Capital Metro was awarded $50 million by TxDOT to make improvements to its rail system.
Photo credit: Capital Metro
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) June 26 voted to award Capital Metro $50 million for the purchase of new rail cars for the agency’s MetroRail service, and the construction of a permanent and larger rail station in downtown Austin.
The funding includes $28 million for the purchase of four rail cars, which will double the capacity of the Red Line, allowing up to 2,400 additional passenger trips during morning and afternoon peak travel times. Capital Metro will also be able to increase frequency during peak periods from 34 to 15 minutes, and add an extra train after 7 p.m. to give commuters another alternative to driving during rush hour.
“I can’t thank Senator Watson enough for his leadership and unwavering support in obtaining these funds,” said Capital Metro President and CEO Linda S. Watson. “We all know traffic problems are growing, and this funding will allow Capital Metro to significantly improve both the frequency and capacity of MetroRail, which will really help people with their commutes.”
“I’d also like to thank the Texas Department of Transportation for recognizing the success of MetroRail, and its importance to an overall multimodal transportation strategy for the entire region. The community needs more transportation choices, and these funds will allow us to make a positive difference for our customers.”
In addition to the rail cars, the agency will allocate $22 million to construct a permanent and enhanced MetroRail station downtown, transforming the facility into a multimodal terminal that connects with local bus service and a potential future urban rail system. The new station is expected to include up to three tracks and two platforms to accommodate future system expansion, and better serve crowds during special events. The new station configuration is estimated to cost between $30 million and $35 million, part of which will come from local partners.
MetroRail currently provides over 15,000 trips a week, with the majority of passengers passing through the downtown station. Ridership has increased 258 percent since service began in March 2010, with more than 2.3 million trips taken overall during that time. Currently, trains are at capacity weekdays during peak periods, and are heavily used during the many special events held in Austin each year, including SXSW and Formula 1.
In 2013, Capital Metro was awarded an $11.3 million federal TIGER grant through a highly competitive process that involved nearly 600 applicants. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx traveled to Austin from Washington D.C. to personally announce the grant award last September.
While the TIGER grant has allowed Capital Metro to proceed with projects to increase capacity on the 32-mile commuter line, including laying double track at strategic points, the funding did not cover additional rail cars needed to take advantage of the new capacity, or include money to replace the temporary Downtown Station with a more permanent terminal.
“Improving service on the Red Line couldn’t come at a better time, because real and tangible solutions are needed to handle the continuing growth in the region,” said Watson. “MetroRail is a key part of the Project Connect high-capacity transit system that many community and transportation leaders are working on. With 110 people moving here every day, bringing their cars with them, we need to implement an ‘all the above’ approach to help with the escalating traffic issues. Project Connect does that.”
Austin is the 11th largest city in the country, however traffic congestion is worse in Austin than cities with greater populations, including New York City, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas and San Jose.