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Metra helps riders recharge with passenger car rehab program Renovated cars include power outlets, other rider-friendly features

(July 17, 2012) - 
As part of a multi-year, multimillion-dollar program to renovate its rail cars, Metra is installing a variety of new features to improve the passenger experience – perhaps most noticeably by adding power outlets so riders can charge their electrical devices.
But passenger improvements aren’t the only highlight of the rehabilitation program. The passenger cars are being refurbished in-house, by Metra workers with years of experience, dedication and know-how. Metra’s processes and procedures have been streamlined to create an ultra-efficient operation that can strip and fully rebuild a car in just 36 days. And we’re saving riders and area taxpayers a great deal of money while pumping dollars back into the local economy.
“If we sound excited by our Amerail passenger car rehabilitation program, it’s because we are,” said Metra Executive Director/CEO Alex Clifford, “We’re getting like-new cars for a fraction of the cost of new ones, giving our riders some nice improvements and amenities and keeping 60 jobs in Chicago. It’s a win-win situation for all involved.”

Amerail cars date from 1995

The program aims to rehabilitate 176 cars that were built by Amerail (originally Morrison Knudson) between 1995 and 1998. The car shells were built in Japan but the cars were assembled in Chicago.
Forty cars have been completed so far and 60 should be completed by the end of the year. The entire Amerail fleet, which includes 79 cab cars and 97 trailer cars, should be done by the end of 2016. The work will extend the life of the cars by 12 to 15 years; with future rehabs Metra should be able to get 50 years of service or more out of these cars. The work is costing about $650,000 in materials and labor per car, or $115 million for the entire project. Contrast that with the going rate for a new car, which is $2.5 million to $3 million depending on the type of car and the number ordered. That’s a savings of about 75 percent or more.

New passenger amenities

What will passengers notice when they board a new car? They might notice a new-car smell, not too different from that of a new automobile. The new amenities include:
  • Doors now have sensitive edges, like elevators doors, so they will retract if they come in contact with a person or object in the way.
  • Four new LED signs per car will assist all passengers, but especially passengers with hearing disabilities, with location announcements.
  • New toilets and bathrooms
  • New wheelchair lifts
  • New composite floors and new seats that meet the latest safety regulations
And then there are the electrical outlets. There are 19 of them spaced throughout the seating area on the lower level of the car to power all those phones, computers, iPods, iPads and other gadgets that none of us can live without any more.

Work done at Metra shop

All the work is done at Metra’s 49th St. Car Shop along the Rock Island line. The cavernous building, originally built by the Rock Island Railroad, is easily large enough to allow for four cars to be worked on at the same time, with room to spare.
Metra has been rebuilding passenger coaches at this shop for decades and intrinsically benefits from a skillful and dedicated workforce. Over the past two years the efficiency of the rehab program has improved tremendously. In addition to having an experienced workforce, Metra restructured the operation by implementing multi-station manufacturing processes learned during the procurement of 300 new Nippon Sharyo gallery cars and 26 new Nippon Sharyo Highliner cars for the Metra Electric line. Metra unions have been very receptive and cooperative in the implementation of the new processes.
The production plan now includes tools such as:
  • Work Detail: Employees become specialized, reaching high levels of efficiency to meet an aggressive production schedule.
  • Dedicated Work Station: Promotes friendly competition, ignites motivation to boost performance and productivity.
  • Technical Guidance: Clear technical instructions of each task have been drafted to ensure consistency and quality workmanship.
  • Material Kitting: Pre-inspected components are delivered to the shop floor for on-time installation.
  • Quality Assurance Team: The team receives, inspects and resolves all material issues, minimizing negative impact on the production schedule.

Four work stations

There are four stations where various tasks are performed. Of the 60 carmen, electricians and sheet metal workers assigned to the project, about 18 work at each of the first three stations with the rest at the last station. Usually the cars are moved from station to station using the shop’s transfer table; sometimes the workers move.
At the first station, the car is stripped: seats, bathrooms, heater guards and doors are removed. The old plymetal floor is ripped up, and the new composite floor is installed. Windows are replaced. The metal diaphragm – the accordion-like structure that connects two cars – is replaced with a rubber one. Steps are sandblasted and replaced if necessary. Electrical boxes are rebuilt and the event recorder, sort of like an airplane’s “black box,” is replaced.
At the second station, the wheelchair lift is removed and replaced with an upgraded model. The battery charger and battery box are replaced. A new retention toilet tank is installed and new heating and lighting is put in.
At the third station, all the interior work is done. That includes installing new passenger seats, rebuilt AC units, new toilets and bathroom walls, new LED signs, new windshields and new windshield wipers. Also at this station, rebuilt trucks – what we in the railroad industry call the wheel assemblies – are installed.
The final station involves putting the finishing touches on the car and carrying out various tests. Painting is done and decals are installed. The batteries, battery chargers, event recorders, cab signals, LED signs, doors and other elements are tested. If the car passes the tests it is sent out into service.
Each car spends nine days at each station and gets through all four stations in 36 days. The streamlined, efficient process means we can rehab 27 cars a year.
The outlets that Metra has installed during the rehabilitation of its Amerail passenger car fleet are intended for the personal electronic devices of our riders. Those include:
  • Laptop computers
  • Cell phones
  • iPods and similar music players
  • iPads and similar tablet computers
Extension cords, octopus plugs and most other electrical devices are not allowed, including:
  • Hair dryers
  • Curling irons
  • Fans
  • Electric Razors
  • Toasters
We ask our riders for their cooperation in using only approved devices.
Please click here to download or view our photos of this rehab program.
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