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Where NOT to charge your cell phone, laptop on train

Electricaloutlet_1 Have you ever been stuck on a train with a dying cell phone, laptop or electric shaver? (If it was the latter, then get off the train you gross bastard!)

Well you can rev up all your chargeable tools on the train or light up a Christmas tree for that matter if you're seated in the right place.  UPDATE: Commenters below say it's very risky and dangerous to use these outlets!)

Here's where you can find the hidden electrical outlet on just about all train cars:

It's at the opposite end of the car from the motorman's cab and Hobo Corner. It's under the seats facing each other by the door, on the same side of the car as the infamous Corner.

Outletcloseup_2 The accompanying photos were taken with my cell phone, so my apologies that they aren't the best. But I think you get the picture and will soon be able to locate the outlet yourself to get a real charge out of the CTA.

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Um, I don't think you're supposed to use those outlets for that purpose. I seem to remember reading somewhere that people aren't supposed to use those outlets (I'm not really sure what their purpose is then either but still).

Feel free to use the outlets but don't expect any compensation when your electronics get fried. The power for those outlets is internally generated via the third rail power. Third rail power and the associated power electronics create very "dirty" power. This is adequate for powering a light or an electric drill or something like that but I sure has heck wouldn't plug my $2,000 laptop into the thing.

Buyer beware...

Those electrical outlets should not be used. The CTA has installed locking covers on most of them over the past couple years. In the event of a power surge, your electronics would not only get fried but you'd also be putting your safety at risk.

You might want to remove this post. I can imagine the CTA won't be very happy to see this information here.

This was already covered in the 12 Jan 2004 Getting Around column in the Trib (you can read it by going to chipublib.org, clicking Find It, putting in your library card/zip code, using the advanced search tab, searching for "Plugged-in CTA rider not only rude, but cheap", and making sure the Chicago Tribune by ProQuest option is checked). It says everything that Kevin, MC, and Mr. Smith just pointed out...

OK, so obviously I'm not an electrician and didn't read the earlier Trib column. A few people had emailed me about it so I wrote about it.

But don't use it folks!

I bitched someone out once for plugging their boom box into it and playing it on the train. Especially since we were slowed down and I was convinced that they were slowing us down by robbing power from the train. (This was probably incorrect, but I was irked).

One thing that seems to have been overlooked in this post is the voltage provided by the outlet. I'm not familiar w/the cta railcars, but that outlet could be 120VAC or a DC voltage. It all depends whether its a control voltage (that runs relays and other control devices) or AC voltage that runs lighting and other amenities. Whichever it is, the outlet is there for CTA maintenence purposes not for passengers. Best bet for passengers, leave it alone.

that's too bad. ever since i saw someone plugging in their cell phone, i was ever glad to know about this 'secret' outlet. i've told people about it ever since. of course, i also love to know about 'secret' things.

in fact, my goal was to eventually get up enough balls to have some sort of freaky performance art routine where i played music (plugged into the outlet, natch) whilst making toast or something (with a toaster plugged into the outlet, of course). whatever. i never *did* it, so don't get all hypothetically pissed, people.

too bad about it being some horrible electrical risk.

It's a 20-amp 120V AC outlet. There's no way it is DC. However, I don't know how "good" of a job the DC--> AC converter does when facing DC voltage spikes and drops. There's a potential that a surge could fry your equipment. Caveat utilisator! Maybe someone plug in some Christmas lights and take a piccie or two around the holidays? More than likely it's used to power cleaning equipment (HAHA - clean? the CTA? yeah right) when the trains go to bed at night?

best place to plug in your electronics.... at home you lazy bums!!!!!!!! if you charge your cell phone before you go to bed, it'll be fully juiced when you wake up, same for your computer. If I see some one's electronics get fried by using these plugs, I'm going to laugh so hard!

it always amazes me/baffles me when people are just mean/spiteful for no good reason. again, i've never used the outlets, but... maybe someone realized at the last minute their phone was dead and needed a charge. or need to get some last minute work done or something.

you act like people are doing something horribly wrong and evil by using the outlets and thus would deserve some horrible punishment by having their electronics totally ruined. that's so fked to me.

i've charged up my phone different places before... i try not to make it a habit, but let's face it; it's electricity. it's not gold bullion. it doesn't cost the cta a shitload when people use those outlets.

i didn't know that they were dangerous to use, though, and am glad to hear of this.

