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Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad Co. (IHB) has obtained a $34.25 million grant from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) to convert 31 locomotives to operate on natural gas.The grant covers the conversion of locomotive engines from diesel to compressed natural gas (CNG), as well as the cost of supporting activities. Project planning is under way and no vendors have yet been selected, IHB officials said in a press release. The railroad expects to release a request for proposals in early 2014.IHB's will be the first locomotive fleet in North America to be converted to natural gas, railroad officials said. The conversions will decrease particulate matter emissions by 97 percent and nitrogen oxides emissions by 87 percent compared with current levels, significantly improving the air quality in the railroad's operating areas, they said.In addition, the conversions will reduce diesel fuel consumption by nearly 1 million gallons per year, said IHB Project Executive Michael Nicoletti.The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency sponsored IHB's effort to obtain CMAP funds. The grant was made possible by the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality fund and required a "substantial contribution" from the railroad, IHB officials said.