Thursday, April 30, 2009

Capital Metro's Response to Swine Flu

Recently, more cases of the Swine Flu virus have been identified in Texas. The health and safety of our employees and passengers is a top priority. That is why we're taking steps to minimize the risk associated with the virus. Staff is using a hospital-grade sanitizer when cleaning the facilities and the interior of buses. Capital Metro also is encouraging employees to disinfect their work areas as a way to maintain a healthy work environment. Please be aware that these steps alone cannot fully prevent the spread of flu.

What you can do:

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the following steps to reduce your chance of catching or spreading Swine Flu:
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • The CDC advises that influenza is spread mainly person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people.
  • When you cough or sneeze cover your nose and mouth with a tissue. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. If you don’t have a tissue, use your upper arm not your hand.
  • If you get sick, the CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

For more information about Swine Flu visit their Web site or call 1-800-CDC-INFO.

Capital Metro is working closely with local, state and federal authorities to monitor the Swine Flu outbreak and will take additional steps as needed.
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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Capital MetroRail Update

Yesterday at the Capital Metro Board meeting, Executive Vice President Doug Allen presented an update on MetroRail progress. Capital Metro and Veolia have made significant headway to ready the Red Line for passengers.

* The agency has received the official waiver letter from the Federal Railroad Administration that allows Capital Metro to operate the system when all the components are ready.
* Train engineers have been certified on the operation of MetroRail vehicles, and dispatchers have been certified on the use of the Centralized Traffic Control system.
* Veolia has hired a new safety director, Randy Jamieson, with extensive experience in freight and passenger rail operations.
* Capital Metro has completed a comprehensive inspection of rail system components along the entire 32-mile line.

Doug also outlined the "critical path" to startup, as visualized in this chart.

The agency is working with the city to complete the installation and testing of signal preemption technology that will synchronize rail and traffic signals at several major intersections. In addition, Capital Metro is working to improve shunting, which controls the timing of the crossing arms and the ability of rail dispatchers to monitor trains along the system. Both shunting and signal preemption are key components to the successful operation of Capital MetroRail.
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Don't Leave Me

You step off the bus and walk the short distance to work. You've already had your coffee. Perhaps you were just promoted the day before. Or your kids are doing extremely well in school. Whatever the case may be, you feel good. You reach into your pocket for your wallet and, oh, my gosh, it's not there.

You think you might have left it on the bus. "Yes," you say to yourself. "I remember I pulled out my monthly pass."

What to do if you leave a personal item on the bus? The first thing to do is contact customer service at 474-1200. This number is posted at every bus stop. If you remember the bus number, perfect. This works to your advantage because customer service can contact the driver a lot faster. If you don't know the bus number, don't worry. Tell customer service which route you were on and at what time. Customer service, along with a radio dispatcher, will do some digging for you.

Capital Metro will work quickly to return a lost item left on one of its buses with the owner, be it a valuable item, like a wallet, purse or cell phone, or just lost marbles that someone wants back.

Once customer service has located the right bus, a radio dispatcher will call the operator and ask her or him to search the bus for the lost item. The operator will do so at the next bus stop. The operator then reports back that the item is in his or her possession. This is communicated back to the owner and arrangements are made to return the items to their owner. The owner can wait for the bus to make its return trip; sometimes a street supervisor is sent to retrieve the item; or, the owner can pick-up the item at the downtown office at 4th and Congress.

Here is a friendly reminder. Just before you deboard the bus, look up at the advertisements. Notice the one with a picture of a set of keys, purse, cell phone and other items and these three words: "Don't Leave Me."
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Monday, April 27, 2009

Calling all policy wonks!

Time for an update on the status of Capital Metro’s legislative agenda.

Where to start? What’s in the hopper? A number of things, all of which are moving along but the clock is ticking with only 35 days left in the session that ends June 1. Most of our bills have had committee hearings in at least one of the chambers and a few have been approved by at least one side of the Legislature but we’re still working to see what will make it out.

