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More coffee notes: Problems, ideas on the rails

Here's the second installment of notes from our coffee with CTA President Ron Huberman, where he discusses rail issues.

Ron_with_train_prototype Huberman bluntly stated that not having enough train cars is the biggest problem facing the CTA on “the rail side” of the house. “We have 1,200 cars but really need 1,600,” he said.

Plagued by an aging system with little capital funding on the horizon, the CTA can’t find parts anymore for its oldest cars, the 2200 series with the bifold doors. But Huberman said the CTA will take delivery of more than 400 new cars by 2010.

Huberman pulled out a slick presentation on the new rail cars out of his briefcase and shared with us the new design for those rails cars, which he stressed is not totally final. The first 10 cars will be delivered this fall, though they won’t be outfitted with the exact final configuration.

Here are some key features:

  • Recessed lighting.
  • Reading lights.
  • Six 9-inch TV screens in each car, rotating CTA info and advertising.
  • No more advertising cards -- the small TVs are replacing all paper ad cards.
  • Computerized Internet controls mean no more herky-jerky rides.
  • A “smart” systems map in the middle of the car pinpointing the train’s current location.
  • The same number of seats arranged longitudinally to allow for more standing room.
  • A padded “butt perch” in the area where a wheelchair would go so if there was no disabled passenger onboard, other passengers could rest against the padded perch.

In one of the funnier lines of the meeting, Ron noted that on current trains “we assure that every sense is assaulted” with harsh, bright lighting and a cold design.

Huberman wouldn’t let me take a photo of the new design, explaining it had only been decided on last week, and that we were the first to see it outside of CTA headquarters. Besides, the details are not yet final.  In the photo with this post, Huberman holds a page showing the older-type seating. Those seats would not be used in the new train cars.

Comments

Internet controls? Wow, we can run the train from the Internets?

Great reporting, as usual. How about some facts next time? Maybe "network based controls using micro-processors"?

This was posted this on a mailing list yesterday, and is Chicago municipal code.

> 9-124-320 Seats for passengers.

Every person owning any tracks over which any elevated railroad
trains are operated, or operating any elevated railroad trains, shall
on each separate line operate trains at such intervals (except during
rush hours) that the aggregate number of seats within the trains
passing any point in any one direction during any period of 15
consecutive minutes shall be not less than the aggregate number of
passengers carried on said trains passing said point during said
period of 15 consecutive minutes. Provided, however, that if less than
three trains pass any point on any line during a 15-minute period,
then the aggregate number of seats carried by three consecutive trains
in any one direction passing any point shall be not less than the
aggregate number of passengers carried by said three consecutive
trains passing said point.

Every person owning any tracks over which any elevated railroad
trains are operated, or operating any elevated trains, shall operate
trains at such intervals that not less than one train shall be
operated during each and every fifteen minute period of the entire 24
hours of each day, excepting the six hours between 12:00 and 6:00 a.m.

Every person violating any of the provisions of this section
shall be fined not less than $50.00 nor more than $200.00 for each
offense. Each day upon which a violation occurs upon any one line
shall constitute a single offense. Not more than one penalty shall be
recovered for a violation committed on any line during any one day.
>

Now we want to know if fewer trains (even using 8 cars) on the brown line will go against this.

in English, Bob, please!
I think it means there should be no standing passengers on any train? Or if you choose to stand, there should be an empty seat remaining?
Good luck with that!!

Those TV screens had better be without sound, or CTA will also be in violation of one of its own rules, the one about playing audio devices. Talk about assaulting the senses!

Bob, I'm gonna figure that code's along the lines of the laws saying things like you can't walk a dog in a commercial zone on a Sunday if a woman is wearing a hat within 50 feet of you.

I'm not convinced that the ordinance quoted applies to public entities operating trains, trains operated in tunnels, trains operated on surface grade, or trains operated on berms. And especially not to trains operated by persons other that the persons who own the track!

This looks to be an obsolete ordinance created back in the days when a number of different private companies owned and operated El lines around the city.

Chicago Municipal Code is always an interesting read, but does the passage you cited apply to anyone other than private entities? The CTA is a creature of state law; even if the quoted passage of municipal code nominally applies to the CTA, is there any reason to think that the city actually has jurisdiction over CTA operations? It sounds a lot like an item of municipal code that might still be on the books from 80 years ago when there were actually private passenger rail companies around for the city to regulate.

Anyway, back to this century: Kevin, did the pictures of these new cars have any horizontal overhead bars for us to hang on to? I know such things were in some of the CTAs design drawings earlier, but not all of them. It's always amazed me that they want to fit more people into these cars but don't give them anything but a seat back at waist level to hang on to. Unless you're like 5'1, it's really awkward to hold onto the seat backs.

Also, I have to hope they know what they're doing on the advertising front. It seems incredibly unwise to eliminate advertising space given the CTA's revenue needs.

If they've somehow determined that less advertising will generate more revenue... they should put in some luggage racks up above the seats? (I assume this is currently infeasible partly because it would block the ads and thus make ad space difficult to sell.) Two of our eight train lines do serve major airports, after all; seems there ought to be some provision for this other than people just blocking the aisles and seats with their bags, which right now is basically the only option.

And yes, let's hope the TV screens don't have sound. I haven't thought of words yet to describe how aggravating that would be (not words that should be said in polite company, anyway). Right now, most of the time, the train is actually astonishingly quiet, even when it's packed; a rare gem of a public space, really. Let's hope the CTA doesn't destroy that with advertising Muzak.

Those monitors wont last a week on the Red line. They will get smashed or grafittied within a few days. Look at some of the dirtbags who ride that line. I am stuck dealing with these people everyday. The first step to a clean and safe ride is more security on the trains.

