Muffled CTA message nears end of the line


By Robert C. Herguth

Date of Publication: February 9, 2000
Source: Chicago Sun-Times


Finally, those on L trains might discover the true meaning of "FREENRYORR."

Those muffled, often-incoherent announcements that purportedly inform CTA riders of approaching stops are gradually being replaced by automated messages.

While that's good news to passengers who appreciate clarity, some will miss the conductors and motormen who put their personalities into the public address systems by tagging a vessel the "love train" or offering colorful commentary.

The new announcements sound like something from Disney World, remarked Norvel Thompson as the West Rogers Park resident rode the Red Line--the CTA's busiest route--last week between Grand and Howard.

"Welcome aboard Red Line run 924," said a recorded male voice, which also calls out stops and connecting lines, alerts riders when doors are closing and says whether the left or right doors will open. A metallic "ding dong" rings when the doors are about to close. "Ding dong, doors are closing."

"I like it," said Thompson, a 41-year-old nurse. "I didn't understand anybody before."

"The doors ding and let you know when they're closing--finally," she said, noting she's gotten caught in their grasp before.

"It's the first time I've ridden the CTA in 10 years," said 45-year-old Andersonville resident Frank Malles as he stood near a door, waiting for the Berwyn stop. "I was surprised [with the new voice]. I think it's informative. It's much better than it was years ago. . . . It's good for tourists."

Chris Haan didn't know what to make of the new announcements when he began hearing them two weeks back. "At first I thought it was kind of corny, but at least you can understand it," said the 45-year-old day trader, who lives in Lake View and rides the L twice a day. "They seem to make a few mistakes, but generally it's pretty good. . . . Once, when we were traveling, they were saying, `Doors closing,' while we were moving."

On another train, the messages were so soft riders could barely hear announcements. On a different day, the opposite was true.

"It was turned all the way up--the `ding dong' was so loud it almost blew my ears out," said 24-year-old Kevin Dragotto, a tax analyst who lives in Uptown and frequently rides the L.

CTA spokeswoman Maria Toscano said the agency is testing the equipment on the Red and Purple lines, and is still working out the bugs. "Starting this spring, it'll be activated line by line, and all the lines should be completed by the end of the year," she said.

Also operational by the end of 2000 will be an intercom system that allows passengers to communicate with motormen. Together, such improvements will cost about $5.4 million, Toscano said.