For more information about the status of some major bills that could affect Capital Metro, read on…

‘OMNIBUS’ BILLS re: fare enforcement ability, confirmation of contracted peace officer authority, and use of State travel discounts
- Senate Bill 1263 (Watson) and House Bill 2469 (Rodriguez)
- Status: HB 2469 was reported favorably from the Transportation Committee and is now awaiting scheduling by the Calendars Committee for consideration by the full House. On the Senate side, no hearing has been scheduled yet in the Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.

- SB 1264 (Watson), SB 899 (Duell), and HB 2899 (T. Smith)
- Status: Both of the Senate bills have been approved on the floor and SB 899 has been scheduled for consideration by the House Transportation Committee on 04/29/09. On the House side, Smith’s bill has been favorably reported from the Transportation Committee.

- SB 434 (Wentworth) and HB 1790 (Bolton)
- Status: The Senate has approved SB 434 but at the requests of senators representing these areas, they removed Williamson County and added El Paso. The House Transportation Committee took up the House version of HB 1790 last Thursday. The committee substitute that Rep. Bolton offered also excluded Williamson County but it also excluded El Paso County because of concerns by a legislator representing that area. The House Committee didn’t take a vote on Thursday so we’ll see if they take up the Senate version of the bill this week (or next, etc.) and if they’ll vote out the Senate or House version.

- There are a number of bills, and related constitutional amendments (the SJRs and the HJRs), that would authorize different means of local-option funding for transportation, including transit, projects. There are also a number of bills that would authorize additional vehicle registration fees to fund the same.

Local-option funding bills, and related constitutional amendments, include
• SB 855 & SJR 24 (Carona)
• SJR 52 (Davis), which is a duplicate of SJR 24
• HB 3448 & HJR 122 (Rodriguez), with HJR 122 identical to Carona’s SJR
• HB 9 & HJR 9 (Truitt), which is the companion to SB 855 and with HJR 9 identical to Carona’s SJR
• HB 1674 (Villareal)
• HB 3341 (Miklos).

Vehicle registration-only bills include
• SB 249, Shapleigh
• SB 294, Hinojosa (identical to HB 1716)
• HB 1716, Gonzales Toureilles (identical to SB 294)

- Status: Since there are so many bills regarding this issue, I’ll give a simple summary and say that Carona’s bill and Davis’ constitutional amendment have been approved by the Senate, and that all of the House local-option funding bills and House constitutional amendments were taken up by the House Transportation Committee last week but were left pending with no action. For the vehicle registration fee bills, both of the Senate versions have been approved on the floor but the House Transportation Committee hasn’t taken up the issue yet.


- SB 2015 (Watson) and HB 4432 (Rodriguez).
- Status: Watson’s bill has been approved by the Senate. Rodriguez’s companion is awaiting a scheduled date for consideration by the House Transportation Committee.

I didn’t go into the content of the bills since, if you’re wonky enough to read this, you’re probably already versed in them. If you need a refresher or primer though, info about the content of the bills, save for Watson’s and Rodriguez’s Peer review-related bills, can be found in a previous blog posting. An overview of the Watson and Rodriguez Peer Review-related bills (as written by us, Cap Metro staff) can also be found online here. (Note that Rep. Rodriguez has since publicly stated his intention to move forward with Senator Watson’s bill and not the version that he previously filed.) And if you really want to dig around, find the actual bills and much more detailed information through the Texas Legislature Online. (You can do an easy bill search by entering the bill number in the top right-hand corner of the page. e.g., simply enter “HB 2469.”)

While we track a lot of other bills, those are the big ones that we’re advancing or watching. Here’s hoping that the next time I submit a post, I can tell you that all of the bills we wanted to pass, did! Well, maybe I’ll sneak an update in before June 1. Holler if you have any thoughts or questions.
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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wednesday Morning on the 987

The oblong box cruises south on Mopac. It is 6:22 on a mid-week morning and still dark outside. The interior lights are off. Two individual overhead spotlights are on as two of my passengers read. That means 21 passengers are asleep in the recliner seats. That makes me feel good because my smooth driving lulled them to sleep, which is what they wanted and looked forward to when they boarded at Leander and Lakeline. A 15-minute nap will help them get through the morning. As I drive this particular morning I see a meteor streak down and quickly disappear. It is the end of its million mile journey. I don't mention this to my passengers. It is too early to wake them.

