Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Take the Bus to First Night

If you plan on enjoying New Year's Eve at First Night Austin, try taking the bus to the festivities. In addition to the many regular routes that travel downtown, we're extending four routes (4, 101, 171 and 982) until 1 a.m.

And don't forget about the Night Owls that start running after midnight until about 3:30 a.m.

We encourage you to buy a Day Pass good for unlimited rides for 24 hours. Children under six ride free.

For more details, check out the handy pocket map that will help you plan your trip.

Have a safe and happy New Year!
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To Tree or not to Tree

The Statesman ran a story today about the removal of some trees on Capital Metro property near the railroad tracks. Good story.

The most important thing to remember here is that we’re talking about safety and federal regulations. Imagine if you were in your car approaching a major intersection and your view of a traffic light or stop sign is blocked by a tree. The consequences could be deadly. A train operator has to have a clear view of signals too.

We're required to clear any obstructions in these circumstances:

Line of sight to crossing signals: Train operators must have a clear view of all crossing signals and gates up to 20-seconds prior to reaching a crossing so the train has time to stop if the signals are malfunctioning. Drivers on the road must also have a clear view of all signals, signs and gates.

Line of sight to train signals: These are the signals that train operators look out for so they know whether they must stop or keep moving. Operators must have a clear view of all signals. Most signals on Capital Metro's line are placed within 12 to 16 feet from the center of the track and are about 12 feet tall. In areas with straight track, the line of sight could be as long as a half-mile from the signal itself.

Operating envelope clearance: There cannot be any obstructions within the operating envelope of a train. The size of the operating envelope varies depending on the curve of the track. The industry standard is 10-feet from the center of the track on each side and 22-feet high.

Failure to remove obstructions could result in a serious safety situation as well as violations from the Federal Railroad Administration.

MetroRail staff will continue to work closely with the landscape contractor to make sure that crews only remove what’s absolutely necessary to comply with the federal regs. And as the story mentioned, we’ll work with neighborhood groups to try to let them know in advance if there’s going to be any major trimming happening nearby.
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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

From Alcoholic to Workoholic

Here’s a feel-good story for the holidays. The New Jersey Journal reported on a former homeless man who turned his life around and is now recognized as one of New York City’s nicest bus drivers:

Once lost in drug haze, now 'nicest' bus driver
Friday, December 26, 2008

After being homeless for more than a decade, a Union City resident has found a home, love, and even an award for being one of New York City transit's nicest bus drivers.

His employer, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, presented David Abramski, 51, who now lives in the Doric Towers in Union City and drives for the Manhattan and Bronx Surface Transit Operating Authority, with an award after 21 passengers contacted the authority in 2007 to praise him for being courteous and helpful.

He was one of four MTA workers presented with the Govan Brown Presidential Award in October. The award is named for a retired bus driver who collected 1,400 commendations for charming passengers during his 21-year-career.

Abramski chalks up his popularity to common courtesy, saying "Hello" to anyone who looks at him, announcing every stop and saying "Thank you" when passengers are departing.

"I try to treat everyone like they are my friend - like it's a rolling party," Abramski said. "I want everybody feel at ease."

He also goes the extra mile with service. He has hand-delivered valuables left on his bus to their owners.

Once playing guitar for a band that landed gigs at the storied CBGB's rock club, Abramski's life spiraled out of control in the mid-'80s, leading to his eviction from a single room occupancy hotel. He was homeless for 10 years, living in an Amtrak tunnel below Riverside Park in New York City.

Smoking pot since his teens, he says he got hooked on crack cocaine and alcohol when he was laid off from his job as a bicycle messenger after breaking his shoulder.

"I finally hit the bottom," he said. "You couldn't get any lower than living in that tunnel."
His parents took him into their home and clipped out job advertisements to help his search for a "real job."

He became a motorbike messenger after attaching a small motor to his bike. Then he got a motorcycle. And then finally a bus, when he landed a job as a part-time bus driver with NJ Transit before being hired by the MTA in November 2000.

"I'm sorry I messed up. I was so bad as a kid," sighed Abramski. "I was such a rebel."
After moving from a boarding house in Union City to a condo in Jersey City, he met his wife, Barbara Alice.

He plans to retire when he is 63 years old and move with his wife to Florida, and has been working overtime to earn enough to buy a house there.

"I used to be an alcoholic, but now I'm a workaholic," Abramski said.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Are You Too Sexy for the Bus?

Local entrepreneur and Capital Metro rider Vicki Flaugher wrote an interesting article about the social stigma that sometimes accompanies riding mass transit. She had been in a car accident that totaled her vehicle, and had decided to ride Capital Metro so she could save up for a Prius. Here's an excerpt, behind the cut.

Little did I know, though, how much other people seemed to have negative ideas about riding the bus. My friends, even my new-age, modern-minded, vegetarian, recycling friends, all looked at me with pity in their eyes when I told them I was riding the bus.

For the first few weeks, they would offer me rides or tell me about some great deal of a car one of their neighbors had for sale, but after awhile that stopped. I felt a real disconnect from the socially conscious, energy efficient nirvana they talked about pursuing and how they acted about the actuality of it when a friend of theirs was living it.

Complete strangers were happy to fill the pity gap, though, as they saw me waiting at a bus stop. They would stop and offer me a ride because they just felt bad that a “nice woman” like me would be waiting for the bus. What’s that about? Do normal, cleanly dressed, law abiding, working people not ride the bus? The prejudice was obvious.

Flaugher goes on to challenge readers to examine their own prejudices when it comes to public transportation, just as she had to face her own. Some of the questions she raises: "Are you too sexy for the bus?" "In your mind, do I have to own a car to fit in?" "Do you think poorly of the people riding the bus?" "Are people who afford and use cars somehow held in higher esteem?"

The full article, including an audio version, can be found here.
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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy New Year - Don't Blow Your Horn

It’s going to get a little quieter along part of the Capital MetroRail line beginning January 1. More importantly, safety will be enhanced as well. A new federally-approved quiet zone will take effect at these crossings: Block House Drive, New Hope Drive, RM 1431, Discovery Boulevard, Park Street and Brushy Creek Road.

Once the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) approves a quiet zone, trains are no longer required to sound horns at those crossings. As part of Capital Metro’s commitment to safety and to reduce noise near neighborhoods, crews have been upgrading the safety technology at many crossings up and down the 32-mile line.

Many of the crossings now have (or soon will have) quad gates which prevent cars from driving around lowered gates, like this:

Upgraded safety systems like quad gates allow for the possibility of quiet zones. But simply adding quad gates doesn’t automatically initiate a quiet zone.
It’s actually up to the local jurisdictions, not Capital Metro, to submit quiet zone applications to the FRA. After the initial application there is a 60-day comment period. Then the applicant files a letter of establishment followed by a 20-day notification period before the quiet zone is official. That process is now complete for those Cedar Park crossings listed above.

Quiet zones already are in effect at crossings in the City of Leander. In Austin, the City has submitted quiet zone paperwork for crossings from McNeil Drive to Gracy Farms Road, and from Hwy. 183 to Downtown.

Once a quiet zone takes effect, that doesn’t mean you won’t hear train horns. Train operators will still sound the horn in emergency situations such as when there’s a car or pedestrian on the tracks. Unfortunately, people make the dangerous and illegal mistake of walking on railroad tracks. MetroRail trains are lighter, quieter and faster than freight trains – another good reason to stay off the tracks.

This is just a small sample of some of the rules. The regulations are very thorough, all for one good reason: safety. The details are available on the FRA’s site.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

MetroAccess makes a special holiday delivery in one of its shiny new "sleighs"

One of Capital MetroAccess' brand new paratransit vehicles left the Capital Metro parking lot this morning for its first public outing and a very special holiday delivery to 49 Central Texans.

It's not pulled by reindeer, but it was laden with gifts, and even Santa would be impressed by the roomy interior of the new MetroAccess vehicle.

