MetroRail Progress Report

Cap Met says milestones met, but still no firm date for launch

Someday ...
Someday ... (photo by Lee Nichols)

Capital Metro finally beat a deadline on MetroRail. Back in March when it announced that the launch of its Leander-to-Downtown commuter rail line would be delayed yet again, the transit agency said it would "report back to the community" by May 15. It actually managed to deliver its report today.

The most notable feature: Cap Met finally got politically smart and decided not to set a hard deadline this time out.

"Capital Metro is committed to opening the MetroRail line when it is ready," says Cap Met CEO Fred Gilliam in today's announcement. "Rather than picking a new date now, we will assess progress during the final comprehensive operational testing phase and begin service when all remaining steps are complete."

Gilliam said the next progress report will be delivered in June.

Full text of the announcement after the jump:

Capital MetroRail Progress Report - May 13, 2009

When Capital Metro postponed the rail line’s opening in March for safety reasons, we said we would provide an update by May 15 as to our progress and remaining milestones to achieve.

Throughout construction and testing, our main goal has been safety; we believe the team is taking all necessary steps to ensure this result. Training and safety programs have been enhanced, and all systems will be in place when service begins rather than completing some functions later.

We are pleased to report much progress has been made in the last two months. Significant tasks have been achieved, and we are entering the final phase before service will begin.

Milestones Completed

* A new safety director has developed a thorough training and certification program.
* Twenty-three of the original twenty-six recommended violations from the Federal Railroad Administration have been cleared, and the remaining ones are being addressed.
* We received the official waiver of operations letter from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) that allows our rail vehicles to operate under FRA regulations. MetroRail is the first rail system of its kind in the country to receive this authorization.
* Last week we completed the grinding of the entire rail line. This work was performed to remove rust and other buildup on the rail which sometimes prevents proper shunting, the process where the train wheel completes a circuit when it makes contact with the track.
* We have installed most of the equipment for traffic light pre-emption technology at several crossings. This is an enhancement that is not required, but something we committed to do for added safety.
* All systems have been validated, and all rail dispatchers have been trained and certified.
* Rail engineers have completed their first phase of certification.
* As of Saturday, May 9, the Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) system which monitors a train’s real-time location on the line and helps control all signals and switches has been validated and is now operational. This was a major milestone because it allows our trains to operate at their planned speeds.

Remaining Milestones

Capital MetroRail has now entered the final comprehensive operational testing phase. In this phase, testing of the vehicles and training of the operators are conducted at full speeds. Up to this point, all testing has been conducted at lower speeds. Trains are now traveling at speeds up to 60 mph in some areas.

* During this stage, the engineers will complete their final phases of training and will be fully-certified on the use of the CTC system.
* Trains will operate under full-service conditions – meeting the timelines and stops according to the service schedule but with no passengers on board.
* For contingency-training purposes, engineers are presented with unforeseen challenges. The safety director has developed a comprehensive contingency plan to ensure training in a wide variety of scenarios.
* Capital Metro will work with the City of Austin and the Texas Department of Transportation to complete remaining work on traffic light pre-emption at several crossings.
* Capital Metro will be able to establish a new date to begin service during this phase.

Why No Date?

Capital Metro is committed to opening the MetroRail line when it is ready. Rather than picking a new date now, we will assess progress during the final comprehensive operational testing phase and begin service when all remaining steps are complete.

Next Update

"Capital Metro will report back to the community by mid-June. We are as eager to get MetroRail started as you are. My pledge to you is a safe, reliable and high-quality system that Central Texas will be proud of. Our citizens need and deserve new transit options, and the MetroRail Red Line is just the beginning."

– Fred Gilliam, Capital Metro President/CEO

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