But like almost all good things, this ride, as comfy and cozy as it is, is disturbed at 6:26 when the first passengers deboard from the bus. I go into my routine. "Time to get up. Don't forget anything. Make sure you have what belongs to you. Up and at 'em. Show them what you're made out've." Reminds me of when I was the duty N.C.O. in the Marines and had to call reveille, decades back. I walked the barracks to make sure every marine was up. Job well done.

My passengers know me by my name because this is the third time (or "mark-up," to use transportation lingo) I've had this run, the 987 Leander.

Each of my passengers smiles at me as they walk out and onto work. It's priceless.

They are in a good mood because their morning commute was quiet. Uneventful. Just as they like it. I did my part in making their day start off well. In turn they will make other people's day better. It is a chain reaction made from positive energy. At 6:44 the bus is empty except for me. And I think to myself, "Another job well done."
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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Celebrate Earth Day Everday

Happy Earth Day!

In case you were wondering, Earth Day is a day designed to inspire awareness and appreciation for our environment. According to Wikipedia, Earth Day was founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental demonstration in 1970 and is celebrated in many countries every year.

In my opinion we should treat everyday as Earth Day.

There are lots of things you can do to preserve our environment and our quality of life everyday. But if you really want to make a difference, ride the bus. Public transit offers the most effective and immediate method to reduce harmful emissions. It far exceeds the benefits of other energy saving household activities, such as using energy efficient light bulbs or adjusting thermostats.

According to the American Public Transportation Association, a single person, commuting alone by car, who switches a 20-mile round trip commute to existing public transportation, can reduce his or her annual CO2 emissions by 4,800 pounds per year, equal to a 10 percent reduction in all greenhouse gases produced by a typical two-adult, two-car household.

Use Capital Metro's online trip planner and give transit a try.
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Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Capital Metro's bus service is going under the microscope. Capital Metro: ServicePlan2020 is a comprehensive operational analysis of every aspect of Capital Metro's bus service. The resulting recommendations will become our roadmap for growth over the next 10 years.

Most big transit agencies do some kind of major analysis of their services and routes periodically. It's a beneficial process, as routes tend to morph over time into a spaghetti bowl. A relevant example is the 'Dillo routes before they were streamlined last year. Likewise, it's an opportunity to thoroughly examine procedures and generally improve the system.

Capital Metro is way overdue for this type of mid-range planning. Some of the legwork for ServicePlan2020 has already been completed. Last year, Capital Metro completed a market segmentation study that yielded a considerable amount of information about rider demographics, barriers to riding, and what people like and don't like about us. That info is one dimension of the analysis. Other factors to be included are: existing system conditions (what works and what doesn't) and community participation and feedback.

ServicePlan2020 makes progress this week when two stakeholder committees convene and begin their work, analyzing various service aspects and identifying unmet needs. A Technical Advisory Committee (made up of planner types from allied transportation entities) and a Community Advisory Committee (representative of riders and community groups who have a key stake in public transportation) will meet periodically over the course of the year to refine ServicePlan2020. We want your involvement, too, and we'll post updates and open house meeting information here as things go along.
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New Bicycle Parking Demo

Commuters at the Pavilion Park & Ride in Northwest Austin may notice something different in the bicycle parking area. It’s called a BikeLid and it’s a new, safe and eco-friendly way to park your bicylce.

The outer shell protects your bike from theft, vandalism and weather elements. The BikeLid is used in other major cities across the country, like Portland, Tampa and NYC.

Capital Metro was lucky enough to get a free BikeLid with help from the City of Austin’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Program. We are testing it out to see if bicycle commuters use it and like it. If we get enough positive feedback, we may decide to purchase some at various other transit facilities.

