Cap Metro

The wheels come off

Fred Gilliam
Fred Gilliam

To say things are not going well at Capital Metro right now ... well, let's not even bother with polite euphemisms. It's all going to hell.

More than a year behind schedule, the transit agency's new commuter train has been delayed yet again – this time indefinitely. And that announcement came after revelations in the Austin American-Statesman that the agency owes millions of dollars to the city of Austin and other communities it serves – but has drained its cash reserves to build its nonfunctional train and other pricey projects and apparently can't pay it back. According to the States­man's Ben Wear (March 15), Cap Metro's savings, which once reached into the hundreds of millions, are now down to a mere two-month safety cushion.

Simultaneously (as we reported last week), Cap Metro announced that employees of one of its labor subcontractors, Veolia Trans­port­ation, had driven trains into unauthorized areas of track during testing and that the March 30 launch of the Leander-to-Downtown Red Line service would be delayed by about a month. Then it got worse – it was announced that Veolia is under investigation by the Federal Railroad Admin­i­stra­tion, the March 28 kickoff party has been scrapped, and nobody knows for sure when MetroRail will begin operations.

"At this time, I am not satisfied with the progress Veolia has made with safety and training," said Capital Metro President/CEO Fred Gilliam in a statement. "Capital Metro is deeply disappointed over this delay, but under no circumstances will we jeopardize safety by rushing this process." Gilliam called for Veolia to replace its safety director, announced that experts from the Massachu­setts Bay Transportation Authority will be brought in to advise (ironic, since MBTA is run by Veolia), and said the community will receive an update by May 15.

Don't think this will go down well among city politicos. In a statement, Austin City Council Member Mike Martinez supported the delay, but concluded, "We must also seek answers to the many questions surrounding Capital Metro and judgment errors that have plagued the agency for some time now." He was far less polite talking to the daily – he opined that Veolia was simply a "scapegoat" in the fiasco, and said: "Other folks are going to have to accept their responsibility as well. ... It really brings into question the competence of the organization."

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Capital Metro, MetroRail, Mike Martinez, Fred Gilliam, Veolia Transportation

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