metra

Commuters crowd the 51st-53rd Hyde Park Metra station during evening rush hour on Feb. 14. 

Metra is installing an upgraded ventilation system on its railcars that is expected to remove and eliminate 99 percent of all airborne particulates, bacteria and viruses, including the virus that causes COVID-19, the agency said Wednesday.

Metra said the new air filtration and purification system, for which a $6.6 million contract was awarded, is the latest in a series of efforts to promote safety and build rider confidence since the pandemic began decimating ridership a year ago.

Electric District ridership is currently running about 4,000 passenger trips per day, about 15 percent of pre-COVID ridership, spokesman Michael Gillis told the Herald. “The trend is up. We’ve been picking up a little each week since January,” he said.

The new system uses ultraviolet light, electrical fields and stronger filters to create the safest possible environment for customers, the agency said. Currently, the air in train cars is refreshed every four minutes using hospital-grade MERV 13 filters. The new system will be the equivalent to or better than MERV 17 or HEPA standards, Metra said. MERV stands for minimum efficiency reporting value, and filters are rated between one and 20.

“The air in our trains is already proven safe and healthy, but this new cutting-edge system sets the highest industry standard for quality,” Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski said after the contract for the new system was approved by Metra’s board of directors.

New ventilation equipment will be installed on nearly 700 Metra railcars, including the 186-car Electric District fleet, Gillis said. There is no timetable yet for full installation, but the system will be initially tested on 50 cars.

Metra has previously touted other steps the agency is taking to clean, disinfect and sanitize cars, and to encourage healthy behavior by riders and workers. Last week, the agency partnered with the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago in an event to promote what the agency and office building landlords are doing to make it safer for companies to bring employees back to work downtown.

Metra said it has adopted a regimen to clean, sanitize, disinfect and inspect all cars and Metra-maintained stations at least once a day, with an extra emphasis on disinfecting high-touch areas as frequently as possible, including the use of electrostatic disinfecting foggers.

The agency has also installed signs in stations and on trains reminding riders that masks or face coverings must be worn, and to practice physical distancing. Touchless hand sanitizer dispensers have been installed in every car.

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