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Metra Task Force Tackles Pollution Problems

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Metra Train

A Metra train leaves the Loop. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 11/19/10 6:05 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) - A Metra task force on Friday said the transit agency is instituting new rules and continues testing into high levels of pollution recently revealed by an independent investigation.

Metra has now set limits on the time trains idle in the station. Pollution testing will be finished in about a month, Newsradio 780’s John Cody reports. Eventually, the agency will make several adjustments in filtering, ventilation and fuel mixes until cleaner burning engines are brought into service.

Testing conducted by the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Respiratory Health Association found that trains pulling out of Union Station and the Ogilvie Transportation Center can have air trapped inside passenger cars that contains levels of diesel soot up to 72 times higher than on neighboring streets.


LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s John Cody Reports

At stations, levels were highest on platforms and in adjacent terminal areas of the two stations.

Commuters Friday morning had mixed reaction to the issue, but said they noticed strong diesel fumes in the train depots.

“Well, I smell them. They’re very noticeable, so I definitely knew it was above normal,” one man said, “72 times normal, well that’s a big number.”

The findings leave Metra riders with a good reason to be concerned. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says diesel exhaust has been linked to everything from cancer and respiratory diseases to brain damage, heart attacks and diabetes.

Metra formed the task force last week to look into the problem. Representatives of the EPA, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) are all part of it.

Also participating are Amtrak, and representatives of the buildings that tower above Union Station’s terminal trackage, each of which is required to maintain exhaust fans.

Metra has also hired Carnow, Conibear & Associates, an air quality monitoring consultant, to conduct tests to determine how much soot is inside its trains, beginning Monday.

Metra said tests will be performed on multiple cars at Union Station and Ogilvie, the two indoor stations where Metra operates diesel trains.

There is no threat at the other two major downtown stations. Metra’s LaSalle Street Station is an open air station, and only electric trains run out of Millennium Station.

A media representative says it will be weeks before Metra gets results on the testing, which is the most extensive the agency has ever conducted.

Metra acting executive director Bill Tupper also said last week that work has been performed or is scheduled on the majority of Metra’s locomotive fleet to bring the locomotives up to existing federal standards. But he said no locomotive built today can meet standards projected for 2015.

The short-term remedies for the diesel pollution could be improved air filters within the trains to reduce particulate levels experienced by riders. Metra will also investigate whether there are sufficient fans cleaning the air within the stations.

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