CHICAGO commuter agency Metra has secured a $US 169.3m federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) grant to support the purchase of battery-electric multiple-units (BEMUs).

Metra issued a request for proposals (RFP) for BEMUs in September 2022 and is currently reviewing responses. The CMAQ funding - the largest federal competitive grant ever won by Metra - will support the purchase of up to 16 trains, adding a new type of propulsion to its, with the BEMUs expected to offer improved acceleration and braking profiles compared with existing diesel locomotive-hauled push-pull trains.

Metra says it expects to introduce the trains on the Rock Island Line, which runs between La Salle Street station and Joliet, and would “directly benefit the air quality in several economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods on the South Side of Chicago and in the south suburbs.”

Metra says the single-deck trains could be “a more economical and environmentally-friendly way to provide the same level of service or better, particularly during off-peak times, and could play a significant role in helping the agency achieve its vision to provide more frequent all-day service.”

In addition, purchasing the new trains would enable Metra to retire some of its oldest, most polluting diesel locomotives, which are “well beyond their useful life,” and significantly reduce C02 emissions. It would also allow Metra to retire some of its oldest passenger coaches.

“If Metra could take 16 locomotives out of service six years earlier than planned, it would reduce Metra’s carbon dioxide emissions by about 567,000 tons over that period,” says Metra spokesperson, Mr Michael Gillis, as quoted by The Chicago Tribune. Gillis did not confirm a date for the BEMU fleet to enter service but says it is expected “within the next few years.”

This is not the agency’s first foray into battery traction. Metra awarded Progress Rail a $US 34.6m contract to convert up to six diesel-electric F40PH-3 locomotives to battery power in August 2022. However, this project appears to have stalled after an agreement could not be reached with Progress Rail, according to Trains magazine. Metra said in February that it would revisit the project later in 2023.

Metra also confirmed an order with Alstom in January 2021 for the purchase of up to 500 double-deck coaches, including an initial order for 200 vehicles.

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