Friday, February 27, 2009

Austin rail debut faces further delay

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Austin, Tex.’s Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority says testing and training for its 32-mile passenger rail line is behind schedule, and could further delay the route’s operational debut, currently set for March 30.

Cap Metro is considering a phased service startup, such as only running morning rush-hour trains southbound into downtown Austin, and evening counterparts north to Leander, postponing contraflow service. 

Officials expect the delay or the period of limited service to be one-to-two weeks, with bidirectional testing occurring on the weekend when passenger rail service is not scheduled. But a test period of two weeks, as opposed to two months, makes the “more of an unknown because it depends on what might pop up, if anything," according to Doug Allen, Cap Metro's executive vice president and chiefdevelopment officer. "We don't anticipate anything like that, but you just never know until you get into it and start testing."

Cap Metro set the March 30 opening date last October, saying the system’s track controls and computerized dispatching equipment would be in place by December, with personnel training and on-site operational practice to follow. But the equipment wasn’t functioning until early this month, and employee training is now ongoing as a result.

Problems with gates at grade-crossings, while minor, also are still to be resolved to Cap Metro's satisfaction. The line's signal pre-emption system also is not yet fully operational.

Cap Metro says it still plans to hold opening celebrations for the line on the March 21-22 weekend, regardless of when revenue service is scheduled to commence. Six Stadler-Bussnag diesel units will be placed in service, operating under temporal separation rules.