Once in a decade opportunity: ride the ‘L’ in a private, chartered tour


A photo from the Soul of Chicago Express tour in 2006. 

There are only a few spots left (just a bit more than 10) on the Central Electric Railfan’s Association “inspection tour” of the Chicago Transit Authority’s ‘L’ system on 2200-series and 5000-series cars on Sunday, November 18. From CERA’s website:

This event will involve a morning enjoying the CTA 2200-series cars on routes they initially served in 1969, and will finish with a tour via the 5000-series ‘L’ cars, now in service on CTA’s Pink and Green Lines.

We will visit parts of the Blue, Pink, Green, Orange, Red and Yellow Lines, visiting various stations for photo opportunities and affording a chance to enjoy a ride on both the system’s oldest and newest train cars for a compare-and-contrast event not been done in recent memory.

CTA has confirmed that the train will pick us up at Jefferson Park on the Blue Line, a break at about 2:30 PM where you’ll be able to go get a bite to eat downtown, and more fun on the train and visiting the CTA’s newest stations at Oakton and Morgan, wrapping up at about 5:30 PM at Morgan/Lake (with access to the ‘L’ system, of course, to return to Jefferson Park).

Tickets are $42 each. If you’re interested, please contact (email preferred) charter organizer Tony Coppoletta immediately to confirm availability: tony@coppoletta.net / 312-685-2446. You will be able to pay in person when you check in at Jefferson Park. Graham Garfield of Chicago-L.org is helping to host this charter, and I will be assisting. This will be my third chartered tour and they provide a unique opportunity to explore the trains and stations, chat with other train enthusiasts, and take tons of photos that at other times might seem weird to fellow passengers.


If not for the Soul of Chicago Express chartered tour in 2006, I’d probably have never visited the 63rd/Ashland Green Line station in Englewood to see its unique design characteristics. 

Since this is a chartered tour, the route doesn’t have to follow what normal, revenue service trains take. This tour will use the no-longer-used incline between Racine and Illinois Medical District Blue Line stations.

Sunday, November 18, 2012
1030 to ~1730 hours
Time for a lunch break, in the Loop, will be made available.

Meeting location: Jefferson Park (CTA Blue Line station)
Check-in will begin at 0945 hours (receive tickets there, check-in closes after 1015, as the train departs at 1030)

Tribune comes out against CTA’s aisle-facing seating in a funny way


On the first page of the Chicago Tribune on August 27 was a story about aisle-facing seating on the new Chicago Transit Authority’s 5000-series cars and how many people were unhappy with the setup. It was a case of inventing a story.

Then in the Sunday paper, on the “Chicago Week” page where the newspaper recaps a variety of stories it published since the previous Sunday, it summarized the story with the following:

Hey, can you move over a bit?

Not everyone’s happy with the CTA’s new rail cars and their aisle-facing seats, but the cars are likely here to stay. The transit agency spent $1.14 billion on the cars and reconfiguring the seats would require a major and expensive redesign. Riders have complained about having to ride with fellow commuters squeezed in on both sides and other passengers standing directly in front of them.

The photo included with the summary, embedded at the top, shows a majority of people (who are sitting) preoccupied with books and phones. One person sitting is giving the foreground standee the stink eye. This is hardly the photo to use to communicate the dislike that passengers have for the setup. 

Continue reading Tribune comes out against CTA’s aisle-facing seating in a funny way

Observations from Europe: Why doesn’t the Metra train run as smoothly?


An example of a Regio Express train, stationed in Augsburg, Germany. Notice how it has only a single level. It has considerably more room for prams, bicycles, and people using wheelchairs. It also has near-level boarding at platforms (there’s a step down). The train’s name, Fugger-Express, refers to the Fugger family in Augsburg that founded the oldest social settlement still in operation.

I took a Deutsche Bahn (DB) Regio Express (RE) train on Wednesday from Munich*, Bavaria, Germany, to Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany, today in order to see the historical buildings, the world’s oldest social settlement, and, unbeknownst to me, a lot of trams running down pedestrian-only streets. I traveled with a friend who is studying in Munich and his parents. The round-trip price for four adults was 34 euros, or about $42.73. That’s $5.34 per person per direction, for a 40 mile trip.

Continue reading Observations from Europe: Why doesn’t the Metra train run as smoothly?

Grid Bits: Red Line south closure, Bombardier trains under construction, universal fare card


Photo of a Metra train by Sam Dickey

There are 5 stories from 8 sources in this edition of Grid Bits, all about transit.

CTA Red Line south track renewal project

The Chicago Transit Authority’s Red Line south project to shut down 9 Red Line stations (Cermak-Chinatown to 95th) for five months in 2013 to replace 100% of track is generating uninformed controversy. The CTA will be holding at least 5 meetings across the south side to meet one-on-one with neighbors and community groups. The first meeting was Monday; the second meeting is tonight.

Coverage and commentary of the Red Line south project:

The CTA has posted an extremely detailed webpage dedicated to informing people about the project’s goals, alternative service, and why it chose to avoid a 4-year-long weekend-only shutdown to complete the same work.

Continue reading Grid Bits: Red Line south closure, Bombardier trains under construction, universal fare card

What keeps an El car from falling off the tracks on tight curves?


1977 derailment at Wabash and Lake – photo by Mark Llanuza

[This piece also ran in Time Out Chicago magazine.]

Q: Since I’ve switched from the straight-shot Red Line to the winding Brown Line, where you often feel like you’re about to ride right off the rails (and right into a nearby condo building), I’ve been wondering: At what speed would El trains hitting sharp curves come off the tracks?

A: A CTA train’s extremely low center of gravity and speed limits allow it to safely navigate the El’s many curves, according to spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski. As a train goes around a bend, like the tight S-curve on the Brown and Purple Lines just north of the Merchandise Mart, the car may seem to sway at an impossible angle, but most of the weight is still directed straight down, Hosinski says. This overcomes centrifugal force and keeps the wheels on the rails. “Also, a train’s speed through each curve is limited by the automated train control system,” she says. “This system enforces a maximum train speed that’s much lower than the speed that could cause a train to leave the rails.”

Continue reading What keeps an El car from falling off the tracks on tight curves?

CTA 5000-series train cars to begin service on the Pink Line

Mayor Emanuel and Chicago Transit Authority president Forrest Claypool announced Tuesday, November 8, 2011, at the Midway Orange Line station the beginning of revenue service for the 5000-series train cars – they debuted on the Pink Line Wednesday. They’ll show up later on Green Line, with the Red Line after that.

Here’re CTA’s photos from the event:


CTA President Forrest Claypool speaks at the unveiling of new railcars, joined by RTA Chairman John Gates Jr. (back); Vice President, La Pocatiere-Plattsburgh Business Unit, Bombardier Transportation, North America Marc Boucher and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (far right) next to railcar 5055.


Train operator Joseph Anguiano points out some of the new features of the 5000-series train car.


View of new flooring and two wheelchair positions (bike positions?) on the new cars.

View the full photoset. Check out CTA Tattler and ChicagoBus.org for more information.