Grid Bits: CTA bus job fair, pay with smartphone on Metra, new federal transit safety regulations

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A Metra train crosses Canal Street in downtown Chicago. Photo by David Wilson. 

There are 6 articles in this transit-focused edition of Grid Bits, a sporadically occurring category of posts that summarize and link to recent articles in other news media. At the end you’ll find two Grid Chicago-authored commentaries. The first attempting to explain the logistical reasons why CTA’s Blue and Red Lines, the busiest, don’t have 5000-series cars; the second recommending a possible weekend-only pilot project to allow bicycles on South Shore trains.

In the federal transportation bill that was signed into law in early July, a provision was included that requires the Federal Transit Administration to work with state departments of transportation to develop safety regulations for transit providers across the country (including the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, and Pace). No such regulation currently exists, as it does for intercity bus travel, air travel, and highways, among other modes. Transit agencies, understanding consequences of poor emergency responses, have been self-regulating. It remains to be seen if such regulation will be an improvement over past self-regulation. The Chicago Tribune reports:

Backed by $25 million a year in new funding for safety and inspection-related training, transit agencies may discover risks they didn’t know were as serious as they are, officials said.

For the first time, the Federal Transit Administration will have the responsibility to establish and enforce minimum federal safety standards for commuter rail, heavy rail, light rail and transit buses. The standards will replace a patchwork of state laws.

The changes have been recommended for years by the National Transportation Safety Board, following a CTA Blue Line subway derailment and fire in 2006 and an accident on the Miami airport rail system in 2008. The total number of transit fatalities in the U.S. has increased to 218 in 2011 from 172 in 2008, the safety board noted.

The article sets the tone that such regulation is needed even while the CTA doesn’t necessarily agree in the statement it supplied the reporter. It implies with phrases like “there is no consistent level of safety oversight” that Metra’s safety practices might be worse than CTA’s, or vice versa, almost in an attempt to frighten commuters.

Metra

3 articles

Metra is adopting a mobile ticketing system that transit in Boston will start using this fall; Metra plans to launch in 2013. The ticket can be purchased on a smartphone and displayed on the screen to a conductor. It can be verified by visual inspection, or with a handheld scanner. This would work similarly to mobile boarding passes for air travel: a QR code appears on the smartphone screen with the traveler’s encoded information. From the Chicago Tribune:

Under that program, customers with an iPhone, Android or BlackBerry can download a free app allowing them to buy one-way, 10-ride and monthly tickets using their debit or credit cards. The “ticket” then shows up on the phone screen and is checked by the conductor.

Metra and the Village of Fox River Grove are expanding the train station in the northwest suburb in Lake County. From the Northwest Herald:

As part of the work, Metra plans to replace the current warming station with a larger warming house. There also will be vendor space and a bathroom added. Metra plans to add a second, smaller warming house, as well, [Metra spokesman Michael] Gillis said.

The project also includes doubling the platform length. Metra believes the changes are needed to accommodate a predicted increase in passengers.

Metra is currently upgrading 176 train cars at its 49th Street shop along the Rock Island line, one car every 36 days. From the Chicago Sun-Times:

The rehab of the agency’s Amerail rail cars built between 1995 and 1998 includes new air conditioning units, flooring and firmer seats. The cars will have 19 electrical outlets — all on the lower level of the bi-level trains — and doors with sensitive edges to retract if they come into contact with a person or object in the way.

The cars go back into service as soon as they are rehabbed and Metra expects to complete the process by 2016.

CTA

2 articles, 1 commentary

From a Chicago Sun-Times story on Monday, the CTA’s first job fair to inform and meet applicants for 400 new part-time bus operator positions attracted 2,374 people. The new bus operators are needed for the shuttle buses and bus routes with increased frequencies that will take place along the Red Line South reconstruction project area.

The CTA is set to modernize its bus fleet, with new buses they announced in June, upgraded maintenance facilities, and rehabbed buses. From the Chicago Tribune:

The CTA will spend $205 million to upgrade bus and rail maintenance facilities over the next three years with the goal of fostering major improvements in transit service, officials said Tuesday. The project will create about 500 new jobs at the CTA, [Mayor Rahm] Emanuel said.

The funding is coming from sales-tax backed bonds issued by the CTA, and with formula funds from the federal government.

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A CTA 2200-series car on the Blue Line. These cars are not accessible to people in wheelchairs or with bicycles. They will be replaced by cars from the other lines that are receiving the new, 5000-series cars. Photo by Jeff Zoline. 

Lastly, it’s come to our attention on several forums (most frequently on the CTA’s Facebook page) that people continue to ask why the Blue and Red Lines don’t have the new train cars (known as the 5000-series), even though the lines carry the most passengers and the Blue Line has inaccessible cars.

Shouldn’t the new equipment, with its smoother acceleration and deceleration, additional room for wheelchair users, and quieter ride, be enjoyed by the maximum number of passengers? Probably. But there are many operational and logistic factors in the CTA’s decision to put the new cars on the Pink Line, and then the Green Line.

Their reasoning almost certainly goes something like this: it’s in the best interest of the CTA (for having predictable operating costs, and managing staff and equipment well) to have a single type of car at each yard. Additionally, these cars cannot be mixed with any existing car type. Most lines have their own yards (Howard is shared amongst three lines). The Pink and Green Lines have the yards with the fewest cars and can be replaced the fastest.

The CTA has announced that the Red Line will receive the 5000-series cars after Pink and Green Lines. This will probably happen in 2013 after the Red Line South reconstruction project is complete as the CTA has implied it doesn’t want to run new trains on poor quality track. Older, displaced cars from these two lines will go to the Blue Line so the 2200-series cars (the oldest in the system, with butterfly doors that don’t allow wheelchairs and bicycles) can be scrapped. The next lines will be Purple, Orange, and Yellow.

South Shore Line

1 commentary

The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) uses double decker cars. These cars could be used in the start of a Bikes On Board pilot project, that we recommend the agency begin. The issue with bringing bicycles on South Shore trains is that there’s currently not room for the bicycles, at least on the single-deck cars, and the line would prefer to accommodate every passenger with a seat. South Shore could run double decker cars on certain weekend trains with removed seats that would still provide the same (or higher) quantity of seats than a single-deck car on the same run. The accommodations could be similar to Metra Electric cars, wherein the seats nearest the entrance fold up to fit bicycles.

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This South Shore Line train has double decker cars and “street runs” in Michigan City, Indiana. Photo by Al Johanson. 

7 thoughts on “Grid Bits: CTA bus job fair, pay with smartphone on Metra, new federal transit safety regulations”

  1. Given the damaging effect FRA regs have on passenger rail, giving the Feds more control over “safety,” (more likely jumping through hoops that aren’t backed up by actual data but seem like they would be safe) on transit scares the hell out of me. How will they deal with the differences between different rail systems? What effect will they have on existing operating practices, which have been honed and over decades? Will any thought be given to the costs of enforcement, or will agencies be expected to comply regardless of cost?

  2. Just curious — why can’t the 5000-series cars be mixed with any other car type? Can’t they just chunk them together a pair at a time in the consist like all the others?

      1. This is correct.

        I think there’s another reason: the communication systems between cars is not compatible.
        It would be possible for some cars to tow other cars, but that’s not efficient (nor does it seem safe).

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