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Update on longitudinal seating in train cars

Last week a reader emailed me wondering about the status of longitudinal seating in train cars. So I asked the CTA.

Longitudinal_el_seats_2 The CTA's Noelle Gaffney replied with a detailed and informative answer. You can read the entire text of her reply to me in the "Continuation" below. But here are the highlights:

  • Longitudinal seating is coming, but probably not for at least three years.
  • The new cars will run on AC power, cutting maintenance and power costs.
  • The number of seats will remain the same. Only the configuration changes as most seats will face the aisle.
  • Each car will be equipped with a security camera.

I rode in a test car last summer. There was plenty of room to maneuver. I just didn't like sitting cheek-to-cheek with my neighbors. I thing seating will be a lot tighter.

Click below to read more details from Gaffney's note to me.

Customer Service forwarded your inquiry about new rail cars to me.

Last year the CTA issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the manufacture of new rail cars.  Among the features requested in the bid criteria were aisle-facing seats. The aisle-facing seating configuration adds six-inches to the narrowest portion of the aisle; more space for standing customers with more support poles and straps in the center of the car; and can accommodate 39 seats which means the number of seats available will be the same. Customers carrying backpacks, packages, luggage, strollers and bikes will have more room to maneuver.  Additionally, the new configuration allows for one more wheelchair position (two per car) than the current configuration (one per car).

(By the way, another feature requested was security cameras.  That may be of interest to your readers  too.)

The CTA is currently reviewing the bids that were received in response to the RFP.  Once staff has determined a recommended bidder, the procurement will go to the Chicago Transit Board for approval.  We won't have a detailed timeline until we have selected a manufacturer,  but it will be a multi-year process.  The rail cars have to be built and we wouldn't expect to take possession of the first new cars for probably close to three years from the execution of a contract.  That is just an estimate. Once a contract is awarded we will have a more specific timeline.

The rail cars will replace older rail cars, some more than 30 years old, such as the 2200-series Budd cars that were purchased in 1969-70, as well as the 2400-series Boeing-Vertol cars purchased in 1976-78.  CTA’s most recent purchase of new rail cars was in the 1990s when 3200-series cars were purchased for the opening of the Orange Line, and to replace older cars on the Brown and Yellow Lines.  Plans for the manufacture of new rail cars are part of long term capital improvement plans to upgrade the quality of CTA’s rail and bus fleet.  The CTA has made similar investments in its bus fleet.

The RFP specifications also call for the new rail cars to run on AC (alternating current) traction motor propulsion. The existing CTA fleet uses DC (direct current) motors  to drive trains.  AC propulsion converts the DC energy in the third (power) rail to alternating current for the traction motors.  AC propulsion systems are used by transit agencies in New York, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, among others.

DC systems such as the one in use at CTA are becoming obsolete.  Converting to a more modern AC system will improve reliability and reduce the growing cost of maintaining an outdated system.  For example, there are more equipment suppliers for AC motors than for DC, so the supply will be more reliable and the costs more competitive.

Through regeneration, AC propulsion offers power savings.  Some of the power used to accelerate the train can be recovered and put back into the power (third) rail when stopping the train.  This provides additional power to accelerate other trains and reduces the total amount of energy required to run the system.  On trains using DC propulsion systems, the braking energy is dissipated as heat.   

Hope that answers your question.



How is this a "huge mistake"? From a capacity and people-flow angle, this makes perfect sense. Esentially all of the NYC cars have longitudinal seating and they seem to be getting by just fine...

I don't like sitting sideways, but it does make sense to have more aisle room for people with gigantic strollers or backpacks.

Sitting sideways sucks.

I can't wait for the new seating. Every other major city htat I know of (NY, London, Athens, Rome, Paris) has seats like this and it is so much easier for those who stand. And security cameras are a bonus....if they are connected to somewhere and staff is paying attention.

Longitudinal seating is awful. While I can comprehend the benefits, I wish there was some way to compromise, such as placing front/rear facing rows at the ends of each car, with longitudinal seating in the middle.

By the way, I feel longitudinal seating matters less in systems which are largely underground. Subways don't really offer much in the way of views. However, on an above ground system, riders will lose a certain connection to the city as it passes by. Now, you'll have to avoid some stranger's gaze in order to see out, and the viewing angle will mostly disallow looking downwards. You'll generally only be able to see the far horizon, that is when your face isn't directed at someone's crotch. Yes, let's make commuting as awkward and unpleasant as possible.

