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Article updated: 11/14/2012 5:35 PM

New Metra cars don't eclipse 'transit desert' concerns

By Marni Pyke

Metra officials thanked Illinois lawmakers for coming up with $585 million to pay for 160 new rail cars on the Electric Line Wednesday but said the system's needs don't end there.

"I salute Metra taking this initiative to the South Side of Chicago and Chicago's south suburbs," Gov. Pat Quinn said, during a ceremony at Chicago's Millennium Station. "We don't want anyone left behind."

Metra Chairman Brad O'Halloran thanked Quinn and added, "I'm sure we'll be coming to your doorstep again."

Metra's 2013 budget has not been approved yet but it could include a fare increase to help pay for capital needs.

Director Jack Schaffer of Cary acknowledged it's a challenge finding funds to keep the train lines in good repair, let alone move on mega projects such as the mothballed STAR line, connecting the Northwest suburbs to O'Hare International Airport and Will County.

"There's still plenty left to do," Schaffer said. "It's a burr in my saddle that the west end of McHenry County is a transit desert."

The Electric Line runs south from the Loop to the University of Chicago and continues to University Park.

Metra named one of the cars after former Director Lonnie Hill, who died in 2009 and was an advocate for improvements to the Electric Line.

Schaffer credited Hill with convincing the board to invest in the Electric Line.

The Electric Line differs from the rest of the Metra system in using cars that are self-propelled from an overhead electrical power line. The other Metra lines use diesel engines. Wednesday's event marked the rollout of the first installment of the 160 Highliners, replacing a fleet dating to the 1970s.

The new cars "will be more comfortable, more inviting and far more reliable," O'Halloran said.

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