Gilliam answers that question with a big smile, “Since we own the line and we’re responsible for freight and passenger, the only person we have to talk to is me.”
Gilliam says the new passenger service will have priority over freight and he knows that there may be conflicts down the road, but they have a plan for that already.
“When that conflict starts materializing, our intent is to build a second track for freight that will move between the two [busiest stops] with the understanding that the need for that would be paid for with the increased freight movement that we will be shipping.”
The agency had two goals when putting the commuter rail into service — stay on budget and be up and running by the fall of 2008. So far, so good.
“We left a little fudge factor in by saying fall of 2008,” Gilliam says. “But it’s certainly been a challenge more so than any other project.”
This isn’t the first time that Capital Metro has attempted to put in rail. In 2000 a light rail initiative was voted down. The public made the statement that they didn’t want light rail, so when the agency went to the polls to get rail, they put together an entirely different package, one using their existing tracks and focusing on moving people from the suburbs to downtown Austin. This time the public agreed and the agency started to put its plan into action.
The original plan was for your standard push pull trains, but upon discussing it with the community, the agency found out the public wanted rail cars that were sleek, modern and stylish.
“We were looking at [the rail line] on the basis of trying to keep it on the cheap and so our original budget was $25 million. [By] understanding more of what the community was telling us it grew into a $60 million and a $30 million [budget],” Gilliam says.
“$60 million for track and stations and $30 million for vehicles because we knew we would have to go to European or Japanese — we would have to go to something outside of the United States, although we had looked at the Colorado Rail car.
“And we’re a region that’s … it’s emerging as a non-attainment, it’s not a nonattainment, but it’s emerging.
“And so with that understanding we need to make sure we have as environmentally friendly vehicles as we possibly can get. So we looked at the various types and decided that the hybrid and a modern looking vehicle was more appropriate. So we did solicitations or whatever and narrowed it down to Stadler as who we finally made the choice on.
“And at this point we have not regretted that.”
Gilliam says the public reaction to the new rail line has been very positive, noting that even the agency’s critics haven’t found fault with the line so far.
“I think if anything people are expecting us to be running more frequent service and that is something we’re going to have to start addressing pretty quickly…” Gilliam says.
But despite the agency’s educational efforts, Gilliam says people still refer to the rail line as light rail, even though it doesn’t have the frequent stops of a light rail line. The 32-mile line will only have nine stops, including those at each end.
“I think the people are expecting 10-minute frequencies where we’re — the first year or two we’re looking at 30-minute frequencies. I think people are expecting midday and weekend [service] and we’re not planning on that for a couple years to run midday or weekend.”
Bus Rapid Transit
Capital Metro’s new MetroRail line with its futuristic cars isn’t the only thing that will be turning heads in Austin in the near future. As part of its All Systems Go long-range transit plan, Capital Metro is planning on implementing bus rapid transit (BRT) routes on several of its corridors. This service will be known as MetroRapid and will run in areas not suitable to rail and others where rail isn’t desirable.
“We have the Congress Corridor on the south, [and] there’s an area there where they don’t want rail. They have not supported rail. If you said we [were] going to have rail there today they’d be organizing themselves to be opposed to it,” Gilliam says.