Even though I've seen it all hundreds of times before, I still stare intently from the window as the city whizzes by. Sometimes, I can lose myself in contemplation, as streets and parks and buildings flicker away. Thanks CTA, for taking it all away.

jk1: There will still be some front/rear facing seats (well, at least there were in the test car.) I too enjoy looking out the window but for the vast majority of commuters, the CTA is simply a way to get around. Views are nice but not the most important factor. Besides, only about half the system is elevated and allows for "looking down". The rest is underground or at grade.

Hasn't the CTA done any studies on this? I suspect there are a SIGNIFICANT number of people who have motion sickness problems (however slight, and I'm one of them...I'm not going to lose it on a train or anything, but it's damn uncomfortable), and that's why when you get on a train now, most people sit facing forward. That's why there's a rush for those forward facing seats. That's why those seats fill up first.

If everyone has to sit sideways, there's gonna be some discomfort on the trains. I know I'll wind up standing a whole lot more.

this a great and long overdue idea. you can still look out the windows! in fact, you'll be facing a window-- just look over the person's head. the flow and use of space is far superior with this set-up.

I was in NYC last weekend and I didn't have any of the problems people reference in their comments. I have been on the tube in London (above and below ground) and never experienced any discomfort. You have to sit next to people, but you usually do in the current configuration.

I think this will be a big improvement, especially in rush hour-- the amount of floor space for standing passengers will be much greater.

All around better and more efficient. My opinion, I know, but I just don't see any drawbacks.

I predict that during non-rush hours, the trains will be filled with people sprawled out on the sideways seats.

Why aren't there any dividers, like there are in bus shelters? A little bump or armrest goes a long way in providing personal space and comfort.

Excuse Me is right. People already take up two or three seats as if it's their right to do so. People will be riding lying down on longitudinal seats.

I agree with Excuse me,...I don't like this idea one bit for more reasons than one but it will lead to people taking up 3 and four seats because you know the current two that the lazy and inconsiderate currently like to take up just isn't enough!

If they make the doors opening wider, it should improve faster the boarding time.

Sitting cheek to cheek with no "personal space" that the seat in front and window to the side provides, being pushed into your seatmates as the train repeatedly stops and starts through slow zones.

I can't wait. This is what all the seated passangers get 24/7 in order to accommodate standing passengers during one hour in the morning and evening rush.

As Flynn says, if longitudinal seating is so great, why are they the last seats to be taken?

As a person who regularly rides the el at 3am, I'm wondering if I'll be able to sit with all the sleeping bums.

I did get to ride the test car last summer, and it was very nice, but could be rather creepy over nights...

I'd like to add my dissenting voice to those against the longitudal seats. While again, I can see the ease of entering and exiting the train (in addition to providing for an extra wheelchair position), this would only prolong that social discomfort of having to stare out at someone else, instead of providing me the opportunity to look out the window. That's really the main reason that I enjoy the El over the bus. Even if it's on a grade or underground, it still provides something to look out at without having to stare at someone.

Haha, although granted, I sometimes do use the reflections on the window to look at people. I guess that'll be one more thing that'll be gone.

In addition, I think that having some kind of separation between the seats is needed, for many of the same reasons that were listed above. Mark put it great with his post about getting bumped into your seatmates with the movement of the train.

And the bums. There'd better be some kind of CTA employee then busting heads about these seats.

I guess it comes down to this: if you sit most of the time you won't like these seats while if you stand most of the time they will be an improvement. I end up standing probably 80% of the time and I'm sure these longitudinal seats will make the ride easier and more comfortable for me. Given the nature of the service, most riders stand most of the time (most ride during rush hour and most of them are standing), so this improvement is both fair and efficient.

Sorry, but the majority of people who ride the El are NOT standees during the rush periods. To begin with, it's false to say that MOST passengers stand even during the rush periods. For one thing, only the middle 4 cars during the rush periods seem to have equal numbers of riders standing versus sitting. As someone who walks to the end of the platform to take one of the last couple of cars, I can attest that by the time my train reaches Grand, I generally see about a dozen riders standing versus 40 sitting. This isn't necessarily the case on the Brown line, since those cars have fewer seats and only 6 cars per train. Still, I'd say that at best, it's a 50/50 split DURING RUSH PERIODS when all lines are taken into account.