The bus was loaded with care packages for clients of a local nonprofit, H.A.N.D (Helping the Aging, Needy and Disabled) of Austin. Capital MetroAccess staff adopted ten of H.A.N.D.'s clients, and gathered up gift baskets of personal care items, household goods, food, etc. Some talented MetroAccess staff members even crocheted scarves for the recipients. In addition to the ten we adopted, the MetroAccess "elves" helped H.A.N.D. by delivering baskets for another 38 of H.A.N.D.'s clients.

MetroAccess "elves" show off the gift baskets and the roomy interior of the new MetroAccess vehicle.

Earlier this year, Capital Metro purchased 47 new paratransit vehicles to replace older models that have outlived their useful lives. A handful of the new vehicles will go into service the first week of January, and all of the vehicles will be on the streets by February.

Some of the amenities of the new bus include a slew of safety features, more passenger comforts like a smooth ride suspension and a quieter engine, a larger seating capacity, and room for service animals underneath each seat.
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Griping for Google

Bloggers created a ruckus in Washington recently, demanding that the transit authority join Google Transit. Looks like they’ll get what they wanted and soon will be able to plan bus and rail trips in the familiar Google format.

That’s old news for us. Capital Metro hooked up with Google Transit almost two years ago. There are a number of other electronic options for planning trips. In addition to our regular trip planner on, you also can try out our newer beta version that includes maps. For text addicts, you can request and receive trip info on your cell phone via Dadnab.

There’s no such thing as a perfect online mapping program. But they’re getting better every day. I remember when we first started on Google Transit the walking portion of some rare trips led you right into Town Lake. I haven’t encountered anything like that recently.

At least those fun folks at Google have a sense of humor. Doesn’t seem to work anymore, but a while back on Google if you requested driving trips for a ridiculous commute like New York City to Paris, buried within the directions was something like, “Swim across the Atlantic Ocean – 3,462 miles.”

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mind Your Manners on the Train

We’re not planning on any rules prohibiting you from putting on makeup while riding MetroRail. And it’s perfectly acceptable on the bus too. Hey, it’s certainly safer than doing that while you’re behind the wheel.

Apparently the rules are much stricter on Tokyo’s transit system. Check out what the good folks at TransitTalent included in their daily newsletter:

Mind Your Manners on the Tokyo Subway

To help deter embarrassing and annoying behavior on the subways in Tokyo, the transit system displays a poster each month that illustrates a particularly obnoxious breach of manners.

In addition to drunken salarymen sprawled unconscious on benches, the posters also warn against chattering cell phone users, music lovers with loud headphones, women applying make-up and inconsiderate folks with bulky belongings. View the posters.
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Monday, December 15, 2008

Ride More, Weigh Less

Well it’s not quite as easy as the title implies. But a study by the University of Tennessee Obesity Research Center examined the relationship between obesity and using active transportation (defined as walking, cycling or using public transit) in the United States, Europe and Australia.

Researchers found that countries where people use active transportation more often tend to have lower rates of obesity. Of all the countries studied, the United States had the lowest level of active transportation use (12%) and the highest rate of obesity (23.9%).

No surprise there, right? But the University says the results make a good case to help justify the need for more active transportation infrastructure in the United States.

The study appears in the November edition of the Journal of Physical Activity & Health. The Statesman ran this AP story about it today.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Come and See the Train

The Capital MetroRail train was the star of the show at Thursday's Holiday Hop 'N Shop Extravaganza at the Downtown rail station. Click through the jump to watch some of the TV news coverage.

If you didn't get to see the train, come back Saturday between 2 - 6 p.m. Santa will be there too, so be sure to bring your camera. And don't forget the new 'Dillo Hop 'N Shop discount program.

Here's a link to the Statesman's photo album from yesterday's event.
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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Billy and the i-Ride Man Video Shoot, and Bike Rack Rap

Capital Metro has been planning a series of short (fun) videos to help new riders get the hang of it. The idea spawned from the i-Ride campaign and the creative video submissions to the i-Ride contest held earlier this year. After the contest ended, we retained i-Ride winner Alex Diamond to produce the videos for us. Check out this earlier post for more info on Alex, the videos, and the casting call we put out last month.

Last weekend, Alex and cast (and some Capital Metro folks) met at the Triangle for the first video shoot.
i-Ride winner and Capital Metro rider Alex Diamond (center) gets ready to film the first video.

The videos will cover several topics, like trip planning, paying the fare, loading your bike, etc., and should make their debut in early 2009.

Incidentally, Streetsblog recently blogged about a sweet video by the Transit Authority of River City (Louisville, KY): Bike Rack Rap. Check it out!

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Floridians check out Capital Metro!

Last Thursday, Capital Metro was honored with a visit by some guests from Lakeland, Florida. Sixteen of their community’s leaders, including their mayor and city manager, came to learn about many of the projects and places that have made the world-class city it is, including our favorite of all their stops--Capital Metro's North Operations Facility. Like Central Texas, Central Florida, where Lakeland is located, has some pretty serious population issues to deal with. Lakeland is smack dab in between Orlanda and Tampa so there are about 9 million people living within 100 miles of Lakeland. Think about that. San Antonio is about 80 miles from Austin, and the population of San Antonio’s metro area is about 2 million people and the population of Austin’s metro area is about 1.6 million people. We have some 3.6 million people versus their 9 million. That is a LOT of people, which means a LOT of moving around, which means a BIG transportation question.

Suffice to say, when they visited Capital Metro, they asked a lot of questions. Their communities are also considering passenger rail. Orlando is working on a 61-mile commuter rail project and Tampa is planning for light rail. Right in the middle, Lakeland is wondering how to connect those two systems because today, Lakeland’s only mass transit is their 38-bus “Citrus Connection.” (By comparison, Capital Metro has about 400 buses.) (They should give out oranges on their buses. I learned from my coworker Adam, who used to live there, that their county, Polk, produces more citrus than the entire state of California.) So they were very interested in our ENTIRE system and how it all worked together. Their community is also a freight rail hub so our experience in owning and operating our own freight rail line, and figuring out what to do with that when passenger rail starts next spring, prompted a lot of questions. And of course, they asked about the cost of the Red Line. The director of the Lakeland Economic Development Council who organized the trip, Steve Scruggs, had done his homework in advance and reminded his team how inexpensive our system is compared to others across the country, including the systems that are being considered in Central Florida right now.

I gotta say that made me proud. And it made me proud to see how impressed they genuinely were with our entire network. I think we forget that we do have a pretty darn good system. Sure, we could use improvement but who can’t? With these kinds of trips, you realize that you do have something to be proud of and you realize that you do have stories and lessons to share. And surely they have lessons to share with us; we just didn’t have enough time to talk unfortunately. So I am prompted to do more Googling and talk to Steve more. And maybe one day I’ll visit Lakeland and see what they’ve done to move around 9 million people. And besides, I love Frank Lloyd Wright and I hear that they have the largest single collection of buildings designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright anywhere. Pretty impressive for a 38-bus town that'll one day serve millions of riders who may one day converge upon their fair city by passenger rail.
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Monday, December 8, 2008

'Dillos and Dale, Downtown!

Come listen to Dale Watson during lunch this Thursday at Brush Square Park. Capital Metro is kicking off the holiday shopping season with the 'Dillo Hop 'n Shop Extravaganza and the launch of the 'Dillo Hop 'n Shop Program.

In addition to the free concert, merchant booths will line Brush Square, and visitors can find out how the 'Dillo Hop 'n Shop Program can save them money and earn them free gifts. Visitors can also step aboard the MetroRail train for the first time, which will be parked at the Downtown Station.

How does the Hop 'n Shop program work? You get discounts and other perks at participating stores and restaurants along the `Dillo routes just by showing your valid `Dillo fare card. Some of our partners include REI, the Alamo Drafthouse, RunTex, Little City Espresso Bar, and many others.

