Chicago operator begins process of replacing ageing locomotives

Photo: Rudy Balasko /
Photo: Rudy Balasko /

Metra has begun the process of replacing its fleet of ageing locomotives – despite falling short of what it describes as the necessary funding.

CEO Jim Derwinski said that the Chicago operator is trying to do the best it can with the resources that are available.

The current fleet has an average age of 30 years and Metra has identified rolling stock modernisation as one of its highest capital priorities so it can introduce modern, cleaner-burning engines.

Published in 2014, its modernisation plan called for the purchase of 367 carriages and 52 locomotives but those plans relied on $1.3 billion (∼€1 billion) in new funding, which has not come to fruition.

Instead, Metra is attempting to acquire as many cars and engines as possible with existing funding – it currently has around $125 million (∼$104 million) for locomotive purchases over the next five years – by assessing different financing options, such as leasing.

A statement on Metra’s website reads: “That existing funding, unfortunately, falls far short of Metra’s needs. [Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority] estimates Metra needs to spend $1.2 billion a year for 10 years to achieve and maintain a state of good repair on its system, including buying new cars and engines but also replacing and upgrading its bridges, stations and other infrastructure. This year, Metra has one-sixth of that amount available.”

Photo: Joe Ravi.
Photo: Joe Ravi.

Jim Derwinski added: “Clearly, however, we need more capital dollars to continue to invest in our system and upgrade our assets.”

Metra began the process of replacing its fleet by publishing a request for proposals (RFP) in December, 2017.

It has asked for options for either new or remanufactured locomotives so it can weigh up the costs and benefits.

The RFP asks for a base order of at least 12 new or 15 remanufactured locomotives with options for up to 30 additional new locomotives or 27 additional remanufactured locomotives, for a total of up to 42 locomotives.

The contract is expected to be awarded in 2018, with the first new locomotive delivered in 2020.

Metra issued an RFP for at least 25 new railcars in April 2017, and is currently evaluating responses. It also hopes to award that contract in 2018.

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