CTA railcars should stay in spotlight

By Editorial Board

New Chicago Transit Authority train cars, paid for with $1.14 billion of taxpayer money, were pulled from the Pink Line in December 2011 after CTA authorities found quality defects in a crucial part provided by the parts supplier to the new cars’ manufacturer.

The CTA is making the mistake of concealing aspects of the quality testing process from the public. If Chicago is truly striving for transparency and an improved ethical climate, then the CTA should keep the public informed of production updates and taxpayer expenditures. Manufacturer Bombardier Transportation and the CTA are now running tests on the new cars and have put old ones back into service. Meanwhile, taxpayers are left in the dark about when the new cars will be ready.

CTA spokeswoman Molly Sullivan told the Chicago Tribune, “We don’t want to commit to a time [when the problem will be corrected.] These are very complex metallurgic forensic tests that need to be done.” The identity of Bombardier’s supplier, which sells parts to the manufacturer, has not been revealed.

While it is understandable that the CTA might not reveal every detail of the tedious testing process, it should at least ballpark a date and address taxpayers’ concerns about whether more money will be needed to fix the problem.

With such a large sum of taxpayer funds used to purchase the cars, it isn’t too much to ask how the money is being spent now that there is a bump in the road. It took the CTA a month to announce that anything was wrong with the cars at all, and it won’t bode well if it denies taxpayers the right to know how their money is being spent. Bombardier has a history of quality issues with cars on the S-Bahn Berlin system in Germany. Two-thirds of Berlin’s trains went out of service in 2009 because of structural and safety issues, according to German newspapers.

Because the CTA is already working with a group that has a less-than-stellar track record, the supplier’s identity shouldn’t be kept a secret. Whoever is liable for the defects should take responsibility instead of hiding behind the CTA and Bombardier.

As part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s ethics overhaul, the city should demand budget reports from the CTA regarding the testing process. This will ensure that taxpayer money is spent wisely and keep the CTA accountable for future decisions concerning its rail cars.