The 'Dillo Hop 'n Shop Extravaganza is this Thursday, Dec. 11, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Brush Square Park (4th and Trinity).
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Friday, December 5, 2008

An Exhaustive Look at Railcar Safety

We spotted an article recently in R&D magazine about the extraordinary safety measures in the design of Stadler’s GTW railcars. Capital Metro will use the same type of vehicle for MetroRail service that begins in March.

The story is highly technical, but it’s a good read if you really appreciate the nitty-gritty details of crashworthiness testing. It definitely highlights the modern safety technology that we have in place for our upcoming passenger rail system. I'll paste the article below.

Now If you’re not ready to get into the highly technical details and prefer something more fun on a Friday, then definitely read Misty’s post about Uncle Skulky and friends who will greet passengers on the rail platforms in Portland.

Realistic Simulation Makes a Safe Impact on Train Design

Swiss-based Stadler Rail Group produces about 700 light and commuter rail vehicles per year. All of its products meet stringent requirements governing safety equipment, strength of train units (cars and engines), and, above all, passenger and crew protection from the forces of impact.

But with a recent order from the Netherlands for 43 of the latest generation of Stadler’s GTW articulated rail cars, the company faced a new challenge: the train units had to meet as-yet unreleased crashworthiness standards that the country had adopted in advance of their approval by the European reviewing committee. Among the requirements was that the units provide passenger zone protection during a 36 km/h front-end collision between two units with a vertical offset of up to 40 mm.

Two developments drove the new requirements. First, head-on impacts could easily include a small offset because two train units had differing amounts of wheel wear or braking inclination. A second reason was more urgent: a recent numerical simulation of an offset collision indicated that the previous design of a crash module (a safety device on the front of the train car) might not prevent damage to the passenger zone of the train units during such an impact.

“Numerical simulation suggested that the crash module could undergo global shear deformation and fail at the fixation point, falling off the front structure,” says Alois Starlinger, head of structural analysis, testing, and certification at Stadler. “In such a shear-mode failure, the module would not absorb any significant energy.” In a worst-case scenario, both trains would then climb over each other, deforming the passenger zones severely.

To satisfy the new safety requirement—which is scheduled to become the standard throughout Europe in 2008—Stadler designed a new crash module with an anti-climb feature. Engineers validated the module design through a combination of dynamic physical testing and simulations in Abaqus finite element analysis (FEA) software from the SIMULIA brand of Dassault Systèmes, Providence, R.I.

A “crash” design project

The crash module is a slightly tapered rectangular tube that is 12 in high and wide at the front, 30 in long, and 14 in high and wide at the rear, where it is welded to an end plate bolted onto the crash wall of the train unit. Partitions divide the module into chambers that provide stability to counter eccentric forces. On the front of the module are five horizontally aligned teeth, 70 mm apart with a depth of 40 mm, which are designed to engage the teeth of a similar module on an oncoming rail car and prevent climb.

Once the teeth have engaged, the rest of the crash module is optimized for controlled structural deformation from the front to the back. Targeted slots on the sides create intentional weak points that initiate buckling and subsequent energy absorption. In developing the design, engineers built on lessons learned while producing crash modules for previous generations of GTWs.

For the new design, the engineers selected the aluminum alloy AW 5754. This alloy combines low yield strength with good plastic forming characteristics, enabling it to undergo large deformations without fracture. An important engineering goal was to create modules that could absorb up to 900 kJ of a crash impact while decelerating the train unit at 5 g (g-forces) or less as far as was practicable.

To capture the material behavior of the module, Stadler extracted information from its own materials database, compiled from exacting physical tests. Engineers incorporated the data into an Abaqus model and calibrated the metals simulation still further by extracting aluminum samples from a series version crash module and testing the samples to create stress-strain curves. By comparing these curves to results generated by Abaqus simulations, the engineers were able to fine-tune the behavior of the FEA so that it closely matched the real-world characteristics of the aluminum alloy in a crash module.

The engineers were then ready to build a model of the crash module and analyze its behavior on impact. Simulation of the head-on offset impact followed a number of parameters:

-Collision masses (train units): 100,000 kg each;

-Closing speed (combined speed): 36 km/h;

-Maximum energy to be absorbed by crash components of both train units: 2,230 kJ ; and

-Maximum energy to be absorbed by a single train unit: 1,115 kJ.

Because of the complexity of the analysis, engineers chose to run nonlinear dynamic simulations with Abaqus/Explicit so that they could observe the elastic-plastic behavior of the metal, measure progressive damage and failure of welding, analyze the large deformations of the module, and model contact and friction. ?“Abaqus was able to capture all the forces and materials behavior we needed,” Starlinger says. “General contact capabilities of the software were particularly useful.”

The finite element model and the analysis task before it were both dauntingly large. There were 450,000 elements in the model, and the dynamic simulations captured a period of 0.4 sec broken down into 200,000 “snapshots.” To promote a speedy run time, the engineers ran the software on an SGI Altix 350 with four Itanium processors with activated parallel processing.

Train units were modeled in 3-D with running bogies (wheel, axle, and frame assemblies) and suspension characteristics to capture any lift-off of the wheels and axles on impact. Contact conditions were defined between the wheels and the rails, as well as between the bogies and the train unit body. Forces applied on impact by attached articulated units were modeled axially with 1-D elements and mass elements.

Safe, speedy arrival at results

Abaqus simulation results correlate very well with physical dynamic tests. The anti-climb teeth prevent either train unit from moving over the other, and the module body undergoes controlled deformation to absorb 1.1 MJ. Aluminum buckling decelerates the train unit at an average of 1.25 g.

“Our goal was to achieve an overall compressive strength for the train unit to 1,500 kN, without undergoing any yield and deformation in the passenger structure,” Starlinger says. “In fact, our crashworthiness engineering improved the compressive strength to about 3,600 kN, with only small amounts of plastic deformation in the passenger zone.” He adds, “And we proved out the anti-climb device against offsets as high as 80 mm.”

In addition to the accuracy of the Abaqus simulations, their fast run time (18-46 hr) was important. “We were able to release the crash module for production exactly eight months after the contract was signed,” Starlinger says. “The whole GTW Arriva went into operation ten months later, which is probably a record for starting a design from scratch in passenger train service.” Six units of the same GTW model have recently been sold to Capital Metro in Austin, Texas.

Stadler plans to build on its experience and continue making each new train design safer than the last. Starlinger sees Abaqus software as an important part of that process. “In its own way,” Stadler says, “FEA is now as essential to ensuring train safety as brakes are.”

—Nick O'Donohoe is a technology writer based in Providence, R.I.

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Weird Art…sounds like Austin

Happy Friday. Thought I'd share something amusing that caught my eye yesterday.

TriMet, the public transit agency in Portland, has invested in public art at several of their commuter rail stations. That sounds like something we might be interested in, especially in Austin. Well, the art has left a creepy impression on a local reporter. And it creeped me out too. Check out his blog posting and judge for yourself. Read more

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Stroll on the 'Dillo

If you’re planning to attend the annual Holiday Sing-Along, Capitol Tree Lighting and Congress Avenue Stroll on December 6 starting at 6 p.m., Capital Metro will make it easier for you to get around to the many restaurants, shops, galleries and museums that will be open for the event.

We’ll keep running the Congress Avenue ‘Dillo route until 9 p.m. You can pay just 50 cents for unlimited ‘Dillo rides for two hours. Or if you already have a 31-Day ‘Dillo Pass, that’ll work too.

If you drive your car to the festivities, you can park once and then hop on the ‘Dillo. No need to worry about the schedule. The ‘Dillo comes by every five minutes.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sampling the Sausage Link

Capital Metro stepped up to the plate and presented its proposal for the Austin-Manor-Elgin transit corridor (also known as the Sausage Link) to the CAMPO Transit Work Group (TWG) on Monday. Click here to see the presentation of the proposed Green Line. You can read the full review from September here. Click through the jump to see KTBC's story from Monday.

