CHICAGO (CBS) — There’s more information on a Metra train fire that forced passengers to evacuate during Monday’s evening rush.

And hours earlier, riders on another line endured a three-hour delay.

More than 200,000 people ride Metra trains any given weekday. The head of the Regional Transportation Authority said things could be better.

“It’s in a state of disrepair to some extent,” said RTA Executive Director Leanne Redden. It’s a candid assessment from the head of the Regional Transportation Authority about the trains and buses in the Chicago area.

“Some of the rail cars are from the Eisenhower administration,” noted Redden.

Given the age of the vehicles, scenes like the one from Monday where a Metra Milwaukee District North train caught fire, forcing passengers outside and into the cold.

Metra’s CEO James Derwinski described the situation as “catastrophic engine failure.” The smoking train had been in service for six or seven years. But that doesn’t mean the locomotive is six or seven years old. Metra bought it used.

The engine is from 1983, so it’s really 35 years old.

“It was actually purchased from Amtrak after they retired it,” Derwinski said. Buying older locomotives is far from unusual for Metra. It’s in the process of adding 24 used ones to the fleet right now.

Why buy old?

“Honestly, without a capital bill right now we really  have no mechanism to fund the newer stuff. Newer locomotives are quite pricey. We’re getting about a five to one, new compared to used. So we’re buying five used for what one new would cost right now.”

Also Monday, a three-hour-delay on the Heritage Corridor line. That train is another aging locomotive that suffered engine failure. It’s a cast-off from Canada that’s 30 years old.  Metra said the answer is more money. And lots of it.

“We’re looking at a five billion dollar ask,” Derwinski said.

Metra said it plans to add 42 more locomotives that are used to its fleet early next year. There could be a few new engines in the mix but the prospects and the pricing are still under review.

 

Lauren Victory