Metra buying two-car trainsets that run on batteries, not diesel

Battery-operated railcars are coming to Metra in a few years, making the commuter railroad among the first in the U.S. to use the new technology.

Metra board directors on Wednesday approved a $154 million contract with Salt Lake City-based Stadler U.S. to deliver eight trainsets.

Trainsets consist of two railcars that are coupled together with a battery in the middle and can hold up to 112 passengers. They have operator controls at both ends to reverse directions and riders can walk between the cars.

The first trainsets should arrive in 2027 or 2028 and will travel on the Rock Island Line initially.

“This purchase demonstrates Metra’s commitment to cleaner power, to quieter trains and to thinking outside the box as we plan to our future,” Executive Director Jim Derwinski said.

Railcars can be added to the trainsets but they will not replace Metra’s lengthy, diesel-powered, rush-hour trains on the BNSF and Union Pacific lines, officials noted.

Rather, Metra will test out the newcomers on the Rock Island’s 16-mile Beverly Branch.

“It’s a highly residential neighborhood, so they’ll probably appreciate the fact the trains are quiet,” Derwinski said.

Planners are hopeful the trainsets will offer a cheaper and greener way to move passengers. Trainsets have a range of 45 to 65 miles when fully charged.

“We’ll see how they work,” Derwinski said. “We’ll give them the seasonal tests (in) summer and winter, see how they perform and eventually start looking at expanding the use.”

That could include incorporating trainsets into weekend and evening service.

Metra is using a $169 million federal air quality improvement grant to pay for the purchase.

The contract includes engineering, training and spare parts with a $181.4 million option to buy eight additional trainsets and 32 trailer cars.

Attaching the trailers, which hold about 46 people each, would allow for three- or four-car trainsets.

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