What I dislike about new CTA train cars

On Monday — in an open letter
to CTA President Richard Rodriguez and Board Chairman Terry Peterson — I reviewed what I liked about the new 5000 Series train
cars currently being tested on the Red Line. In this second part of the
letter, here’s what I don’t like. 

NYC subway seating.jpg

The longitudinal seating.
Yesterday I praised the new aisle-facing seats because they provide more
“breathing room” for standees, wheelchairs, strollers and bikes. Today I
diss them because the CTA still uses the molded seats with fabric
coverings, rather than more of a bench-style seat as used in New York City. The seating as currently configured — including a long vertical
grab pole every two seats — discourages two people with a Body Mass Index of more
than 28 or so from sitting together because of the pole. But they could
before because of the extra space by the window and aisle for the

On my Monday morning commute on the new train car,
five people were standing in the doorway with three seats available at
one end of car. There probably was room for riders to sit. But I think people
just don’t want to sit so close. They respect your personal space and
value their own. BTW, Ed gave more arguments against these seats Monday.

So I say do Phase 2 testing with bench seating,
fewer poles and more grab straps.

Update: Steve suggested Flickr has a better image of the NYC train seats, though Flickr won’t let me post it here.

Change new “doors closing” warning beeps and light. The CTA should really rethink the “doors closing” warning beeps. It’s too “meek” to warn of
anything. Now it’s just annoying. The flashing white light is a little
more useful, but why make it white? Yellow is the more universal color
symbolizing caution.

Here’s a quickie video that DJ Miller made. Note the flashing white light and meek warning signal.

Dump the “Lite Brite” station indicator map. Or, at
least bring it into
the 21st century. I agree with commenters last week, who also criticized
the map as dated, especially Steve R.

The “assaulting” hanging straps. Perhaps this is
something people will just have to get used to. But every time I rode
these cars, I smacked my head on a hanging strap. I was especially
vulnerable to “attack” by the one right over the wheelchair spot inside
the door.

Fix the auto-leveling device. I have to figure this
is just a glitch that will be fixed during this trial run. But until
then it’s downright dangerous when the car’s fails to “auto-level” to
the height of the platform. The worst part is have to step down.
It suppose it will be a great feature when it works, but it hasn’t
consistently worked yet.

Poor color-coded signage. The current signage indicating it’s a Red Line train glows in white LED lights. So there is no “Red” telling riders this is a Red Line train. Again, this may be a given for the CTA to fix, but it’s still worth mentioning.


Leave a comment
  • I detest the sideways seating. Breathing room? Not if you are sitting with someones butt in your face. I have already been smacked in the face with a backpack on more than one occasion.

    Might as well leave the windows out - since they are now behind you.

    I hate, hate, hate these new cars!

  • Someone posted on chicagobus.org that the car levelers were putting the car floors about 6 inches below platform level. Anyone here note something like that?

    Also, discussed there is the rather obvious goof of using amber signs instead of color LEDs. While that may not make much difference on the Red and Blue lines, because there is only one line in each, someone pointed out that when testing starts on the Purple or Brown, there won't be any difference between the Loop signs between Belmont and Merchandise Mart, unless CTA is planning something about which we don't know.

    I agree about the seats, also that using 1980 seats give the car an 1980s look.

  • hehe

  • The rationale for the fabric is apparently graffiti/vandalism discouragement.

  • In reply to rhoticity:

    Thank you for sharing. I wondered about this too, but at least there seems to be a reason. (Now what will they do about the windows? ...)

  • In reply to rhoticity:

    i was hoping the longitudinal seats would add significant room to the aisle but they didn't. look at that NYC train - you can breakdance or fit a barbershop quartet in that aisle, as many people in new york do.

  • In reply to mickcube:

    NYC subway has 2 different size (width) rolling stock. The image from above here: http://tiny.cc/bb3fu is 9.77 feet wide.

    This car: http://tiny.cc/si7xq is 8.6 feet wide.

    Now that's just over a foot but it makes a world of difference when you're on a crowded train.

    By my research the new 5000 series CTA trains are 9.3 feet wide. Granted these are exterior dimensions but does anybody know (if) the interior dimension vary greatly?

  • I agree about the seats. When I first saw the pictures I was disappointed. I was hoping for seats/benches more like they have in NYC. The picture Kevin posted up top are seats on some of the older trains. There isn't any cloth material on the seats but they are still individual seats. The newer cars have long benches as seen here: http://images.nycsubway.org/i3000/img_3606.jpg.

    Now granted some of the cars in NYC are wider than those used by the CTA but my least favorite part of riding the L was maneuvering out of the seat by the window, climbing past people.

    I applaud the CTA for changing up the seating arrangement but some more work needs to be done before they begin replacing all the rolling stock.

  • While I have preferred side-seating for nausea reasons (somehow I am become more nauseated seated both frontward and backward), I have experienced the inconvenience of being confronted with standing passengers' midsections.

    Contrary to other people's comments, I prefer separate seats from complete benches, as appears to be the style in NYC, as it clearly defines each person's domain, and it easier to slide into a seat between people than if it were a bench, and you'd have to judge whether you'd fit there. (I do acknowledge the problem about spacing, though, I also do not like to sit directly next to a stranger, and would rather stand...)

