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Cleaner locomotive rolls out at Union Station

One of the cleaner diesel locomotives manufactured for Metrolink Metrolink file photo

The first in a new fleet of cleaner diesel locomotives for the Metrolink commuter railroad rolled out of Los Angeles Union Station  Thursday, with some Metrolink board members along for the inaugural ride.

The new locomotives burn diesel, but they are designed to cut about 85 percent of the emissions that cause air pollution and health problems for the people who live near train yards. They have 65 percent more horsepower but are also quieter.

That should bring some relief to the people who live near Metrolink’s main rail yard along the Los Angeles River, said spokeswoman Sharita Coffelt.

"During the day, they hear every little sound, so this is going to benefit that community immensely by having less emissions but also a quieter idle," Coffelt said.

The new equipment has been a long time coming. The first engine was ordered in 2012. That was three years before the federal government imposed new emissions limits that require railroads to replace aging locomotives with cleaner engines.

At first the locomotives were going to cost about $13 million each, but Metrolink bought 40, a quantity that brought the price down to about $7 million a piece. 

The first one arrived at the Union Station platform a year ago, an F125 locomotive built by Electro-Motive Diesel in Illinois. Testing didn't begin until June because the engines' ladders turned out to be the wrong length and had to be re-designed and installed, Coffelt said.

Metrolink was the first passenger railroad in the nation to order the cleaner diesel locomotives, but a smaller rail system in Northern California is the first to get one operating in regular service.

The new locomotive won’t go into regular service for another few weeks. First it will tour all the the train stations to build public awareness in the six counties Metrolink serves.

The Federal Transit Administration, the California Department of Transportation, the California High Speed Rail Authority and transportation authorities in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties all funded the locomotives. The South Coast Air Quality Management District also pitched in.

The locomotives emit less pollution because they use catalytic converters and filter exhaust through a fluid. That reduces the nitrogen oxides and small particles that contribute to air pollution.

A study co-sponsored by the AQMD assessed the health risks of living next to rail yards and found a statistically significant increase in cancers among residents who live closest to the San Bernardino rail yard, and more incidence of breathing difficulties among children.

And while railroad yards and terminals like Union Station have the highest concentration of train-related pollution, those living near the tracks also get a share of the emissions as trains pass by.

Metrolink runs passenger trains in Los Angeles and six other counties, over more than 500 miles of tracks.