Thursday, May 1, 2014

Year 2, Day 184: 1 May 2014

For the past 18 months i have looked out my windows, watching with interest as a retaining wall and a few scruffy trees were slowly transformed into a brick-and-mortar building, the future Farwell Traction Power Substation. Today, i got to tour the substation and to talk to some of the very knowledgeable people involved in the project. I feel so honored to have been given this remarkable opportunity--i was told that it is extremely rare for a civilian to be allowed inside a substation. For security reasons, i was not permitted to take pictures of the equipment inside, but i can tell you that there's a lot of it!

It might seem surprising that the construction of a building of this size has taken so long, but one of the biggest challenges that had to be met in this project was how to fit all the equipment needed to run a substation into such a small amount of square footage. This section of Glenwood is little more than an alley, hemmed in by the L tracks on one side and a large residential building on the other, with a mess of overhead electrical and cable wires strung along much of the intervening space. As a result, the substation has the unusual feature of being two-stories high, doubling the available area to house the equipment. 

I have to confess that i was a little out of my element: I teach literature and film classes and write poetry, not the best credentials for explaining something this technical. I'm a reasonably intelligent person, but i have never been able to understand how electricity works: to me it may as well be alchemy. But thanks to the patience of my tour guides, i learned that the purpose of the substation is to convert AC power to DC in order to supply a steady, reliable source of electricity to the Red and Purple lines to handle increased traffic. This is all part of the CTA Red Ahead plan for longterm improvements along the entire 26-mile length of the Red Line.  

 My main impressions of the inside of the substation were that it is pristinely clean (we had to don disposable shoe covers before entering the facility), that there's a lot of equipment in there, and that it smells like fresh concrete (a sharp, clean smell that i find as appealing as the scent of a brand-new car).  It isn't cozy, but it is impressive! 

I also learned that this weekend the brickwork on the trackside wall will continue; this needs to be done on the weekend when the outer (Purple line) tracks are not in use, that a new sewer line will have to be dug and installed, and that eventually a little bit of landscaping will be added to pretty things up.

I'm so grateful to CTA General Manager Barney Gray and Media Representative Cat Hosinski for making this tour possible and taking time out of their busy schedules to escort me through the facility. Thanks as well to Project Engineer Kevin Nolan from STV and Jeff Sapinski of Cotter Consulting for  answering my admittedly amateurish questions and making sure that both the substation and i survived my visit safely and securely. 

From left to right: Barney Gray (General Manager of Construction for the CTA),
MaryAnne Lyons (your humble blogger), Jeff Sapinski (safety manager), and Kevin
Nolan (project engineer).
The view from inside the fence

If it weren't for security concerns, i would have taken a selfie on the roof,
but just imagine that i am standing there waving.


  1. Aswesome! Congrats that the CTA included a link to your blog on Facebook.

    1. Thanks, Kevin. I was wondering why i suddenly had hundreds of page views. It was really an amazing experience to be allowed to see the inside of the substation.


This blog exists for one purpose: to follow the progress of the CTA substation project. Your comments relevant to that topic are very welcome.