Your NPR news source
Metra’s zero-emission trains will feature low-level boarding and ADA-compliant lifts.

Metra’s zero-emission trains will feature low-level boarding and ADA-compliant lifts.

Metra to buy first battery-powered trains as part of effort to provide more frequent all-day service

Metra plans to buy battery-powered trains that could hit the rails as early as 2027 on the Rock Island line, potentially fast-tracking a move to greener and more frequent off-peak service.

The commuter rail agency’s board voted Wednesday to pay $154 million for eight two-car, zero-emission trains from Stadler U.S., of Salt Lake City, Utah.

Metra can pay an additional $181 million for eight more two-car sets and up to 32 unpowered trailer cars. They could be combined to make three- or four-car trains.

“This purchase demonstrates Metra’s commitment to cleaner power, to quieter trains, and to thinking outside the box as we plan for our future,” Metra CEO Jim Derwinski said in a statement announcing the planned purchase.

The trains, unveiled by the Stadler U.S.’ Swiss parent company last year, are a significant departure from Metra’s well-known diesel locomotives and cars.

The Stadler trains have low-level boarding and ADA-compliant lifts. Each two-car powered train seats 112 people, with trailer cars seating about 46. The cars are connected by open gangways. Half of the trailer cars would include ADA-accessible bathrooms.

In its statement, Metra said the new trains could help achieve its vision of providing more frequent all-day service. The first sets are expected to be delivered in 2027 or 2028, Metra said.

Joe Schwieterman, a professor at DePaul University and author of “Terminal Town,” praised the purchase as a “major move” to address changing ridership habits. Metra is attempting to address the shift toward people working more nontraditional schedules with these smaller, more frequent trains, he said.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve experimented with a whole new commuter rail technology,” he said. “The days of a one-size-fits-all fleet have long passed.”

He said the new lighter trains can start and stop faster, quickening service. They’re also lower slung for easier boarding and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“I don’t really see a downside,” Schwieterman said.

Metra said it’s one of the first U.S. commuter rail agencies to purchase battery-powered trains. In August, San Francisco’s regional rail operator Caltrain introduced five complete battery-powered Stadler trains, making 90% of its entire fleet electric.

The trains have a range of 45 to 65 miles, Metra said. Trains can be charged from 20% to 80% — enough to operate — in about 20 or 30 minutes. Metra hasn’t figured out a charging infrastructure yet or its cost.

Metra plans to run the new trains between LaSalle Street and Blue Island on the Beverly Branch of the Rock Island Line, a distance of 16.4 miles. Metra noted that the zero-emission trains would benefit the air quality in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods on the South Side and near south suburbs.

The new trains would also allow Metra to retire some of its oldest railcars and diesel-run locomotives, which Metra said are already beyond their useful life.

Metra is covering part of the purchase price with a $169.3 million federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grant.

The Latest
Noon Whistle Brewing’s timely offering is made with the real insects.
Two experts from the regional EPA office join WBEZ to tell us what we can expect. Reporter: Lauren Frost; Host: Melba Lara
In the last five years, Chicago has seen double the number of cyclists in the city.
Asian Americans are three times less likely to seek mental health care compared to white Americans.
With her latest book, a Chicago author provides a go-to guide for new managers to foster a safe, inclusive and productive workplace.