Metra to buy zero-emission, self-propelled rail cars with $169.3M federal grant

Metra may be able to retire its most polluting diesel trains earlier than it planned and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 567,000 tons, the transit agency says.

SHARE Metra to buy zero-emission, self-propelled rail cars with $169.3M federal grant
Metra is set to receive a $169.3 million federal grant to purchase battery-powered, zero-emission trainsets, according to a Metra news release.

Metra’s $169.3 million grant is the largest federal competitive grant ever won by the agency.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Metra is set to receive a $169.3 million federal grant to buy self-propelled rail cars that could help the commuter railroad reduce its carbon dioxide emissions.

“We think zero-emission train sets could be an exciting and positive addition to Metra’s fleet for a variety of reasons,” Metra CEO Jim Derwinski said in a news release. “Beyond the environmental and noise reduction benefits, they also offer savings in energy consumption as well as better efficiency, flexibility and reliability.”

Metra said it is the largest competitive federal grant ever won by the agency.

Metra said it wants to explore whether these self-propelled rail cars could work in Chicago, and it would be among the first agencies in the country to operate this type of green technology.

The rail cars are coupled into train sets and have operators at each end to change directions. Battery-powered train sets are in use in Germany, France and Australia.

The grant supports the purchase of up to 16 train sets, with a new type of propulsion that could accelerate and brake faster than traditional trains.

Buying the train sets would allow Metra to retire some of its oldest, most polluting diesel locomotives. If Metra could take 16 locomotives out of service six years earlier than planned, it would reduce Metra’s carbon dioxide emissions by about 567,000 tons over that period, said Metra spokesperson Michael Gillis.

The train sets will likely be introduced on Metra’s Rock Island Line, which runs between Chicago’s La Salle Street station and Joliet.

Metra approved a plan in 2022 to convert up to six locomotives to zero-emission battery power. The total cost for the conversions is $34.6 million with an expected timeline of 312 years.

Charging stations will be designed after the locomotives are designed. The duration of a full and partial recharge of the trains won’t be known until then.

Though there isn’t a timeline for when the zero-emission train sets will be on the rails, Gillis said they can be expected within the next few years.

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