The Chainlink

Last week I was glad to see the Tribune shedding some light on the air quality issues on and around Metra stations and trains.  I was even happier to see that Dick Durbin is pushing for follow-up on this issue.  The Trib ran another story today, mentioning that Metra is now forming a task force to work on solutions to the problem.

I hope they can find a filtration solution to deal with the problem of diesel exhaust getting sucked into the first few cars behind the locomotive.  I also hope that a better ventilation system can be devised so that train passengers and Metra and Amtrak employees aren't exposed to such high levels of toxic diesel exhaust in stations.

When I moved back to Chicago from out of state, good public transit (and needing to drive a LOT less) were big motivators.  The downside:  asthma.  I didn't anticipate how much damage I'd experience from 10 years of living near a major transit station (with buses idling 24/7), or riding in traffic around so many diesel buses and trucks. 

The CTA's efforts to clean up dirty buses and phase in cleaner hybrids are making a difference.  I hope that Metra can make similar progress in the near future.

Consider this my Thank you Thursday message to the Trib and to Dick Durbin.

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The problem is that the Metra locomotives are all aging and a worn-out low-compression diesel engine (like all the ones that Metra owns) produce a lot more smoke and soot because it lacks the proper compression to get a good complete burn on the diesel fuel.

The solution is to rebuild the diesel engines on all their locomotives.

The problem with that is that it costs about a $MILLION$ bux to rebuild the diesel engine of a train locomotive.

How many locomotives does Metra own and operate? Do the math.

This is going to cost the riders of Metra big money in fare increases which will put a lot more cars back in the road as "doing the right thing" and taking public transportation rather than their cars becomes a less economically viable solution to commuting.

Talk about shooting themselves in the green foot...
I agree. The problem of aging, inefficient engines is an expensive one. I wonder if an improved filtration system on trains can be found that might be a less expensive partial solution for the short term.

Might federal CMAQ grants help to ease the financial burden? It's worth asking.
It's not as easy as just filtering it. It costs ENERGY to push exhaust through a filter and that translates to lower effeciency of the engine and more fuel being burned to get the same amount of work done. Sure it can be done, but it is going to be expensive to retro-fit a hundred or so locomotives with a big heavy scrubber that is going to add weight to the locomotive and further decrease efficiency and cost even more fuel.

The main problem is that Metra has been trying to keep costs down for a very long time and that has translated to not putting the money into the locomotives. They probably all need to be replaced and don't start very well which is why they try and never shut them down and keep them idling all the time (making the problem worse). Notice how many times there are delays with Metra and canceled trains? It's because all their engines are held together with bailing wire and duct tape. They have a shoe-string budget and this is one of their biggest costs after labor for engineers and conductors. Oh, and their tracks are in horrible shape too. That's expensive as well.

I'm always amazed that Metra can keep its fares as low as they do -but that probably isn't going to last very long after this issue forces them to invest major amounts of money into refurbishing and cleaning up their aging locomotive fleets on their strapped budget.

Maybe they can use the money that was going to be spent on the new rail to Milwaukee and eventually Madison as the new governor of Wisconsin seems hell bent on keeping it out of the state by threat of veto as soon as he takes office?

Anne Alt said:
I agree. The problem of aging, inefficient engines is an expensive one. I wonder if an improved filtration system on trains can be found that might be a less expensive partial solution for the short term.

Might federal CMAQ grants help to ease the financial burden? It's worth asking.
Another issue is the abandoned post office at the south end of union station. That building has exhaust fans that are supposed to be running to help the air circulate properly out of union station. Due to the building being currently unoccupied we are unaware if these fans are currently running. The tribune has been trying to get a hold of the new owner who won the property this spring in an auction.

All I can say is I come home from work every night with dirty skin, dry lips , stuffy nose. Im still not convinced its the soot. It might just be all the asbestos still lingering in union station.

