ⓘ Capital MetroRail

Capital MetroRail

ⓘ Capital MetroRail

Capital MetroRail is a commuter rail system that serves the Greater Austin area in Texas, and which is owned by the Capital Metro. The Red Line, Capital Metros first and only rail line, connects Downtown Austin with Austins northern suburbs. The line operates on 32 miles of existing freight tracks, and serves nine stations.

After a series of delays, Capital MetroRail was inaugurated in March 2010. Daily ridership during the first nine months was approximately 800 riders per weekday, although it had doubled to 1.600 by its first anniversary. Capital Metro added additional runs during midday beginning in mid-January 2011. Capital Metro added Friday evening and Saturday afternoon and evening regularly scheduled service on March 23, 2012.

As of 2014, MetroRail has an average weekday ridership of approximately 2.900 passengers per day and is the twenty-second most-ridden commuter rail system in the country out of thirty one operational commuter rail systems.


1. History

Advocates of modern urban rail began calling on the city of Austin to develop a passenger rail system at the height of the 1970s energy crisis. When voters approved Capital Metros creation in 1985, the agency was seen not only as the new operator of local bus services, but the developer of a future passenger rail as well. The next year, Capital Metro partnered with the City of Austin to purchase the 162-mile Giddings-to-Llano Austin and Northwestern Railroad on which the Red Line currently operates from the Southern Pacific Transportation Company with the express purpose of someday operating passenger rail on it. The purchase price was $9.3 million, of which $6 million came from a grant from the Federal Transit Administration, $0.6 million came from the City of Austin and $2.7 million came from Capital Metro. On May 20, 1998, Capital Metro acquired the City of Austins share in the railroad for $1 million.

During the 1990s, Capital Metro faced persistent bad publicity that resulted from dysfunctional management and poor accountability. After years of inaction on passenger rail, the Texas Legislature in 1997 stepped in and ordered the public transport provider to hold an up-or-down referendum on light rail. In response, Capital Metro drew up an ambitious plan for a $1.9 billion, 52-mile system that included a north-south Red Line and an east-west Green Line.

The 2000 proposal was narrowly defeated by 2.000 votes, with most of central Austin voting in favor and suburban and exurban areas within the service area voting against the referendum. Capital Metro came back in 2004 with a significantly scaled-down version of its 2000 plan that it hoped voters in Travis County and Williamson County would find more palatable. The 2004 version was approved by 62% of voters in the service area. MetroRail was presented to voters as part of the All Systems Go Long-Range Transit Plan, which also included expanded local and express bus service. The Red Line, originally known as the Downtown/Northwest Urban Commuter Rail Service line, approved by voters was seen as a starter line that would become part of a potential comprehensive passenger rail system in the Greater Austin area. The corridor was chosen for the first line after Capital Metros Board identified the following areas as probable areas for future growth: the Highland Mall area, the master-planned Mueller Community redevelopment project, as well as the central business district, extending from the University of Texas at Austin to Lady Bird Lake.

The organization at the time said they could have the system built by 2008 for a cost of $60 million, and borrow $30 million for six train cars to be paid back over a period of years. About $30 million of that cost, they said, would come from the federal government. However, Capital Metro never officially sought the federal money and revealed in 2010 it has spent $105 million on the systems construction, not $90 million as originally suggested. Additionally, the original 2008 launch date for Capital MetroRail was postponed two years due to multiple safety and construction issues.

Service on Capital MetroRail finally began on March 22, 2010, because of safety issues and construction delays. On December 9, 2009, Capital Metro terminated its contract with Veolia Transport and renegotiated a contract with Herzog Transit Services.

On June 26, 2014, TxDOT awarded CapMetro with a $50 million grant for the purchase of four new rail cars, which is anticipated to double capacity, and for general improvements to the Downtown MetroRail station


2. Operation

The Capital Metrorail system currently consists of Red Line, 32 miles of track that connects Leander and the Austin Convention Center in Downtown Austin. The line also passes through Cedar Park, northwest Austin, north-central Austin, and east Austin. The annual cost to operate the RedLine is $14.3 million.

Although it provides a commuter rail service, MetroRail uses tram-train operation, with semi-frequent services and street running in the downtown portions of the city. On January 18, 2011, Capital Metro added 13 additional midday trains to the previously limited schedule, as well as increased runs during peak hours. Additionally, the organization will run trains on a regular schedule Friday and Saturday starting March 23, 2012. In addition to the normal Friday schedule, trains will run hourly from 7:00pm to 12:00am and every 35 minutes from 4:00pm to 12:00am on Saturday. Prior to the regularly scheduled Friday and Saturday service Capital Metro ran weekend service for special events, such as the SXSW festival.


