Upon further review, there's much to like about new CTA rail cars

I've been critical of the aisle-facing seating in the new CTA 5000 Series rail cars. My beef is with the continuing use of the confining, molded plastic "bucket" seats instead of bench seating, where people of any size take up the space they need.

But even if you're not a fan of the seating arrangement, there's still plenty more to like about the rail cars in general. I've had the chance to ride the new cara four times now since they were introduced on the Red Line in November. Here's my report.

The ride itself

Aside from the seating, you'll probably notice a big difference in the ride itself. The overall ride experience can be summed in two words - smooth, quiet.

That's due to the use of alternating current propulsion. You can barely hear the train entering the station. And the braking is very smooth. There are automatic levelers to raise and lowed cars to make them level with the platform. So no more stepping up or down - or falling down - when entering and leaving.

When you enter, the car seems brighter and more spacious. The aisle-facing seats make it more spacious, but there also are six or eight fewer seats than the typical older rail car.

I was glad to be able to put my bag under the seat, and I saw others do it too. It's also nice to have straps to hold on to during the ride. And signs at both ends of the cars show the current time and next station stop.

And while some have criticized the interactive map with a red light indicating the current/next station stop, at least two students appreciated it.

Passenger learning curve

Passengers still need to learn how to use these cars most efficiently. There's plenty of room for two people to stand abreast in the middle of the cars, but folks still want to clog up the area by the doors. Good thing there's plenty room there - at least at the end with the wheelchair stations.

Safety first

Each rail car has a number of cameras, and the motorman can access them all. The doors have extra lighting around them. And chimes sound and lights flash when doors are closing for further safety.

Seating still tight

But still, with a passenger seated on either side of you in most seats, space is a little tight. Everybody scrunches in shoulders and legs just a little bit. I saw one tall skinny guy sit forward in his seat next to a bigger-hipped woman. However, at rush hour every seat was taken. Even the "legs-wide-spread-guy" yielded to a woman who wanted to sit him. And he politely brushed litter off the seat she was a to take.

One warning: Watch your head as you get up from a seat and leave or enter the car. I have hit my head on the hanging strap just about every time I got up or tried to make my way to the door.



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  • I still think the cars need serious refinement. Why did the CTA, for example, stick with the same 40-year-old style of plastic bucket seat, as opposed to making them wider to reflect wider and bigger people? They could get the seats about an inch wider within the current floorplan, or have them wider still if they're prepared to live with fewer seats. And why do at least some CTA shops think they can get away with the same old poor maintenance practices just because of AC propulsion? The Pink Line cars are already developing the tell-tale clank-clank-clank of poorly trued wheels. AC doesn't eliminate that problem, folks. The Green Line shop crews seem to understand that, but not the Pink Line folks.

    I hope they sort these problems out because structurally and mechanically the new cars are a tremendous improvement. But they need to be taken care of and they need to be appropriately designed for today's customer.

  • In reply to dblissmn:

    I totally agree on the wheels.
    That's the biggest difference between the Green Line 5000s & any other CTA cars. It's obvious there are few if any flat spots on the Green Line cars.
    Now while the 5000s are quieter & have a smoother acceleration, nothing can redeem those horrible seats.

    What's really amazing is that they have smoother wheels than the Metra cars I ride in on the UP North Line. Some of them are nothing but flat spots. They need to be removed & put on the wheel lathes.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:


    1. Because someone in the Rodriguez administration thought they were smarter than Huberman, who got permission to use seats and other aesthetic details similar to what is in the 4150 series of buses. There is a President's Report posted when Huberman sought permission.

    2. If the seats were any wider, CTA couldn't say that there were as many seats as in the current cars, although, as Kevin implies, that's compared to the 2 x 1 seats on a 3200, and not the 2 x 2 seats in the 2600s, to which Red Line riders are more accustomed.

  • K O'N, I'm with you on those straps. I'm constantly bumping into them, too.

    On the subject of bucket vs. bench, please consider how a bench arrangement might work in a town of relatively large people. (Aside: I've seen this happen in New York.) A couple of biguns will take up residence on a bench and (bless their hearts) ooze across more than the width of two seats (with "legs-wide-spread" postures), leaving just enough space between them for a 5'3" runway model. No good!

    With the bucket arrangement, they can at least be limited to taking out two seats. To put it another way, there's an upper bound on what they can occupy. Not insignificant!

  • In reply to Blue:

    Well, bless your heart, blue. Bless your heart. Bless your sweet heart that's evidently just "ooze"-ing with condescension.

    As a “bigun”, I weigh 360 pounds. At MOST, I take up a seat and a half. You have to get into the 400- and 500-pound range before people take "more than the width of two seats."

    As someone said on this blog before, in the old seats, there were plenty of options for heavy users. You could sit yourself in certain ways that wouldn't infringe upon your fellow seat members.

