Metra: $169.3MM CMAQ Grant for BEMUs

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
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Metra announced Oct. 17 that it will receive a $169.3 million federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) grant to purchase BEMUs (battery-electric multiple-unit) zero-emission trainsets, making the agency one of the first in the nation to operate such equipment.

Like all multiple-unit equipment, the BEMUs do not require a locomotive, as traction power is distributed throughout the trainset. Cabs at both ends provide bi-directional operation. BEMU trainsets are currently in use in Germany, France and Australia, and Metra says it wants to explore whether they could work in Chicago. The agency issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for BEMUs in September 2022 and is currently reviewing submissions.

Alstom BEMU in Germany.

“We think zero-emission trainsets could be an exciting and positive addition to Metra’s fleet for a variety of reasons,” said Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski. “Beyond the environmental and noise reduction benefits, they also offer savings in energy consumption as well as better efficiency, flexibility and reliability. Along with our other initiatives, they would continue to make Metra a responsible and effective leader in green energy technology.”

The CMAQ funding—the largest federal competitive grant ever won by the agency—will support the purchase of up to 16 trainsets, adding “a new type of propulsion” to Metra’s fleet that offer better acceleration and braking profiles than existing locomotive-hauled push/pull trains. The single-level, lower-capacity trainsets (the agency operates high-capacity, bilevel gallery-style railcars on every line; Metra Electric District cars are EMUs) could be “a more economical and environmentally friendly way to provide the same level of service or better, particularly during off-peak times, and could play a significant role in helping the agency achieve its vision to provide more frequent all-day service,” Metra says.

Buying the trainsets, Metra says, would allow the agency to retire some of its oldest, most polluting diesel locomotives, which are “well beyond their useful life,” and eliminate tons of carbon emissions. It would also allow Metra to retire some of its oldest railcars.

“If Metra could take 16 locomotives out of service six years earlier than planned, it would reduce Metra’s carbon dioxide emissions by about 567,000 tons over that period,” said Metra spokesperson Michael Gillis, according to a Chicago Sun Times report.

Metra says it would likely introduce the trainsets on its Rock Island Line, which runs between La Salle Street Station and Joliet, and would “directly benefit the air quality in several economically disadvantaged neighborhoods on the South Side of Chicago and in the south suburbs.”

Though there isn’t a timeline for when the BEMUs will be on the rails, Gillis said they can be expected “within the next few years,” according to the Chicago Sun Times report.

The CMAQ award comes after the agency’s “record-breaking” haul in 2022, when it secured $204.1 million in competitive federal project grants. The amount included the previous record for a discretionary award—$117 million for the next phase of the UP North Line bridge replacement program.

Metra awarded a contract to Progress Rail in 2022 to convert up to six locomotives to zero-emission battery power. The total cost for the conversions is $34.6 million with an expected timeline of three-and-a-half years. Charging stations will be designed after the locomotives are designed. The duration of a full and partial recharge of the trains won’t be known until then. However, the project has been delayed, and Metra was expected to issue a new RFP this year, which has not occurred as of press time. A Metra spokesperson said the agency hopes to release a fresh RFP soon.

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