They run from $800-1000, which is why we would not replace all bicycle parking with BikeLids, if we decide to purchase some. Other cities have used the sides of the shell for advertising and that’s something we would definitely consider.

Another benefit to the BikeLid is that it’s made from industrial plastic waste materials and recycled steel and is 100% recyclable.

The BikeLid is extremely easy to use: just lift the shell, place your bike inside, close the shell and secure it with a U-lock. Check out KVUE's story on the BikeLid to see how it works.

We see the BikeLid as another way to encourage cyclists to take transit. So if you’re a commuter at the Pavilion Park & Ride, give the BikeLid a try and let us know what you think.
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Monday, April 13, 2009

It's easy being green and nice to be noticed too!

Capital Metro earned the “Most Forward Thinking” Award for our exhibit at the Austin Green Living & Home Products Expo February 27th to March 1st. We talked with hundreds of people who stopped by our booth and climbed around on our beautiful hybrid bus parked inside the Austin Convention Center. A comment we loved the most, and heard a lot: “Wow, that’s a pretty bus!” We agree, and every time you take a ride you help keep the planet pretty too.

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Ride the Bus and Breathe Easier

Warmer weather and blooming wildflowers represents spring time in central Texas. It’s also a time to be mindful of ozone levels in the atmosphere. April 1 through October 31 is ozone season, the time when ozone is most likely to form.

Ground-level ozone is a pollutant from man-made sources, such as vehicles, lawn and garden equipment, and industry emissions. Ozone pollution is harmful, but it is particularly unhealthy for children, seniors and people with cardiac or breathing problems.

The most effective way you can help decrease ozone levels is reducing your vehicle miles traveled, such as riding the bus!

A single person, commuting alone by car, who switches a 20-mile round trip commute to public transportation, can reduce his or her annual CO2 emissions by 4,800 pounds per year, equal to a 10% reduction in all greenhouse gases produced by a typical two-adult, two-car household. (source: American Public Transportation Association)

Now if that isn’t reason enough, thinks about this: By taking public transportation instead of driving a car, a two-worker household can save $6,251 annually. (source: APTA)

More money, cleaner air…who wouldn’t want that?

Learn more about ozone levels in our area and sign up to receive ozone warning alerts by visiting the Clean Air Force of Texas’ Web site.
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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

2009 Capital Metro Roadeo Results--UPDATED

Here's a video recap of the 2009 Capital Metro Roadeo. Behind the cut are the full list of winners in each category. Stay tuned for the State Bus Roadeo in Dallas, April 18.

Vehicle Maintenance Team
1st: Mike Clements, Phillip O’Neal, Gary Hosea
2nd: Eddie Resendez, John Proske, Jose Santamaria
3rd: Kevin Tuel, Eddie Jimenez, Ted Garcia

1st: Ted Ward
2nd: Jeff Mercer
3rd: George Guerra

35-Foot Bus
1st: Abdelkader Tenouri
2nd: Arthur Murillo
3rd: Juan Maldonado

40-Foot Bus
1st: Porfirio "Pete" Rivera
2nd: Tony Payton
3rd: Amos Underwood

The Big Shoot-Out
1st: Fred Gilliam
2nd: Mayor John Cowman

Amateur Team

1st: Detour Divas & a Dude
2nd: Thunder Road Two
3rd: Death on the Yard (A scoring error had initially placed us in 2nd place.)
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A Million Miles

"Congratulations, Leo." That is what I heard from many well-wishers (they did wish me well) last week on my crossing over the million mile safety record. I am looking forward to receiving my green patch to wear on my uniform. Really. It feels like being awarded a merit badge from the Boy Scouts (I'm guessing it feels good for Girl Scouts, too) for something you worked hard for. That is my feeling about it. Call me a sentimentalist. Or don't. Capital Metro has quite a number of million milers. And also a few two million milers. A million miles is almost equal to two round trips to the moon, and it takes 13 years of safe driving to achieve it. What is amusing, a little not a lot, is that I drove the million miles going north, south, east and west all over Austin. I am glad Capital Metro acknowledges our accomplishments. I can compare this with being in the Marine Corps (I was in the Marines). Both are quick to reward you for your achievement.