A Green Line extension of MetroRail could be an important part of a regional transportation system in Central Texas. The proposal is the first transit project to go through the TWG and its Decision Tree. Capital Metro will return to the TWG next Monday for further discussion of the Green Line.

(Image from the Austin Chronicle. Click here for the AC's new story this week.)

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Closer Look at the Downtown Station

See KVUE's story about the completion of the Downtown Station:

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Downtown Station Almost Complete

We're excited to announce the Capital MetroRail Downtown Station is expected to be complete this week. The new station is located next to the Austin Convention Center on 4th Street between Neches and Trinity. It's one of nine stations that will serve Capital Metro's Red Line between Austin and Leander. MetroRail will open March 30, 2009.

The station features steel canopies, lighting, and accessible ramps. Information display units, digital signs with real-time train arrival information and ticket vending machines will be installed closer to the start of service.

Construction began in August and in addition to the station, Capital Metro improved railroad tracks in the area, made considerable improvements to the sidewalk next to the Austin Convention Center and the Brush Square streetscape and built a portion of the new Lance Armstrong Bikeway.

Once rail service begins, dedicated connector buses will offer quick transfers to their final destinations. Many other local bus routes are within walking distance of the station.

Plans are underway to bring the MetroRail train to the Downtown Station in December for public viewing. Stay tuned for more details.
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Monday, November 24, 2008

'Dillo for Sale

Love ‘em or not, the ‘Dillo trolleys that circulate commuters around Downtown Austin get plenty of attention. Capital Metro even receives calls from time to time from people who ask if they can rent a ‘Dillo for private parties or even weddings. Renting a ‘Dillo is not an option. But now’s your chance if you want to buy one.

Currently Capital Metro has six surplus ‘Dillo vehicles up for auction on GovDeals. When a bus has reached its useful life span (about 10 to 12 years depending on the type of bus and how it is used), it may no longer be suitable for our rigorous schedules. But it still has value; so it’s certainly in the best interest of our taxpayers that we capture that value.

The first step is for our Procurement staff to determine the fair market value of each surplus
vehicle. Then we put them up for bid after we’ve established a minimum reserve amount that we’d be willing to accept. Looks like there are only a few bids for the ‘Dillos right now. But the auction will be open until December 8.

There is always someone out there who can put old transit vehicles to good use. Anytime Capital
Metro has vehicles up for auction we try to notify businesses, social service agencies and other entities that might be interested in bidding.

If a surplus bus is not what you need, keep checking back with GovDeals. Sometimes we’ll post other surplus property such as computers and furniture.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Did you celebrate GIS Day yesterday?

Yesterday was the 10th annual GIS Day. Never heard of GIS Day, you say? Me neither, until yesterday. Capital Metro, of course, uses GIS (Geographic Information Systems) everyday for route planning, safety and risk management, etc. When you use our online trip planner or Google Transit to plan a trip on a Capital Metro bus, GIS is the underlying technology that makes it possible (in addition to the efforts of some smart programmers and planners at Capital Metro).

Meet Capital Metro's Arc Users Group: Ed Easton, Van Sutherland, Meredith Highsmith, Jenn Golech, Thomas Tsang, and James Gamez

GIS Day is about increasing understanding of the real-world applications of GIS technology. The Capital Metro Arc Users Group--a cadre of planners, risk managers, and others who use GIS or are interested in its applications--hosted a GIS Day celebration for all of Capital Metro, highlighting the many ways we depend upon the technology.

Honestly, it wasn't boring, and I'm not a transit nerd or geographer. It was almost fascinating, really. One of the demonstrations was by GIS Coordinator Van Sutherland. Van developed the Capital Metro Transit Stops system geodatabase, which allows you to view all of our 3,000+ bus stops, including a photograph and a list of the stop amenities, as well as what times a bus will be arriving, according to the schedule. You can check it out here.

Van created the interface about three years ago. His work saves our planning team a considerable amount of time, because before, the planners needed to consult many sources of information in order to plot routes and plan stops. Van notes, "Now they can use a single interface."
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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The (Coming) Adventures of Billy and i-Ride Man

This past Saturday members of the Capital Metro Marketing Team got to help out as casting directors for an upcoming series of videos that will be written and directed by one of our riders.

In April of this year some of you may remember that Capital Metro held a contest where we invited our customers to “tell us why you ride”. Our i-Ride Contest entries included songs, videos, original art pieces and lots and lots of stories. Several of the winning entries in the Video category were submitted by a UT Radio-Television-Film student named Alex Diamond. We were so impressed with Alex’s work that we invited him to help us make it easier for first-time Capital Metro riders by having him write and direct a series of short instructional videos that will appear on the Capital Metro website and YouTube early next year. The videos will follow the adventures of his main character Billy and his sidekick i-Ride Man as the navigate their way through first time rider scenarios such as planning a trip, stop etiquette, putting your bike on the rack and paying your fare.

So Saturday was a day of auditions for the series at the Vortex Theatre on Manor Road, who were kind enough to let us use their facilities. Alex and his two Capital Metro assistants auditioned roughly 40 hopeful actors and actresses to find three characters to star in the videos. After putting each through a cold reading of a few pages from one of the scripts we compared notes and had to make some tough decisions. (The complete cast list is posted on the Capital Metro website.) We’d like to thank all that tried out – we met and saw some very talented people and it takes guts to put yourself out there even if it’s only for a set of How to Ride videos. Look for the completed videos on our site sometime in January or February.
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Monday, November 17, 2008

Pass Reimbursement

Capital Metro wants to reimburse customers who couldn't use their active multi-day passes during the transit labor strike (Nov. 5-9). For customers who ride the bus, the replacement value will be in the form of a 5-Day pass. For MetroAccess customers, the replacement value will be in the form of a MetroAccess 10-Ride Ticket Booklet.

How to get it: Customers can redeem their multi-day pass (7-Day or 31-Day pass) for a 5-Day pass or their MetroAccess November 2008 Monthly pass for a 10-Ride Ticket Booklet by mailing in their expired pass to Capital Metro, 2910 E. 5th Street, Austin, Texas, 78702, Attn: Treasury Office, or in person, at the Transit Store, 323 Congress Avenue, beginning today, Nov. 17, 2008.

Customers must obtain the 5-day pass or 10-Ride Ticket Booklet by 12/31/08.

The small print: The start and expiration dates on the back of the pass must be legible. The pass must not be damaged. The MetroAccess (STS) Monthly pass must clearly indicate: NOV 2008 on the front of the pass. Passes not meeting these criteria will be rejected for compensation.
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Friday, November 14, 2008

A Job Well Done

I received a very kind email today commending a bus operator for a job well done. With the author's consent, I want to share it with our blog readers:

I was pleased to see that Capital Metro bus drivers are getting a raise - the driver who takes my daughter to school is just terrific.

Addie, my 13-year-old daughter, catches the regular #20 bus downtown at 7:11 am to get to LBJ High School. (She has gotten to school on time before 8 am every single day, except the first day of the strike, by the way!) That bus picks up many students going to Kealing Middle School and LBJ High, and my daughter has mentioned several times that their regular bus driver is friendly and especially nice with the students, asking them how they're doing in school and so forth.

On Veteran's Day, their usual stop at 10th Street and Congress Ave. was closed, due to the parade - which they didn't anticipate. My daughter and the whole group of students who usually board there were in a panic, sure they would miss the bus, and not knowing what to do. Then they saw a man a half block away waving his arms and calling out to get their attention. It was the bus driver! He had anticipated that these kids wouldn't know to go to the alternate stop, so he went the extra mile to go find them, and make sure they caught their bus to school.

Now if that doesn't merit a raise, I don't know what does!

Katherine Gregor
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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Return to Normalcy

A note from President/CEO Fred Gilliam:

On Monday, Capital Metro restored full service after union employees returned to work. Capital Metro is pleased that StarTran, the contractor that employs most of Capital Metro’s bus and paratransit operators and mechanics, and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091 reached a tentative agreement. The union is expected to vote on the contract this week.

