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

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Metra is purchasing eight trainsets to try out on the Rock Island Line. The mini-trains consist of two cars and are battery-operated.
Courtesy of Metra

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 Friday 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.

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.

The trainsets can be expanded but 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.

“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 federal air quality improvement grant to pay for the purchase.

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