150 people. Federal investigators later pointed to poor oversight as a contributing cause, also noting that rotted ties and corroded bolt-like fixtures failed to hold the rails in place. Inspectors should have spotted the problems, they said.

Since then, the CTA has replaced the worst stretches of track and it said it has improved inspections.

The perennially cash-strapped CTA is set to receive a total of around $240 million in stimulus money. Agency officials have said they will also use the money to purchase hybrid articulated buses and to rebuild aging buses and rail cars.

Finding money to repair the Chicago’s more than century-old networks has been a perennial problem, with the CTA engaged in an almost annual ritual of threatening of service cuts and fare increases to pressure lawmakers for more cash.

The CTA has said it will need nearly $7 billion to bring the entire system into good working order, with agency officials saying they are counting on a statewide construction plan to also help foot that bill.

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