Did You Know?

Only 0.7 percent of federal transportation funds are spent on improving pedestrian facilities.

Cleaner air from Metra, inside and out.

We all know that transit – even diesel buses and trains – improves overall outdoor air quality compared to putting transit passengers in cars. However, a recent Chicago Tribune investigation found that levels of “carbon black” – one component of diesel exhaust – are relatively high at times in Ogilvie and Union stations and inside the trains.

Diesel exhaust contains dangerous chemicals linked to cancer and sooty particles that can aggravate respiratory and heart conditions. We know that sustained exposure to normal levels of diesel exhaust and other air pollutants presents very real health risks for residents of metro Chicago. We know less about the health risks from short-term exposures to spikes in diesel exhaust, like those the Tribune documented. Train conductors are probably most at risk since they spend hours on the train and in the stations.

Still, it can’t be good for any Metra commuter, and solutions to this problem are available and should be implemented. Our friends at the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago (RHAMC) have been sounding the alarm for years about diesel exhaust from commuter trains, and they have asked Metra to use cleaner fuels and pollution control devices, to limit idling in the stations, and to improve ventilation.

The response to date has been weak, but that may change with the scrutiny created by the Tribune articles. Metra has convened a Task Force to investigate. Email Metra at Tell them they can be “green” without making you green in the face!

What about CTA, cars?

Needless to say, the electrified Metra and CTA trains don’t have this problem because their emissions come from power plants, not the trains. (In general, there is significantly less air pollution created per mile traveled with electric trains vs. diesel.) The Tribune analysis also found diesel exhaust spikes near buses – no surprise there and a reminder for CTA to accelerate its slow transition to cleaner fuels and buses.

As for cars: before you trade in that Metra pass for a gas station credit card, keep in mind that air pollution levels can spike inside cars as well!