Red Line debuts new rail cars

By Stephanie Saviola

The Chicago Transit Authority announced on April 15 the testing of new passenger rail cars that will replace current CTA cars, some of which are as much as 41 years old. The test cars are prototypes of the agency’s new 5000-series rail cars that are being integrated onto the rails for engineer and passenger testing.

The 5000-series prototypes will first appear on the Red Line, while the remaining seven train lines will be tested throughout the remainder of the year.  The CTA is holding the in-service testing to see how the cars will perform before finalizing the order of the remaining railcars.

“The replacement of aging,  outdated equipment is key to operating a transit system as large as CTA,” said Terry Peterson, CTA board chairman, in a press statement.

According to the CTA, the new cars will have numerous safety features that are not included on the prototypes, but will be on the final rail car order. The new features will include seven networked security cameras per car, glow-in-the-dark safety signs, an event recorder system that is comparable to an airplane’s black box and sensitive door sensors to detect obstructions better than those of current rail cars.

“I would really appreciate cameras because that button just doesn’t make me feel safe,” said Andrea Hiller, junior graphic design major who frequents the Red Line.

CTA President Richard L. Rodriguez said the new railcars are much needed as CTA looks to upgrade its fleet and infrastructure to better serve their customers. The initial proposal for new train cars occurred in 2005.

CTA announced in February the issue of bonds that would make it possible to purchase 406 new railcars, with a total purchase amount of $674 million. CTA used capital funding from the Federal Transit Administration and the Illinois Department of Transportation.

In addition to safety features, CTA claims the new railcars are designed for a smoother ride for passengers.

“The [existing] chairs are really uncomfortable because they are curved weird and your back doesn’t fit into it,” Hiller said.

The new railcars have an identical exterior to the old cars, but the design inside is renovated. CTA said the seats on the new train cars will have aisle-facing seating to accommodate more passengers and allow for more bikes, backpacks and strollers in the aisle. The new design is similar to railcars used in New York City and Washington, D.C. subways systems.

According to the CTA, the new cars have more overhead bars on which standing passengers may hold to.

CTA claims they are testing real and simulated conditions with the prototypes before releasing cars into service to warrant safe and reliable transport.

According to a CTA spokeswoman, Catherine Hosinski, the tests are expected to run on the Red Line for the next few weeks, then will make a transition to the Green Line for more testing. Passenger fares are not expected to increase at this time.

The last time the CTA purchased rail cars was during the ’90s, when the Orange Line first opened.

“These rail cars will be a welcome upgrade to CTA’s fleet and will go a long way in improving service reliability,” Peterson said.