Monday, March 16, 2009

Austin rail debut (once again) faces a delay

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The on-again/off-again scheduled debut of Austin, Tex.’s Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority service is off again, at least for regularly scheduled revenue service. Though a ceremonial launch is still slated for Saturday, March 28, regular service won’t commence until sometime in April.

Capital Metro says the delay is due to problems with signals at grade crossings; an outside contractor has been hired to address the issue.

Additionally, last month two engineers training on the 32-mile, nine-station line, employees of Veolia Transpotation, reportedly operated trains without proper approval. Capital Metro says it learned of the safety violations last week from both the Federal Railroad Administration and the Texas Department of Transportation. “The engineers stopped the trains pretty quickly after realizing they didn't have the full authorization but there's no cutting corners with safety on a railroad,” said Cap Metro spokesman Adam Shaivitz.

“The extensive training period we are in is standard and designed to assure that all employees are fully prepared and that all systems and facilities are fully operational and rigorously tested,” said Erica Swerdlow of Veolia Transportation.

Earlier this month, Cap Metro reversed an earlier decision to postpone the launch of revenue service, sayingit was confident it could begin operations on March 30.

Cap Metro originally had hoped to begin service in late 2008, but tangled with FRA over the agency’s oversight of the line, which will use six Stadler-Bussnag diesel units comparable to diesel light railway transit (DLRT) equipment used elsewhere in the U.S.