Then, please don't be so self centered to believe that people are not taking transportation during the remaining 20 hours in each day. Not everyone works an office job near the loop. While the trains are obviously not nearly as densely packed, nor do they run as often, there are still a great number of people going about their business throughout the city at all hours.

How about this as a solution? Can't the CTA run cars with longitudinal seating ONLY during the rush periods? Sure, it'd require some extra logistical work, and we know how the CTA excels at logistics, but I think it would be a compromise that would satisfy most riders.

There's a ton of valid points. Motion sickness, bums, etc. But so many people all over the world are using this seating configuration. On the articulated Nabi's, for example, a goodly number of them are sideways-facing and that's like riding a bucking bronco, especially the 147.

Bums will take up as much space as you give them. But, guess what? You could actually ask them to move. Plus it's not to say that there aren't traditional seats they can still hog both of.

As far as no divisions between seats, there are... called the cushion (or piece of fabric on plastic). Those little dips are for your butt cheeks. Two per seat, thank you.

Running two sets of trains -- longitudinal and traditional -- is a logistic nightmare. Fact is people are still going to take the transit. They're trying to save money and increase usability. Having two sets of trains with two sets of time schedules, etc, isn't the point at all.

On a positive note... I'd like to seem them test this on the Blue Line and replace the bi-fold cars. Coming from O'Hare would certainly benefit from this configuration, especially the dumb-dumbs who insist on swinging their backbacks and rolly-cases into your person.

Noelle said the new cars "can accommodate 39 seats which means the number of seats available will be the same." Shows how standards have detriorated. This may be the same as the 3200s, but all prior series (with 2 by 2 seating) had about 50 seats per car.

Stuck between two large people on a 90 degree day with no aisle to scoot towards to allow a little breathing room between you and your seatmate.

We're going to get to know our fellow passengers on a more up close and personal level.

Noelle Gafney flat out lied to you!
The CTA could have been using regenerative braking all along. Mainline electrified railroads have been doing so for at least 100 years. That's why both the Milwaukee Road and the Great Northern had electric power for their mountainous sections through the Rockies and the Cascade Mountains. When the trains were heading downhill they DC motors of the locomotives were switched to generators and the power was sent back into the overhead catenary line. The CTA has a long history of lying about the technical aspects of its rolling stock. Until the Blizzard of 1979 they insisted that 2200 series cars couln't be mixed with 2400 series cars. Magically, at that time, they intermixed those cars on the Milwaukee, Congress, Douglas line and have continued to do so.

Regenerative braking in DC systems has indeed been around for many years but has been used primarily for "specialized" applications (like in the mountains). I am not aware of a large scale transit system using DC regenerative braking.

The biggest obstacle to pulling this off is that none of the CTA cars are currently equipped for regenerative braking. There would be a large capital expense to upgrade all the cars. Then there are the operational constraints. When power is pumped back into the rail from braking action, it needs to be used right away; it cannot be stored. If other rail cars are on the same section of third rail and not braking, it could work. But what happens if that other car isn't braking or if no other car is around at all? The energy would have to be shed as heat. Complex electronics would be necessary to determine whthere the brakes should apply energy to the motors or to the resistors. Extra power generated could be pumped back into the main grid but the CTA substations are not equiped to do that either. More capital expense to pull it off.

If the CTA was starting from scratch with a new DC system, they would certainly use regenerative braking. Power electronics are now small enough and cheap enough that this could be possible. However, the expense to build this system when compared to the cost of an AC system makes it foolish.

1. If people are taking up too much space, sack up and tell them to make room.

2. If you don't like riding sitting next to someone, what do you do now? Is it better to sit on the aisle now with someone's crotch in your face on a 100 degree day? It's not like we're switching from limos to school buses here. I guess if you're that worried about your personal space and sitting next to people, you could either stand or get a car.

3. The bottom line is that this will increase efficiency and it works everywhere else-- that's why it's used. I don't think it is any less "comfortable" than the current arrangement. It's not true that people only stand in the middle of the train-- I have had to wait two or three trains to get on the last car during rush hour because the cars are completely full. This will help.

Just my opinion-- but I am looking forward to this. Change isn't bad.

Lind's book on the Chicago Surface Lines states that there was a regenerative braking experiment on a streetcar in the 1930s. Besides what's mentioned by MC, another problem with using it on the L is that there is no place to dissipate the power when the car moves over a crossover or a street (on grade portions). Apparently the electronics associated with converting DC power to AC and governing the AC motors take care of the problem.

