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Chicago’s Metra to Buy Its First Battery-Powered Trains

The new trains, which will run during off-peak times, consist of two rail cars that can hold up to 112 passengers. Metra touted the trains as more economical and environmentally friendly than their diesel counterparts.

Chicago's Metra commuter train in the station.
(TNS) — Metra is set to get its first battery-powered trains in the coming years, which could replace diesel-powered locomotives in places and times of day with fewer riders.

Metra touted the trains as a more economical and environmentally friendly option during off-peak times, and believes the trains will be among the first to use the technology in the U.S.

They consist of two attached railcars that can hold 112 passengers with a power unit between the cars that passengers can pass through. The trains can be controlled from either end and have their own propulsion system, so a separate locomotive isn’t necessary.

Manufactured by Stadler U.S., a Salt Lake City, Utah-based division of the Swiss train-maker, they are expected to be delivered in 2027 or 2028.

Metra board members approved buying eight of the two-car trains for $154 million Wednesday, with the option to spend up to $181.4 million more for eight additional trains and up to 32 cars that can be added onto the trains to expand them to three or four cars long. Each extra car can seat about 46 people.

Metra plans to test the trains on the 16.4-mile branch of the Rock Island line that runs from LaSalle Street Station through the Beverly neighborhood to Blue Island.

“It’s a highly residential neighborhood,” Metra CEO Jim Derwinski said. “They’ll probably really enjoy the fact that they’re quiet.”

After they are tested in multiple seasons, the trains could be expanded to include more cars or used elsewhere when ridership is relatively low, like for evening service, Derwinski said. Morning commuters on Metra’s busiest lines are unlikely to ride on the battery-powered trains.

“This will never be a vehicle that moves 1,500 people,” he said.

The purchase will be largely funded by a federal grant, though about $30 million in state funds will be used to meet a required local match for the initial purchase.

The new cars will have one level of seating, and passengers will be able to walk from car to car through open gangways. They are set to include bike racks, luggage racks and USB outlets.

The trains will have lifts to make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and half the cars will include ADA-accessible bathrooms.

The trains are expected to be able to travel 45 to 65 miles on a full charge, and it could take 20 to 30 minutes for a train to charge enough to operate.

Metra said the type and cost of charging infrastructure has not yet been determined.

Stadler has built electric, diesel-electric hybrid and battery-powered trains for European customers, Metra said. In the U.S., it is already building trains similar to those ordered by Metra but they are powered by diesel or hydrogen fuel cells.

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