Thanks to many hard-working employees and our other contracted partners, Capital Metro was able to increase service each day of the strike. Still, we know that many customers waited patiently for their buses and MetroAccess rides to arrive, and others had to find an alternate means to travel around town. We apologize to our customers and the community for the disruption. Capital Metro will be compensating pass holders who had days of paid eligible fares during the strike days (Nov. 5-9, 2008). The details will be released soon.

Last week was a difficult time for everyone involved. Now, we must move forward to rebuild public trust within the community. We remain committed to providing high quality service to meet the needs of central Texas.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Capital Metro Plans Major Increase in Routes Tomorrow

Tomorrow Capital Metro will operate on a modified Saturday level of service. Thirty-three routes will run tomorrow between the hours of 6 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., compared to 13 that operated today.

Additionally, MetroAccess for customers with disabilities will operate at its full level of service between the hours of 6 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.

During a strike no fares will be charged.
The following routes will be in service tomorrow, November 7, 2008:

1L/1M North Lamar/South Congress
2 Rosewood
3 Burnet/Manchaca
4 Montopolis
5 Woodrow/South 5th
6 East 12th
7 Duval/Dove Springs
9 Enfield/Travis Heights
10 South First/Red River
17 Cesar Chavez
18 Martin Luther King
19 Bull Creek
20 Manor Road/Riverside
21/22 Exposition/Chicon
23 Johnny Morris
29 Barton Hills
30 Barton Creek
37 Colony Park/Windsor Park
100 Airport Flyer
201 Southpark Meadows
243 Wells Branch
300 Govalle
311 Stassney
320 St. Johns
325 Ohlen
328 Ben White
331 Oltorf
333 Wm. Cannon
338 Lamar/45th
339 Walnut Creek
350 Airport Blvd.
383 Research
392 Braker

There will be no ‘Dillo, E-Bus or Night Owl Service.

The following routes, which are not operated by StarTran, will run as regularly scheduled:

UT Shuttle Routes (open to the general public)
AISD Routes (with the exception of the afternoon Kealing Middle School routes)
142 Metric Flyer
214 Lago Vista Feeder
990 Northwest Express (Manor)
Northwest Dial-a-Ride Service (Monday, Wednesday and Friday only)
Capital Metro urges customers to review the limited service options available and to be prepared with alternate transportation plans such as carpooling. The very latest information on routes is posted on and available by calling (512) 474-1200.
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Creative Commuters in Leander

Some resourceful Leander commuters have taken matters into their own hands. Several long-time Express route riders who normally catch the 986 and 987 from the Leander Park & Ride have formed their own adhoc carpools instead during the transit strike.

According to Capital Metro outreach volunteers who were stationed at Leander Park & Ride yesterday and today to help riders find other ways to work, the carpools formed on site, made up of individuals who have been sharing an Express bus ride with each other for months.

Leander Mayor and Capital Metro Board Member John Cowman volunteered to do outreach this morning, and was heartened by the resourcefulness of Leander residents to make lemonade out of lemons.

In strike news, today Capital Metro was able to add three more bus routes and increase the frequency of buses from 45 to 30 minutes. The complete list of routes operating can be found on the Capital Metro homepage.
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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Capital Metro Services Today

During the early morning hours this morning, Capital Metro bus operators and mechanics put down their tools and picked up signs instead, picketing outside Capital Metro's headquarters in East Austin.

Nonetheless, Capital Metro got its planned, albeit limited, service out this morning and is operating a network of 10 core routes today from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

At 5:40 a.m. this morning, the first buses queue up to leave the garage.

By 7:10 a.m. this morning, 70 Capital Metro buses had rolled out of the garage to provide today's service. Now the focus is on supplementing those routes to add frequency and alleviate crowding. An additional 19 buses have been added to 1L/1M, 3, 10, and 20. As more people cross the line, we will continue to put additional buses on the street.
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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Statesman: Transit Strike Will Hurt Riders and Union

The following editorial is running in Wednesday's Austin American-Statesman:

Transit Strike Will Hurt Riders and the Union
Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Union leaders at Capital Metro aren't doing their membership or the city any good by ordering a strike today. A strike is only going to make more people furious at the bus drivers, as riders were after the one-day strike three years ago.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091 has snubbed Capital Metro bargaining agent StarTran's offer of a $1,000 bonus and a 10 percent pay increase over the next three years. The union did grudgingly accept a change in health care coverage that places union workers under a plan similar to the one that covers nonunion workers and top executives.

Thousands of people who depend on Capital Metro to get them to work, the doctor's office and around town can't understand the union's resistance to a good contract offer or its determination to strike. The union wants a retroactive pay increase for last year rather than a one-time bonus payment and is willing to disrupt the city's transportation system to get it.

Austin City Council Member Mike Martinez, also a member of Capital Metro's board of directors, offered a compromise plan late in the negotiations. He proposed a 3 percent raise for last year and a 2.5 percent increase this year. Martinez also suggests an independent audit to provide revenue and expense numbers that both sides agree upon.

StarTran General Manager Terry Garcia Crews said what Martinez proposed for two years would cost as much as the company has budgeted for a four-year contract. And it sends everyone back to the bargaining table in only eight months. "The workforce needs stability," she said.

Like other public entities, Capital Metro has been hit with unexpected expenses in a cataclysmic economic downturn. First came $4 a gallon gasoline, then a collapsing economy that hits the transit company square in the pocket book.

Cap Metro is underpinned by a 1-cent sales tax that provides most of its $185 million annual budget. But the reeling economy has reduced the sales tax by about 3 percent from last year's numbers.

No one doubts that the union has bargained in good faith, but economic reality must be interjected into the contract discussions, too. These are hard times, and Capital Metro, through StarTran, is trying to manage its finances and still offer a good contract.

Capital Metro's drivers and mechanics are among the best-paid in Texas, and their health care plan — even after the changes offered in the contract — is the best of any public entity in the region.

Union members found out in 2005 that a strike can shatter good relations with the public for years. That work stoppage occurred as a hurricane hit Texas and thousands of evacuees descended on Austin. This month is an even worse time to use a strike to gain public sympathy
Read more

Friday, October 31, 2008

ATU 1091 Plans a Strike

Today Capital Metro learned that ATU 1091, the transit union that represents most of the bus drivers and mechanics that operate and service Capital Metro's fleet, has planned a transit strike on Wednesday, November 5.

In the event of a strike, Capital Metro is prepared to offer a core network of routes: 1L/1M, 3, 7, 10, 17, 20, 37, 101, 300, 331.

In addition, all of the UT Shuttle routes will also be in service. Modified schedules and maps, and the most current information will be available on the Capital Metro Web site and through the local news.

Capital Metro encourages StarTran and the union to continue negotiating and urges the union not to strike.
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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wi-Fi Expansion on Capital MetroExpress and MetroRail

Capital Metro plans to upgrade and expand its onboard Wi-Fi service for customers. Capital Metro will replace the older Wi-Fi equipment currently onboard 10 Express route buses and install it on 28 more so that most Express routes will offer the amenity. Wi-Fi will also be added to the six MetroRail vehicles.

The upgrade also includes a toll-free customer support number for riders and the ability to monitor and troubleshoot the system remotely, resulting in hopefully trouble-free surfing for customers.

Capital Metro has also been providing Wi-Fi at the Lakeline, Leander, Pavilion and Tech Ridge Park & Ride facilities, but due to low usage at the Park & Rides, when the new equipment is completely installed, Internet connectivity will be discontinued at the facilities.

We expect the new, upgraded service to be in place in early 2009.
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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ride Free on Election Day

Central Texans will have an easy option for getting to the polls on Election Day. Capital Metro will offer free rides on all bus routes on Tuesday, November 4. Destination signs on buses will include a message about free rides as a reminder to passengers.

Customers can plan their route to the polls by using Capital Metro’s online trip planner at, or by calling (512) 474-1200.