I'd have no problem with the longitudinal seating if there WEREN'T the divisions between the seats. These seats will resemble the current priority seats. There is not enough space for even two average people in these seats because of the seperate, concave seats. Imagine several groups of three-in-a-row. I am 6 feet tall and weigh 180 lbs and my shoulders extend beyond the edge of these seats. I think NYC's subway seats on the newer cars are the most practical because they don't force you to take up a certain amount of space: http://www.flickr.com/photos/furcafe/71046723/

Here are the London Tube seats -- these are perfect, if you *have* to have longitudinal seating: http://www.route79.com/assets/images/090904-23.jpg

They have armrests! Full-on dividers!

Agreed on the NYC seats being superior.

Agreed, the London seats are even better.

I'm so glad someone brought up the motion sickness issue!! I can only ride facing forward, especially during rush hour crowds, or I will get horribly sick. I have a 45 minute commute, and I cannot imagine standing the entire time just so that I can see out a window facing in the right direction. I don't have a car and so the L is my only means of transportation.

“I'm so glad someone brought up the motion sickness issue!!”

And here I thought my nausea was caused by being grossed out over public transportation in general.


You learn something new everyday!


I'd be interested to see how these work. I'm very tall, and it's very difficult for me to sit in the seats in back of other seats.

I grew up in Boston, which adopted longitudinal seating long long ago, and everyone adapted and got along just fine and the city still even exists despite what the similar doomsayers were forecasting.

It's just not the big thing everyone seems to be worried about.

I love how people cry, cry, and cry when their regular routine is going to change (I'll admit, I've cried out a few times). Everybody have brought up valid points on why it shouldn't be done. The fact still remains we're gonna have to be a little bit more friendlier to our neighbors. Love Dan's point #2.

however, no one's mentioned that on the el right now when faced with a larger person (a guy, someone obese) or someone with a lot of packages, someone with a kid, etc., you can sit on the outside seat and still sort of sit but edge out a bit. there have been PLENTY of times on the bus where there is technically a "seat" available in a longitudinal setting, but there's really no way in hell i could sit down, because there just isn't the space. i see black felt, but unless i want to be a real jackass and shoehorn myself inbetween a person and sometimes a metal pole, it would be preposterous to say it was a seat.

it seems to work.

people need to.. MOVE INTO THE INTERIOR OF THE CARS when boarding during rush hour and not sit in the middle of the doorways, and have some common sense.

i've never ridden the tube or subway in london or NYC, but the pictures i've seen with longitudinal seating with no markers or rests at all seems better at least. just a clear bench.

my $.02...


100% agreed. People on the blue line seem to prefer standing in front of the blinker doors to moving to the middle of the car.

Oh well. More room for me :)

Plus when someone gets off, you're closer to them and you can take their seat more easily.

At least with the 2 seats forward/backward set up you have a modicum of "personal space" and when sitting in the longitudal seats I have gotten whiplash more than once by the 'almosteverysinglefreakinride' loop section stop/go...stop...go/stop...go red light/green light syndrome. Yeah and I almost barfed from motion sickness the last time I tried reading (heaven forbid) while sitting sideways. I want to use the window frame to rest my elbow on ,not see how hard I can hit my head on it, nor catch the Window frame with the back of my head. You want nice, comfortable and CLEAN public transit? Try the BART in San Francisco. Try throwing some half eaten chicken wings on the floor or enrgraving your initials in the window on the train and see what happens. The passengers will take turns beating the crap out of you. The seats are nicely upholstered, it arrives and departs ON TIME! (that time is posted electronically on platfrms and in cars, it is VERY QUIET (no teeth grinding squeals like at division on the red line) and basically blows the CTA away in ALL areas. Oh, and if you ride one stop you pay for one stop, ten stops you pay for ten stops. Chicago can and SHOULD DO MUCH BETTER. Maybe we should look into articulated trains too. (NOT!!)

I'm puzzled as to the logic behind the statement that people will get sick because of the sideways seats, and that there are more seats that face forwards now.

Actually, there are an equal number of seats that face forwards AND backwards; they don't loop the trains around they just send them back in the direction they came.

and what 'personal space" do you have when you're on the inside seat facing forward or backward?

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