Metra to buy low-emission locomotives in effort to go green

The plan includes the commuter rail agency’s first zero-emission, electric-powered switch engine.

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Metra ridership is slowly increasing after a major decline due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Metra plans to add seven low-emission switch locomotives to its fleet in an effort to be more environmentally friendly.

Sun-Times file

Metra’s effort to buy new, environmentally friendly equipment could be a step toward making urban air a little cleaner.

The commuter rail system’s board on Wednesday approved a plan to buy six new low-emission switch locomotives that meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s highest, Tier IV standards. Metra also plans to purchase a zero-emission, all-electric switch engine — the first of its fleet — in an effort to reduce its carbon footprint by slashing diesel emissions.

The new switch locomotives will be paid for by the state’s bond program, but a Metra spokesperson did not have a cost estimate. A request for proposals will be issued soon, Metra said.

Switch locomotives are typically used to move equipment around rail yards and throughout the system. The seven new engines will replace locomotives that first went into service between 50 and 82 years ago, many of which predate the EPA. The locomotives will be delivered in about three years, a Metra spokesperson said.

Metra said new locomotives that meet Tier IV emissions standards would reduce emissions and fuel consumption, improve reliability and lower maintenance costs. Compared to the older locomotives in Metra’s fleet, those that meet Tier IV standards emit 90% less particulate matter and 85% less nitrogen oxide.

“At Metra, we’ve always prided ourselves on providing our customers with safe and reliable service that’s good for the environment,” James Derwinski, Metra CEO and executive director, said in a statement. “We’re taking advantage of the latest technology to do even more to reduce pollution in northeast Illinois.”

In January, the board unanimously approved buying up to 500 new rail cars from the French firm Alstom Transportation. The initial order is for 200 coaches, with an option to buy 300 more.

The first cars should start arriving in about three-and-a-half years. The cost for the first 200 coaches would be $845 million, about $4.23 million per car.

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