Metra buying refurbished locomotives to save money

Metra leaders agreed Wednesday to spend $71 million on 15 refurbished locomotives to replace some of the railroad's oldest engines.

Officials acknowledged the replacements aren't the same as new ones, but given the agency's cash shortfall, it was the best bang for the buck, Chief Mechanical Officer Kevin McCann said.

Metra has the option of purchasing 27 more locomotives from the suppliers Progress Rail Locomotives of La Grange.

The staff had considered buying both new and remanufactured locomotives but estimated buying the secondhand ones along with 24 previously owned by Amtrak would cut the number of engines in poor condition to 14 percent.

"We would expect to see a significant increase in reliability as these newer locomotives are introduced," Executive Director Jim Derwinski said.

The locomotives approved Wednesday emit less pollution than many of Metra's older models and reach "Tier 3" emission standards issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The highest and cleanest level is Tier 4.

"Would Tier 4 (locomotive) emissions look better?" McCann said. "Sure they would, but dollar for dollar we get twice the number of locomotives by purchasing remanufactured, so we're significantly reducing emissions and dealing with our reliability and state-of-good-repair issues. We feel it's the responsible thing to do."

The average age of a Metra locomotive is 31 years.

The board also agreed to raise Derwinski's salary by 3.5 percent to $285,000 annually. Directors gave Derwinski another week of vacation for a total of six weeks. Derwinski took over as executive director in December 2017.

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