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Rebuild Illinois investment supercharges MetroLINK in the Quad Cities

Jeff Nelson, CEO/Managing Director of MetroLINK
Jeff Nelson, CEO/Managing Director of MetroLINK

An $18.5 million investment by IDOT via Rebuild Illinois has allowed the Rock Island County Metropolitan Mass Transit District (MetroLINK) to usher in a cleaner, more efficient way for riders to move around the Quad Cities.

The grant MetroLINK received is part of more than $223 million awarded during the first two rounds of competitive grants as part of $355 million identified in Rebuild Illinois to invest in transit outside the Chicago area. The grants will help to expand and improve service, providing more transportation options and promoting an enhanced quality of life in communities throughout the state.

“MetroLINK is a prime example of how Rebuild Illinois bolsters transit operations statewide,” said Secretary Omer Osman. “Public transit is just as important as rebuilding our roads. Those without access to a vehicle deserve a safe and efficient way to visit their doctor, shop for groceries and run other errands. These riders also deserve quality facilities and vehicles they can depend on.”

The grants MetroLINK has received in 2020 and 2022 have been used for:

  • Purchase of 20 battery electric and compressed natural gas buses that will increase fleet reliability, reduce carbon footprint, cut down on maintenance and fuel costs, and allow further improvement to transit use and the overall transit experience by the public.
  • Pedestrian streetscape improvements to improve transit access and ADA accessibility.
  • Purchase and installation of on-street chargers at downtown Central Business District terminals in East Moline, Moline and Rock Island. As buses enter the stations, these chargers will provide an automated “top off” charge in 5-7 minutes to allow for greater vehicle utilization and operating range that will last an entire service day.
  • Expansion of the current depot charging system at the Operations and Maintenance Center to charge up to 20 buses simultaneously.
  • Planned renovations at the downtown Moline transit center, MetroLINK’s most heavily used transit center. The multimodal center is a vital connection point connecting transit, pedestrian, bicycle, ferryboat and, eventually, passenger rail. Passenger improvements will help maintain the station in a state of good repair while improving the transit system’s overall resiliency.

More than 20 years ago, MetroLINK made the decision to be a sustainable leader in the community with a commitment to alternative fuels. In 2002, MetroLINK converted 40% of their fixed-route fleet to compressed natural gas buses powered by John Deere engines. Today, 70% of the fleet runs on compressed natural gas.

In 2018, MetroLINK introduced battery electric buses to the Illinois Quad Cities. MetroLINK now has a fleet of nearly 30% battery electric and will decommission its last remaining diesel buses from the fleet.

“Thanks to Gov. Pritzker, Transportation Secretary Osman and our local elected officials, we have expanded our battery electric bus program and hope to share our transit station’s electric footprint within our downtown community,” says Jeff Nelson, MetroLINK’s CEO/managing director. “Electrifying our Central Business District provides the important electric infrastructure needed for our buses. In addition, it will provide charging opportunities for the general public, generating important economic activity throughout our downtowns. These types of investments are critical for Illinois communities to be relevant in the EV landscape.”

Passed in 2019, Rebuild Illinois is investing a total of $33.2 billion over six years into the state's aging transportation system, creating jobs and promoting economic growth. Rebuild Illinois is not only the largest capital program in state history, but also the first that touches all modes of transportation: roads and bridges, transit, waterways, freight and passenger rail, aviation, and bicycle and pedestrian accommodations.

How MetroLINK’s battery electric buses work

Range: Powered by state-of-the-art batteries, the electric buses are expected to travel for approximately 8 to 10 hours before recharging. Actual range of the buses is dependent on factors such as weather conditions, grade changes on the route and passenger load. The buses can fully recharge at MetroLINK's Operations and Maintenance Center in one to two hours. 

Durability: The carbon composite body of the buses minimizes repairs and maximizes life. Steel-body buses often experience corrosion throughout their average 12-year lifespan. However, the carbon composite body of the battery electric bus is expected to stay in continuous service for years longer. The electric drivetrain was also designed with 30% fewer parts, which means fewer repairs and replacements over the lifetime of the bus. 

Noise: The electric buses are exceptionally quiet and create virtually no noise when idling. In motion, they're whisper quiet at 57 decibels and operate below a normal conversation level. 

Sustainability: The electric buses produce fewer tailpipe emissions. In addition, MetroLINK utilizes energy produced by a 1,300 photovoltaic rooftop solar array located at their Operations and Maintenance Center to charge the buses during peak production hours. This further offsets energy costs and fossil fuel reductions.