Canceling the March 28 celebration

We received some more disappointing news today, and in the interests of safety, Capital Metro has decided to cancel the community celebration next Saturday, March 28.

Here’s the statement from President/CEO Fred Gilliam today:

“Capital Metro received notification today from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) of additional alleged violations against rail contractor Veolia Transportation. This is an addition to the previous violations we learned about last Friday.

At this time, I am not satisfied with the progress Veolia has made with safety and training. Capital Metro is absolutely committed to safety. Following extensive discussions with Veolia, the FRA, TxDOT as well as Capital MetroRail staff, I have just notified our Board of Directors that I am taking the following steps:

The MetroRail celebration event planned for Saturday, March 28 is cancelled.

Capital Metro has called for Veolia to replace its safety director.

Capital Metro is bringing in rail experts from Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to assist with startup operations and safety implementation. They have experience with thirteen previous rail launches.

Capital MetroRail staff will continue testing enhancements to the signal system.

By May 15, Capital Metro will report back to the community with the status of the project and an action plan.

Capital Metro is deeply disappointed over this delay, but under no circumstances will we jeopardize safety by rushing this process.”

20 thoughts on “Canceling the March 28 celebration

  1. vindobonensis

    Thanks for the update. I have two questions:

    1. Why does it take almost two months to report on the status of the project and formulate an action plan? It’s kind of scary if Capital Metro needs two months to determine the status of its own rail project which was scheduled to start a week from now. Maybe it’s not such a good idea after all that Veolia is “in charge of every aspect of this project” as Veolia proudly claims on its website.

    2. Does Capital Metro have provisions in place in its $112 million contract with Veolia ($36 million for MetroRail) under which CM can recover the cost of the delay from the contractor? (Maybe it would be an incentive for the contractor to improve their quality in a timely manner!)

  2. Jamie Bemoore

    While I am partially disappointed by the delay, I am also glad that Capital Metro decided to put our safety first by cancelling the grand opening event on March 28th.

    As I rode the bus home today, I noticed that my vehicle still have the advertisement in the front of the bus promoting the grand opening event. In the interest of avoiding confusion, will Capital Metro remove these advertisements this weekend? Better yet, you could post a notice on the buses regarding the cancellation of the March 28th event.

    Again, thank you for putting our safety first.

  3. Shaheen

    Hmmm, 2 months for an action plan.

    Can’t we just bring in operators from other transit agencies and pay them as interim operators?

    Then, possibly sue Veolia for breach of contract (assuming safety was a point in the contract), recoup costs that have gone to Veolia thus far and get additional money to pay for the interim operators as we get another permanent operator team in place?

    I mean I hate frivolous lawsuits. But I’m assuming we have paid Veolia a lot so far for initial startup and training. At the same time, they’re adding extreme delays to the project.

    Or, is capmetro happy that Veolia has caused another delay? Perhaps they can use this time to fix all the other problems they’ve had. I believe these signal problems and rubbings or bushings or something were the reasons they delayed it last year.

    Wow, I’m a little more mad than I thought I was.

  4. markchacon

    Did Capital Metro really just find out about these issues today? Veolia already has the job for Director of Safety & Training posted on their website, suggesting that they were aware of the situation earlier than Friday afternoon. Also, why didn't Capital Metro ever audit them to discover that these issues existed? If they had, they would not have unexpectantly been surprised by the results of the Federal Railroad Administration's investigation. Capital Metro can try to blame the last minute cancellation of MetroRail service on Veolia; however, it is apparent that the agency is only using these issues to cover up their own poor management.

  5. markchacon

    vindobonesis-In response to your question # 1, there is no reason why Capital Metro should have taken two months to report on the status of the project. It is also completely unacceptable that they waited until the week before service was supposed to start to cancel service. While Veolia is “in charge of every aspect of this project”, according to Capital Metro’s 2009 budget the agency employs 10 full time equivalent employees to administer Capital Metro’s railroad. Were none of these employees assigned to audit Veolia, and to ensure that they were complying with the contract? If not, Capital Metro needs to fix their own mistakes as much as Veolia needs to their problems.

