CTA removes all new rail cars as precaution

Commuters sit face-to-face in a new 5000 Series "L" car on the Red Line. (Chris Sweda/ Chicago Tribune)

All of the CTA's new rail cars have been pulled from service as a safety precaution pending the outcome of testing after inspections turned up multiple irregularities in the appearance of steel wheel components, transit officials said today.
It means that the 52 cars delivered so far by Bombardier Transit Corp., including 40 that were in service on the Pink Line until Thursday night, will remain in rail yards and no new cars will be accepted until the issue is resolved, said CTA spokeswoman Molly Sullivan.
"Flaws were first detected at the factory level and one of the problems was on an assembled car,'' she said. "Our inspectors then saw it on another component again.''
The sidelining of the new rail cars, part of a more than $1 billion order for a 706-car fleet, marks the first major setback since the CTA received prototypes of the next-generation cars in 2010.    
Sullivan said it isn't yet known whether a small number of flaws found in the quality of castings used to make wheel bearing housings are more serious than to cause superficial blemishes, saying, "The flaws could be a potential defect in the component parts.''
The new 5000 Series cars are temporarily being replaced by CTA rail cars up to 42 years old until the testing is completed, officials said, adding that the switch-out will not cause service disruptions unless the old cars destined for the salvage heap malfunction.
The new trains were operating solely on the Pink Line and were to be phased in next on the Green Line in February. The CTA's strategy is to introduce the cars on the least-busy lines first in order to minimize service disruptions if problems arise, officials said.    
Irregularities in the quality of the castings were first observed by CTA inspectors last month at Bombardier's Plattsburgh, N.Y., assembly plant, CTA officials said. The castings were replaced and no additional problems were detected until Tuesday when CTA inspectors found a second quality issue with a casting at the manufacturing plant.
"CTA and Bombardier immediately began more inspections and discovered issues with other castings,'' the CTA said in a statement.
"The parts are undergoing rigorous testing and while the testing is not complete, CTA decided as a precaution to take the 5000 Series cars out of service until more information is gathered,'' the statement said.