We have a date!

Today, the Capital Metro Board agreed upon a start date for Capital MetroRail: Monday, March 30, 2009. It is very exciting to have a firm date and a light at the end of the track, so to speak.

How did they select the date? We had an ambitious goal of beginning service this fall, but as we approached August and September, it became clear that some aspects of the system would not be ready.

As has been stated publicly, we had (and have) some difficult real estate and construction obstacles to overcome with both the Howard and Kramer stations, and neither of them can be ready for a fall opening. Although clearly advantageous to open MetroRail with all nine stations open and ready for business, technically there are ways to open without those stations being complete.

But there was another pressing issue straining the start-up timeline, one that can’t be fast-tracked, canceled or scaled back: safety testing and training, or what they call in the rail business “Pre-Revenue Service.” Basically it’s a dress rehearsal: we’ll run the trains (without passengers) on the same schedule they’ll be running after March 30. Capital Metro uses this time to double, triple and quadruple check every aspect of operations: the signalization system, the crossings, the tracks, the vehicles, as well as training the employees who will operate the trains for Capital Metro. This dress rehearsal takes 45 days.

The kicker is that the safety testing and training cannot begin until the installation of the high-tech track safety signalization system is complete. This system, termed Centralized Train Control (CTC), adds an extra layer of safety to the whole rail line. Capital Metro added CTC to the scope of the MetroRail project a year or two ago because we wanted to operate the safest system possible.

So, looking at the calendar, the CTC installation and testing is scheduled to be complete mid December. When you tack on the 45 days of safety testing and training, the earliest we could open is mid February. Both Kramer and Howard stations will be ready by the first week of March.

The Board agreed with the staff recommendation of opening on March 30, after ruling out a few weeks in March due to Spring Break and SXSW.

Capital Metro will be planning some community-wide events to celebrate the opening of Capital MetroRail–stay tuned! Rest assured, when Capital MetroRail opens (on March 30!), the service will boast some of the most technologically-advanced safety measures available today.

5 thoughts on “We have a date!

  1. Life. Complicated.

    I am completely disappointed. I have been looking forward to rail since it was first passed and the dates seem to keep growing and growing. When I called the Customer Service line and was told 6 months or by March in late August, I thought surely not!

    Your reasons for the delay are real however I am sure that installing a CTC doesnt happen over night.

    How long has CapMetro known that it would be installed into mid Dec?

    I am also sure that everyone at CapMetro knew there was an additional 45 day period for run in. Your lack of poor planning leads me to either believe there was severe neglect in your project management processes or you all made the decision to lead the public to believe in the end date only to change it just weeks out from the original launch date.

    Come on guys – this stuff doesnt pop up overnight. Next time you need to inform people earlier of what the delays are and not keep stringing us along.

    What is the reason that the CTC isn’t going to be finished until mid December?

    What process delayed it starting which caused the delay in opening?

    Now is the time for answers on what delayed this instead of glossing over it.

  2. Adam Shaivitz

    Life: picking a launch date for a project of this magnitude is dicey work. We’ve tried to be up front for many months about some of the main issues affecting the time line such as station construction (primarily Howard and Kramer Stations) as well as the federal regulatory process. Just last week we reached consensus with the FRA on the regulatory matters. And we expect completion of Kramer Station in February and Howard Station in March. Once these and other moving targets fell into place, it gave us the opportunity to finally be able to focus on a specific date. It would have been difficult to announce a date based on one or two factors before we knew the outcome of several others.

    As for the CTC system, we added this to the project to enhance safety and service quality and planned on completing it within the original time frame. But installing the CTC system depends upon the progress of another crucial part of the project– the track work. Over the summer we determined that the track work was not progressing as quickly as we would have liked. So we hired a new track work contractor with the goal of keeping this portion of the project on time. Unfortunately, there had already been significant delays in the ordering and arrival of materials needed for the track work.

    All of us would love to open MetroRail sooner rather than later. I know it’s disappointing. But we’re making these decisions for the right reasons, and I think when the trains are running our customers will be proud of this service.

  3. chrysrobyn

    @adam,
    I think you’re missing the point. A lot of us, and I read “life” as part of this group, believe that open, constant communication is important for an organization like Capital Metro. I didn’t read life as complaining that the date was pushed out, or pushed out for the wrong reasons, but that it wasn’t communicated properly. I’ve read this criticism before, and it seems that CapMetro wants to respond with “But we did communicate properly” instead of actually accepting the criticism and trying harder.
    Life’s point, as I saw it, is that this stuff seems obvious in retrospect — any project manager with an iota of competence could easily take any date in December, subtract 45 days of “dress rehearsal” and see mid-November as a date for CTC. Life and I believe that this was obvious long before this week — and if not, I believe some contracts are likely in violation.
    If CapMetro wants to keep being an opaque organization, fine. If CapMetro wants to make this blog just another outlet of one sided propaganda, leave the comments off. If you’re willing to be more open with communication, we think we deserve more frequent updates. It’s not unreasonable to expect weekly updates from a project manager — just a few sentences describing new problems and the earliest / latest likely launch dates (hopefully the “official” date is around the latest possible date). Monthly updates (as claimed), or worse (as I observe), are not consistent with the kind of open communication the internet fosters.
    Nobody is counting on the trains opening on a certain date — but a lot of us are looking forward to it with great excitement. I don’t know if I’ll ever set foot on the train — $2 for my commute from Howard to Kramer seems stupid, and turning the train off during the day will prevent any mid-day shopping trips for my wife and kids who could have used it for downtown or Highland Mall. But I think trains are an exciting option and I’d like to see them succeed enough to get Round Rock’s MoKan turned on and eventually build more track.

  4. Adam Shaivitz

    You’ve both raised some good points. I especially agree with your desire for more frequent updates. That is something we are working on.

  5. Life. Complicated.

    @chrysrobyn

    Thank you for helping to clarify my point.

    I want rail as quickly and as safely as possible. If that takes until the end of March 2009, so be it. However, the communication that the Fall of 2008 was not a realistic start should have been communicated a lot earlier.

    A moto I live by as a project manager is – Under Promise and Over deliver. In essence, I would have rather seen a later date earlier with a possible move up, then an early date and a last minute push out.

    I hope that more frequent updates will occur to keep us all better informed.

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