Metra’s board approved the purchase of up to 500 state-of-the-art railcars from Alstom Transportation, opting for new multilevel cars that will be more comfortable, accessible, reliable, and safe than the outdated gallery cars they will replace.
“We are finally modernizing one of the oldest fleets in the country and, in doing so, we will improve operations while elevating our passenger experience to an entirely new level,” said Metra’s CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski. “It’s really part of our long-term plan to evolve and serve the changing needs of today’s commuters.”
About 40% of Metra’s current fleet of 840 cars are rated in marginal or poor condition, although they are still safe to operate. The new cars will offer increased reliability, while reducing operating costs — a substantial improvement over the increasing expense of maintaining the older cars.
The acquisition has been part of Metra’s board plan since 2014. The board reviewed and discussed the need for new railcars through a lens of fiscal responsibility, while acknowledging this as the first coach fleet purchase in more than two decades. With consideration given to the impact of operational cost savings, the board voted unanimously to approve the purchase.
The new cars will have two entranceways on each side with doors nearly level to the platform, thereby requiring only one step to enter instead of multiple steps on the old gallery cars. These changes will improve passenger flow, increase safety, and reduce time spent boarding and deboarding at each station. The cars will also be wheelchair accessible for people with disabilities, deploying lifts to bridge the slight difference between the platform and entrance.
Driven by consumer research conducted in 2019, the new cars will be designed for modern-day comfort and teeming with passenger amenities, including video screens, bike racks, storage for bags, charging outlets, cupholders, arm rests, and more.
From a mechanical perspective, the new cars will be significantly quieter and deliver a noticeably smoother ride. But one upgrade that may interest today’s riders is the addition of the most advanced HVAC system available, which will scrub the circulated air — reducing staleness, allergens, and airborne viruses.
The new cars will have stainless steel bodies and be compatible with Metra’s existing fleet, which means they can be coupled to current cars. They will also feature many reliability and safety upgrades, including a microprocessor-controlled braking system, electrically operated doors, and passenger area cameras.
The initial order will be for 200 cars. Metra will have the option to buy up to 300 additional cars for up to $1.8 billion total. The cars specified in the contract are a customized version of Alstom’s Coradia Duplex model and will be built at their Hornell, N.Y. manufacturing facility.