I want to thank my friend Erica for asking me to write for the Capital Metro blog. Thanks! I will do my best to stay inside the theme of "pi," at least my interpretation of pi. And that is the relationship of things, situations or people around me and how it pertains to or affects me. And now if you will excuse me, I have to drive the bus.
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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Wrapping up the fun in Leander

The 2009 Capital Metro Bus & Paratransit Roadeo is offically over. Tomorrow we'll post full results, but I don't want to leave anyone hanging. Here's how Juan, Mary, and George fared.

George Guerra and Juan Maldonado each took third place in their categories. Mary Molina wasn't in the top three of her category. Her concern that she hadn't had time to practice the course may have been a factor.

Fred Gilliam won the Big Shoot-out. Death on the Yard placed second.
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Thorough judging from every angle

At each challenge on the obstacle course, judges evaluate the operator's performance. There are also three judges onboard the bus. The team of judges working on "Death on the Yard's" bus included bus operators Leo Guerrero and Debbie Teague, and Safety & Security Director Mark Ostertag.

Leo was judging safety habits, like the use of turn signals and seat belt. He's been with Capital Metro since 1995 and just earned his Million Mile safety award. Debbie also joined Capital Metro in 1995, and her role today was to judge smoothness of operation. For example, during my turn behind the wheel, I got a little happy with the brakes once, and so Debbie was obliged to deduct a few points. Mark was the timekeeper--he's been with us for 10 years, and this is the 10th local roadeo he's helped to produce. The roadeo is one component of a comprehensive safety and training program at Capital Metro that produces our team of safe, courteous, and responsible drivers.
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"Death on the Yard"

Here I present "Death on the Yard", made up of Marketing's Dolores Jones and yours truly. Here we are onboard our 40-foot bus just prior to our competition. We competed against "Detour Divas & a Dude" and "Thunder Road Two".

I have no idea how we did. In the main, "real" competition, drivers must complete the course in seven minutes. They give amateurs a longer period of time, but to put it into perspective, I was responsible for driving half the course, and by the time I completed my portion, we were already at 6:49!
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CEO Gilliam vs. Board Member Cowman

After the main competition, Capital Metro employees have a little bit of fun, with the "Big Shootout" and an amateur team competition.

The Big Shootout is the next competition, and Capital Metro President Fred Gilliam will compete against Leander Mayor and Capital Metro Board Member John Cowman.

They've met on the course before, and Fred has consistently won (which sort of makes sense, since he's been in the public transportation industry for three decades). But, Mayor Cowman is both a competitor and a good sport.

The final competition is the amateur team competition, and I'm beginning to get nervous. I was talking big this morning, boasting about team "Death on the Yard" and our mad skills. Now I'm having a hard time remembering how to open the doors and kneel the bus. Uh-oh.
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Forty footers rolling out next

Bus Operator Mary Molina has been with Capital Metro for 13 years. She's up next in the 40-ft bus category. She says she's not nervous just yet. She's been through this before. Seven times before, to be exact. Two years ago she took 3rd place at the state roadeo, and last year she took 2nd place... so she's hoping to continue the trend.

Mary is not sure how she'll do this year--she wasn't able to practice the course beforehand. Although the challenges at the roadeo encompass the foundation of skills needed to drive a bus safely with passengers through all kinds of traffic conditions, the competition itself is quite technical. "Everything is a little different," Mary says. "Your mirrors and your seat position are different. It's challenging."

Good luck, Mary!
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Challenge #9: the passenger stop

Meet Risk Manager Mike Nyren and Safety & Training Manager Andrew Chavira, volunteer judges on the 9th challenge in the obstacle course: the passenger stop.

The objective of this challenge is to simulate a bus stop. The operator has to pull close to the curb but not touch it. The front wheel should be within 6 inches of the curb, and the back wheel, within 15.