I must second the notion of soundless, or no TV's. The TV's are the one thing i detest when I find myself on a Pace bus. I seem to feel myself getting dumber by the moment as I am challenged by such inane items as unjumbling the letters "ogd" to spell a household pet, or last weeks weather forecast...over and over and over.

El cars are indeed a rare bastion of quiet and solitude oddly enough. Please don't make it intentionally unpleasant to ride!

Definitely no TVs! I loathe those things on Pace buses, too! And they do have sound--fairly low, but it's there--which makes it all the worse to my mind.

No more paper ads on the inside of el trains???

LOL Yeah, right. If there is a square inch of space they will fill it with an ad and claim that it provides much-needed revenue.

But the TV-On-The-El-Train (one of my favorite bands, by the way) thing won't last. I remember the TV sets on the platforms themselves a decade or so back that flashed ads and occasional transit info. They either broke down completely, provided transit info in psychodelic colors or provided a continuous stream of non-verticle hold patterns.

How about just one of those red LED light message board things like they have on the buses with the number of the train, the destination, the next stop, the time, etc. That's all that's needed.

I have to agree on the no TV part. Like a previous poster said - they won't last a week on the Red Line without getting ripped down, scratched up, graffitted or god knows what else. It'd be a wasted investment.

I know I'm going to regret thinking this out loud, but maybe they'll replace the paper ads with wraps *inside* the cars. (Didn't some Red Line cars have ceiling ads last year?)

And I don't know how the screens are going to be protected either. But one thing people are missing -- maybe even Huberman -- is that they're needed to meet ADA requirements. Once they're installed, I hope any announcement that comes over the PA from an operator is accompanied by a similar display on the screens so the deaf can know what's going on. (Ideally there'll be an attention-getting flash so anyone who needs to be looking at them will be while the announcement is displayed.)

I'm also looking forward to trains being commandeered by the iPhone and BlackBerry set. Come to think of it, my Sidekick has SSH...

I don't object to TVs, per se. I'm content to leave it to the CTA to figure out how to keep them from getting destroyed.

However, I would personally lead a march on CTA headquarters if they install TVs that emanate any sound whatsoever. There's enough noise in the world, and the CTA should not even think about contributing to it during our train rides.

Seeing Bob S's thoughtful comment just prior to mine, let me add: the noise I would object to is having audible advertising noise and other such nonessential blather.

I do not mean to suggest that announcements actually related to train service should not be made audibly. That, of course, is not only a convenience to the general public but a necessity for the sight impaired.

I'm looking forward to the new rail car design and couldn't agree more with Ron's assessment of the current design. Although, just getting rid of the faux wood paneling would probably be enough to make me happy.

I think the TVs are a great idea provided there's no audio and sufficient protection against vandalism.

Thanks for all the seconding on my point about no sound on the TVs. I hope they hear us loud and clear on that! If not, I will join your protest march (but will not throw any liquids).

I don't really mind paper ads, especially when an advertiser goes to the trouble of creating a series to be put up in one car and making them interesting to read. I seem to recall a few years ago, at least on the buses, they were actually putting up "editorial" (ad-speak for content) consisting of poetry and trivia questions or something like that. I assume the idea was to get people more interested in looking to see what was posted up there.

I'll support the TV on the el trains if they promise to have at least one commercial from Rekall offering virtual trips to Mars...

Bastion of quiet? That went away when they introduced the deafeningly loud announcements on the trains. Last night I had the rare experience of being on a train where the announcements were at a reasonable level. It was a treat.

Total Recall become a reality. Now i just want something to scan our eyes when we bored like in Minority Report! It will come soon enough.

And Johnny Cabs! Ooh, Johnny Cabs!...

But (semi)seriously, I believe they had those "padded perch" seat bump things in the tubes in London, thought it's been a while ago....

One correction: They are blinker doors, not bifold doors.

TVs are a waste of precious dollars. Can't they find anything else worthy to spend their money on?

Nik-

The TVs are a revenue generator since they will display ads.

All else being equal they will probably be a more efficient generator of revenue than paper ads, because, unlike paper ads, expensive human labor is not required to remove old ads and put up new ones periodically.

Also, the TVs are probably an easier ad space to "sell" to advertisers since: (1) there's little risk the ads will be torn down or covered up; (2) ads could be sold in smaller increments (i.e., ad could be displayed every 5 minutes or every 5 days or anything in between, in principle, depending on what the advertiser wants to pay); and (3) it's more likely that people will see the ads because they'll be located in the same space where navigation information (e.g., next stop, location along route, etc.) and other travel announcements is displayed.

On the whole it's probably a smart move.

Assuming the ads don't have an audio component. As others have said, that would be obnoxious. No one wants to listen to ads on the train.

The seats should provide better lumbar support, like on many of the newer buses and on the newer subway trains in NYC. There's a natural curve in our spines and it's healthier to have seat backs that take account of that. Look at any ergonomically correct office chair and it will not have a flat back for precisely this reason.

What's ergonomically correct for someone 6'4" tall, weighing 320lbs is far different than what's ergonomically correct for someone 4'11", and 80lbs.

I've never liked bucket seats for that reason. It seems my bucket is a different size than the ideal bucket.

At this point, what matters to me is decreasing commute time, better service on the southside, and also a better method of s/w siders of getting to the northside w/o having to go downtown or taking the 'express' bus which takes over 1hr 1/2.

The other fancy crap can wait.

Well, it's true that the seats are never going to be contoured to each individual's back. But whether you're 4'1 or 6'11, the lower half of your back will generally have the same convexity as everyone else's. So a seat with a modest curve is going to at least come closer to the shape of your back and therefore be more supportive than something that tries to force your back into a straight line.

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