Capital MetroAccess (formerly Special Transit Service) for passengers with disabilities will offer free rides for all trips to or from polling locations.
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Monday, October 27, 2008

Service Advisory

StarTran, Inc., service provider for Capital Metro, and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091 have not reached an agreement on a contract. The Union has rejected StarTran’s final contract proposal. Although a strike is possible, both parties have expressed a willingness to continue to negotiate.

In the event of a strike, Capital Metro is prepared to serve the public by operating a reduced level of service to provide coverage to the busiest routes and those that serve major destinations such as hospitals, schools, the central business district and areas with a high number of riders. If a work stoppage occurs, the following routes will operate from 6 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. daily:

1L/1M North Lamar/South Congress
3 Burnet/Manchaca
7 Duval/Dove Springs
10 South First/Red River
17 Cesar Chavez
20 Manor Road/Riverside
37 Colony Park/Windsor Park
101 N. Lamar/S. Congress Ltd.
300 Govalle
331 Oltorf

In the event of a strike, the following routes which are not operated by StarTran will run as regularly scheduled:

UT Shuttle Routes (open to the general public)
AISD Routes (open to the general public)
142 Metric Flyer
214 Lago Vista Feeder
990 Northwest Express (Manor)
Northwest Dial-a-Ride Service (Monday, Wednesday and Friday only)

Capital MetroAccess (formerly Special Transit Service) for passengers with disabilities will operate at a reduced service level from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on weekdays only. Reservation priority will be given to customers in need of dialysis or urgent medical appointments followed by riders needing transportation to work or school, if resources and capacity allow.

Capital Metro urges customers to review the limited service options available and to be prepared with alternate transportation plans such as carpooling if there is a strike. The very latest information on routes will be posted on and available by calling (512) 474-1200.

Capital Metro will add additional service as resources become available.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Crossing the Bridge

We'd like to take you for a ride across the UP Overpass. But since we can't do preview rides for the public yet, you'll have to settle for a video ride. Each Capital MetroRail vehicle includes a comprehensive closed circuit television system with numerous cameras. During a recent test run, Capital Metro's rail ops staff was kind enough to save some video of the train crossing the bridge.

The first clip shows the view from a camera pointing straight out from the front of the train. In the second clip you'll see four side camera views.

The UP Overpass will allow MetroRail trains to stay on schedule by crossing over the interchange with the UP rail line rather than having to stop and wait if a UP train is approaching.
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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

O'zapft is!

(Translation: It's tapped!)

Tap into our pride and excitement and join Capital Metro for a celebration of our newest facility, the South Congress Transit Center.

Meet us there today from 10 a.m. to noon and help us celebrate, Oktoberfest style.

Polka. Live German-Texas Polka music. Food. Root beer. Gemütlichkeit. Your favorite Capital Metro board members and Fred Gilliam tapping a (root beer) keg. What more could you want?!

Get more specifics behind the cut.
When: 10 a.m. to noon, TODAY
Where: 301 W. Ben White, entrance off South Congress and Radam
What Bus Do I Catch: 1L, 1M, 9, 101, 202, 328
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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Light at the End of the Track ran the following Op-Ed about MetroRail on Friday:

Gilliam: Cap Metro plans to deliver on its promises for MetroRail

Capital Metro and all of Central Texas can see light at the end of track. Capital MetroRail, our 32-mile passenger line from Downtown Austin to Leander will begin service on March 30, 2009. Of course, there are still many moving parts, but we are confident in our ability to meet that date. Our goal has always been to build and operate a safe, reliable and high value rail system for Central Texas; we believe we are taking the necessary steps to deliver on that promise.

Capital Metro committed to provide the community with updates on the rail project, the issues we are facing and any adjustments to our timeline and budget. With that in mind, I wanted to take this opportunity to share with the citizens of Central Texas where we are in the process and the remaining path to a successful passenger rail operation.

Several factors have played a role in setting the opening date, including construction issues associated with a couple of stations, the installation of an enhanced safety control system, and our ongoing work with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which has oversight of rail operations, as well as some of the most rigorous operating and safety requirements of just about any regulating authority in the country.

We are beginning construction of the stations at Howard Lane and Kramer Lane; completion of these stops is anticipated by early March. Capital Metro could operate MetroRail without these two stations, but we cannot operate without the completed installation of the safety control system and proper training. The Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) system allows dispatchers to see where every train is on the line at all times and manage all signals and switches. Installation of the CTC is dependent upon completion of track work. Over the summer we determined that track work was not progressing as quickly as we planned. We replaced the contractor but lost time in the process.

CTC installation is expected to be completed in mid-December. Then we can begin an intensive 45-day training period. This "pre-revenue" testing is critically important to a successful opening as it allows us to identify and resolve any problem areas before we have passengers on board.

With regard to the FRA, we have worked with the agency over the last several months and have reached consensus on how to address each of its stringent requirements. One area in which we have worked closely with the FRA is the safety of the railcar fuel tank.

This very same fuel tank is in use in San Diego as well is in Europe and has an impeccable safety record. However, Capital Metro and the FRA agreed that minor modifications could further enhance safety. Our engineers developed a plan to surround each fuel tank with an aluminum cage that will provide an additional layer of protection on any additional rail cars we purchase. When the cages are manufactured, we also will install them on our existing fleet.

The MetroRail project budget stands at approximately $105 million. The increase in cost compared to what we projected in 2004 is due to a number of issues, including the change in locations of the Howard and Kramer Stations, rising steel, concrete and fuel costs, and enhancements we have made to improve safety and quality of service.

Capital Metro believes spending money on these improvements is in the absolute best interest of Central Texans. Some good examples of these enhancements are the CTC system I discussed earlier, the bridge we built over the Union Pacific line and additional track to allow more places for trains to pass.

Even with this increase in cost, Capital Metro is still developing one of the most fiscally-responsible rail projects at approximately $3 million per mile – compared with the two other similar rail projects in this country, New Jersey's River Line at about $30 million per mile and San Diego's Sprinter at $22 million per mile.

The MetroRail project is a critical piece in how Central Texas will grow as a region. As a result, we want to deliver the best product possible in terms of safety, efficiency and value. We are not willing to sacrifice any of these by rushing the project. For this reason, we are confident in a successful rail opening on March 30, 2009. In the next few months, we will be scheduling some special events in the community to give future MetroRail passengers a chance to see the train. We know this will be a service of which all Central Texans can be proud.
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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Best Reason Not to Drive

Capital Metro was named the "Best Reason Not to Drive" in the Austin Chronicle's annual Best of Austin awards:

Best Reason Not to Drive: Capital Metro

As gas prices skyrocket, eco-awareness rises, and traffic congestion becomes a total drag, a lot more Austinites (including Chronicle staffers) have been hopping on the bus at 3,000 stops around town. With positive 2008 changes such as the upcoming MetroRail, new buses, expanded service, simplified 'Dillo routes, and new regional partnerships, Cap Metro deserves kudos this year (even factoring in the reasonable fare hikes). Making a big, positive difference for regional planning are Doug Allen, the new executive vice president and chief development officer, and Todd Hemingson, vice president of strategic planning and development. Reading, Web-surfing, or napping while commuting – it sure beats swearing at idiot drivers. Read more

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Letter from the FRA

This week Capital Metro’s president/CEO Fred Gilliam received a letter from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) with an update on the status of our ongoing work with the agency that has federal oversight of rail systems. Some quick background: FRA safety regulations are based on larger, heavier, locomotive-hauled trains typically used for freight operations. Since Capital Metro is using lighter trains for MetroRail service, we are submitting documentation that demonstrates that our rail cars have equivalent safety measures. Here’s the letter:

October 10, 2008
Dear Mr. Gilliam:

Thank you for your September 23, 2008, letter responding to the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) February 19, 2008, ruling on the Capital Metro Transportation Authority (CMTA) petition for waiver. Your letter accurately describes the excellent working relationship that has developed between CMTA and FRA staff, and acknowledges the challenging work ahead.