I think that the main fact is, would you trust the CTA to give you power for all you expensive electronics. I vote no.

My sister uses these all the time to charge her cell phone. I used it once When I was bringing my fan home from work and our car had NO AIR. I plugged in my fan and I Instantly started feeling better! These outlets are used for the floor cleaners CTA (doesnt) use.

How about blenders, Margaritas anyone?

Everyone claims this is power that shouldn't use because a surge "may" take out your equipment. Ha.

I'm sure you would know the device in between your AC plug and the laptop plug converter will be the first to go.

So, what everyone's saying is that this outlet is too dangerous for passengers to use - but it's designated for CTA employees/maintenance workers to use? For all purposes of deductive reasoning - wouldn't/shouldn't it carry the same risks for the CTA workers, as well? Those poor people. It's no wonder at the seemingly disgruntled attitudes running rampid within the establishment. Yikes!

Anyone notice that the proposed high-end airport express trains (which are modified existing CTA cars) will include ports to plug in laptops? After all of the warnings and hand-wringing going on around here about using the El-car outlets -- will the power supply be any different? How would they make it any safer to use?

Transformers and all sorts of widgets to convert and boost or step down power.

Spacely Sprockets or Cogswell Cogs?

Spacely Sprockets or Cogswell Cogs?

OK, I take the Orange Line and those outlets are not there.

I was so drunk one time and spent the ride looking for those receptacles with no luck,i will try to locate then again when I'm sober.

So, what everyone's saying is that this outlet is too dangerous for passengers to use - but it's designated for CTA employees/maintenance workers to use?

No. That's not what anyone is saying.

When the train is stopped in the yard, the power is going to be more stable than when the train is moving, traveling between blocks.

When the train travels between blocks, there's going to be a power spike. Your electroic gadget's power supply wasn't built to withstand those kinds of power spikes. It's fairly likely that you could burn-up the power supply, and it's still a pretty fair bet that your expensive electronics will be fried, too. And when they fry, there will also be a safety hazard -- burns and electrocution.

On the other hand, a big floor cleaner that requires a 20-Amp power outlet is not likely to be affected at all by any of this. Not just because (as mentioned earlier), the train isn't traveling from block to block, but is standing still in the yard, so there will be fewer, and less severe power spikes. And a floor cleaner and your laptop react very differently to power fluctuations.

So there is no safety hazard for the workers. But there is great risk for passengers. It shouldn't be too hard to understand that.

So I just read this article after attempting to try the outlet coming back from O'hare. No juice. No power surge. iPhone fine.
My question: would a surge protector work? Not that I carry one at all times, but hey, you never know.

It's definitely 120VAC and the purpose is vacuum cleaners for the cleaning staff.

Absolutely everything on a CTA car is DC. It's either 600V DC off the third rail (this will cut out at every gap), or 32V DC off the battery. The 120V comes from an AC-DC inverter. It's probably an older inverter, expensive and not a very good sine wave.

Very few things will be on this 120VAC circuit. Quite possibly, you and you alone. Possibly security cameras, radios or fluorescent lights.

If your charger/power supply is lightweight, it's a switching power supply like your PC. They don't like high voltage spikes, but they could care less if the AC power is otherwise dirty. Heck many of them don't care if it's AC.

The warning about power inconsistency is true, but people are over exaggerating the effects of power spikes on AC/DC inverters used in electronics. Yes, the inverters in the device chargers will start to give inconsistent results, but what you may not know is that on the DC side of the electronics there is usually a power regulator, such as the LM7805, which can safely handle anything from 7-36v DC.

If the power isn't clean or fluctuates a bit, it's really not going to affect your electronics all that much due to internal tolerances. Still, it's probably a good idea to carry a small power cleaning/surge protector in case the train car's inverter does something out of tolerance limits. (AC tolerances are usually 100v to 150v. Read info on UPS supplies to find out more)

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