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Metra Trains: Last Car = Healthy Car

By JoshMogerman in News on Jan 15, 2011 9:00PM

Metra Engine at Union Station Chicago [chuck-reynolds]
OK, we admit it. Our bellies, rather than our lungs, are the reason for the continued interest in the filth-spewing diesel engines on Metra’s trains. We don't take light commuter rail regularly, but our daily walk through the Ogilvie train shed on the way to yummy lunch at the French Market is hold-your-breath-foul from the diesel haze of idling trains. Earlier this year, the Trib confirmed what anyone who walks past Metra’s downtown tracks had probably already guessed---those choking fumes ain’t healthy!

Regular Metra riders should cheer yesterday’s announcement that steps are being taken to clean up the trains' tailpipe mess. But buried in the feel-good gabbing was a nasty little nugget that points to some cautionary advice riders had better heed if they care about their hearts and lungs…

In response to more crack reporting from the Trib’s Michael Hawthorne, Metra is finally installing better air filters on the trains and switching to cleaner burning fuel. Of course, they had to do their own testing, which confirmed the Trib’s analysis that the toxic diesel fumes in downtown commuter stations were pooling at dangerously unhealthy levels on platforms and were even worse inside the train cars themselves. Metra’s tests showed that the fumes decreased further back in the trains---dropping 50% from the first to second car and an additional 50% from that level on the last car. So, just like elementary school, the cool kids should sit in back! And, while we like the quiet car concept Metra recently rolled out, we suggest riders should be more focused on finding seats in the “healthy car.”

Given the steady stream of disturbing news coming from our regional light commuter rail system, we are heartened to hear that the air quality issue will finally be addressed---though it is frustrating to see the cudgel of investigative reporting necessary to shame Metra into doing something about a problem that they have surely been aware of for decades. We are mass transit boosters and hope Metra can turn it around to help the region move and succeed. But we fear that their new watchdog will have her hands full looking out for the agency's employees and regular riders who deserve far better.