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Metra unveils new Highliner cars

Metra on Wednesday unveiled the first four of its new “Highliner” cars that will go into service later this week on the Electric District Line.

They are the first of 160 cars being built at a new Nippon Sharyo Manufacturing LLC plant in Rochelle, Ill. The cars are replacing ones that date back decades, to the pre-Metra days of the former Illinois Central Railroad.

The new cars feature modern amenities like power outlets for personal electronic devices, upgraded seating and new flush toilets.

Officials dedicated the first car to the late Metra director Elonzo “Lonnie” Hill, who served on the commuter rail agency’s board from 2003 until his death in 2009.

The Electric District Line runs 170 trains a day carrying about 36,000 riders between Milennium Station, Blue Island, South Chicago and University Park.

The new cars will cost $577 million and are being purchased through a $31 billion state bond program.

Eventually, all 145 1970s-era Metra Electric cars will be replaced with the new equipment.

The first 80 car “shells” are being constructed in Japan and shipped to Rochelle for completion. The remaining 80 will be entirely manufactured at the new plant.

Nippon Sharyo had previously outsourced the final assembly of its passenger cars to Super Steel in Milwaukee.

The $35 million Nippon Sharyo plant was dedicated in July.

Officials said the Rochelle facility will give the company greater control over its workforce and will position the company to surpass Buy America requirements, which allows companies to tap into federal incentives through states, municipalities or transit authorities.

Under the requirements, companies have to produce 60 percent of the total value of the rail cars in the U.S. The final assembly must be made by American workers with American-produced steel, iron and manufactured components.

To lure Nippon Sharyo, the state offered an incentives package worth more than $4.7 million in training funds, grants, corporate income tax credits and other incentives.

Nippon Sharyo pledged to create at least 250 jobs in the state and retain 15 workers from its previous office in Arlington Heights.

rwronski@tribune.com

Twitter @richwronski

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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