Feb. 20--With standing-room-only a common sight on Metra trains this winter because many cars were out of service for weather-related maintenance, the rail agency wants to lease extra coaches from other cities.
The blasts of arctic air exacerbated a long-standing problem: Metra has relatively few spare cars, and during rush periods especially, nearly every one of them is in use.
Metra officials said Wednesday that the agency has only about 36 "usable" spare cars out of a fleet of 837. Metra Executive Director Don Orseno said the agency wants to increase the number of spares to about 10 percent of the fleet, or about 80 to 85 cars.
That way, Metra would have more flexibility to remove cars from service for maintenance and other upgrades, as well as better handle winter storms like last month's.
Metra will look to rail agencies in other states, as close as Michigan or as far as Vermont, for cars that Metra can lease, he said.
"Wherever we can find the cars we're going to go look at them so we can get the best vehicles for Metra," Orseno said. "We want to make sure our customers are comfortable."
Along with complaints this winter about delays and poor communication, customers complained loudly about car shortages. Passengers described being jammed like cattle in vestibules and aisles.
Orseno said Metra is in the midst of a "huge rebuilding program" in which 176 cars are being rehabbed.
Metra also is moving to acquire 160 new Highliner cars used on the Metra Electric Line. So far it has received 70 cars being built at the Nippon Sharyo plant in Rochelle, Ill.
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