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.