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North Center man has CTA connection

(Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune…)
April 23, 2012|By Tracy Swartz, RedEye

Handmade pictures of CTA buses and trains adorn the Smith household in North Center.

A large train table in the living room features a toy railroad labeled "Amtrak." Next to the tracks are houses and small three-dimensional CTA buses made from paper.

CTA maps are taped to the walls, and old-fashioned station signs are stacked behind the train table.

But the Smith household is no longer a CTA home.

Pamela Smith and her son Robert, 20, regularly ride Amtrak and Metra trains, but they haven't taken the CTA together for months. Robert, who is autistic, is upset that the CTA pulled its new rail cars with the aisle-facing seats from service in December after detecting flaws with the train's parts.

The CTA said it has solved the parts problem and expects to have the new trains back on the Pink Line in early May.

This may be some comfort to Robert, who had his heart set on riding in the new cars and now can't bear to ride the current cars, his mother said. He can't even look at the "L." When a CTA train rumbles by, he covers his eyes to show his disappointment.

"In his brain, he's boycotting," Pamela said. "He loved the 'L.' It was such a turnaround. Here goes something that's convenient. Something he enjoyed. It's a big problem for him."

For Robert, there were early signs of autism, a condition characterized by difficulties with social interaction. When he was 2 1/2 years old, he was careful to line up his toy trains in an almost obsessive way, his mother said. Communication was and is still a problem.

Trains seem to give him comfort. He has taken Amtrak trains with his mother to New York and Canada. This past weekend, they visited Cleveland by train.

Robert told Going Public his preferred Metra trip is to Harvard in the northwest suburbs via the Union Pacific/Northwest route. He said his favorite CTA line is the Yellow Line to Skokie, but he couldn't say why.

"There's something about trains in general. They are always in order. He finds them fascinating," Pamela said.

Pamela suspects that her son, who is very focused on details, got the idea of the new trains into his head and now he's not satisfied with the current model. When asked by GP about the CTA trains, Robert said he doesn't like the cars but didn't give a reason.

When he's not at school, Robert spends much of his time at the computer in his living room looking at videos of trains on YouTube or constructing paper buses, taking special care to include the bus' air conditioning system.

Since he also won't ride CTA buses that aren't hybrid because he doesn't like the older bus models, Robert's transportation options are limited. His mother drives him in her car, and he rides Metra for leisure. But it's not as convenient as the CTA, his mother said.

"It's kind of a bummer," Pamela said.

Free self-defense seminar

The Guardian Angels, the volunteer CTA patrol group, is holding a free self-defense seminar from 7-9 p.m. Tuesday at Bucio Martial Arts, 6537 W. 63rd St.

Century ride

Wilmette will celebrate the 100th anniversary of "L" service in the village from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the corner of 4th Street and Linden Avenue. The event is free. Participants will be able to board two 1923 rail cars, which boast wooden roofs and green plush seats. Go to wilmettehistory.org/programs for more information.

Talk to us

Are you concerned that the NATO Summit next month in Chicago will disrupt bus and train service? Send an email to tswartz@tribune.com. Please include your full name, age and neighborhood.

Stationary

A weekly dispatch from a CTA station of note

This week: Austin Blue Line stop

This Oak Park station would not make famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who purchased a home in Oak Park in the late 1800s, proud. Like other Blue Line stops along Interstate 290, the station has a long, dank ramp to the platform, peeling paint, garbage along the tracks and etch markings on the platform. But the worst part about the station isn't in the station itself. It's difficult for pedestrians to cross the street to catch the No. 91 Austin bus heading north to transfer to the Green Line. There's a crosswalk near the station entrance but cars coming off the interstate don't have to adhere to a stop sign on Austin Boulevard. This lack of signage needs to stop.

Next up: Jackson Blue Line stop.

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