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CTA Board To Vote On Contract To Buy 850 New 'L' Cars

(CBS) -- It hasn't been long since the CTA operated the oldest fleet of rapid transit cars in the country. The CTA's board Wednesday is expected to take steps that will make it the newest.

Only five months after the delivery of the last of its controversial 714-car 5000-series cars, CTA's board is voting to buy nearly 850 more 'L' cars -- a deal valued at $2 billion.

It's not saying yet which manufacturer won the competition, but Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office says that the rapid transit cars, to be numbered in the 7000 series, will be made in Chicago -- the first rail cars to be built in the Windy City since the historic south side Pullman works shut down in 1981.

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The 7000 series will allow CTA to retire 'L' cars built in the 1980s (2600 series) and 1990s (3200 series).

It has taken CTA nearly three years to get to this point. Bids solicited in 2013 were rejected the following year because the 'L' cars would not be compatible with the new, AC-propelled 5000s. CTA dropped the compatibility requirement before going to bid again in the past year.

There will be one change riders will notice immediately -- and many will applaud. A spokesman said that CTA has heard the complaints of riders about the aisle-facing seats aboard the 5000s, which has left those who can fit into their seats looking at fellow riders' crotches. While it won't mark a return to the seating layouts of the cars being retired, there will be many more front- and back-facing seats.

CTA will pay for the cars through a mix of federal funds and CTA bond issue proceeds. The bonds are already sold. A spokesman said the prototypes should be rolling by 2019, with full production expected to begin in 2020.

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