Go inside the CTA's new rail cars

April 15, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Over the next few years, the new cars will replace some cars that have been in use for more than 30 years.

On the outside, the new cars look like the old cars, but on the inside, it's different. The new 5000 Series cars have seats that are configured to face the aisle.

"So you can see the aisles, they're wider, so there's more room for wheel chairs and bicycles," said Richard Rodriguez, CTA president.

Yes, the new cars have wider aisles. Maybe a half-dozen fewer seats overall than their older counterparts, but with more grab bars and hand straps, the new cars can handle more standing passengers. It's a design long used in New York and on other big city rail systems.

"Citizens of this city are pretty sturdy and become accustomed to a lot. I don't think the seating configuration is a negative by any means," said Rodriguez.

Four years ago, the CTA sampled rider opinion on rail cars with this design, and the reaction was mixed, but the agency decided to move ahead for a variety of reasons.

The 5000 Series uses an AC electric current which means - if the track is good - that accelerating is smoother, and braking is less jerky. It's also supposed to add up to less maintenance.

Each of the cars will be equipped with seven security cameras that will record to hard disc, but also allow the operator to see each car if he or she needs to.

"He's going to have the capability to stop the train, push that car which will bring up the interior cameras so he can see what's going on," said Bob Kielba, CTA rail operations.

The goal is to a eventually allow live streaming of on board video into the CTA operations center. Two Blue Line subway derailments in the last four years revealed major communications issues between system operators and disabled trains.

The train doors are designed to bounce open with obstructions as small as a quarter inch. When the first, and so far only, 5000 Series proto-type train starts working the red line next week, it's fair to say the discussion won't be on AC, cameras, and doors, but on where you sit, or stand.

There is only one train so far with the new 5000 Series cars, and the CTA wants to test it on all its lines in all weather conditions. So, sometime near the end of next winter - if all goes as planned - the CTA will move forward with its planned purchase of 396 of the new Bombardier 5000 Series cars. They'll be phased in over the next several years.

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