As the wheel (slowly) turns


Last week, interim Capital Metro CEO Doug Allen sat down with reporters for a "media roundtable," inviting the press to fire away with their questions. The big news to come out of the event: Capital Metro's CEO held a media roundtable! After years of having little contact with previous CEO Fred Gil­liam and getting news either through press releases or subordinates, all attending reporters (yours truly included) expressed thanks to Allen for simply conversing with us.

"We thought this format might be a little more interesting than what we've done in the past," said Allen, who took over when Gilliam stepped down Oct. 16. "It was an attempt to be more open, although I think we were being open in the last two months. We wanted to take it to a different level."

Allen and Elaine Timbes, the interim chief operating officer, called the meeting to update the public on the progress of MetroRail. They briefed reporters on two major aspects of completing the project: waivers sought from the Federal Railroad Administration and outstanding issues to be resolved.

Of 24 waivers sought, five are still pending. Some of those address major concerns such as "temporal separation" (separating freight and passenger operations; Cap Metro wants to use the safest mode – passenger – for all operations), while others are as trivial as requesting that MetroRail cars not be required to have snowplows (not of much value in Central Texas).

As for issues remaining, Timbes said that of 20 outstanding last month, six have been resolved. Agency engineers are still working out some timing issues on crossing gates, especially at the Crestview Station crossing at North Lamar and Airport; see "MetroRail Watch."

Cap Metro also reported that it got slapped with another FRA violation, but unlike violations received earlier this year, it doesn't appear this one will delay the project any further. A contractor raised the speed limit on a section of track outside the passenger area from 20 to 35 miles per hour without recalibrating the system that warns of an approaching train. The change was caught and quickly reversed, but the change was not reported to the FRA, which drew the sanction. Timbes said a financial penalty could be assessed but so far has not.

Allen said remaining work is expected to cost $750,000 to $1 million, about half of which is already accounted for in the MetroRail project's $105 million estimated budget.

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