The CMTA Revenue Service Requirements List attached to your letter was developed by CMTA and FRA representatives during the September 3 and 4, 2008, technical meeting. The list represents, to the best of our knowledge, the remaining issues to be addressed before revenue service. More importantly, however, the list contains acceptable strategies for closing each item that will result in a safe and efficient transportation system for the citizens of greater Austin.

FRA agrees with CMTA’s suggested approach to work off the remaining issues through individual document and white paper submissions. We expect that the forthcoming submissions will establish compliance or demonstrate equivalent safety with respect to our regulations. FRA will attempt to review and respond to each submission as quickly as possible in support of CMTA’s construction and revenue service milestones. At this time, we have not identified any concerns that could potentially delay a successful startup.

Thank you for your continued cooperation. We look forward to working with you to resolve these remaining issues. Please contact Mr. Robert Lauby or Mr. John Mardente if you have questions of concerns regarding the submissions.


Grady C. Cothen, Jr.
Deputy Associate Administrator for Safety and Program Development
Federal Railroad Administration

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Transit careers a growing part of the Green Collar Economy

I ran across this article today from U.S. News & World Report, touting ten hot green careers. Transit jobs made the list, and we agree with the journalist that transit will be a major component of the new green collar economy. You can be ahead of the curve by joining Capital Metro's dynamic team. We currently have ten job openings.
10 Hot Green Careers for You
U.S. News & World Report
By Eileen P. Gunn
Posted October 9, 2008

If the next guy who moves into the White House invests $100 billion in a green U.S. economy, he could create nearly 1 million new jobs over the next couple of years, according to a new report from the Political Economy Research Institute in Amherst, Mass.

The dollar figure isn't much—about the same amount that was spent mailing last April's rebate checks to American taxpayers. But even if the next president is somewhat laissez faire on environmental issues, the eco-job market is expanding and will continue to, albeit more slowly, with opportunities that will turn both white and blue collars a deep shade of green.

These new green workers will research ways to make biofuels more useful and efficient. They'll help corporations measure their carbon footprint and then rally employees around programs aimed at shrinking it. And they will lay train and trolley tracks to expand urban transportation systems as more commuters climb on board.

Want more? Here are 10 jobs that recruiters, researchers, and industry observers say are in demand in the growing green economy:

1. Agriculture or forestry supervisors. These people work with the field workers, truck drivers, farm product purchasers, and others who are involved in getting wood chips, switch grass, and other organic matter that is used to make cellulosic biofuels from the field to the factory.

2. Architects. Those with green credentials and know-how are finding work incorporating such energy-efficient details as sun-filtering windows and sustainable materials like cork floors into new corporate and residential buildings and into existing offices and factories that are being retrofitted.

3. Construction managers. These hard-hat supervisors oversee the teams that do the nuts-and-bolts work of building those greener buildings and adding features like solar panels to existing buildings.

4. Consultants. Corporations are trying to quickly set sustainability benchmarks, measure carbon footprints, audit supply chains, set programs in place, and communicate these changes to employees. So they're doing what they often do when they need to rapidly come up to speed in a new area: outsourcing.

5. Social responsibility officers. These corporate lynchpins bring environmental and business know-how to the job of setting and meeting goals regarding carbon reduction, sustainability, and general eco-friendliness. They have to be able to work with product development, marketing, sales, communications, and internal auditing and compliance people and with outside consultants and senior executives.

6. Database specialists. Those with technical expertise and environment knowledge are setting up and managing systems used to track, analyze, and report information like carbon emissions and energy use.

7. Engineers. Civil, computer software, electrical, environmental, and chemical engineers are needed to expand mass transit systems; design, build, and install wind turbines and solar technologies; and develop both alternative fuels and the systems that will use them.

8. Electricians. These workers are helping to install solar panels, expand transportation systems; and build and retrofit green buildings.

9. Scientific researchers. At universities and corporations, they're developing new sources and applications for biofuels.

10. Transportation supervisors and dispatchers. Managing train and bus systems and the people who operate them are tasks that are quickly getting bigger and more complicated as commuters increasingly step out of their cars and onto mass transit.
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Thursday, October 9, 2008

ASG E-Newsletter: October 2008

The October issue of Capital Metro’s All Systems Go E-Newsletter is now available. Click on the banner to view or subscribe:

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

i-Ride wins national honor, prompts ideas for the future

Capital Metro's i-Ride campaign won a national AdWheel Award from the American Public Transportation Association. The association announced the winners at their annual membership meeting and banquet in San Diego on October 6. Capital Metro was competing against 750 entries in the contest.

The goal of the i-Ride campaign was to increase ridership, particularly among young adults. The campaign launched this spring with a "Tell us Your Story" contest. Riders were encouraged to send in their creative testimonials about why they ride. Working in collaboration with Capital Metro's advertising agency, Sherry Matthews Advocacy Marketing, we created an i-Ride presence on YouTube, Facebook and Flickr, in addition to creating an i-Ride Web site.

The i-Ride contest ended, but the good ideas didn't. Capital Metro staff have been discussing whether and how i-Ride might evolve into a more permanent component of Capital Metro's marketing strategy. One of the video winners from the contest is now working for Capital Metro as an intern. UT film student Alex Diamond is creating some video clips for our upcoming newly-designed Web site--fun videos to help orient riders to our system: how to ride, how to load up your bike, where/how to insert your fare, etc. Check out his winning i-Ride video here.
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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

National Night Out

Remember to turn on your porch light this evening in recognition of National Night Out.

Austin will be among the thousands of cities across the country celebrating the 25th Annual National Night Out. This year the Austin Police Department and the Travis County Sherriff’s Office are teaming up for a grand event at the Turner/Roberts Recreation Center at 7201 Colony Loop from 5 to 7 p.m.

Events for the evening are planned to promote crime and drug prevention awareness and to strengthen the police - community partnership. There will also be free food and games for the whole family.

Capital Metro will participate in the event by educating families on the importance of rail safety.

If you can’t make it to the event, you can also participate by socializing with your neighbors and encouraging them to turn their porch light on tonight.
Read more

Sunday, October 5, 2008

How Safe Are the Rails?

On today's front page, the Austin American-Statesman took a closer look at Capital MetroRail safety:

How safe are the rails?
By Ben Wear

Even for Texans caught up in the approach and violent arrival of Hurricane Ike, the Sept. 12 images of twisted train cars in Southern California and news of the collision's toll — 25 dead, dozens more seriously injured after a freight train and a commuter train hit head-on — were sobering.

With Central Texas on the cusp of having its own passenger rail service, how likely is it that a calamity like that could occur here after Capital Metro begins service next year?

Unlikely to the point of near impossibility, says Capital Metro's rail manager, given that passenger trains will run during the day and freight trains only at night, and that the agency is taking several measures to ensure that freight trains — all of which are operated by Capital Metro — will be quarantined outside the 32-mile Red Line corridor when it's time to carry people.

But Capital Metro has other safety challenges. The MetroRail passenger trains will run in both directions between Leander and downtown Austin during the morning and evening rush hours on what is primarily a single thread of track. So, the agency will have to depend on a few stretches of siding tracks, signals, electronic monitoring and good communication to ensure that two passenger trains don't collide.

Then there are automobiles — public streets cross the track at 61 places along the route, along with 14 privately owned crossings — and pedestrians to avoid. "The toughest thing to predict is the vehicular traffic," said Bill Le Jeune, Capital Metro's director of commuter rail and railroad management. "You just don't know when you're going to meet the next idiot. But one thing I say with confidence is we aren't going to meet a freight. Because we're going to lock them out."

Keeping passenger trains from hitting one another will be the most urgent issue. Capital Metro plans to initiate service on March 30; the trains are expected to have about 2,000 boardings a day. At least initially, Capital Metro plans to run passenger trains every 30 minutes, with the first trains leaving from Leander in the morning and from downtown Austin in the afternoon. There are no plans for midday or weekend service in the beginning.

