Metra cars with cupholders and video screens are coming

Commuters can expect a gradual replacement of Metra's vintage railcars with a new fleet that offers cupholders, charging outlets and video screens. Metra directors approved spending up to $1.8 billion for 500 multilevel railcars from Alstom Transportation Inc. Wednesday. The plan is to initially purchase 200 railcars for $845 million, with a Metra option to buy the remaining 300.

"We are finally modernizing one of the oldest fleets in the country," Metra CEO Jim Derwinski said in a statement. "This move is truly transformational."

That cushy seat will take a while to appear, however. The first car won't arrive until 2024, with "the full base order complete 30 months later," officials said.

Instead of multiple steps, the new cars will have doors nearly level with platforms, with just one step to board, officials said. Other features include bike racks, armrests and more storage for bags.

The $1.8 billion contract also includes engineering and design costs, spare parts, specialty tools and training, Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said.

The agency will use federal, state and Regional Transportation Authority funds to pay for the cars.

The railcars will be built of stainless steel and offer a higher quality heating and air-conditioning system, after issues with cooling meltdowns on trains over the years, particularly on the BNSF Line.

Metra's fleet of 840 railcars has an average age of 25 years. The replacements are expected to be quieter and increase the railroad's on-time performance.

The purchase comes as the agency is trying to win back commuters after the COVID-19 pandemic caused a sharp decline in ridership.

"This is something that our passengers will immediately see, feel and smell. This is a real game-changer for our riders," Chief Operating Officer Bruce Marcheschi said.

Alstom is headquartered in France, with offices across the world and in the U.S. The railcars will be manufactured in New York.

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