Red Line Debut Delayed

Yesterday, Capital Metro received notification from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) of allegations issued against our rail contractor Veolia Transportation. The allegations are in reference to incidents in February where two Veolia rail supervisors operating MetroRail trains entered a section of track without prior authorization during system testing.

Veolia is investigating this matter thoroughly and working with the FRA and TxDOT to address this issue.

Based on this incident and additional issues identified during rail testing over the past several weeks, Capital Metro will allow more time for Veolia to complete the training of engineers and dispatchers and additional testing of the rail line. Capital Metro is working with Veolia to establish a revised timeline for the start of service initially planned for Monday, March 30.

The ribbon-cutting communitywide celebration of MetroRail on Saturday, March 28, will move forward as planned. Learn more about the event on our Web site.

Veolia Transportation issued a statement about the FRA allegations. Read the statement here.

20 thoughts on “Red Line Debut Delayed

  1. Parker Beaty

    are you serious another delay how many more delays can metro have and why is capital metro going with the rebon cutting ceremony if they are delaying it due to engineers errors why continue the deal if opening is going to be delayed i don’t think thats safe i think if u are letting people proceed to ride the train on the 28th why not the 30th or delay both untill the guys get re trained

  2. markchacon

    I concur with Parker – why is Capital Metro not cancelling the “grand opening” celebration on March 28th? Your own press release clearly states that safety issues exist, and that delays to the opening will occur until these issues are resolved. As such, why is it safe for the trains to carry passengers on March 28th? Have the train operators been retrained? Also, have the shunting issues that impact the dispatching system been resolved? Without these safety features, I cannot believe that Capital Metro would even consider allowing passengers on the train until they can guarantee everyone’s safety.

  3. Parker Beaty

    i think with the saftey issues with the system and the engineers needing proper training i think grand opening needs to be postpond untill this is fixed i am not getting on a train that i feel is unsafe since you are cancelling launch date why should people feel safe at march 28th and the 30th this is reckless and dangerous and since cap metro no’s that this is the dell if u feel the reason to go ahead with ribon cutting no diffrent then then the 30th please cap metro re think the march 28th date i think untill we know what is going on cancel the deal all together no matter how much it cost for setting up the event raither be safe then not
    but cap metro well not cancel all together because of a pride issue u can for sure count me out of the ribin cutting due to re training of the drivers of the metro rail i am not sure i would be safe on the system untill this is fixed in behalf of cap metro i think all new things take time this is a situation that has never happened before here in austin i think overall cap metro is trying there best to figure this out and i am counting on metro rail once up and running and wish cap metro all the best raither cancel then go ahead and not be safe and to that note this is not all cap metro’s fault i want a system that is safe and reliable i cannot wait for the true launch date

  4. Adam Shaivitz

    Rest assured, you won’t be stepping on a train whether it’s for demonstration rides or regular service without Veolia completing the necessary testing and training.

  5. Parker Beaty

    so with the delay what are the festivites going to be like are there still going go ahead with the music sodas and all the good stuff that we can still get to enjoy even though the train might not be avalible. question if people cannot get the chance to ride the train well the operators still run the train with no people on so we can enjoy the sleek new trains and listen to the live music

  6. Tricia Johnston

    Why will Capital Metro not value the safety of Austin’s citizens? If it is not safe to open the trains to the public on March 30, then logic states that it is also not safe to provide free rides on March 28th. I would rather have a delay and be safe, than know that my personal safety is being put at risk because Capital Metro wants to save the little face that they have left. Please put safety above the image of your agency – we all deserve it!

  7. Adam Shaivitz

    Let me repeat so this is clear: you won’t be stepping on a train whether it’s for demonstration rides or regular service without Veolia completing the necessary testing and training.

  8. Life. Complicated.

    Adam – Thank you for repeating yourself. However, the publicity still states that there will be train demonstration rides. Which is it?

    Also, if there were 2 operators who violated the rules in February, how does that make every other operator unsafe? IF it is just two operators, put them on additional training, under supervision, etc so that the others can open the rail line as expected.

