CTA brings back new rail cars

May 7, 2012 (CHICAGO)

They started rolling from the Pink Line station at Lake and Clinton.

The Chicago Transit Authority re-introduced the new 5000 Series rail cars by Bombardier after a two-month absence following the finding of defective parts in the wheel assemblies. Those parts have been removed.

The cars with more aisle-facing seats fit more riders, strollers and bikes, and they have cameras and technology to make them more energy efficient and quieter.

"We will put them back in slowly. Two trains will be today and two a week for the foreseeable future, and soon we will have the full Pink Line outfitted with new 5000 Series rail cars," said Peter Ousley, CTA chief transit operations officer.

After the Pink Line, the Green Line will see the new train cars, but eventually in the next couple of years, there will be 700 of the new cars all over the city and on most of the CTA lines.

The CTA originally ordered 706 of the cars, which have wider aisles; a smoother, quieter ride; electronic signs; and surveillance cameras. But after the first 40 arrived, CTA engineers found flaws on the train cars' underbelly: steel parts made by a supplier in China that the transit agency says simply wouldn't hold the weight of the trains over the long haul. That, they say, could lead to the possibility of a derailment.

"There was no imminent danger here. Our top rail engineers looked at this and the chances of this being a serious safety issue were extremely remote," CTA President Forrest Claypool said.

But the problem was serious enough that the train cars were taken out of service, and their manufacturer agreed to pick up the tab to fix them.

"China, Inc." author and Chicagoan Ted Fishman says companies that eagerly turn to China for material and production need to be just as aggressive in their quality control.

"Look, Bombardier also makes aircraft. It's terrifying to think they're not up to the quality control needed for advance transportation. The steel they used on a train car may also be used on a plane," Fishman said.

A spokesperson for train-maker Bombardier said problems with the steel parts from China weren't detected sooner because they were not apparent to the naked eye. She says it was only confirmed after the train car components were taken apart and X-rayed. Bombardier is no longer using that specific Chinese manufacturer.

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