Is it finally time to replace Metra’s fleet?

December 06, 2018

With a new governor about to take office in Illinois, the state might finally pass a capital bill that could fund Metra’s $5 billion train and track replacement need--and create the core of the Midwest’s regional rail network.

As if we needed another reminder about how pressing this need is, the Chicago region’s beleaguered commuter rail operator suffered two high-profile mechanical failures this week.

On Monday morning, a locomotive pulling an inbound Heritage Corridor train from Joliet gave up the ghost mere miles from Chicago Union Station. Passengers were stranded on the train for nearly three hours while another locomotive came to their rescue.

Then on Monday evening, a locomotive hauling a Milwaukee North line train to Fox Lake caught fire. The train stopped at the Morton Grove station and everyone was evacuated safely, but TV news footage showed dramatic scenes of firefighters trying to extinguish the smoking locomotive.

Many of Metra’s locomotives are 40 years old. It needs to replace them with new, fuel-efficient, lower-emissions (EPA Tier 4) locomotives. As a stop-gap, Metra is buying a limited number of used locomotives from Amtrak, which are an improvement, but are still 20 years old.

Metra also needs to replace its fleet of “gallery”-style passenger cars, which are based on a World War II-era design. Modern commuter car designs are more comfortable, more accessible, and more cost-effective to operate.

Metra should also consider expanding its fleet to include modern multiple-unit designs that don’t require a separate locomotive. These shorter, lighter trains would be a more efficient way to operate frequent mid-day service. Traditional, higher-capacity locomotive-hauled trains would continue to meet rush hour demand.

A high-speed rail network in the Midwest depends on a modern, well-functioning Metra system. Not only do long-distance trains need frequent, reliable commuter trains to connect to, we need tracks that Metra owns to get fast trains into and out of Chicago.

Metra’s new CEO is pushing the agency to look beyond its usual playbook and consider new options, like modern commuter cars. He’s also been upfront about Metra’s big financial gap, which is in part because Illinois hasn’t passed a transportation spending bill in 10 years. We look forward to working with Governor Pritzker and the new Illinois General Assembly to fund Metra’s future, and make progress towards fast, frequent and reliable trains around the Midwest.

Next week (Dec. 10 to 13) is our 2018 Fast Track Challenge! We need your help to spread the word to new members and help us unlock a $5,000 challenge grant. Check in Monday, Dec. 10 for details!

(Photo by vxla)