For Metrolink, en­gines of change

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - DAN WEIKEL [email protected] Fol­low @LADead­line for trans­porta­tion and avi­a­tion news.

To over­come a surge in lo­co­mo­tive break­downs that de­lay pas­sen­gers, the Metrolink com­muter rail­road plans to spend about $200 mil­lion for some of the most so­phis­ti­cated lowe­mis­sion en­gines avail­able.

Rail of­fi­cials want to buy 29 so-called Tier 4 lo­co­mo­tives — pow­er­ful, fuel-ef­fi­cient ve­hi­cles de­signed to slash po­ten­tially harm­ful re­leases of ni­tro­gen ox­ide and fine par­ti­cles of diesel ex­haust.

Metrolink is set to take de­liv­ery of its first lo­co­mo­tive in De­cem­ber and the rest next year. When it does, the rail­road that serves about 41,200 daily riders from six South­ern Cal­i­for­nia coun­ties will be­come the first pas­sen­ger line in the na­tion to op­er­ate the sta­teof-the-art en­gines.

“We thought that re­build­ing our old lo­co­mo­tives was a good deal, but we’ve learned that buy­ing new en­gines is bet­ter,” said Art Leahy, Metrolink’s chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer. “It’s the right thing to do. The busi­ness case is there.”

The new lo­co­mo­tives are part of a broader pro­gram to im­prove cus­tomer ser­vice and re­build rid­er­ship that has been lost since 2008. It in­cludes re­plac­ing faulty ticket ma­chines, adding trains to the sched­ule, and ex­per­i­ment­ing with lower fares and ameni­ties such as Wi-Fi.

Rail of­fi­cials say the Tier 4 en­gines, built by Elec­tro-Mo­tive Diesel in Illi­nois, are nec­es­sary be­cause break­downs have grown steadily for sev­eral years, reach­ing 111 dur­ing the first seven months of 2015.

R.T. McCarthy, Metrolink’s deputy chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, said many of the rail­road’s 54 en­gines were built in the early 1990s and have trav­eled up­ward of a mil­lion miles each. He added that the rail­road also has de­ferred costly over­hauls, opt­ing in­stead for re­ac­tive main­te­nance when me­chan­i­cal prob­lems arise.

“The en­gines,” McCarthy said, “are worn out and tired.”

Like the one that pow­ered Train 633 on Metrolink’s Or­ange County Line. On Fri­day, June 5, the en­gine was taken out of ser­vice at Irvine sta­tion when a pis­ton rod failed at the end of the morn­ing rush hour. In op­er­a­tion since 1995, the lo­co­mo­tive was one of the higher-mileage ve­hi­cles in the fleet.

Metrolink of­fi­cials said pas­sen­gers had to wait 10 to 26 min­utes to board other trains. Be­cause the en­gine was no longer avail­able, two trains on the Or­ange County Line that would have used the lo­co­mo­tive had to be can­celed.

The rail­road then placed no­tices on so­cial media and made ar­range­ments for riders to take transit buses if they could not find another way to reach their des­ti­na­tions.

“When this hap­pens, it’s a real bum­mer,” said Cathy Cray­ton of Clare­mont, an ad­min­is­tra­tor at USC who has com­muted on the San Bernardino Line for 20 years. Af­ter a break­down, “it can take two to three hours to get home.”

She re­called that the en­gine of a train she once rode was taken out of ser­vice in Cov­ina and pas­sen­gers had to take transit buses to the Pomona sta­tion, where ev­ery­one boarded another train to Clare­mont, one stop away. Cray­ton also has ex­pe­ri­enced de­lays of 30 to 45 min­utes be­cause of other lo­co­mo­tive break­downs.

“It’s a real is­sue” for pas­sen­gers, said Or­ange County Su­per­vi­sor Shawn Nel­son, chair­man of the Metrolink board of di­rec­tors. “Peo­ple have ex­pec­ta­tions about ar­riv­ing on time that must be met.”