2.1. Operation The Red Line

Currently the Capital MetroRail system only consists of the Red Line, which is alternately designated as Route 550 on internal Capital Metro documents. Its northern terminus is the Leander Station and Park & Ride and the southern terminus is the Downtown Convention Center Station. Each station features an accessible platform with varying canopy designs, ticket vending machines TVM, bike racks, and informational displays. Its nine stations were constructed largely along existing freight rail tracks in cooperation with the City of Austin following a transit-oriented development TOD plan intended to encourage use of public transportation by developing mixed-use residential and commercial areas around the stations. The following Red Line stations are listed north to south:


3. Rolling stock

In September 2005, Stadler Rail won a bid to build six Stadler GTW diesel-electric light regional railcars for the system. Each of the vehicles capital costs is about $6 million, and they run on 2 x 375 kW 510 Hp = 750 kW 1020 Hp diesel-electric engines. They are 9 feet 8 inches 2.95 m wide and 134 feet 41 m long.

The vehicles have a capacity of 200 passengers, 108 seated and 92 standing. The trains have priority seating areas fully ADA compliant for wheelchairs. A "VIP section" with room for laptop use with WiFi access is also included. Bike racks, luggage racks, high back racks, and low floor entry for easy access are all features of what Capital Metro calls the safest and most technologically advanced trains in North America. WiFi is provided by cellular based 3G service. Capital Metro is currently researching upgrading access to 4G speeds, but is dependent on the cell carrier offering a commercial grade product that will work in Capital Metros devices. For safety, the vehicles have ten cameras outside and six inside, as well as a sophisticated communications system.


4. Controversy

Though trains are available past midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, the last train leaving downtown Monday through Thursday is at 6:30PM. There is considerable disappointment that after spending so much money, the trains run a minimal schedule.


5. Future expansions

Any potential expansion would require another referendum in the Capital Metro service area to secure funding. Capital Metros All Systems Go Plan includes a study into potential future service. Below are a few expansions which are either in the planning process or otherwise being actively considered.


5.1. Future expansions MoKan Corridor

Capital Metro has plans to build a new rail line along the abandoned "MoKan" railway line to Georgetown, Round Rock, and Pflugerville, which is owned by TXDot.


5.2. Future expansions Capital Metro Red Line additional stations

Additional Red Line stations are proposed at McKalla/Braker McKalla Place and at Broadmoor at the Domain. These would replace the existing Kramer station.


5.3. Future expansions Capital Metro Green Line

In September 2008, Capital Metro evaluated the need for rail service to alleviate pressure from congestion downtown to Colony Park, with a potential extension to Elgin. To fix this problem, CapMetro decided to plan for adding another rail line to their service, or the Green Line. The Green Line would operate the same as the Red Line, as it would run on existing freight rails with adjustments made to them to allow for passenger rail service.

Trains would depart the red line and begin to head east in between the red line stations MLK Jr. and Plaza Saltillo, where the first stop would be Pleasant Valley; more new stations will be at Springdale, East US 183, Loyola/Johnny Morris, Colony Park. A potential future extension beyond Colony Park with new stations at Wildhorse, Manor, and Elgin. The Green Line will be built from Downtown to Colony Park first, with the extension to Elgin considered for a potenti. In December 2008, a presentation, and then a follow-up, were given to the CAMPO Transit Work Group about the Green Line. In May 2018, the Travis County Commissioners Court voted 3-2 to move forward with a viability study of the Green Line.


5.4. Future expansions Capital Metro Orange Line

A contract was approved for the Orange Line on March 20, 2019. The Orange Line will be a light rail. As of early 2020, Capital Metro has announced their findings of their investigation on what mode, rail or bus, to choose for the orange and blue lines. Both the orange and blue lines will run in their own dedicated transitways, which will allow them to bypass the traffic that plagues the corridors they follow. The Orange Line will operate from North Lamar Transit Center to Stassney & Congress, and will follow the current route of the 801 or a similar alignment. The stations will be North Lamar Transit Center, Crestview where a transfer to the Red Line will be possible, Koenig, Triangle, Hyde Park 38th, Hemphill Park 29th, UT West Mall 24th, Capitol West, Government Center, Republic Square, Auditorium Shores, SoCo, Oltorf, St. Edward’s, South Congress Transit Center, and Stassney. A potential future extension north to Tech Ridge and south to Slaughter is being considered. The new stations would be at Tech Ridge, Parmer, Braker, Rundberg, William Cannon, and Slaughter.


5.5. Future expansions Capital Metro Gold Line

The Gold Line is a proposed MetroRapid that would operate from ACC Highland to Republic Square, and it would travel on Airport, Red River, San Jacinto/Trinity, 7th/8th, Neches/Red River, and 4th. Stations would be ACC Highland, Clarkson, Hancock, St. Davids, UT East, Medical School, Capitol East, 7th/Trinity, Downtown Station, and Republic Square.


5.6. Future expansions Gateway Station

As of 2015, CapMetro has taken the first steps in the planning of a permanent downtown Gateway station for its MetroRail system. Although the current estimates for cost of the proposed terminal are $30–35 million, $22 million of this sum will come directly from a Texas Department of Transportation grant awarded to CapMetro in 2014. Proponents of the proposed station assert that this new station will not only alleviate the congestion problems associated with the current downtown MetroRail terminal, but also serve as a cultural hub wherein future residents and visitors can easily access a number of current and potential amenities, including but not limited to additional transit systems, shopping, and recreational activities.

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