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Beyond Chicagoland

What’s your Metra railcar redesign wish list?

Metra’s current bi-level railcar design. Photo: Jeff Zoline

Here's your chance to weigh in on what the latest batch of Metra railcars should look like. (Sorry, it appears that bringing back the commuter rail system's storied saloon cars is off the table.) The railroad wants customer to provide input via an online survey.

Metra issued a request for proposals earlier this year for at least 200 new cars with the option to buy 300 more, thanks to a major cash infusion via the $45 billion Illinois capital bill that passed in June. The railroad has budgeted $1.2 billion over the next five years to buy and rehab railcars and locomotives.

The railcar manufacturers submitting proposals can pitch alternative car designs instead of just sticking with the bi-level gallery cars that have been used in Chicagoland for almost 70 years. In particular, Metra wants cars that increase capacity while providing a better experience for riders. They want customers to let them know which amenities they prioritize. The railroad says it will use the feedback from the survey as it negotiates with the companies.

Possible perks include cupholders, tray tables, tables between seats, dimmable lights, tinted windows, head rests, arm rests, USB chargers, interior or exterior info screens, and Wi-Fi. There might even be baby changing tables in the onboard restrooms, or apps to allow you to buy drinks and snacks on the train. Metra also wants to know how important it is to customers to have seats that can be flipped to ensure you're facing the direction of travel, which wouldn't be compatible with many of those perks. The survey is open now until mid-January.

Here's what Streetsblog Chicago cofounder and noted Metra railcar design critic Steven Vance would like to see from the Metra RFP process. "Metra should ask all the manufacturers of double-decker carriages to display their best models somewhere that the public can see them, or even have a live demonstration on Metra runs so that people can ride them," he said.

"The problem with the Metra survey is that people don't know what's out there and what's possible," Steven added. "They don't know that there are really nice designs out there. There are half a dozen designs out there that Metra could choose that are ten times better than the gallery carriages."

A double-decker train in Sydney. Photo: Steven Vance
A double-decker train in Sydney. Photo: Steven Vance
A double-decker train in Sydney. Photo: Steven Vance

Steven noted that new railcars introduced in Sydney, Australia, (our thoughts are with Australians during the current horrific wildfires) this year are the best double-decker railcars he's ridden. "They have two doors per carriage, wide doors to enable inter-carriage movement, level boarding, large vestibules for people using wheelchair or toting luggage, and big staircases that go down to a lower level between the wheels and up to an upper level. The large vestibules are nice because they give people more space to move about between the the doors and the seats. It's pretty cramped in Metra vestibules because of the position of the poles and the small doors that lead to the seating areas on either side."

The interior of a train in Sydney. Photo: Steven Vance
The interior of a train in Sydney. Photo: Steven Vance
The interior of a train in Sydney. Photo: Steven Vance

Steven added that Metra's current design makes it easy for conductors to collect fares from passengers on both the upper and lower levels, which will become less necessary as more people switch to electronic tickets and conductors won't have to spend as much time with each customer. "But they are not good carriages for passenger comfort and speedy boarding and alighting, nor are they good for people with wheelchairs, luggage, or bikes."

Fill out the Metra railcar survey here.

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