In my eight-plus years of blogging about the CTA, one of the more common complaints I've gotten is riders wondering why the CTA runs short trains during off-peak hours - especially on the Brown Line.
They always say: "Well, how can it cost *that* much more money to add two or four more cars?"
Well, thanks to Monday's Getting Around column in the Tribune, now we know exactly how much more money it does cost. Columnist Jon Hilkevitch reports:
The cost of running a four-car train from the Kimball terminal to the Loop and back to Kimball totals $324.75 on average, according to a CTA itemization of available expenses in 2011 that the Tribune requested. The cost increases to an average of $447.94 to run a six-car train and $571.12 to operate an eight-car train, the agency said.
In a cost-saving move, the CTA no longer operates six-car trains on the Brown Line, nor on any other lines during midday service, officials said.
Transit officials said five expenses comprise the total operating costs: electricity; rail car maintenance, which includes parts and labor for repairs; operator salary and benefits; indirect costs, which include coupling and decoupling trains, cleaning a rail station and maintaining facilities; and capital expenses, which include the wear and tear on rail cars, tracks, signals and power infrastructure.
Changing the size of a train requires at least three workers — one or two switch workers, a yard master and a lead switchman — to couple or decouple rail cars and move the train out of the yard to begin service, officials said. They could not provide a cost estimate of a sample coupling-decoupling procedure.
On the CTA rail system as a whole, to operate a train for an hour the operator accounts for about 31 percent of the cost; power, 19 percent; and maintenance, 50 percent, according to the transit agency. Power and maintenance costs are about twice as much for an eight-car train as they are for a four-car train, officials said.
So there you have it folks. The CTA is saving $246.37 on a Brown Line round trip with a four-car train vs. an eight-car train. And a spokesman told Hilkevitch: "We are unaware of any current off-peak service where trains are at maximum capacity and passengers are unable to board."