This week, Chicago’s Metra received the final two cars of its 160-car order for the Metra Electric Line, completing a 2010 purchase to outfit the line with a completely new and modern fleet.

The new cars use the latest technology and have a variety of new features, including larger windows, better seats with reversible seatbacks, brighter lighting, non-skid floors and an improved public address system. They also have power outlets for customer use. Most notably, half of the new Highliner cars have bathrooms, meaning that every train on the Metra Electric line will have at least one bathroom — a first for the line.

“Modernizing the Electric District’s fleet has been a priority for Metra for more than a decade,” said Executive Director/CEO Don Orseno. “With the delivery of the final cars, we are celebrating the completion of a major investment that has enabled us to provide our customers with more comfortable and reliable service.”

Since 1984, Metra has invested $1.6 billion in the Metra Electric — the most of any of Metra’s lines in the agency’s six-county service area.

The push to replace the original 40-plus-year-old Highliners with a more modern fleet began with an order for 26 stainless steel Highliner cars in 2004. The cars, delivered to Metra in 2006, were purchased with $76 million in funding provided through the state’s Illinois FIRST bond program. Another state bond program allowed Metra to move forward with the purchase of 160 more Highliners in 2010 when the Metra Board approved $585 million contract with Sumitomo Corp. of America/Nippon Sharyo.

The order from Metra spurred Nippon Sharyo to invest $35 million to build a new railcar factory in Rochelle, Ill., that employs hundreds of people while Illinois added a $12 million business investment package to support the new facility.

Highliners are electric, self-propelled cars unique to the Metra Electric Line. The new cars are propelled by alternating current, which supplies more power and requires less maintenance that the direct current propulsion used by the original Highliners.

Although the Metra Electric Line cars cannot be used on the diesel lines, Metra has designed these cars so that, where possible, they share parts with those used on diesel bi-level cars.

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