Is This Seat Taken? Multifaceted Research Study to Inform the Chicago, Illinois, Transit Authority's Future Rail Car Seating Design

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, mode - rail, infrastructure - vehicle, planning - surveys, ridership - behaviour, operations - capacity


Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), rail cars, seating configuration, car capacity


The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) in Illinois conducted a research study to inform the purchase of rail cars. The study comprised customer surveys, qualitative observations of customer behavior, and quantitative analysis of station dwell times. Traditionally, CTA rail cars were configured with transverse seats of various quantities, standing areas, and supporting infrastructure for standees, such as poles. Since November 2011, CTA has been phasing in the 5000-series car, which offers longitudinal seats with the potential for more standing room and increased capacity especially during peak periods. The study reported in this paper used multiple methodologies to compare customer preference, passenger flow and behavior, and train operation of three rail car types on the basis of the impact of seat configuration. Results indicated that most customers preferred transverse seats. Rail cars with longitudinal seats were unable to accommodate more people than other cars, because the varied length of people's legs restricted room for standing riders. Customers found comfortable standing spaces in existing 3200-series cars with 2 x 1 seating, which created staggered standing room in the center aisle. The availability of many poles in this series and fewer weather panels led to shortened dwell times and increased capacity. The study questioned whether longitudinal seats could increase car capacity. Contrary to theoretical estimates and expectations, CTA found no evidence that more standing room increased car capacity. Further research is encouraged on systems in which rail cars differ in their dimensions from narrow CTA rail cars to understand how customer interactions and preferences for other seating configurations affect rail car capacity.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Transportation Research Board, Washington, copyright remains with them.