CTA Towers & Junctions – Sept/Oct 2010 – Connections – Chicago Transit Authority

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Let’s take a look at one of the key
components of the real system. The train junctions which are also called
interlockings. A lone tower sits above a busy intersection of tracks. This is
Tower 18 at the junction of Lake and Wells. The people in this tower
controlled the complex flow of trains through Chicago’s loop. In the rush hours
we can see trains as often as every 30 to 45 seconds going through the junction
here. It’s considered to be one of the busiest railroad junctions in the
United States. So we take a lot of pride in that. Five of the CTA’s eight lines
converge here: Pink, Green, Purple, Orange, and Brown. Tower operators determine
which trains go on which tracks and when. Tower 18 was completely rebuilt as part
of the loop signal project. The steel the track that the trains run on was not new
but everything else — machines that throw the switches — are new the signals that
allow the operator to proceed are brand new. They’re using a new technology, an
LED technology. This is a control room next to Tower 18. It is the electronic
nerve center of the junction. We have over 100 equipment racks in this room
each with a lot of control devices that allow decisions to be made automatically
as to whether a train can proceed through the junction or not. A control
panel almost identical to one in the tower itself supplements the panel
inside the tower. The red lines indicate that we actually have a train at this
position actually coming across the Lake Street Bridge toward the junction down
Lake Street. The white lines indicate that he has a route clear ahead of him.
The route is locked so that no other train can try to proceed across or
converge into him, and the train will now proceed through the junction as the red
lights progress the train is actually moving through the junction. Tower
operators also rely on what they see from their windows and what cameras
relay to their monitors. This is the Clark Tower. This junction is less busy
than the interlockings overseen by Tower 18 but it’s still busy. I use the
monitors to see what’s coming. I look at the panel to see what’s coming.
Sometimes I look out the window to look at the marker light, their color lights on
the train, they’ll let you know what destination the train has. We have the
Red Line, the Purple Line doing the rush and the Brown Line train, north and southbound. Electronically I’m switching the tracks. I’m moving train
for one track to the other. Down track one … rails Midway. Archive simple.
Tower operators work as train operators before training for tower duty. We has to
know where the train is going and which about to give him and this and that so
he has to know all the rules and everything that a operator will have to
know. And tower operators also have to climb multiple sets of stairs each day.
It’s good exercise. But there are no complaints here. This one of the best jobs at the company. I love my job. I do, I really love my job. The dedication of
tower operators combined with electronic and infrastructure upgrades at critical
junctions ensures safe and reliable travel along the CTA rail system, a
system that delivers more than 200 million rides a year. If you didn’t notice all the work being
done on the train control systems that was by design. The majority of the work
took place on weekends and overnights to minimize the impact on CTA customers.


  1. that look really complicated to learn and i bet it tooked them a long time to remember them all i would rather be the train operator!

  2. Yeah, white folk are limited in the MTA Subway system as well! Chicago is famous for Her els and NYC is famous for Her subways! Listen up Chicagoland,! NYC has more mileage of els then you do! Don't be jealous!! You can't match our subway and el lines!! NYC has double decker and six track els over streets! You are jealous of the NYC rapid transit! NYC is EL-Mania! O right, i'll admit, the els are mostly in the boroughs!

  3. Looks like a fun job, probably can be stressful though. Kind of like working air traffic control except for light rail.

  4. Ok to all the responses on NYC MTA Im from and live in Chicago but dam NYC is more populated and bigger fuck we understand that cool out with the comparison I love my city Chicago

  5. Always fascinated by CTA's Rail system, love the real time videos on each of the lines. Those Control Towers at the Junctions…like having a giant train set.

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