Metra Fare Hikes Could Fund New Cars

Metra, Chicago’s commuter rail agency, has big plans to renew its creaky fleet through ten years of fare increases which will kick in next February if the board approves.

But not all of that fleet renewal will mean new trains.

The agency does plan to purchase over 400 new rail cars. But 367 of the existing cars will be rehabbed. That’s a process which is already underway, at Metra’s sprawling maintenance facility at 47th and the Dan Ryan.

“Every component you can think of in the car is being rebuilt,” says agency chief Don Orseno, in the shadow of a rail car stripped to its ribs. The cars go through four stations, each lasting an average of nine days.

“Under the new program, we’re going to be gearing up to do 60 cars a year,” Orseno says. “Typically the cars going through the rebuilding process are 15 to 17 years old.”

Each car gets a new composite floor, which the agency says is easier to clean and less susceptible to salt, along with new heating systems and seats. And yes, Metra riders, you will be happy to know, electrical outlets are being installed between the seats for your computers, phones, and iPads.

The rest rooms on lavatory-equipped cars are being gutted and replaced. New wiring and video systems are being added to the cabs, along with new GPS devices, and doors which won’t close on riders who might be slow to disembark. And each car is jacked up and gets a new set of wheels.

All of this, of course, comes at a cost. Rehab of a rail car costs about $700,000 to $800,000. But that’s a far cry from the $3 million price tag of a new rail car. And all of it gets funded by a hike in tickets, which, if approved, will kick in February 1, 2015.

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