    I think there is something else going on here. Either the shunting issue isn’t resolved or there is another delay.

    We have waited a long time for the rail line to open and before you say that “you want to be safe…” line, Yes, I do. But I also want some honesty. This line was supposed to open in early 2008, then moved to Fall 2008, then in Fall 2008 – more push back. Except that the reason was to allow the stations to be complete and some new safety measures along with either a cover up or some inept planning. Now, it is again pushed due to “2 operators” or is it the other issues? Cap Metro left a very aggressive schedule to finish off training, etc, and now we have delays.

    I am betting this will be delays of months not weeks as is being stated. How about some transparency?

  9. Adam Shaivitz

    Life: You are correct. At this time the celebration event is still scheduled for March 28. However, no one will ride a train on that day or any other if our rail contractor has not completed the necessary safety training and testing.

    We will not let the calendar dictate when to start the service. Safety will always be the determining factor.

    The issues that the FRA raised on Friday have to do with two supervisors who train(ed)other engineers. That’s why this potentially affects others who operate the trains.

  10. Life. Complicated.

    Adam – Thanks for the clarification! Just a thought… you might want to update all the announcements that still say a launch on the 30th with rides on the 28th.

    Again, I know this job must be hard but I appreciate the response.

  11. Jamie Bemoore

    If the public is unable to ride the trains on Saturday, March 28th; will Capital Metro offer another free ride day on a Saturday so that families can experience the line. I know my son would love to ride; however, taking a trip during a morning or evening rush hour would not easily fit into our schedule.

  12. vindobonensis

    Adam and Erica,

    Thanks for keeping us informed. I too am disappointed about the additional delay, especially since I’ve seen the trains run up and down for testing for over a year now and many problems seem to be getting caught late in the schedule.

    I understand you want to be extra careful, but I’m sure you wouldn’t shut down the Cap Metro bus system for weeks if you find that a bus training supervisor took a wrong turn or ran a red light.

    Perhaps if you could better explain the severity of the mistake of those supervisors, we would understand why you have to delay opening? Were two trains about the collide or something?

    Will the additional time help resolve the issues with cars stopping on the tracks at busy intersections? (I’m more worried about those than your engineers!)

  13. Adam Shaivitz

    Vin- good questions from you and everyone else. It’s not uncommon for issues to come up close to opening because that’s when the most rigorous testing takes place. The early test runs that you may have seen starting back in December 2007 were primarily for acceptance of the rail cars. They did not include tests of all components of the rail line. The enhanced signal system installation was completed earlier this year. It’s at that point when the more thorough testing began, along with the training of dispatchers and engineers.

    Railroad regulations are much different than the rules of the road. The FRA preliminary finding cites 49 CFR 240.117 (e) (4) from the federal code: “Occupying main track or a segment of main track without proper authority or permission;”

    Violations and willful violations of FRA regs can result in various penalties including suspensions, fines or revocation of an engineer’s or supervisor’s certification. In this case, does it make a difference that the incidents noted in the preliminary findings occurred during testing and not passenger service? I can’t answer that. But I’m sure that’s something Veolia is addressing with the feds. It’s important to point out again that these are preliminary findings not final rulings. But we have to take even a preliminary report very seriously pending the final outcome. To your other question, no, trains were not about to collide. There was only one train on the 32-mile line at the time.

    As for cars stopping on tracks, we’re in the process of adding signal preemption technology at several crossings that have traffic lights nearby. The technology will make sure the traffic light is green as a train approaches the crossing so cars can clear the intersection. This is not a requirement, but we’re adding it for enhanced safety. Before the technology is up and running, we’re posting APD officers at these crossings during testing to make sure drivers aren’t stopping on the tracks. They’re giving out warnings and, if necessary, citations to increase awareness about the dangers of stopping on the tracks.

  14. vindobonensis

    Thanks for your anwers, Adam. I hope Capital Metro is pressuring Veolia to improve the quality of training. Long term, I would feel safer if Capital Metro would get the training/driving expertise in-house instead of using a contractor, since CM operates in the best interest of the Austin area residents whereas the multinational Veolia presumably operates in the interest of its share holders.

