CHICAGO (WBBM) – The CTA has a present for its riders – 300 additional new ‘L’ cars. But you won’t see them for a while.

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CTA needs the new ‘L’ cars, both to relieve overcrowding and replace rapid transit equipment built when Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford were president.  And the cost was critical to the cash-starved agency.

Since 2006, it has held options to build a total of 706 new ‘L’ cars for a little more than $1.4 million apiece.  If bid new today, they would cost about $2.5 million each.  But the options begin to run out in February.  So Wednesday, CTA President Richard Rodriguez asked the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) board to allow the CTA to issue the needed bonds, if necessary.

“This is Plan B,” said Rodriguez.  He hopes to be able to use state infrastructure plan money to buy the cars, but had to make sure he had a backup before going to the builder, Canadian-based Bombardier.

The RTA board quickly gave unanimous approval.

The cars come in two groups.  The final 84 cars were originally slated for the ill-fated Airport Express service, which is now dormant.

Rodriguez said that negotiations are underway with Bombardier to allow them to be built the same as the other ‘L’ cars.

Originally, the Airport Express cars were expected to be far more luxurious, and several would have been built as baggage cars, to allow air travelers en route to O’Hare or Midway Airports to check their bags at the terminal beneath Block 37 – which now sits half-finished, without tracks.

CTA took delivery of 10 prototype cars last year, and will continue testing them through late spring.  Rodriguez said, tongue-in-cheek, on Wednesday that he hopes this is “a really rough winter” so that the cars can be tested under the severest of conditions.

Deliveries are expected to begin next year, and continue through 2014.

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