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Update on Emissions Task Force

(December 17, 2010) - 
Metra’s Emissions Task Force, formed by the rail agency to investigate the level of diesel emissions on trains and downtown platforms and to identify ways to improve air quality, has taken several steps since it was formed last month in response to a Chicago Tribune story.
Metra staff updated the Board of Directors about the task force’s work at the Dec. 17 board meeting. Please click here for Powerpoint Presentation. The task force is composed of Metra officials and representatives of its unions, its freight railroad partners, Amtrak, federal and state regulatory agencies and other interested parties.
Metra has already hired an independent testing firm, Carnow, Conibear & Associates, to conduct a full round of tests on Metra trains and downtown stations. The first phase of that work, which covered testing of the air on railcars, was completed in mid-December and the data is now being analyzed. Testing of station platforms and engineer locomotive cabs, cabs cars and shops will be done in the next phases starting in January.
The railcar tests were performed on the two cars closest to the locomotive and the rear car of each train. Tests were conducted on multiple trips on multiple trains. The industrial hygienist used a variety of instruments to test for total particulates, fine particulates, carbon, carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and other diesel exhaust components. Since Metra has a variety of different locomotives, each required to meet a different EPA emissions standard depending on their age or date of rebuilding, the tests were done for each variety.
It is important to note that Metra currently meets all EPA standards that have been established for rail engines.  In terms of diesel exhaust exposure, Metra has performed similar studies for diesel exhaust components other than carbon soot and found that we are below OSHA permissible exposure limits for occupational standards.
While the testing was being conducted, the task force was subdivided into six working groups responsible for different areas. Each of those subgroups has met to begin outlining a strategy for addressing the issue:
  • The Emissions Level Testing Group is responsible for establishing testing plans and reviewing testing results. The group determined that there are no regulatory exposure standards for carbon soot for Metra’s riders. The group will work to come up with a recommendation based on studies or guidelines.
  • The Locomotive Group is responsible for reviewing locomotive engine options. That group will explore exhaust after treatment options, engine changes to turbochargers and possible injectors.
  • The Car Group is responsible for reviewing the ventilation systems on cars. The group will explore filters, air intakes on cars, car pressurization and ventilation design of older cars for future changes during rehabilitation.
  • The Ventilation Group is responsible for reviewing ventilation issues and procedures in the buildings that house downtown stations and buildings that have been built over tracks leading to the stations. That group is working with Amtrak, the owner of Union Station, to discuss contracts and agreements with building owners. Metra has already told its crews to shut down power and use standby power as much as possible when in the station.
  • The Fuel Group is responsible for reviewing fuel and fuel additive options. Metra will switch to using Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel Fuel only on April 1, the earliest date that current fuel contracts will allow. Metra now uses some Low Sulfur Fuel and some Ultra Low Sulfur Fuel. The group discussed fuel additives and determined they are not currently a viable option.
The Funding Group will seek to identify funding options once Metra’s needs are determined. A large capital investment will be required. Only a small amount of funds are now available, which the group will pursue.
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