    Thank you for sharing your reviews (pros/cons) with us.

  • It's not just the cootie-fearing, but the getting up close and personal, which, admittedly, is often unavoidable even when standing during rush-hour traffic.

  • In reply to RBerlove:

    I am personally not a cootie-fearing person. But once again today I rode the new train, and I saw people standing rather than taking an empty seat. One person was a "normal" size 20ish woman -- shading more toward thin. She stood in front of a seat between a hefty (220 lb) 60-yr-old guy in a suit and a "normal" size guy. She could have fit but I think there's no doubt she would be touching both men on each side.

    With the old seating, she could have parked her butt half off the seat into the aisle.

  • In reply to KevinO’Neil:

    The thing about the old seating: she would have been taking up aisle space. That may not seem like a big deal, but I often see people not stand near people who are jutting into the aisles. A knee in the aisle is like a barrier for a lot of people, even on really crowded trains.

  • I'm a little late to this discussion, so excuse me if this question has already been answered, but similar to the person who asked about the Washington red line station: what happens when new stations are added?

    There should be two stations opening within a year or two (Morgan, Green and Oakton, Yellow); have the light bright maps accounted for them? Blue line rider here, so I haven't been on the new cars yet, but I was just somewhat curious.

    Seems expensive if they have to redo the maps when a new station is added, but hopefully they have accounted for that already.

  • In reply to Cazimir:

    If I had to guess, I would guess that each light on the map either plugs into or is wired to terminal blocks behind the map. The system should have been specified to have a certain percentage of "spares" for expansion and should be expandable beyond that by adding more sets of terminals. It might be programmable so that any new lights could just go into the next available terminal and be programmed as to which station it is associated with. I work with industrial controllers and that is how it works with them at least. Still, I would love to take a look behind the map, but I will resist the temptation to bring a screwdriver on the train.

  • In reply to eBob:

    I just wanted to add to my previous post that I am a bit surprised that they are using such a map in this day and age. I would think that an LCD panel would be relatively inexpensive and would offer the ability to expand almost infinitely without expending a lot of labor to add each new station. Just download new software to each car and it is good to go.

  • In reply to eBob:

    As a lifetime Chicago resident that's been living in Japan for the past two years, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that longitudal seating is infinitely better. The trains get ten times more crowded than any CTA train, and every single inch of the trains are used efficiently.

    Also, the warning lights/buzzers are similar to what the trains here have as well. The outside signs with the destination are terrible however... Most train here can show any color (to denote type of service, instead of line). The main train lines actually still have roller signs (to indicate line only) with an amber LED sign showing the destination. Works perfectly well.

  • In reply to Coollead:

    And don't they have people whose job it is to push as many people into the train as is humanly possible?

    Sorry, but you can have the Japanese model - you may call it efficient - I call it inhumane.

  • In reply to Coollead:

    I rode on the 5000 cars back in May and could see they are a work in progress.

    Comparing the cars with NY is unfair because of the size. Boston's Blue Line cars are the same as Chicago as the line was built downtown 110 years ago as an streetcar line and has narrow curves.

    2 years ago Boston accepted new cars from Seimens in their first attempt at the US transit market and they have been a disaster.

    Here are some videos that show the cars in action. The computer announcements and the gongs have to be heard to believe and the MBTA doesn't change a thing



    The Boston subway has 3 heavy rail and one light rail line and the cars are not interchangeable as they were first built by competing transit companies. The Red and Orange lines are both NY size.

    CTA, Boston's Blue Line and PATH that connects Manhattan with NJ use smaller cars.

    Boston now has to find the money to replace Chicago made Pullman cars from 1969 on the Red Line as even with a rebuild 20 years ago they are done.

  • In reply to eBob:

    I've not had the good fortune to ride one of the new cars yet, but I'd say in general that longitudinal seating isn't a good cultural fit for the Midwest. We like our distance, and we also like our Chocolate Chip Pancakes and Sausage On A Stick, and therefore the only way to maximize capacity by getting people to sit next to each other is to enable intensely calorified body parts to overhang the aisle.

    Fabric seat covers ought to be a standard. And they work well, on systems such as Transport for London, where they have staff known as "cleaners" and make use of supplies referred to as "detergent" and "disinfectant". I don't trust the CTA with anything that needs to be this attended too, however -- we should consider a seat material, maybe plastic, maybe vinyl, maybe "leatherette", anything that can be hosed or wiped down and doesn't require anything more complicated.

    The self-levelling feature in the cars is the most remarkable bit of news I've heard. Surely it would have been better for the CTA to standardize on platform height rather than have to order expensive and presumably breakable add-ons for the trains?

  • In reply to eBob:

    I rode one last night. I am one of the people who moaned about longitudinal seating, but it wasn't bad. It was a lot quieter than the old cars--I could actually carry on a conversation (hi Jason!) I don't like the amber lighted signs because I've made the mistake of getting on a Purple Line train when I really wanted a Brown, and I'm sure once all the trains look alike I'll be doing that more often. What the new cars really need though, are built in cattle prods to get people to move away from the doors.

Leave a comment