CTA: New trains, rail improvements will put city on the fast track

When the CTA's first new rail cars in 14 years arrive next year, they'll have wireless Internet connectivity, electronic diagnostic systems and live security feeds transmitting to first-response agencies citywide.

"The rail car of the future is about two years away," says Chicago Transit Authority President Ron Huberman.

It's all part of the CTA's plan to replace aging CTA vehicles and tracks. Huberman says the agency's goal is to provide "a smoother, quieter ride with a focus on getting customers to their destination safely and on time."

After looking at rail systems throughout Europe, Asia and other U.S. cities, Huberman said the agency began debating which rail car designs would work best for Chicago.

New rail cars should be in use by the end of 2011, Huberman says. After a six to nine month design process, during which some test cars will be used on the city's rails, the new cars are scheduled to begin leaving the assembly line in 2010.

The first set of test cars will be interspersed throughout the system and will look pretty much like all the other cars. The cars' updated features and electronic diagnostics will be largely out of view.

"Everything below the floor gets vetted out in those tests," Huberman says.

The addition of wireless Internet conductivity to the cars' electronic systems will allow operators to view live video from any car when a passenger intercom unit is activated. This will allow operators to provide real-time information to the CTA control center, police or medical responders.

In addition, suitably equipped emergency vehicles could also access video through the wireless connection.

Instantaneous diagnostic information will improve the agency's ability to troubleshoot and repair mechanical problems, CTA officials say.

And by adding cellular modems to rail cars, CTA's control center will be able to communicate with customers using audio and text message screens located in each car.

"If a train is stopped and instructed to wait, customers will receive an alert on the screen explaining why the train is stopped," says CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski.

The $577 million contract for 406 new cars will go to the Bensalem, Pa.-based Bombardier Transit Corporation.

CTA officials estimate that electronic diagnostics and energy-saving lighting will save the agency $26 million over five years.

Aging tracks are also scheduled to get an overhaul.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley says a $200 million federally-funded project beginning next month will reduce so-called "slow zones" throughout the system by 68 percent.

According to a CTA report, the new rail cars will be able to reach speeds of up to 70 miles per hour on revamped tracks.
Daley also called upon state legislators to step up with new capital funding for the CTA.