Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Austin, Tex.'s Cap Metro remains stuck in neutral

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Now almost six months behind its original opening debut in December, and two months after a revised launch in late March, Austin, Tex.’s 32-mile diesel multiple-unit (DMU) system still is struggling to commence operations, according to Fred Gilliam, chief executive of Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

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"Capital Metro is committed to opening the MetroRail line when it is ready,” Gilliam said. “Rather than picking a new date now, we will assess progress during the final comprehensive operational testing phase and begin service when all remaining steps are complete. Capital Metro will report back to the community by mid-June. We are as eager to get MetroRail started as you are."

Gilliam stressed that some progress has been made. "Last week we completed the grinding of the entire rail line. This work was performed to remove rust and other buildup on the rail which sometimes prevents proper shunting, the process where the train wheel completes a circuit when it makes contact with the track.” And, he said, as of May 9, “the Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) system which monitors a train's real-time location on the line and helps control all signals and switches has been validated and is now operational. This was a major milestone because it allows our trains to operate at their planned speeds."

Operations testing is also under way, he said. “In this phase, testing of the vehicles and training of the operators are conducted at full speeds. Up to this point, all testing has been conducted at lower speeds. Trains are now traveling at speeds up to 60 mph in some areas."

A year ago, Capital Metro and the Federal Railroad Administration were at odds over engineer certification and emergency preparedness, issues which lingered into this year. FRA also classified Cap Metro’s fleet of six Stadler-Bussnag diesel units  as “commuter rail,” rejecting a request to classify the system as a diesel light-rail transit (DLRT) system comparable to San Diego County, Calif.’s SPRINTER service or New Jersey Transit’s RiverLINE operation.