Look to the past to inform seating design of future CTA rail cars

Look to the past to inform seating design of future CTA rail cars
Brown Line rail cars have 1-2 seating configuration, shown in the the foreground. (Photo from

With the announcement that the CTA would issue bids for the next generation of the CTA rail cars, talk turned again to the uncomfortable aisle-facing seats on the new 5000 series train cars currently plying the rails on the Pink, Green and Red lines.

The seating configuration is uncomfortable because many Chicagoans are simply too big to squeeze into the long rows of "scoop" style seats -- especially in the winter with passengers wearing bulky winter coats. Last week I rode on the new cars for three consecutive trips. I'm an average-sized guy, and even though I was sitting between two average-sized guys, I had to scoot forward to the edge of the seat to sit comfortably.

President Forrest Claypool has indicated he would conduct rider surveys about seating configurations for the future 7000 series rail cars. “This is the first design I am overseeing, and we are going to do the type of research to get it right,’’ Claypool told the Tribune.

That's great to hear. However, I submit that the CTA only has to look at the current 3200 series cars running on the Brown Line to find a car that allows more standing room but eliminates the longitudinal seating. Those rail cars have a "1-2" seating configuration, where a single seat sits across the aisle from a pair of seats. This opens up more standing room.

In fact, on a couple of Brown Line runs I tool last week, I saw two people standing abreast in the aisle between the 1-2 seats. That's something I haven't really seen in the wider aisle of the 5000 series cars.

I suggest that the CTA look to the past to inform the seating design of the future.


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  • Like Terry Peterson "listened" re Lincoln Ave., despite lying about doing so.

    Like I said, the specs are already out there, and their look to the past is "compatibility with the 5000 series, unless the engineer agrees otherwise." CTA has taken its cue from the past.

    Remember that Claypool also said that changing the 5000s was impossible, regardless of whether that was so. Apparently, they can change the lights, the signs, the surveillance system, but changing the seats is impossible.

  • I agree, the 5000 aisle facing seats are tight -- especially for full figured guys such as myself. I do like the overhead straps. Can we keep them?

  • In reply to emglatstein:

    Eric, I agree the overhead straps are a good addition. I just have to try to stop banging my head against them when I stand up.

  • That so many have fallen for the lies about the seats is unreal.
    All that's necessary is to instal the seats the same way they are on the 1000 series New Flyers.

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    Scooter, perhaps you'd like to explain why you like the 1000 series seating configuration?

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    The 1000 NF buses have seats that face forward, but their supports are a steel angle going from the outside wall of the bus towards the center to hold up the seat.
    Claypool once made the claim that the 5000s seats couldn't be changed because of a redesign of the beams that makes up the car's floor structure. He said there wasn't any beam to support the seats.
    But the 5000s have a straight vertical support directly under the seat, so an angle brace, shorter, but similar to that of the 1000 NFs would work.
    Now to be specific, I'm referring to the 1300, 1400, 1700 & 1800 NFs that I ride all the time out of North Park.
    It's just one lie after another out of Lake St.!

  • I don't think the aisle-facing seats are all that uncomfortable. They make it much easier to get on and off the train and to move into the middle away from the doors.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    Cheryl, you would think with the new seating configuration it would be easier to get off the train. But that has not always been my experience.

    I see more people jamming up the area by the wheelchair locations, and not moving into the center of the car. One time last week, the doors almost closed before I could get around all the people standing in the way. And that has never happened to me.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    On the old cars (6000s, 2000s-2600s) people wouldn't move from the door wells either. Unless you can explain that pathological behavior, the only relevant solution was the Max Capacity cars, i.e. no seats in the central section.

  • In reply to Kevin O’Neil:

    I haven't had that problem Kevin. I suggest a cattle prod.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    Or as I suggested in connection with the Max Capacity cars, a Japanese train pusher> on the platform.

  • In reply to jack:

    Link failed; try again

  • Kevin, I agree that people congregate more near the doors on the new cars. I had the doors partially close on me last week while I tried to file out of the train single file behind a long line of people since thats all that could barely squeeze by the jam of people by the doors near the wheelchair spaces as well as the two sets of front-facing seats. Another 2 seconds and I would have missed by stop. I can't wait until summer when there are scores of clueless tourists and Cubs night game riders on the Red line with the new cars!

