Hi everyone! I see you all had a busy weekend what with the Golden Ears celebration and all. As for yours truly, I’m writing from the APTA rail conference in Chicago this week!
TransLink is hosting next year’s rail conference, so I’m sitting at a table promoting it to our colleagues in the registration room.
This is the first time I’ve been to an APTA conference, and the response from transit professionals about TransLink and our city is pretty amazing. (Also amazing: the number of different American accents here. Wow!)
Things I’ve heard from other delegates so far, spanning from Toronto to Texas to Taipei (and this is all true, I swear):
- “You guys got a really good guy in Mike Shiffer.” (Mike’s our new Vice-President of Planning, and originally from Chicago.)
- “TransLink? That’s Tom Prendergast, right? He’s a great guy.” (Tom’s our CEO!)
- “We love your trolley system!”
- “TransLink? That’s great—we’re really looking to your system as we develop our transit system.”
- “Vancouver! That’s my favourite city!”
(By the way, we brought the transit buttons from I Love Transit Week, and people are super into them! Although some do ask “What’s MKI and MK II”?)
There are so many people are here from an astonishing array of places. Virtually every transit system in Canada and America is represented, plus people from France’s national railway, South Korea, Tokyo, and more.
The conference really lets everyone come together to share knowledge, and connect with others about all different aspects of running a rail system—technical, customer service, leadership, and much more. Here’s the full session list if you’re curious. (PS: there are also APTA conferences for buses and other specialties too.)
There are also going to be some great behind-the-scenes tours put on by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and others. I’m going on three tours and these will make up the bulk of my posts from Chicago – I’m pretty excited about them!
Brief encounters with Chicago transit
In my limited time here, I’ve been able to ride the Red Line, one of Chicago’s subway (underground) lines in the downtown area, and some of the elevated lines in the Loop. I’ve also seen a few buses pass by, of course!
Chicago’s system is the second biggest in America, offering bus and rapid transit to the city and 40 suburbs. The underground and elevated train systems date back as far as the late 1800s, so the system has a lot of history and great connections throughout the city (including lines to both airports!).
I went down to Harrison station on the Red Line. The first thing I noticed is that the subway stations are really not that far below the surface: just one flight of stairs down and there you are, like some of the Canada Line stations.
The stations are also not really big or elaborate. For the most part, there’s just one long platform and trains on either side (or two platforms with trains in the middle).
Not every station is accessible by the way – the CTA’s info sheet says just over half of stations are accessible, which comes with the territory when it’s an older system. (Every bus in the fleet is accessible, though!)
And a nice touch I noticed in this station: the poetry on transit is written on the posts! Very nice use of the space. Also, you can see that the rumble strip on the edge of the platform is blue, rather than the yellow we use in Vancouver.
This is the obligatory “train-pulling-into-a-station” video. I don’t know if you can tell from this video, but these trains are loud! When we walked outside by the elevated tracks, the sound of the train screeching around a corner was earsplitting. In comparison, the SkyTrain is much quieter.
Like our system, you buy your tickets from ticket vending machines. The regular machines are cash only – no credit or bank cards. There are also express machines at select stations do accept credit and debit.
As well, there is is a Chicago Card smartcard available, which you can top up at the vending machines. (A premium version can be topped up online.)
Cash fares are $2.25 for one ride only, not 90 minutes as in our system. Of course this gets cheaper as you buy multi-day passes. Here’s the full fare schedule if you’re interested.
And this video is fun — listen and you’ll hear the voice for the Chicago announcement system is a smooth male radio voice. The buses use the same type of voice for its automated announcements too.
I rode the elevated system in the evening. The stations seem to be in various states of repair. For example, this one above is updated and modern, done in steel and concrete, with an elevator for accessibility.
However, this station above is made chiefly of wood, with wood stairs and platforms leading up to the train platform. No elevator at this one either.
And none of this is a judgment on the quality of the Chicago system, by the way: it’s an amazing system, they are great hosts, and I’m sure I’ll learn more this week about why everything is the way it is!
And to cap things off, here is a picture of Chicago’s new New Flyer hybrids:
Look how they declare “Clean Air Hybrid Bus” right on the side! Not sure if we’ll do the same, but I’ll definitely send this to my colleagues for reference purposes :)