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Chicago Blues: Transit advocates react to new CTA 7000-Series railcars

6:06 PM CDT on April 21, 2021

A 7000-series trail next to one of the old 3200-series trains at O’Hare station. Photo: Kyle Lucas

If you're like me and dislike the mostly aisle-facing seating on the CTA's 5000-series railcars, which were introduced a decade ago, since that layout gives you less elbow room and makes it harder to look out the windows, the arrival of the new 7000-series cars, which have more front-facing seats, is good news.

Today the transit agency announced that the new carriages, which it called "the most modern in the United States" (which isn't saying much), are being tested in service along the Blue Line. Here's a train with 7000-series cars pulling into the Logan Square station.

The CTA says other new aspects of the trains that won't be obvious to passengers include new touchscreen controls for train drivers with "improved" operator notifications for safer operation and troubleshooting help.

The LCD screens on the walls near the doors of rail cars display security camera images of passengers to deter crime. "The screens show a variety of customer information, and will also provide live views from the cameras onboard the railcars," s CTA spokesperson told me. "This will help promote awareness for customers, and we believe will serve as a deterrent to any would-be criminals." However, I'm guessing some riders may argue the screens raise privacy issues.

The new headlight configuration. Photo: CTA
The new headlight configuration. Photo: CTA
The new headlight configuration. Photo: CTA

The transit agency has been testing 10 prototype railcars since last fall, running them out-of-service on each of the eight rail lines. The carriages will continue in-service testing through early next year. If they're deemed a success, production and delivery will begin on the rest of the 390 cars in the contract.

New metal rings for "straphangers" to grab onto. Photo: CTA
New metal rings for "straphangers" to grab onto. Photo: CTA
New metal rings for "straphangers" to grab onto. Photo: CTA

I asked local transit advocates for their thoughts on the new carriages. Architect David Cole tweeted that he's looking forward to riding the new cars but "CTA rolling stock is long overdue for a major redesign. Aside from incremental piecemeal upgrades, the basic design hasn't changed much since the 2400-series cars were introduced in 1976."

Obviously designed for the convenience of cleaning and maintenance staff over passenger comfort, the interiors still look like something you’d find in a former Soviet Bloc country.

— David Cole, AIA (@DavidColeAIA) April 21, 2021

Cole said innovations on his wish list for future CTA train orders include all-aisle-facing seating, which he argued is needed due to the narrowness of CTA trains; open gangways like Asian and European railcars (see images below); and "for the love of God, air brakes – CTA’s streetcar-based electric brakes create flat spots on the wheels, making the trains incredibly noisy." Read his full thread here.

This problem is hardly unique to the CTA, but they’re consistently the most backward and hidebound when it comes to train design in the US. Compared to their European and Asian counterparts, American transit vehicles look more like detention facilities.

— David Cole, AIA (@DavidColeAIA) April 21, 2021

Other's had a more glass-half-full view of the new cars. "Very old fashioned looking inside and out, but if the performance is better, I guess that’s what counts!" said one of my Twitter followers. "They look sick," which means stylish and attractive, according to another.

More information on the 7000-series cars is available here.

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