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

A 7000-series trail next to one of the old 3200-series trains at O'Hare station. Photo: Kyle Lucas
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 new carriages, which the CTA says were delivered on schedule, were assembled at the new, $100 million facility opened by contractor CRRC Sifang America in 2017 the Hegewisch neighborhood on the Southeast Side, which the agency says has generated hundreds of jobs for Chicagoans. The transit agency says this is the first time in half a century that railcars have been built in our city.

Testing one of the new cars without passengers last winter. Photo: CTA
Testing one of the new cars without passengers last winter. Photo: CTA

“As CTA President, one of my main priorities has been to modernize our system to benefit our customers, as well as the communities we serve,” said CTA president Dorval R. Carter, Jr. in a statement “These new railcars are the latest step we’re taking to build a 21st century transit experience, while also boosting the local economy through the creation of good paying, local jobs.”

The new seating layout, which reflects survey feedback from CTA customers who disliked the mostly-aisle-facing configuration on the 5000-series, includes a mix of forward-facing and aisle-facing seats. Other new features include distinctive blue end caps (what should we call these trains – Smurfs, Blue Meanies, Bluenosed Beauties?), and a new layout of headlights and taillights. New features for customers include:

  • Redesigned, all-glass windbreak panels flanking the passenger side doors.
  • Double-sided displays located in the center of the cars displaying a moving rail system map that shows the line, next station and the upcoming stations.
  • Passenger information displays at both ends of the railcar providing next stop information and accompanying text for pre-recorded audio announcements, which will be helpful for people with hearing impairments.
  • Pre-recorded announcements now have an “express mode” feature for hearing-impaired customers. This feature will provide a visual indication of where the train will be running express to, in the event of a need to skip stops or run express.
  • Distinct door chimes for the opening and closing doors to aid people with vision impairments.
  • Improved active vehicle suspension system that uses new sensors to adjust the height of the railcar floor with that of the platform.

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 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

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.”

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.

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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