Metra Reveals Trains Have Alarming Levels of Diesel Pollution

The suburban train line Metra fielded complaints last fall for elevated levels of diesel pollution in its cars. After several months, the agency released data from an internal study that indicates the problem is more serious than previously thought.

Metra’s testing summary, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, shows the worst pollution generally was on trains leaving the south platform at Union Station. The highest soot levels on a single route were on a train leaving the Ogilvie Transportation Center. Higher-than-normal levels also were detected on outbound trains from the LaSalle Street Station.

By measuring soot on more than six dozen train runs between November and January, Metra provided a broader look at noxious pollution that hundreds of thousands of commuters breathe every day. The testing also sheds more light on how exposure to the dirtiest air depends on where commuters sit, and whether they are riding the train downtown or toward the suburbs.

Soot levels generally were highest inside the first car behind the locomotive, dropped in the second car and declined substantially in the last car. Moreover, levels were dramatically lower on return trips downtown using the same locomotives.

The issues relating to Metra’s problems are examined in several Roosevelt University seminars, including SUST 320 Sprawl, Transportation, and Planning (offered this summer at the downtown campus) and SUST 310 Energy and Climate Change (offered this autumn online) may be of interest. For more information on these or any other of our courses, please visit our Sustainability Studies website, call 1-877-277-5978 (1-877-APPLY RU) or email

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