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Stand by for action at Argyle, Thorndale stations

 

All that stone means big track work is coming. Credit: Patrick Barry

 

Those giant piles of stone ballast and stinky bundles of rail ties that arrived on Thorndale and Argyle today, near the CTA stations, mean one thing: tracks will be torn out and replaced in a blitz operation starting Friday evening and running 24/7 until about 4 a.m. on Monday.

It’s getting to be a familiar ritual for CTA Station Watchers, who have been tracking similar action at the seven North Red Line stations that are getting a total of $86 million worth of track work, viaduct repairs and stationhouse rehabilitation.

Here’s how it happens.

First the streets are closed; this week it’s from Winthrop and Argyle west to Broadway, the same at Thorndale. Big trucks manuever in and unload stone, rail ties, front-end loaders, lights, barricades and a bunch of dumpsters. Things start heating up as soon as the Purple Express trains stop running, and at 10 p.m. the station bypass goes into effect, putting both northbound and southbound trains on one side of the platform. This weekend that will be on the east side; freeing up both tracks on the west.

Under the lights, with 20 to 30 men and women on the team, both tracks are ripped out, rail ties are lowered to the dumpsters, and the worn out ballast is scraped up to allow crews to repair and waterproof the viaduct surface, which typically has been leaking for years into the storefronts below.

This takes all night and into Saturday, when fresh crews come in and start putting things back together, first laying down new ties and attaching the running rails, then conveying tons of ballast up from the street to track level, where it holds the ties in place.

By now it is Sunday and there’s a certain tension about getting everything done in time for the morning rush. Tracks have to be aligned and leveled with special equipment. Electrical connections have to be made on the running rail, which serves as the ground, and finally the third rail is installed to provide the trains with their 600 volts of DC power.

It’s a huge undertaking with plenty of opportunity for surprises and little room for error, but so far the crews from Kiewit Infrastructure have put the railroad back together again and the trains have been running come Monday morning. Let’s hope it goes that way this weekend, too.

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