    I'm a pretty observant person and I've found the new arrangement is a failure in several ways when compared to the 3200 series cars. If they wanted sideways seats, then why did they leave two sets in the traditional arrangement directly across the aisle from each other? This creates a "choke point." Maybe those metal boxes with what I think is HVAC equipment are there and they HAD to put the seating that way? If so, in addition to all the random gaps at the ends of cars, the 6-8 inches lost between the back of the seats and the window ledge, this provides further evidence how the cars were NOT redesigned to accommodate the new seating arrangement one bit. I think Claypool didn't have a clue what he was talking about when he was quoted that the new cars would need expensive reengineering to reconfigure the seating. On the 3200 series test cars several years back, was there some sort of expensive engineering for that test? If i recall correctly, they simply unbolted the seats, put in a new rubberized floor and re-bolted the seating side by side.

    When the sideways seats are full of people, their feet stick out into the aisles on either side. Some guys seem to think the new configuration means its ok to stretch their legs out into the aisle to the point their feet are about in the center of the train. On crowded trains I've found this makes for an obstacle course to walk down the aisle. Climbing over feet, legs, suitcases, bags, etc. On the 3200 cars there is extra space to stand near the single seats and the people in the those seats don't have their legs and feet sticking out towards you to straddle or maneuver around. In addition, that space makes the perfect location to put a suitcase. I've always looked for a single seat when traveling from Midway with my suitcase so I'm not blocking the traffic flow. Giving up some seats for some more space I think is a lot better than an uncomfortable and incompatible seating arrangement that wastes space. I'd really like to see a test if it is possible to jam more people into a 3200 series car versus a 5000 one. And not one conducted by the CTA management with no outside oversight!

    I think if enough people keep the pressure on the CTA and the mayor's office on the issues there is still some hope for a change order for future 5000 series cars. It is a shame we don't have a strong and vocal transit rider's group such as the Straphangers in NYC to incessantly address the CTA board, the mayor's office and the media on such major issues.

  • In reply to Matt:

    You can look at for cars 3407-3408. The path is Rolling Stock->Car Roster->3200 Series Cars->Longitudinal Test Seating Car Gallery.* You are correct that the seats were simply unbolted and rebolted, but if you look there, the gaps and the like are even bigger than on the 5000s.

    *Path given since doesn't accept referred links.

  • In reply to Matt:

    Matt, good job on your comment here. You pretty much described all the problems with the 5000 series seating design.

  • AFTER the next Election, any reputable Car Builder will be Happy to submit Bids on re-configuring the seats ( I could do it, and I'm a gas station cashier ).

    As more of these cars go online, and more people DON'T like them -- It Will become a Big Topic in the next Election. Watch and see! ( especially the Arrogance -- like Mike Bilandic and the snow ).

  • Are they also going to vote out the crud in the 7th and 8th wards I cited above? Or, again, wait for federal district attorneys in DC and 219 S. Dearborn to do it?


    Meanwhile, CTA Chairman Terry Peterson announced specific start and end dates — May 19 and Oct. 19 — for the $425 million project to renovate the tracks on the Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line.

    The branch will be closed between Cermak-Chinatown and 95th Street over the five months, officials said. Alternative shuttle bus service to the Green Line will be offered.

    CTA officials also are negotiating with Metra to possibly expand service temporarily on the Electric District, Peterson said.

    Twitter @jhilkevitch

  • The old seating configurations as well as conductors are gone for good. I'm not holding my breath.

  • Configure the seats like on the 3200's.

  • I'm a transplanted New Yorker, so the aisle-facing seats are really not a problem for me. Pretty much all other major metros have them (London, Berlin, etc.).

    However, I agree with Matt about some of the issues with the 5000's. Especially the wasted space at the ends of the cars, and the "choke point" seats facing forward which are supposedly the anchors for wheelchairs. This one is especially pernicious because it makes people crowd around the doors again, which is a problem that was supposedly going away with the new cars.

    I've spent some time looking at other Bombardier metro projects on their website:

    If you look at the seating of the Berlin Series H—which is about the same width as a CTA train car (looking at the technical data)— you can get long benches, and a nice wide aisle in that amount of space. Also, the benches at the ends of each car flip up to anchor wheelchairs. Look at all the space UNDER the benches for stowing all the junk people carry.

    While it would be nice to have open ends between cars like that fixed-config Berlin train, certainly getting rid of those wasted spaces at each end of the CTA cars would be a good step. Maybe we don't get that "through design" because of the 90-deg. turns on some of the tracks?

    It seems to me that in the interest to save money, and also still look like the traditional train cars, CTA didn't choose a very good arrangement to maximize capacity, and comfort. They're a step, but not a leap.

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