How Forrest Claypool Can Fix the 5000-series Railcars
This morning Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel announced the selection of Forrest Claypool as president of the Chicago Transit Authority. Claypool will replace Richard Rodriguez, who has held the top job for a little over two years.
As I’ve already mentioned, I’m not sure what to think of Claypool’s appointment to lead CTA. He’s a leftover from the Daley administration and has no transit experience. But my opinion of Claypool could improve dramatically if the first thing he does at CTA is hold off on authorizing production of the new 5000-series railcars until some design changes are made.
I’ve been highly critical of the 5000-series in the past. Given that these new railcars are a major $600 million investment that we’ll be stuck with for well over 25 years, this is not a time to make rushed or ill-informed decisions.
<p class="caption">Interior of the 5000-series railcar prototypes. Photo by John W. Iwanski (Creative Commons License).</p>
One of the more controversial changes in the 5000-series is the switch from familiar transverse seating to a longitudinal seating arrangement that’s often seen in other transit systems. Personally, I prefer the transverse seating we’ve come to expect in CTA railcars. If CTA insists on changing to a longitudinal arrangement, so be it. But the specifics of the seating design and arrangement in the prototype cars is fundamentally flawed.
A large majority of readers and commentators on the CTA Tattler blog have complained about the current setup. The outdated bucket seats combined with numerous vertical stanchions running from the seat edges to the ceiling can create rather uncomfortable conditions for those individuals lucky enough to get a seat.
With regard to the obtrusive stanchions, CTA should experiment with other arrangements that would work better for seated individuals while also meeting the needs of standees. Some have suggested moving the stanchions to the middle of the railcar, a la New York, although I’m not sure if the narrow width of CTA’s cars could accommodate such a design.
A switch to bench seating has been encouraged on CTA Tattler, although I’d be happy if CTA ditched the ridiculously outdated plastic bucket seats for the wider and more ergonomic Aries models seen in the newest CTA buses.
I’ve also been highly critical of the aesthetics of the 5000-series. The dated, beige interior is rather depressing particularly when combined with the life-sucking florescent lighting. While other transit systems have long left the 1980s behind by moving forward with modern interior colors and lighting design, the CTA remains stuck in the past. A change of the interior color from beige to white, combined with replacement of the ugly beige plastic seats with a more modern design, would go a long way in improving the car’s aesthetics.
If CTA wants to encourage people to ditch their cozy cars in favor of public transit, they’re going to need to do a lot better than the current design of the 5000-series. As it stands, these cars are far behind the standards set by other mass transit systems. If Forrest Claypool is serious about improving CTA, his first order of action should be to re-examine the design of these cars, even if it means a delay in delivery of the production models.