After what seems like endless series of problems and delays, Cap Metro has announced that light rail service will begin in March. Service was originally scheduled to commence on March 30, 2009.
MetroRail will run from downtown to Leaner with stops for Lakeline, Howard, Kramer, Crestview, Highland, MLK, Jr., and Plaza Saltillo. The full 32 mile trip is estimated to take 57 minutes with a maximum speed projected to be as fast as 60 mph. Capital MetroRail will offer service every 35 minutes during morning and afternoon rush hours with fares ranging from $2 to $3 depending on distance. There will also be discounts for monthly passes and certain categories of riders. Senior citizens and children under 6 ride for free.
The trains (shown below) are very attractive. The city’s six trains will each have a capacity of 200 passengers with 108 seated and 92 standing. Believe it or not, the train will actually have wifi service on board as well as bicycle racks and work tables. For safety, the vehicles have ten cameras outside and six inside, as well as a sophisticated communications system.
MetroRail was originally approved in 2004 when voters within Capital Metro’s territory endorsed MetroRail as part of a long-range mass transit plan, which also includes expanded local and express bus service, as well as a possible streetcar system (modeled after the Portland Streetcar), which would connect downtown Austin, the Texas State Capitol complex and the University of Texas-Austin with the master-planned Mueller Community redevelopment project. Technically, the system is not considered light rail, because it shares the main-line tracks used by freight trains, and because of its infrequent rush hour-focused service.
With a downtown stop in front of the convention center, the train will allow some downtown workers to commute to a limited number of transit friendly city locations. For Austin residents who don’t live downtown, the new train will provide a way to bypass rush hour traffic.
With one route, 9 stops, and infrequent service, the train is unlikely to have a dramatic effect on the city when it begins service. In fact, the City is estimating ridership at 2,000 people a day. While a small portion of the population, removing 2,000 cars from downtown and the other destinations on a daily basis would be significant. The important thing to note is that this is the beginning: if it is successful, more trains, routes, and increasingly frequent service may be added in the future.