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Ask Chicagoist: CTA Run Numbers?

By Thales Exoo in Miscellaneous on Jun 16, 2006 2:25PM

2006_06_askrunno.jpgWhile riding the red line to The Cell to watch the Sox beat up on the Indians last Friday I heard an announcement that has always confounded me. "welcome aboard Red Line run 915." There was no conceivable way that they were referring to the time and I can't figure out what the numbers refer to. Can chicagoist help?


Hi Jenifer,

It's nice to feel welcome, isn't it? Chicagoist thinks it's super nice of the CTA robot voice guy to greet us on board the train. Why, it's almost as welcoming as the faint yet pervasive stench of urine, the crowd of people by the door who never move back, and that guy reading the newspaper who keeps elbowing us (oh, but we kid the CTA!). Although, have you ever noticed that only people who get on at certain key stops actually get welcomed? Us bozos boarding the train at the less popular stops apparently should be grateful to even get a ride!

We've wondered about the run number thing ourselves, but it was you, Jenifer, who inspired us to finally look it up. The numbers always sound like the time, but like you said, that just doesn't make any sense at all, even if it was the time the train started its shift or got to the end of the line. We've noticed when the train is delayed, sometimes the operator will announce that people who need verification of the delay can call CTA and "reference run 845," so we thought maybe it's a random train designation to differentiate one train on a line from the next. Then we decided that they were probably just messing with us and went back to doing our Sudoku puzzle (we do ours in pen, because we're rebels like that).

But who knew -- there really is a method to the CTA's madness.

The site has some good information about the train run numbers. According to them, each run "represents a collection of trips an operator will make during his day's work." An important part of this is that the number really has to do with the train's operator, and not the physical train itself. The first digit in the three-digit run number refers to the station the train started from. So a Blue Line train that started in Forest Park will have a run number in the 200s, and a Green Line train that started the day at Ashland will be 600-something. Jenifer, the train you took to The Cell must have originated from the Red Line's 95th Street terminal (900s). And since you can see any train's run number in the front window of the lead car, the train in the picture above (run 704) is an Orange Line that started at Midway. Look here (scroll to the very bottom) for a comprehensive list of run numbers, and notice also how they've been reshuffled throughout the years. Chicagoist wonders what the run number for the Pink Line will be.

As for the rest of the number, the numbers are assigned sequentially based on who gets to clock out first. The lower the number, the sooner that operator gets to go home. So the number essentially ends up marking the operator's shift, with unique sets of numbers being assigned for weekdays, Saturdays, and Sundays/holidays. Shifts are then bid on by operators every four months (bid power being determined by seniority), in order to create their work schedules.

Image via lazytom

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