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Rail News: Passenger Rail

Metra powers up after decade-long locomotive order drought


Less than a month after Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corp. (Metra) approved a $398.6 million order for 300 new coaches, Metra’s board Jan. 12 approved a $79.4 million order for 26 locomotives to be built by Boise, Idaho-based MotivePower, a Wabtec Corp. subsidiary.

Fifteen of the locomotives would replace units that Milwaukee Road used on its Elgin and Fox Lake commuter routes in 1974 — a decade before Metra took over all Chicago-area commuter operations.

Since 1984, ridership on the routes — now named Milwaukee West and Milwaukee North, respectively — has increased from 31,000 weekday passenger trips to 44,500 weekday passenger trips. Further growth would require longer trains, putting an even greater demand on the twice-rebuilt, 27-year-old locomotives.

Seven other new locomotives would replace older units that have yet to be designated; the remaining four would be used in planned service increases.

In addition to a more aerodynamic style and stronger collision and corner posts, the locomotives would have greater power and be more efficient than Metra’s existing locomotive fleet. Horsepower would increase from 3,200 to 3,800, and fuel-carrying capacity would expand from 1,900 gallons to 2,400 gallons. The locomotives also would meet Environmental Protection Agency Tier I emission requirements.

As for passenger comfort, the locomotives would include head-end power for electric lighting, heating and air conditioning whether the train is moving or waiting at a station. The power inverter would enable the locomotives to generate electricity with decreased noise and emissions while in downtown terminals.

Also to aid passenger comfort, the new locomotives would incorporate electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, enabling engineers to brake more precisely and quickly — a benefit when pulling longer trains.

Metra officials also expect the ECP brakes to lower maintenance costs, due to greater intervals between maintenance.

Locomotive maintenance also would be aided by a MotivePower-developed training program for operating and mechanical personnel, as well as administrative personnel who would manage the materials. Upon program completion, materials to aid new-hire training would become Metra property.

Federal Transit Administration funds would cover 80 percent of the cost. The state’s 20 percent local match would be covered by Illinois Fund for Infrastructure, Roads, Schools and Transit (Illinois FIRST) — a five-year, $12 billion public works program proposed by Gov. George Ryan, which the state legislature approved May 21, 1999.

Metra last ordered new locomotives in the early 1990s. The 26 new units are scheduled for a late-2004 delivery.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 1/17/2001