CHICAGO (CBS) — One day after the worst locomotive fire in years on a Metra train, the commuter rail agency’s boss went before the City Club of Chicago to push for more public investment in mass transit to help replace equipment that is often decades old.
The heads of the CTA and Pace also addressed the City Club, pushing for billions of dollars in investment in public transportation systems.
The speeches came hours after an engine on a Metra Milwaukee District North Line train caught fire in Morton Grove. Large flames could be seen shooting out of the top of the locomotive, followed by large plumes of billowing smoke.
No one was injured, but Metra did evacuate the train. The locomotive likely will be out of commission for at least four months, as mechanics deal with the aftermath of the fire, and some three inches of water left in the engine room.
Earlier Monday, a mechanical problem led to a three-hour delay on a Heritage Corridor train from Joliet to Chicago. Riders were furious as they questioned Metra conductors about what went wrong.
Metra CEO Jim Derwinski said the average rail car in the system is 31 years old. One is 65 years old, and the tracks are much older than that.
“We’re continually using that old technology, robbing Peter to pay Paul, doing what we can with the little dollars that we have, trying to spend the taxpayer dollars as wisely as we can,” he said.
That’s why he and other transit chiefs called for an investment of $2 billion a year.
“I think we’ve done a remarkable job of leveraging and sort of eking out every efficiency that we can out of this system, but we just don’t have that basic level of revenue, and the region and the state has to choose to invest,” Regional Transportation Authority executive director Leanne Redden said.
Derwinski said Metra has been buying used rail cars from California and Seattle, because they can buy five used cars for the price of one new one. While older equipment can fail from time to time, Derwinski said Metra would never use equipment they believe isn’t safe.