Metra should buy cleaner, greener, more efficient Tier 4 locomotives

June 18, 2018

Metra owns 150 locomotives that haul hundreds of thousands of Chicagoland commuters every day. Like most of Metra’s fleet, many of these locomotives are downright old and need to be replaced. Metra’s best option is to buy new locomotives that meet “Tier 4” emissions standards, like the new Metrolink locomotive pictured here.

Tell Springfield: Fund new Tier 4 locomotives for Metra!

Although Metra should be looking at electrifying some lines and operating off-peak service with lightweight, diesel multiple-unit trains, it will still need locomotive-hauled trains to meet rush-hour crowds.

Metra’s locomotives need to be replaced not simply for their age, but because they fall far short of meeting modern emissions standards. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who’s been to Union Station at rush hour. The clouds of blue smoke that smother the platforms are more than a nuisance, they are potentially hazardous. “We aren't going to be able to make a big difference without new locomotives,” former Metra CEO Don Orseno told the Chicago Tribune.

Metra recently issued a request for proposals to rebuild or replace some if its locomotives. Instead of rebuilding, it should opt for new Tier 4 locomotives. Although rebuilding current locomotives would improve emissions, it would probably not reach Tier 4 standards.

Compared to most of Metra’s current engines, Tier 4 locomotives emit 86% less nitrous oxide, hydrocarbons and particulate matter. They also emit 70% less carbon monoxide. Beyond having much cleaner exhaust, modern Tier 4 locomotives are more powerful and more fuel efficient.

Commuter rail operators in Toronto and Los Angeles have both chosen Tier 4. The CEO of L.A.’s Metrolink told the L.A. Times that “the business case is there” for going with Tier 4. “We thought that rebuilding our old locomotives was a good deal, but we’ve learned that buying new engines is better… The new Tier 4s have up to 1,700 more horsepower, use up to 8 percent less fuel per mile, have longer service lives and are more reliable than rebuilt engines.” He also pointed out that replacement parts will be cheaper and easier to find for new locomotives, compared to rebuilt ones.

Metrolinx, which operates GO Transit in Toronto, has also committed to Tier 4. For both agencies, the long-term fuel savings and operational benefits of new locomotives are greater than the upfront cost.

Metra should make the same decision and go with cleaner, greener and more efficient Tier 4 locomotives.

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Tell Springfield: Fund new Tier 4 locomotives for Metra!

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