The Chicago Tribune reported earlier this month that the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) approved a $1.3 billion contract to replace nearly half of the rail cars in service – 846 cars to be exact – the largest such purchase in the authority’s history.
Over the next 10 years, the new series of rail cars will be manufactured on Chicago’s Southeast side by CSR Sifang America, a partner of Chinese state-owned rail car manufacturer CRRC Qingdao Sifang and CSR America, the same company currently building cars for the transit system in Boston.
This new order of rail cars, the 7000 series, will replace the old 2600 series from the 1980s. The most recent series of cars, the 5000 series, was manufactured by Bombardier Transportation, though the company lost this year’s bid by $226 million.
Compared to the 5000 series, the 7000 series will have a different seating arrangement and LED lighting. The 5000 series cars have aisle facing seats which proved to be unpopular with riders. Modeled more like New York City-style cars, the wider aisles were designed to accommodate more riders during rush hour but were met with negative reviews because Chicago riders did not appreciate having their feet stepped on or having their view obstructed while seated.
The 7000 series cars will feature two different seating configurations as a hybrid of the 5000 and 3200 series now in service on the Orange and Brown Lines. With roughly 38 seats, the front of the cars will have the aisle-facing seats for rush hour riders and the remainder will have a mixture of front- and rear-facing single seats.
The project will create nearly 175 jobs at the Southeast side factory at 135th St. and Torrence Avenue over the next 10 years, with prototypes rolling out in 2019, and the cars going in service by 2020 according to CTA spokesperson Brian Steele.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, at the CTA press conference, called the deal historic and expressed hope that the plant will be used to fulfill further national rail orders in the future. He is optimistic about the possibility of the manufacturing plant creating more local jobs.
“It’s one thing to order new cars and the customers will get a great experience. It’s another thing to order those cars and create great manufacturing jobs in the city of Chicago, and bring back rail-car manufacturing to its proper home,” said Emanuel.
The purchase will eventually create one of the youngest fleets of rail cars in the country, according to CTA president Dorval Carter. The average rail car age will drop from 26 years to 13 years when all new cars are finally in service, and save an estimated $7 million in annual maintenance costs.
Good news for Chicago. Hopefully the spiffy new fleet will sway a few people towards public transit.