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 capmetro.org, 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 capmetro.org 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. Gem├╝tlichkeit. 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

Statesman.com ran the following Op-Ed about MetroRail on Friday:

Gilliam: Cap Metro plans to deliver on its promises for MetroRail
by Fred Gilliam, PRESIDENT & CEO, CAPITAL METRO

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.

Sincerely,

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.
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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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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

We have a date!

Today, the Capital Metro Board agreed upon a start date for Capital MetroRail: Monday, March 30, 2009. It is very exciting to have a firm date and a light at the end of the track, so to speak.

How did they select the date? We had an ambitious goal of beginning service this fall, but as we approached August and September, it became clear that some aspects of the system would not be ready.

As has been stated publicly, we had (and have) some difficult real estate and construction obstacles to overcome with both the Howard and Kramer stations, and neither of them can be ready for a fall opening. Although clearly advantageous to open MetroRail with all nine stations open and ready for business, technically there are ways to open without those stations being complete.

But there was another pressing issue straining the start-up timeline, one that can't be fast-tracked, canceled or scaled back: safety testing and training, or what they call in the rail business "Pre-Revenue Service." Basically it's a dress rehearsal: we'll run the trains (without passengers) on the same schedule they'll be running after March 30. Capital Metro uses this time to double, triple and quadruple check every aspect of operations: the signalization system, the crossings, the tracks, the vehicles, as well as training the employees who will operate the trains for Capital Metro. This dress rehearsal takes 45 days.

The kicker is that the safety testing and training cannot begin until the installation of the high-tech track safety signalization system is complete. This system, termed Centralized Train Control (CTC), adds an extra layer of safety to the whole rail line. Capital Metro added CTC to the scope of the MetroRail project a year or two ago because we wanted to operate the safest system possible.

So, looking at the calendar, the CTC installation and testing is scheduled to be complete mid December. When you tack on the 45 days of safety testing and training, the earliest we could open is mid February. Both Kramer and Howard stations will be ready by the first week of March.

The Board agreed with the staff recommendation of opening on March 30, after ruling out a few weeks in March due to Spring Break and SXSW.

Capital Metro will be planning some community-wide events to celebrate the opening of Capital MetroRail--stay tuned! Rest assured, when Capital MetroRail opens (on March 30!), the service will boast some of the most technologically-advanced safety measures available today.
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