Competitors must also announce the stop, kneel the bus, and open the doors for passengers.
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Thirty-five-foot competition

There are two bus categories at the bus roadeo: 35-foot buses and 40-foot buses. Juan Maldonado has been driving with Capital Metro for 23 years. His competition, the 35-foot bus, is up next. Juan Maldonado gears up to drive in the 35-ft bus category.
Juan reports that the dynamics of maneuvering a 35-foot bus are very different than a 40-footer. "Your reference points are different just because of the extra length," he says. And reference points are pretty important for depth perception when turning, backing up, etc.

Juan has earned the designation Million Miler, having driven more than one million miles without any accidents. Even so, he'll have his work cut out for him in today's competition, as he'll be competing against three-time international champion in the category, Capital Metro's Arturo Murillo.
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MetroAccess drivers ready to show their skills

Good morning! I'm on site at the Leander Park & Ride for the 2009 Capital Metro Bus & Paratransit Roadeo.

First up this morning is the MetroAccess van competition. Six drivers will be competing, beginning at 8 a.m.
MetroAccess Van Operator George Guerra, with his game face on.

This is George's second year to compete in the roadeo. Last year, he won the Customer Service Challenge. He's hoping to win the overall competition this year so he can advance to the next level. He's been a MetroAccess van operator for the past four years. Good luck, George!
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Friday, April 3, 2009

2009 Bus Roadeo!

Some of Capital Metro's finest will be competing in our local 2009 Bus & Paratransit Roadeo this weekend in Leander. The annual competition for mechanics and bus and van operators is part skills showcase, part learning exercise, and reinforces Capital Metro's emphasis on safety and customer service.

The local competition is the precursor to the State Roadeo and then the International Bus & Paratransit Roadeo. The top two winners in each division move on to the next competition.

Three teams of Capital Metro mechanics competed today in various timed challenges in which they diagnosed and fixed various engine problems. On Sunday, twenty-three operators will complete an obstacle course of nine challenges that test the operators' technical abilities, as well as the use of safe driving techniques and good customer service. The fun begins around 8 a.m. Sunday at the Leander Park & Ride.

The local bus roadeo also includes an amateur competition. The criteria for being an amateur: you're a Capital Metro employee but you've never had a commercial drivers license. Amateurs participate in teams, splitting up the nine challenges among the members. I'm participating on a team called "Death on the Yard," and I'll have you know I only ran over one curb at the Leander Park & Ride last weekend during our practice session! Wish me luck.

Driving a bus is hard. After the practice session, I had a renewed appreciation for this major portion of our workforce who transport people safely all over the city, all hours of the day and night.
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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

MetroRail Update

Capital Metro's monthly ASG E-Newsletter was published yesterday. The newsletter included President/CEO Fred Gilliam's monthly rail update. Read below.

Capital MetroRail Update from Fred Gilliam

As you may already know, Capital Metro decided to delay the start up of MetroRail service. After learning of our rail contractor Veolia Transportation’s alleged violations from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), Capital Metro felt it was important that we take a little more time to allow us to provide the safest and best possible rail system at the launch of service.

Veolia is investigating the matter thoroughly and working with the FRA and TxDOT to address the issues. Even though these incidents occurred during testing, we take them seriously, as safety is always the most important factor for Capital Metro.

Delaying the start of service allows Veolia more time to train its engineers and dispatchers and perform additional testing throughout the system. We will work with Veolia to finalize a new action plan towards beginning service.

Capital Metro also decided to bring in rail experts from Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to assist with startup operations and safety implementation. These experts work directly for the MBTA and have experience working with Veolia, which is a contractor for one of MBTA’s many rail lines. The MBTA representatives donated their time as a peer agency and spent three days with us last week. Their objective and constructive feedback will help us determine our next steps in preparing to launch MetroRail service.

Click here to read the rest of the rail update and other stories in the newsletter. You can also subscribe to receive the e-newsletter via email.
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