CTA board approves contract to replace half of rail cars – Chicago Tribune
The Chicago Transit Authority Board voted Wednesday to approve a $1.3 billion contract for 846 rail cars — the biggest rail car purchase in the agency’s history, representing about half of its total fleet. The contract also will create a manufacturing facility on the Southeast Side, the first of its kind in the city in 35 years.
The winning bidder to build the 7000 Series cars is CSR Sifang America, whose partners include the Chinese state-owned rail car manufacturing company CRRC Qingdao Sifang and CSR America, which handles North American operations. The same manufacturer is currently building cars for the Boston transit system.
The last batch of CTA rail cars, known as the 5000 Series, were designed in the last decade and built by Bombardier Transportation, which lost this year’s bid.
The new cars will replace 2600 Series cars produced in the 1980s.
The 7000 Series cars will have a different seating arrangement than the 5000 Series cars, which have mostly aisle-facing seats. The wider, New York-subway-style aisles were intended to provide more standing room during rush hour, but have proved unpopular with some riders, who do not like getting their feet stepped on while seated, or having their views blocked by standing passengers.
The new cars, with LED lighting and 37 to 38 seats each, will be a hybrid of the 5000 Series and the 3200 Series currently seen on the Brown and Orange Lines. The front of the cars will have aisle-facing seats to maximize standing space and make it easier for passengers to get on and off, while the rest of the car will have a mix of forward and rear-facing seat pairs and the popular single seats.
The contract is expected to create 169 jobs — employing mostly union, high-skilled, sheet metal and electrical workers — at an assembly facility at 135th Street and Torrence Avenue, city officials said. The facility is expected to build the 7000 Series cars over 10 years — with prototypes coming out in 2019, and cars going into the system in 2020, said CTA spokesman Brian Steele.
The facility would be the first rail-car assembly facility in Chicago since the Pullman-Standard plant closed in 1981.
In a buoyant news conference at CTA headquarters after the board’s vote, Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the deal historic and said he hoped the facility could also be used for other rail car orders from around the country. He expects suppliers to be drawn to the Hegewisch facility, bringing even more jobs. He said the deal was an example of the city using its purchasing power to create local employment, as it did when Chicago Police ordered its new cars from the South Side Ford plant.
“It’s one thing to order new cars and the customers will get a great experience. It’s another thing to order those cars and create great manufacturing jobs in the city of Chicago, and bring back rail-car manufacturing to its proper home,” Emanuel said.
CTA president Dorval Carter said the purchase will give the CTA one of the country’s youngest rail fleets — with the average age of a car dropping from 26 years in 2011 to 13 years once all the cars are delivered — and save $7 million annually in maintenance costs.
While the board approved a $1.3 billion contract, the cost over time could be about $1.4 billion because of inflation as the CTA exercises its options to go beyond an initial purchase of 400 cars, Steele said.
The CSR Sifang America bid came in $226 million lower than Bombardier’s.
Like the 5000 Series cars, the new cars will also convert the direct current supplied by the rails to an alternating current for propulsion, which provides a quieter, smoother ride, Steele said.
The new cars will be bought with a mix of federal and local funds, the latter provided by a bond issue.
The CTA first asked for proposals for the rail cars in February 2013, but the next year rejected the initial bids as incompatible with the 5000 Series. The agency then asked for the bids again, dropping the compatibility requirement and including a “U.S. Employment provision,” asking bidders to provide the number and type of new jobs they planned to create.
Jorge Ramirez, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, said he hopes Metra would also consider using the facility for rail car manufacture.