Chicago railcars at bargain prices
- A nice commuter rail starter set anybody? Andrew Dawson
Metra sells old coaches for $1 each
Step right up, ladies and gents. You, too, can own your very own 161-seat
coach � in running condition � from Chicago�s Metra. They�re only about 50
years old, too � a real steal, a bargain, a deal you won�t find anywhere
else on Planet Earth.
Look at it this way: commuter rail systems in Nashville, Tenn., and suburban
Virginia got dozens of ex-Metra, bi-level cars for one dollar each,
according to the Chicago Daily Herald of May 22.
Compared to the Utah Transit Authority, which is building a new commuter
rail line in Salt Lake City, they overpaid. The UTA got 30 Metra cars free.
�My boss often says it�s the deal of the century,� said Mark Roeber, public
affairs manager for Virginia Rail Express, which operates suburban commuter
trains from Fredericksburg and Manassas to Washington, D.C.
The bargain-basement sale opened in 2000, when Metra began taking delivery
of 300 new, stainless steel bi-level cars. That project cost $400 million or
about $1.3 million per car.
Two years later, Metra began phasing out 219 of its oldest cars, some of
which dated from the 1950s and �60s, but found no takers. The alternative,
officials said, was either to scrap them or to give them away.
While the idea of paying the same price for a 20-ounce bottle of water as
for a coach might give one pause, Metra officials said they�re required to
give fellow transit agencies used cars because federal funds were used over
the years to keep them in service.
�What�s no longer useful to Metra is certainly useful to a smaller
organization,� spokesman Dan Schnolis said.
�These cars did have some serviceable, usable life left, and our agreement
with the FTA is that if they have some life left in them, then the cars can
be given to another railroad.�
FTA spokesman Paul Griffo said even though that�s true, Metra could have
disposed of the cars as it saw fit � but when a transit agency agrees to
transfer cars to another agency, and those cars were either bought or
refurbished with federal funds, then the transfer price must be free, Griffo
Metra officials said the sale let them avoid an estimated $25,000-per-car
Because the cars were built from older carbon steel alloys that no longer
have much market value, �we would have had to pay a scrapper to take them,�
That�s when folks at newer commuter rail systems like the 13-year-old
Virginia Rail Express, or Nashville�s 32-mile Music City Star line which
begins service this fall between Nashville and Lebanon, Tenn., realized they
could upgrade or get a starter fleet at an unbeatable price.
�Had we known sooner, we probably would have jumped on more of the Chicago
cars,� said VRE�s Roeber, who added that Metra has a stellar reputation
among transit agencies nationwide for its maintenance and upkeep.
That said, why did Metra get rid of still-serviceable cars?
Spokesman Tom Miller said the cars� ages and remaining life expectancies
made it no longer cost-efficient to keep them, especially with brand new
cars in hand.
�We had rebuilt them as many times as we felt we could,� Miller said.
Even so, Hanne Flippen, spokeswoman for the Nashville Regional
Transportation Authority, said the cars are a good first step in building a
commuter rail system that will eventually stretch across nine counties.
Roeber said the cars carry an additional 2,400 to 2,500 Virginia commuters
daily, above the 15,000 or so the agency was carrying last year when they
�That�s a lot of people off the streets,� he added.