However, there will be some trains going the opposite direction during both rush hours. To accommodate this, Capital Metro will have siding tracks 3,000 feet to more than a mile long at the Leander station and at three intermediate points: at the MLK Jr. Boulevard station in East Austin, at the Kramer Lane station in North Austin and just south of the Lakeline Boulevard station in Northwest Austin. The locations were chosen based on those 30-minute intervals to minimize or eliminate train delays, Le Jeune said.

This is how it's supposed to work: Trains would arrive at the MLK and Kramer stations and, after letting passengers disembark and board, would face a red light. A train operator would have to make a conscious decision to ignore the light and get the train moving. This is in contrast to the situation in the California wreck and on shared tracks across the country where the engineer of a moving train has to actually spot a warning or stop light and then act to stop the train.

The station stop lights (or a light along the track south of the Lakeline station) would not switch to "go" mode until the train heading the opposite way had safely passed. That might sometimes require a wait of several minutes, Le Jeune said. But he said the train forced to wait would always be the one running against the rush-hour flow — the train heading to Leander in the morning or to Austin in the afternoon.

In all, Capital Metro is building 3.6 miles of siding track. The agency says it will spend $6 million on sidings but only $3.3 million of that is for passenger rail. The rest, spokesman Adam Shaivitz said, is a freight rail cost.

If Capital Metro were to buy more trains so that it could increase capacity by running in 15-minute intervals, more sidings would have to be built to accommodate more such passing maneuvers, Le Jeune said. Capital Metro officials said this week that their long-term intention is to build a second track from downtown to the Howard Lane station in North Austin, but it is not clear when that would happen.

What if an error occurs and engineers on a passenger train see a train ahead? The Federal Railroad Administration earlier this year, concerned about the strength of Capital Metro rail cars' superstructures, mandated that the cars run at no more than 60 mph on the Red Line. The agency had been hoping to run them at up to 75 mph on more rural stretches north of Howard Lane.

The Swiss-manufactured cars, according to data provided by Capital Metro, can stop much more quickly than a freight train or a typical two-decker commuter train powered by a locomotive.

Even at 60 mph, Capital Metro's rail cars can stop within 600 feet, the agency says. A typical commuter train in that situation would need 1,200 feet to stop, the agency says, and a long and loaded freight train would lumber on for more than 3,700 feet. The agency says the MetroRail passenger trains are likely to travel at 45 mph or less in the urban sections.
Capital Metro, in response to federal regulators' concerns that the fuel tank attached to the bottom of each passenger train might rupture in a wreck and cause a fire, agreed to install a protective steel cage around each tank. However, the agency has federal permission to wait to do so on its first six cars until it orders more cars.

The cars also have a feature requiring the train operator to respond every 30 seconds to a signal within the cab. If there is no response, because the operator is asleep or otherwise incapacitated, the train will automatically shut down its power and brake to a stop.
Agency controls all freight trains

Capital Metro has no plans to install "positive train controls," devices that automatically shut down trains (or allow dispatchers to do so from afar) when a train bypasses a stop signal or otherwise ventures where it shouldn't go. In the wake of the Sept. 12 Metrolink disaster in California, some safety advocates have been calling for widespread installation of the devices, which the railroad industry has long resisted because of the cost.

Told about Capital Metro's plans, Barry Sweedler, a San Francisco-based transportation safety consultant, said the agency "has a pretty good handle on the freight situation."
A key distinction: Capital Metro's track will have only freight trains run by the agency's subcontractor and thus directly under the control of agency dispatchers. Metrolink shares the Southern California track with freight trains from many companies.

Sweedler said that 90 percent of the roughly 3,000 rail accidents reported each year are caused by human error: drug use, fatigue, inattentiveness, miscommunication. The train engineer thought to have caused the Metrolink accident had more than 20 years of experience, according to Le Jeune, who used to work on the Metrolink system. The engineer might have been distracted; he sent a text message on his cell phone 22 seconds before the crash, investigators said last week.

Without a system that can shut down a train when it enters a danger zone, "anything can happen," said Sweedler, a former National Transportation Safety Board accident investigator.
Such systems, Sweedler said, can cost as much as $35,000 per train. He said it's harder to estimate the additional cost of associated dispatch and track equipment because of different central control systems.

"What we're going to have is 'positive separation,' " Le Jeune said.
Capital Metro's track is 162 miles long, extending far west and east of the 32 miles that will have passenger service. The agency, using subcontractors, has run a freight operation for years, primarily hauling rock from the Hill Country.

Capital Metro is installing "derails" at either end of the passenger corridor, switches that dispatchers would activate early each morning when the switch from freight to passenger service is about to occur. A freight train approaching the corridor during passenger service hours would encounter this derail switch and be routed off the track. "It just derails the train off into the ditch," Le Jeune said. The system will have two derail switches within the passenger rail corridor should the need arise to cordon off another section of the track. The cost of the four derail switches: $900,000.

But what if afreight train happens to be within the 32 miles when it's time for MetroRail to run? Le Jeune said dispatchers will have two ways electronically to spot them.
Each of the agency's 14 freight locomotives (as well as the self-propelled passenger cars, which can carry 108 seated passengers and 90 or so standees) will have global positioning devices, allowing dispatchers to see where they are. In addition, Le Jeune said, the agency has electric "track circuits" on its freight trains that show if a train is within certain segments of the line. Finally, dispatchers will conduct a roll call of all freight trains before passenger service begins at 5 a.m. weekdays.

The likeliest candidates for a collision with a train? Cars and trucks at the 75 places Capital Metro's rail line crosses roads or private drives. Up to now, motorists have had to worry about only a handful of rumbling freight trains each day, moving half as fast as (or slower than) the passenger trains to come. Even so, Le Jeune said that in his eight years at Capital Metro, cars on three occasions have slammed into the side of a freight train on the Llano-to-Giddings track.

The problem, quite often, is that impatient motorists will drive around the signal arm blocking their side of the road when a train is approaching. To prevent that, Capital Metro in the past four years has installed "quad" gates at 38 intersections at a cost of $150,000 to $250,000 per intersection. With four arms in place, two per side of the track, cars can't get by. The other 23 public crossings will have more typical dual gates. The private crossings will have signal lights, old-fashioned railroad crossing signs or, at seldom-used crossings, chains blocking the way.
As for pedestrians, Capital Metro is installing almost 24,000 feet of chain-link fencing along the line (covering about 7 percent of the run), all between U.S. 183 and downtown Austin. The fencing will have breaks at cross streets, so people determined to walk along the tracks will be able to do so. The agency has put signs in the rail right of way warning of the faster, quieter trains to come.

And Capital Metro officials for months have been making presentations at the 71 schools within two miles of the line, telling children that "tracks are for trains, not for playing games." Working with Girl Scout officials, they even managed to create a train safe
ty patch.

Kelly West/AMERICAN-STATESMAN - Capital Metro had hoped to run its trains up to 75 mph, but the Federal Railroad Administration said the Swiss-made cars may not exceed 60 mph on the Red Line.

Jay Janner/AMERICAN-STATESMAN - Capital Metro's single thread of railroad track is 162 miles long, used now by freight trains. MetroRail will use 32 miles for its rush-hour passenger service between Austin and Leander.

[Blog editor's note: This represents MetroRail stopping distance under normal stopping conditions. In an emergency, an engineer would be able to stop the train in about half the distance of what's indicated on the red line in this chart.]

Dual gates
Traditional two-armed gates will be installed at 23 intersections of public streets, primarily lesser traveled roadways.

Quad gates

Quad gates — with four arms that prevent cars from driving around the lowered barriers when a train is approaching — have been installed at 38 busy intersections.

Signals and signs
The 14 private roads and driveways that intersect the rail line will have signs or blinking lights to warn cars of approaching trains or, in some cases where a road is used only occasionally, it will be blocked with chains.

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