    Unfortunately, it is apparent that Capital Metro’s poor management continues to mismanage our taxpayer funds. The MetroRail project has been filled with mistakes, and while Veolia is partially responsible for the latest problem, at the end of the day Capital Metro must take responsibility and represent the citizens of Austin. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter what contractor is hired, because without Capital Metro holding people accountable they will never succeed. The fact that these issues with Veolia were only “discovered” within the two weeks before opening, both being found by the FRA rather than Capital Metro, only speaks further to the incompetence of Capital Metro’s leadership team.

  6. CapMetro Rider

    STOP THE LIES! Is this indefinite delay really due to Veolia, or are there other parts of the project under Capital Metro's responsibility that are not yet complete? Discrepancies between your PR statement and the Statesman suggest that Capital Metro is not giving the public the full truth:

    1) Capital Metro is bringing in rail experts from Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to assist with startup operations and safety implementation – Veolia currently operates the MBTA system, and just renewed their contract for an additional 5 years. So, if Capital Metro really feels Veolia is incompetent, why would you bring in an expert from their company, instead of finding a consultant from an independent agency?

    2) Veolia has had the Director of Safety & Training posted on their website for at least 1 week (I saw it when I was looking for a job). Therefore, it appears that Veolia already terminated this employee. If this is the case, why is Capital Metro calling "for Veolia to replace its safety director." According to a statement from Veolia in the Statesman, "the replacement of the safety director was already under way and that Capital Metro was told that about two weeks ago."

    3) Even some of the Capital Metro board members believe that your agency is using Veolia as a skapegoat. The Statesman posted "Austin City Council Member Mike Martinez, who also serves on the Capital Metro board, has been increasingly critical of the agency in recent weeks. He said Capital Metro officials, citing lost costs for caterers and arrangements for a multitude of volunteers, had resisted his calls over the past week to cancel the opening celebrations next weekend. Martinez said the agency is making a "scapegoat" of Veolia and its safety director. "

    Why is Capital Metro lying to us? The general public does not care about the delay – all we want is a safe transit system. Unfortunately, Capital Metro has lost all credibility by blaming someone else the week before opening for issues with the project. MetroRail is Capital Metro's project, and at the end of the day Capital Metro must take responsibility for issues with the project, regardless of the cause. I am disappointed that your agency acted like a child by pointing fingers, when it was Capital Metro's responsibility to audit Veolia and ensure that they were in compliance.

  7. Shanaynay

    Capital Metro – why did you only find out about these issues with Veolia during the past two weeks? Even if they have had problems, your agency should have been auditing them prior to this. In fact, your agency did not even discover these discrepancies – instead, the Federal Railroad Administration/TXDot did.

    Please, stop blaming Veolia for all of your problems. Today’s article in the Statesman makes me question whether Veolia really is at fault, or if you are just using them to cover up your own poor management.

  8. Shanaynay

    Shasheen – I agree with your frustration. Unfortunately, I think it is a horrible idea to consider bringing in another operator – think how much greater the delay will be if we have to restart all of our training from the beginning!

    Also, Veolia may not have breached contract. Don’t just trust Capital Metro’s PR as fact – they clearly have an agenda, and are not including all sides of the story.

  9. Jerry

    Can you explain why it will take until May 15th for Capital Metro to report back to the community? I understand that a delay is necessary, but I really don’t see why it will take over 50 days to complete hearing/vision tests and to retrain a couple of Veolia engineers. Thank you Capital Metro for any additional details that you can provide!

  10. Life. Complicated.

    It is the same reasons that the Fall 2008 launch was announced in the middle of Fall …… There is no transparency and there is cover ups, mismanagement and poor project management.

    I would bet dollars to donuts that there is still issues with the switching along with these other issues. For it to take almost 2 months to come up with a status, is INCREDIBLE. Either you know how to solve it or you don’t. My husband predicted it would be year end before we get rail…. I doubted him. But now, I guess I do owe him the .25 cent coke we bartered over it.

    Come on CapMetro…. tell the truth – what are ALL the delays and can you commit to putting a plan into action SOONER than May 15th?

