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Metra Set To Receive New Cars For Electric District Line

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Metra will begin taking delivery of 160 long-awaited cars for its Electric District service around Labor Day.

As WBBM Newsradio's Bob Roberts reports, the No. 2 man at the commuter rail agency said extra steps will be taken to see that the new cars don't develop the kind of in-service problems that have sidelined the CTA's new 'L' cars.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's Bob Roberts reports


Metra Deputy Executive Director George Hardwidge said the prototypes that will arrive in September, and the six cars a month expected to follow beginning in November, will all be vetted by teams from manufacturer Nippon-Sharyo, by Metra itself and by outside consultants.

The first half of the new cars will be fabricated in Japan but finished in a new plant 80 miles west of Chicago, in Rochelle, Ill. The second half of the order will be built from scratch in Rochelle -- but only after Nippon-Sharyo is happy with what it sees.

"The first car that they build from scratch in the Rochelle plant they're actually going to send back to Japan to make sure everything was done 100 percent the way they intended it to be," Hardwidge said.

Extra steps such as that are what makes Hardwidge "very, very impressed" with Nippon-Sharyo.

A different manufacturer, Canadian-based Bombardier Technologies, is building the 706 new 'L' cars for the Chicago Transit Authority. The CTA removed the first 40 cars from service in mid-December, and they have undergone repairs since then. Some may return to action following replacement of defective weight-bearing steel wheel assemblies in May.

Hardwidge said supervisors have already been hired for the Nippon-Sharyo Rochelle plant, and are receiving training in Japan so that identical construction methods are followed during assembly here.

He said the commuter rail agency is incorporating similar construction methods in the mid-life rehabilitation of some of its older bilevel cars, produced in the 1990s by now-defunct Amerail.

"That kind of attention to detail and that kind of commitment to quality is just very impressive and frankly, as we've looked at that, we're looking at going forward to seeing about applying some of those standards to additional orders that we do here for equipment, whether it be locomotives,new cars or other processes," Hardwidge said.

Interior appointments aboard the new Electric District cars will be identical to the 26 cars delivered in 2005-06, before state funding ran dry.

Half of the 160 newly-built cars will have toilets, bringing to 106 cars the number on the Electric Distric that are toilet-equipped. Complaints by hundreds of riders during hearings in 2004 led to redesign of the new cars to include toilets, a first for Metra Electric and its Illinois Central R.R. predecessors.

Delivery of the new cars will halt midway through the order so that Nippon-Sharyo can complete another, smaller order. That is expected to take three months. Final delivery of the new cars, and retirement of the last of the aging Highliners, is expected in May 2015.

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