Metrolink of­fi­cials say the Tier 4 en­gines have up to 1,700 more horse­power, use less fuel, have longer ser­vice lives and are more re­li­able than re­built en­gines.

The added power will al­low trains to climb grades faster and haul more pas­sen­ger cars, which could ease crowd­ing on the busiest lines. In ad­di­tion, the new en­gines are eas­ier to re­pair be­cause their mod­u­lar com­po­nents can be re­placed quickly.

The lo­co­mo­tives also will help Metrolink re­duce air pol­lu­tion across its 512-mile net­work. Start­ing this year, fed­eral stan­dards re­quire that re­built lo­co­mo­tives and new en­gines pur­chased by pas­sen­ger and freight rail­roads must cut ni­tro­gen ox­ide emis­sions by 80% and par­tic­u­lates by 90%.

Ni­tro­gen ox­ide and fine par­tic­u­lates, which are minute pieces of ex­haust, can pen­e­trate deeply into the lungs and con­trib­ute to res­pi­ra­tory ill­ness and ag­gra­vate heart dis­ease. In ex­treme cases, pre­ma­ture death can oc­cur.

Paul Dyson, pres­i­dent of the Rail Pas­sen­ger Assn. of Cal­i­for­nia, ac­knowl­edged the need to com­ply with emis­sion stan­dards and re­place worn-out en­gines. But he said he was con­cerned the new en­gines could have “plenty of teething prob­lems” as they go into ser­vice.

Dyson con­tends the rail­road has not ad­e­quately con­sid­ered re­build­ing many of its ex­ist­ing lo­co­mo­tives and that Tier 4 en­gines are so new they don’t have any ser­vice history for pas­sen­ger use.

“This is all brand-new tech­nol­ogy,” he said. “There are quite a few is­sues with them.”

Some Tier 4 en­gines are be­ing tested for freight ser­vice at Union Pa­cific Corp. and the Burling­ton North­ern Santa Fe Rail­way Co., two of the na­tion’s largest car­ri­ers. Lena Kent, a spokesper­son for BNSF, said the rail­road’s pro­to­types have “ex­pe­ri­enced op­er­at­ing is­sues,” but she de­clined to elab­o­rate.

“We look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing to test these lo­co­mo­tives and phas­ing them in when the tech­nol­ogy proves to be op­er­a­tionally re­li­able for freight trans­porta­tion,” Kent said.

McCarthy, Metrolink’s deputy chief, dis­agreed with Dyson, say­ing all Tier 4 com­po­nents have been tested suc­cess­fully. “We are not con­cerned,” he added. “It’s a tried-and-true lo­co­mo­tive.”

Metrolink plans to pay for the en­gines with $41.2 mil­lion in state funds, $58.9 mil­lion in grants from the South Coast Air Qual­ity Man­age­ment Dis­trict and con­tri­bu­tions from trans­porta­tion author­i­ties in Los An­ge­les, Or­ange, River­side, San Bernardino and Ven­tura coun­ties. The agen­cies are sup­port­ing mem­bers of the rail­road.

“We need Tier 4 lo­co­mo­tives much more quickly than will hap­pen given the reg­u­la­tory re­quire­ments, which is why we are help­ing to fund pur­chases of these new, cleaner en­gines,” said Sam At­wood, a spokesman for the air qual­ity man­age­ment dis­trict.

Metrolink has an op­tion to buy 20 more Tier 4 lo­co­mo­tives, which would al­low the rail­road to re­place al­most its en­tire fleet of en­gines. Leahy says he will prob­a­bly ex­er­cise the op­tion, which ex­pires in Oc­to­ber.

Wally Skalij Los An­ge­les Times

METROLINK’S pur­chase of pow­er­ful new lo­co­mo­tives is part of a broader pro­gram to im­prove cus­tomer ser­vice and re­build rid­er­ship.



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