MetroRail: Week One

Standing room only on the train

A sight to make Cap Metro happy: a full-to-capacity train
A sight to make Cap Metro happy: a full-to-capacity train (photo by Lee Nichols)

I’m writing this from on board MetroRail, trying out the wi-fi. It’s my second attempt to get on board; I wanted to leave Downtown at 3:45pm, but there were so many joyriders checking out the train while it’s still free (today is the last day), that only 27 people could board.

Most of the people who were already on board just sat there, and took the return trip back. Presumable this will settle out on Monday, when Cap Met begins charging fares.

Cap Met interim CEO/President Doug Allen just spoke with reporters in front of the Austin Convention Center (aka Downtown Station) on MetroRail’s first week of operation.

“People this week are testing it out, to see what works for them,” Allen said about the standing room only crowds. “It’s great to see people are enjoying it this much. People want to see how it fits into their travel patterns."

Allen said more than 10,000 people had boarded over the first four days, a number he said he'll be happy with over five days once fare is charged.

Even after people can no longer take advantage of the free ride, “I think we will have stuff we didn’t anticipate,” Allen said. “People going Downtown for a long lunch. People are going to Kramer Station that we hadn’t anticipated.”

Allen said considerations are already being made for increasing the frequency of the trains. “Herzog [the contractor that actually operates the trains] has a computer program to determine scheduling, and we’ll look at what we can do. But of course there are budget implications.” (As we’ve noted in previous reports, Capital Metro is currently experiencing a severe budget crunch.)

Allen said he is currently talking with the city of Austin on ways to improve the difficult intersections at North Lamar and Airport and 51st and Airport.

As for the huge ridership numbers, “We’re very happy so far. We’ll look at the resources we have, the vehicles we have, and see if we can work more trains into the schedule. Long-term, we’re looking for ways to add vehicles and lengthen the station platforms.

“We’re also arranging for buses to be available so no one gets stranded.”

Allen said at the moment only so much can be done with the frequency, because “it’s a matter of how much double tracking we have, which isn’t much.” He said the Federal Railroad Administration also requires that the track be used for a certain level of freight rail service during non-commuter hours, which constrains the ability of MetroRail from expanding beyond its current rush-hour-only schedule.

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Transportation, Capital Metro, MetroRail

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