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Fabricating

Keeping history on track

By Gretchen Salois

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Fabricators restore integrity of Chicago’s historical ‘L’ stations

May 2015 - Built above the city of strong shoulders, the elevated train system above Chicago has a long history. Constructed in 1895, the Damen and California Blue Line stations are among the Chicago Transit Authority’s oldest. With only modest upgrades and repairs over the years, an overhaul wasn’t possible until December 2013 with the announcement of the CTA’s $492 million “Your New Blue” project, a comprehensive, four-year modernization of stations and infrastructure along the Blue Line, which connects downtown to O’Hare International Airport.

Taking on the project required the expertise of qualified craftsmen and fabricators. Allen Architectural Metals, Talladega, Alabama, was called upon for the rehabilitation of the existing historic railings and Binzel Industries, Lockport, Illinois, was the fabricator of “historical style” components, according to CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski. Companies were hired after a bid process.

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To maintain the integrity of the history of each stationhouse, the CTA worked with FH Paschen and its designer Ross Barney Architects, as well as the Illinois Preservation Agency to develop specifications and guidelines. 

Both the California and Damen stations included historic railing and cast iron posts. “The railing system on both platforms were very similar but had small differences which required AAM to proceed and restore them using different techniques,” says Clinton Ramey, project manager at Allen Architectural Metals Inc. The California station was primarily historic steel railing panels and historic cast-iron posts. Damen’s station was primarily steel railing panels, historic cast-iron posts, historic cast-iron light posts and historic stairwell hand railing.

Challenging changes

Fabricators worked with cast iron, bonding cast iron and A36 hot rolled steel. The railing panels and posts had to be stripped of any lead paint, a challenge in itself, says Ramey. While the steel panels and cast-iron posts would start the oxidation process as soon as any paint was stripped off, Ramey says it’s important to strip all paint because otherwise it “will hide other issues or needed repairs that you may not be able to see until fully stripped,” he adds.

For cast-iron posts, fabricators had to make a new pattern for the new head caps outsourced to a foundry. “We then ground all of the scales off of the new casting and predrilled our holes for attachment,” Ramey says. They also redesigned the cast iron post cap with tabs that extruded from the bottom of the new head. 

“Using our waterjet machine to cut the broken, deteriorated post cap heads from the exiting posts, we were able to make the most precise cut for reattachment,” he says. Fabricators fastened the new post caps to the existing posts and welded the seams to ensure a proper bond.

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Reconstruction underway

While restoring historical stations continues on the rails, the CTA is currently working on a brand new Washington-Wabash downtown station to replace the nearby century-old stations on Wabash Avenue at Randolph and Madison Avenues.

The next stations slated for upgrades include the historic Quincy station, which hasn’t been renovated in 27 years. Built in 1897, it’s one of the few surviving original downtown Loop ‘L’ stations and recognized as a historic property by Chicago’s Landmark Division, says Hosinski. 

In 2016, the CTA also plans on a $15.7 million project to make the Quincy station accessible to customers with disabilities, including two new elevators, fresh paint, brighter lighting and  two new sets of entrance stairs. 

“Whether a station is new or renovated, it’s important that the final product reflect and capture aspects of the surrounding community,” says Hosinski. “By properly refurbishing existing components of stations like California and Damen and fabricating historic era pieces to provide a consistent look and feel, we’re able to preserve an important chapter in the story of these communities.” FFJ

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