Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

To overcome a surge in locomotive breakdowns that delay passengers, the Metrolink commuter railroad plans to spend about $200 million for some of the most sophisticated low-emission engines available.

Rail officials want to buy 29 so-called Tier 4 locomotives — powerful, fuel-efficient vehicles designed to slash potentially harmful releases of nitrogen oxide and fine particles of diesel exhaust, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Metrolink is set to take delivery of its first locomotive in December and the rest next year. When it does, the railroad that serves about 41,200 daily riders from six Southern California counties will become the first passenger line in the nation to operate the state-of-the-art engines.

“We thought that rebuilding our old locomotives was a good deal, but we’ve learned that buying new engines is better,” Art Leahy, Metrolink’s chief executive officer, told The Times Tuesday. “It’s the right thing to do. The business case is there.”

Rail officials say the Tier 4 engines, built by Electro-Motive Diesel in Illinois, are necessary because breakdowns have grown steadily for several years, reaching 111 during the first seven months of 2015.

R.T. McCarthy, Metrolink’s deputy chief operating officer, told The Times that many of the railroad’s 54 engines were built in the early 1990s and have traveled upward of a million miles each. He added that the railroad also has deferred costly overhauls, opting instead for reactive maintenance when mechanical problems arise.

“The engines,” McCarthy said, “are worn out and tired.”

The new locomotives are part of a broader program to improve customer service and rebuild ridership that has been lost since 2008. It includes replacing faulty ticket machines, adding trains to the schedule, and experimenting with lower fares and amenities such as Wi-Fi.

—City News Service

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