Metra breaks ground on shop renovation

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Board chairman Norman Carlson and CEO Jim Derwinski speak at groundbreaking ceremonies for Metra's 47th and 49th Street Shop renovation project.
Richard Wronski

CHICAGO — Metra officials broke ground Tuesday on the $29.4 million renovation and expansion of the 70-year-old shops that house the commuter rail agency’s railcar and locomotive rehab programs.

“You’re seeing history today,” Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski told a crowd of several hundred hard-hatted Metra employees, board of director members, and public officials. “We’re out of room. We have to reinvent ourselves.”

The 47th/49th Street facility, on Chicago’s South Side, serves as the main mechanical yard for Metra’s Rock Island District. The 49th Street Coach Shop is also the site of Metra’s main railcar rehabilitation program. 

Since 2010, 214 passenger cars have been overhauled at the facility, extending the life of each car by 10 to 14 years. The in-house program to keep equipment in a state of good repair has been extremely successful, cost effective, and more expedient than outsourcing the work, Metra officials said.

The expansion will also give Metra the potential for attracting outside work from other passenger rail agencies, Derwinski said. 

Positioned behind Derwinski and others at the ceremony were two recently rehabbed locomotives, EMD F40PHM-2 No. 209 and Motive Power Inc. MP36PH-3S No. 409.

The facility was opened in 1947 by the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad and has not undergone significant improvement since.

Metra Chairman Norm Carlson said the facility, once known as the “Rocket House,” was built originally for Rock Island’s passenger fleet. Renovating the facility is an investment in Metra’s future, he said. Rehabbing cars in house saves Metra $400,000 to $500,000 a year. 

When the facilities are expanded and modernized, Metra will be able to rehab 60 railcars a year, a 40 percent increase from current levels, Derwinski said. 

Bruno Zawisza, superintendent of car rehab projects for Metra’s Rock Island District, said during a tour that the facility now turns out a completely rehabbed coach car every 28 days, using one 60-worker shift. In the future, a second shift could be added, he said. 

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, the senior member from Illinois on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and co-chair of the Public Transit Caucus, said the groundbreaking bodes well for the future of Metra and will keep valuable jobs in the state.

“It’s a great day for Metra and everyone who rides Metra,” Lipinski said.     

In March, the Metra board of directors approved a contract with Chicago-based firm F.H. Paschen, S.N. Nielsen & Associates, LLC through a competitive bidding process. The contractor has committed to awarding 25 percent of the subcontracting work to Disadvantaged Business Enterprise firms.

The project is expected to take nearly 2 years to complete. It will expand the 49th Street Coach Shop, including an upgrade of the facility’s loading dock, storage, and wheel truck rebuild area, and the addition of training facilities. 

The project also includes improvements to the 47th Street Diesel Shop, which maintains locomotives used on the Rock Island and is the facility where Metra’s MP36 locomotive rehab program is housed. 

Work at the 47th Street facility will include a reconfiguration of the loading dock area, adding an enclosed crane to it and rebuilding the materials storage area. The project further includes improvements to the rail yard’s parking, drainage, and utilities.

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