    In the new cars, as a heavy man, I'm forced to take up a seat and a half, and only certain seats will work because of the pole placement. All this is due not only due to my weight, but due to the fact that as a six-foot-tall man, I have broad shoulders. Even if I were thin as a rail, I'd have to roll my shoulders forward pretty far.

    Add to anyone's shoulder-broadness figures the fact that we're living in a city that requires heavy coats.

    The CTA are morons when it comes to actual use cases of their system, and then they complain about ridership going down. This was first made clear when they ripped out all the windproof, snowproof bus shelters made of solid plastic and metal with no gaps, and put in the fancypants JCDeaux ones made of glass, with multiple wind gaps -- but plenty of room for ads!

    Now, despite people actually TELLING them that Chicagoans don't fit into the same seats they fit into back in the 1960s and 70s, they've ignored that and built their subway cars in this new, idiotic way.

  • In reply to WCityMike:

    Actually, the current shelters are a deal with the city, not the CTA. The city gets the revenue from them, apparently for the right to put ads on city sidewalks. At the time, Kruesi's only role was to threaten N. Michigan Ave. property owners who didn't like them, even though those same property owners had J. C. Decaux advertising devices in their malls.

    This is now reinforced by the shelters being at now Pace only stops on Milwaukee and Harlem north of Bryn Mawr. Pace has its own bus shelter deal with Titan.

  • In reply to WCityMike:

    There is still one old shelter left at Clark & Ridge for the NB 22 bus.
    The current disasters were designed by world famous architect, Robert A.M. Stern, the dean of the Yale Architecture School who despite living in New Haven Connecticut, where it does get cold & windy, he inflicted these things on us.

  • It's not as if the straps hurt when you brush them with your head.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    Cheryl, you're right - it's just a shocking surprise because you're not expecting it.

  • I agree that the ride is smoother, but it is also a little more... boat like. The new cars swish and sway like they're on the lake.

    As for the "kneeling," it doesn't seem to be calibrated to individual stations. If you look out the door at every station, you will sometimes see the car drop to be exactly level with the platform. Cool. But at other stations, the car is already level, and the kneeling creates a 4 inch gap that didn't exist before. Much less cool.

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    (Love the blog.)

    I enjoy the new cars and only recently noticed the 'interactive' map.

    One note/one point: what about the dual door closing chimes? Is there a transition phase where both are in use phasing out the old chime? I like the old chime, I'm apathetic towards the new one, and I have nothing but antipathy for the use of both.

  • In reply to Adam Paradis:

    Adam, the CTA is revising the door chimes. I wrote about this in an earlier post:

    Ding dong, doors opening. New chimes to let visually impaired riders know doors are opening will be added to the newest Series 5000 rail cars. The CTA decided to provide the additional audio cues to assist passengers after receiving feedback from customers who indicated they had trouble locating train car doors from the platform. The change was prompted by blind customers who couldn't hear the doors opening because the new cars are so quiet. The change to the door chimes will come at no charge to the CTA from Bombardier Transportation, which provides the 5000 series cars. To date, 126 cars have been delivered and are currently deployed on the Green and Pink Lines.

  • I thought all of the Green Line was the new 5000 series cars? I rode southbound out of the Loop on an older set of cars I'm used to seeing on the Red line. I was disappointed because I had yet to ride on them yet and wanted to at least see what everyone is talking about. I caught it around 4:15 or so. Is this a rush hour scheduling thing?

  • In reply to chris:

    Supposedly some 2400s are left, and according to the people who keep a lookout for such things, some 2200s are left on the Blue Line, even though enough 5000s have been received to retire all of them (approximately 140).

    It was noted a couple of weeks ago that some 5000s were taken off the Green Line to make the arbitrary debut date for the Red. You asked me how much that cost, and I said more than not doing it.

  • In reply to jack:

    I've still seen some 2200's on the Blue line this month, but don't think I've seen any this week. Definitely less of them than before.

    Given that they moved some 5000's off the Green to the Red, you would think the Green would receive the next batch of 5000's to have a homogenous train set. I'm guessing either they haven't received enough to make up for the ones they transferred or the Red are getting the new ones.

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    I completely disagree that the cars feel more spacious. They feel smaller. The CTA/Bombardier did an awful job with the interior. The ride may be smoother but for a near-billion dollar order, much more should have been done before we got stuck with these for 40 years.
    The aisle-facing arrangement is good – in New York. Those cars' seats are more flush with the sides of the train and leave more room in the center to stand. In Chicago, they come too far out of the wall and leave room for 2 people to stand in the center. That means the most people you will ever comfortably fit in a "row" is 4. On the old cars, its 5: you have 2 people sitting on both sides with room for a person to stand in the aisle. These cars reduce capacity.
    They need to get rid of the "walls" near the doors too, and widen the doors. All of the crowding happens there.

  • In reply to sdj1:

    CTA cars are basically constrained to clearances established 120 years ago.

    And if they widen the doors and get rid of the walls (which they aren't; the door positions are more part of the structure than the seats) there wouldn't be any room for seats left. The problem is that Chicago passengers have never learned to move into center of the car.

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