Metra wants to lock in its 66-year-old train car design for another 30 years. The agency, which hasn’t yet adopted a strategic plan that it started writing four years ago, seems to adhere to a policy of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” The problem is that they don’t realize that things are indeed broken.
Metra issued an RFP last week for a manufacturer to build new gallery cars. The document doesn’t make any room for a more rider-friendly design. The RFP seems pointless, even, because it would be easier to ask potential manufacturers, “how much would it cost to build copies of what we already have?”
The gallery car is characterized by its two-level design, the second level being split with a center open space so ticket collectors can stand on the first level and collect tickets on the second. This allows ticket collectors to make one pass through the car to collect all tickets. However, due to short distances between some stations, ticket collectors often leave the cabin to step onto the platform and then return to collecting.
The gallery car’s disadvantages are numerous, however. Passengers must climb five steps through a single door and then choose a half of the car, entering through a small door into a narrow corridor, where they don’t know if there’s seating or not. Stairways to ascend to the second level are tight and people can only move in one direction at a time. The second level has a partial floor – reducing seating – and a low ceiling. Wheelchair lifts are necessary because of the high-floors and are only installed on some cars.
Back in the 1950s, Metra’s predecessors started using, in earnest, the rail car design Metra still uses. In two years, when Metra buys new cars and puts them into operation, they’ll essentially be the same as cars built in the 1950s. Metra is committing to purchasing 10 cars with an option for 367 if they can obtain funding.
Some of today’s gallery cars were built in the mid-1990s and they’ll last for at least 30 years with proper maintenance and refurbishing. In fact, an Illinois Railway Museum magazine [PDF] in 1998 said that Car 700 was built in 1950 and still in service that year.
Metra’s ticket collecting mode has been outdated for a while, and the successful and wide adoption of the new Ventra app makes it even more so. Riders made 1 million Metra trips using tickets purchased in the Ventra app in the two months following its November launch. Most Metra riders use a monthly pass that is verified with a spot inspection. Tickets purchased through the Ventra app – likely going to be the dominant way to buy tickets because of its convenience – are verified the same way, with a glance.