Chicago’s Metra board of directors authorized the agency to move forward with requests for proposals (RFPs) for the design and production of new railcars and locomotives to begin to replace its aging fleet.
The railcar RFP, which will be published next week, will provide for at least 25 new railcars, plus as many more railcars above that amount as possible. The exact number will depend on the responses to the RFP, the amount of funding available, and whether Metra can use financing alternatives, such as leasing, to maximize its funding. Likewise, the locomotive RFP, which will be published during the third quarter of 2017, will provide for a base order of 10 locomotives plus as many more as possible.
Metra currently has approximately $200 million programmed for rolling stock purchases over the next five years, although some of that money could be needed for Positive Train Control or other capital needs, according to the agency. The Metra board of directors has asked staff to consider financing alternatives, such as leasing, to maximize the efficient use of available capital resources.
Metra’s 2014 modernization plan called for the purchase of 367 railcars and 52 locomotives. That plan, however, counted on Metra receiving $1.3 billion in new funding, primarily from a new state bond program. Because anticipated funding did not come through, Metra is now attempting to acquire as many cars and engines as possible with existing funding.
“By now, we had hoped to benefit from a new state infrastructure program and planned to use those funds to buy new rolling stock. Clearly, that has not happened,” said Metra Executive Director/CEO Don Orseno. “Until the state passes a new program, we have decided to do what we can with the resources we have available to us.”
Metra has identified modernization of rolling stock as one of its highest capital priorities due to the age of its fleet and the fact that the condition of cars and locomotives is so essential to providing high-quality, reliable, and comfortable service. With an average age of 28 years, Metra’s fleet is seven years older than the peer average.
“Funding for capital transportation projects has never been more uncertain. We believe this is a measured, realistic, and responsible way for us to buy new cars and locomotives with the funding resources we have on hand today,” said Board Chairman Norman Carlson. “And, if the state comes through with a new infrastructure program, we will be able to accelerate our orders if that’s what the board chooses to do.”
Metra expects to award the contract for new railcars in the first quarter of 2018. Delivery of the first cars will be part of the negotiations and dependent upon the manufacturer’s capacity to build. The last time Metra received new railcars for lines other than the Metra Electric was in 2006.
Metra would expect to award the contract for new locomotives later in 2018, with delivery of the first locomotive in 2020. New locomotives will allow Metra to begin to replace outdated diesel locomotives serving Chicago Union Station with modern, cleaner-burning engines, significantly improving air quality for the 120,000 passengers who travel through the station each day.