Glad the tribune finally told the world what we (union station workers) have been complaining about for years.
I'll be curious to see what further revelations will come of the Tribune's investigation.

jen said:
Another issue is the abandoned post office at the south end of union station. That building has exhaust fans that are supposed to be running to help the air circulate properly out of union station. Due to the building being currently unoccupied we are unaware if these fans are currently running. The tribune has been trying to get a hold of the new owner who won the property this spring in an auction.

All I can say is I come home from work every night with dirty skin, dry lips , stuffy nose. Im still not convinced its the soot. It might just be all the asbestos still lingering in union station.

Glad the tribune finally told the world what we (union station workers) have been complaining about for years.
I've certainly noticed the increase in delays and cancellations in recent years. Trying to do things on the cheap ultimately costs us more in the long run - in fares and our health.

James Baum said:
It's not as easy as just filtering it. It costs ENERGY to push exhaust through a filter and that translates to lower effeciency of the engine and more fuel being burned to get the same amount of work done. Sure it can be done, but it is going to be expensive to retro-fit a hundred or so locomotives with a big heavy scrubber that is going to add weight to the locomotive and further decrease efficiency and cost even more fuel.

The main problem is that Metra has been trying to keep costs down for a very long time and that has translated to not putting the money into the locomotives. They probably all need to be replaced and don't start very well which is why they try and never shut them down and keep them idling all the time (making the problem worse). Notice how many times there are delays with Metra and canceled trains? It's because all their engines are held together with bailing wire and duct tape. They have a shoe-string budget and this is one of their biggest costs after labor for engineers and conductors. Oh, and their tracks are in horrible shape too. That's expensive as well.

I'm always amazed that Metra can keep its fares as low as they do -but that probably isn't going to last very long after this issue forces them to invest major amounts of money into refurbishing and cleaning up their aging locomotive fleets on their strapped budget.

Maybe they can use the money that was going to be spent on the new rail to Milwaukee and eventually Madison as the new governor of Wisconsin seems hell bent on keeping it out of the state by threat of veto as soon as he takes office?

Anne Alt said:
I agree. The problem of aging, inefficient engines is an expensive one. I wonder if an improved filtration system on trains can be found that might be a less expensive partial solution for the short term.

Might federal CMAQ grants help to ease the financial burden? It's worth asking.

Yeah, the CTA was (and may still be) in a similar situation with their buses a few years ago when they had to divert capital funds to operations. I think they finally got some cash and were able to get a bunch of new buses, reducing the ongoing operating costs of repairing old engines and paying more to run fuel inefficient buses.



Anne Alt said:
I've certainly noticed the increase in delays and cancellations in recent years. Trying to do things on the cheap ultimately costs us more in the long run - in fares and our health.

James Baum said:
It's not as easy as just filtering it. It costs ENERGY to push exhaust through a filter and that translates to lower effeciency of the engine and more fuel being burned to get the same amount of work done. Sure it can be done, but it is going to be expensive to retro-fit a hundred or so locomotives with a big heavy scrubber that is going to add weight to the locomotive and further decrease efficiency and cost even more fuel.

The main problem is that Metra has been trying to keep costs down for a very long time and that has translated to not putting the money into the locomotives. They probably all need to be replaced and don't start very well which is why they try and never shut them down and keep them idling all the time (making the problem worse). Notice how many times there are delays with Metra and canceled trains? It's because all their engines are held together with bailing wire and duct tape. They have a shoe-string budget and this is one of their biggest costs after labor for engineers and conductors. Oh, and their tracks are in horrible shape too. That's expensive as well.

I'm always amazed that Metra can keep its fares as low as they do -but that probably isn't going to last very long after this issue forces them to invest major amounts of money into refurbishing and cleaning up their aging locomotive fleets on their strapped budget.

Maybe they can use the money that was going to be spent on the new rail to Milwaukee and eventually Madison as the new governor of Wisconsin seems hell bent on keeping it out of the state by threat of veto as soon as he takes office?

Anne Alt said:
I agree. The problem of aging, inefficient engines is an expensive one. I wonder if an improved filtration system on trains can be found that might be a less expensive partial solution for the short term.

Might federal CMAQ grants help to ease the financial burden? It's worth asking.

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