Monday, August 24, 2009

Austin rail debut lags as safety issues linger

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Officials of Austin, Tex.’s Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority continue to address operations issues plaguing the state capital’s MetroRail system, originally scheduled to open in late 2008, then rescheduled for a March opening, before being placed on hold indefinitely.

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CMTA says it has been correcting safety concerns identified by the Federal Railroad Administration. A monthly status report, which chronicles the advancements the agency has made on the 32-mile rail line, said crews are performing what they call a system validation test.

Crews are testing the integration of the MetroRail's signaling, including signal houses, electric circuits, and train location system. Inspection crews will be testing the rail line's systems electronically and will then conduct a performance test on those same systems with one of the system's diesel light rail transit (DLRT) vehicles.

"We still have a few milestones to reach," said CMTA spokeswoman Erica McKewen. "We are kind of going through it with a fine-tooth comb." Capital Metro started its system validation process Aug.3 and has so far tested 25 of the 120 items requiring testing.

CMTA and FRA also had been at odds on the classificication of the the line, with CMTA seeking a waiver to operate DLRT equipment—six Stadler-Bussnag diesel units—under temporal separation (time-sharing) rules similar to that employed by New JerseyTransit’s RiverLINE. FRA in 2008 rejected the request, saying it would “exercise its jurisdiction over the CMTA system, as it does any commuter railroad.”