  11. Jason

    Capital Metro…you lies aren’t helping anyone. Is this recent issue with Veolia the only problem? If so, then why did your staff not know about the problem until last week when the Federal Railroad Administration brought it to your attention?

    Also, if Veolia is so horrible (which they must be since you are blaming them for everything), then why don’t you just replace them. There are other companies in the United States that also operate commuter rail systems, such as Herzog that runs the Trinity Railway Express in Dallas (by the way, Herzog is an American company, unlike Veolia that is based in France).

    This project is such an embarrasment for your agency. I hope your MetroRapid bus project does not also become a huge fiasco.

  12. Christie Loves Austin!

    It seems like most of Veolia's problems stem from poor management. Just last week Adam with Capital Metro commented: "The issues that the FRA raised on Friday have to do with two [Veolia] supervisors who train(ed)other engineers. That's why this potentially affects others who operate the trains." Then, this week we are being told that Capital Metro has asked Veolia to replace it's Director of Safety & Training. It's just my opinion, but maybe Veolia needs to make some other management changes as well so that they get the right people in the right places – people that are competent and able to run a rail transit system!

  13. jelliman

    Wow! So much anger over a 32 mile rail line – none of which is productive, although Capital Metro probably deserves most of it.

  14. Parker Beaty

    whats the point of posting anything right now capital metro is not even responding to any postings on here i think we are being ignored and starting to get the idea that what we think does not matter this is though veolia i think this is the right step to fire the saftey cordinater i think it well be next year before we even get a launch date but that comes with every new train system in the country but for now capital metros word is no good and being the 3rd or 4th time we are in a delay just raises questions i think it is time for an audit on capmetro and find out why we are doing so much but little is getting done i promise u this i well never vote for another mass transit for now untill managment changes

  15. Jamie Bemoore

    Regardless who’s fault it is, or whether Capital Metro is telling the truth or lies, the worst part is that Capital Metro has yet to even attempt to say sorry to the community. I hope that the Media Relations and Marketing staff at Capital Metro will stop acting like arogant teenagers, and that they will begin to approach this situation like a taxpayer would. Is it too much to ask for Capital Metro to take responsibility?

  16. Erica McKewen

    I understand there’s a lot of frustration. Let me try to respond to some of the recurring themes in the comments.

    After learning about the second round of violations late last week, on top of the violations from the week before, the corner office folks here at Capital Metro felt it was important to s-l-o-w down the process a bit so that everyone could be truly confident that MetroRail would be safe to operate full-service.

    Rather than arbitrarily selecting another startup date, we want to bring in some fresh eyes and reevaluate our status and timeline given what we know today and factoring in some of the remaining moving parts of this project. Selecting a May 15 date to deliver a complete report and action plan allows Veolia, Capital Metro, and the Boston rail experts ample time to identify all of the remaining risks/issues and to iron out Veolia’s training issues.

    It is true that Capital Metro has some other concerns with the project, in addition to Veolia’s safety and training issues. The problem with the “shunting” along portions of the track we identified late February is still an issue. Likewise a lot of any new rail system’s potential issues are discovered during the intensive pre-revenue testing period. We can’t complete that testing until all of Veolia’s dispatchers and engineers have been thoroughly trained.

  17. Jamie Bemoore


    Thank you for helping to answer some of our questions. I hope that Capital Metro does not s-l-o-w down too much, but I also rather have a well-built MetroRail system than something that is rushed together.

  18. Life. Complicated.

    Thank you Erica for your update. I am glad to finally see that there are other issues besides the operator ones.

    I think that we would all agree on not setting an arbitrary date but in setting something realistically. Above all else, CapMetro needs more TRANSPARENCY!

    Please keep the public informed of all issues and not just a few of them.

  19. vindobonensis

    Erica, thanks for your detailed and honest answers.

    Still, I’m puzzled why the problems you mentioned apparently were not adequately considered in the planning phase. I would imagine that in October, when the March 30 opening date was set (one year after the trains arrived), CM should have had a pretty detailed plan already to get the system running. If it is such a well known fact that a lot of a new rail system’s problems are found during intensive pre-revenue testing, why did CM only allow a few weeks for such testing?

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