    It appears that a lot of people are outraged why the grand opening with train rides may still be on the schedule whereas regular service cannot start yet. Adam/Erica, perhaps you can point out why the trains can be safe for grand opening but not for regular service yet, to make us feel better about this. I assume reasons might include that the trains won’t run on a schedule, don’t have to pass one another on the segments, there is time for a slow approach to the station where the segments overlap, etc.

  15. Erica McKewen

    vin, Veolia has a wealth of experience developing and operating passenger rail systems throughout the nation and internationally, too. Capital Metro is working closely with Veolia to make sure our high standards are met, not only in regards to safety, but also in terms of general operating procedures, customer service, etc.

    The training Veolia is taking extra time to complete is specifically related to how the trains will operate in full service. This does not directly affect safety or readiness for the community celebration on the 28th, where we will have a single train assigned to each of four sections of track, moving people between stations. In other words, for the free community rides, we’re not going to have trains constantly passing each other or running the entire length of the line. Additionally, the trains will be going slower than they would in full service. We had already planned to run a simpler operation on the 28th because this will allow more people to experience a MetroRail ride.

    The bottom line is that if we feel safety is going to be an issue on the 28th, no one will be getting a ride. Given the set up and parameters for the rides on the 28th, that’s not how we’re feeling, however, so things are moving forward at this point. You’ll be the first to know if anything changes.

  16. M1EK

    vin, CM can’t operate the line ‘themselves’ because of the conflict between state and federal law regarding unionization of transit employees.

    The union that represents MOST of CM’s current bus drivers is not being used for this commuter rail service. This is probably a bit of information to keep stowed in the back of your mind for later analysis.

  17. Jamie Bemoore

    While Veolia Transportation may be a large corporation, whose parent company is based in France, I also support Capital Metro’s decision to choose a private operator to manage the MetroRail line. Train operation is not similar in any respect to bus operation, as the operating rules and challenges are completely different. For instance, it is easy for StarTran to maintain service if a bus breaks down, as other buses can pass the disabled vehicle. On the other hand, any incident regarding the train will impact the entire system, as the other trains will not be able to pass except at sidings.

    Also, while it is true that the rail line will not initially have the same union as StarTran’s bus operators, there is nothing preventing it from becoming a part of the same union. If I am correct, all of Veolia’s bus operators in Austin are part of the same union as Star Tran.

    Furthermore, unlike StarTran, Veolia can be held accountable for poor performance. For instance, it is unlikely that Capital Metro will ever fine StarTran for failing to meet on-time or safety standards. Veolia, on the other hand, should have signed a contract requiring them to meet certain operating expectations once the system begins daily revenue service (assuming Capital Metro made them do so). If this is the case, then Capital Metro can also penalize Veolia for failing to meet these expectations, either through fines, or by choosing a different contractor to continue operations once Veolia’s initial contract expires. As such, I support Capital Metro’s choice to have Veolia operate the MetroRail, as I believe it will maximize the taxpayer’s ability to hold MetroRail operations accountable for their performance.

  18. M1EK

    Jamie, I was not making any statement at all about the ability of either contractor to operate the service; but the problems Capital Metro has had with the union representing most of their drivers recently is most certainly relevant when that same union has alleged CM increased use of Veolia to get around said union problems.

    In other words, it is just as likely, from the outside looking in, that Veolia was selected for reasons that had nothing to do with rail performance and everything to do with current labor negotiations. This is important to know no matter which side you support in those ongoing labor negotiations.

  19. markchacon

    On a side note from the topic of MetroRail being delayed, May 9th is National Train Day. Amtrak is holding events nationwide to celebrate at some of their major terminals; however, they are also encouraging local communities to celebrate their “train love” with regional events. By then, I hope that MetroRail is running the full schedule, and it would be great if Capital Metro would do something to celebrate (although probably small in nature, due to your budgetary limitations).

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