Foxx Brings TIGER To Austin

Capital Metro President & CEO Linda S. Watson is by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx
Capital Metro President & CEO Linda S. Watson with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx following the announcement of Capital Metro’s TIGER Grant award.

Thursday marked a historic day for Capital Metro. Joined by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Capital Metro President and CEO, Capital Metro Board Chair Mike Martinez and Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, announced that Capital Metro was a recipient of an $11.3-million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grant.

The grant will enable Capital Metro to advance a number of rail improvements, including increasing the speed at which MetroRail trains operate, and beginning or completing several state-of-good- repair projects. Additionally, the funding will provide operational flexibility for future service enhancements.

The $11.3-million TIGER grant will support several commuter and freight rail enhancements at Capital Metro, including:

• Railway and signal timing improvements that will help reduce vehicle delays and rail traffic congestion.

• Commuter rail improvements, including additional sidings and double tracking in the most critical areas, which are projected to increase ridership capacity by 15 percent and reduce commute times by five to ten minutes.

• Freight rail enhancements, including the replacement of several bridges, and rail rehabilitation and realignments that will increase speeds and enhance safety while doubling freight capacity and improving reliability.

“These TIGER projects are the best argument you can make for investment in our transportation infrastructure,” said Secretary Foxx. “Projects such as Austin’s efforts to improve its freight and passenger rail network, ensure a stronger transportation system for future generations by repairing existing infrastructure, connecting people to new jobs and opportunities, and contributing to our nation’s economic growth.”

The reality is, MetroRail ridership is booming. Since the Red Line launched in 2010, ridership is up 225%, proving if you build it, they will come.

Rail Ridership Graph

And come they have. MetroRail is now averaging over 65,000 boardings a month, with trains at full capacity during peak hours. In 2012, we saw our one millionth passenger trip and it’s very clear to that demand is only going to increase as the region continues to grow.

It’s also clear that people have come to view MetroRail as one of their best options to connect to the places and events they want to go.

Take South by Southwest as an example. MetroRail first served the annual conference in 2011 and since then, ridership has increased by over 65%. But it’s not just SXSW — During the inaugural Formula 1 race at the Circuit of the Americas, MetroRail had nearly 14,000 boardings, including almost 2,000 on the special Sunday service that was added to accommodate the demand. We’re expecting even more demand for MetroRail when race fans return to Austin this November. Also, nearly 22,000 people have taken MetroRail to get to the popular Pecan Street Festival since 2010.

The Red Line certainly gets people moving, and gets them to the places they want to be. It also gets them there on time. Historically, MetroRail has an on-time performance record of 99%.

But it’s not just MetroRail ridership that’s increased — economic development along the Red Line is booming.

For example, Midtown Commons is a transit-oriented development located next to Crestview station. Prior to MetroRail, this area was a brownfield—which means it was a former petrochemicals plant. Now, it’s a vibrant and modern, mixed-use development that includes a brewery, retail shops, live & work units, and apartments—with an integrated transit plaza that provides easy access to a wide variety of destinations.

In fact, Midtown Commons Manager, Heidi Piper, has said they located their development at Crestview as a commitment to providing housing in transit-rich locations.

MetroRail has been a factor in more than $95-million in new development so far around Capital Metro’s nine stations, with another $283-million in various stages of development.

Capital Metro was one of 52 recipients of TIGER grants.

More than 585 applications totaling $9 billion in requests were received for this round’s availability of $474 million grants. The money is designated as investments in high-impact port, road, rail and transit projects.

MetroRail's Downtown Station
MetroRail’s Downtown Station

Capital Metro and Watco Companies sign great new deal for freight rail

Just before Christmas, Capital Metro and Watco Companies Austin Western Railroad LLC (AWRR) finalized a new agreement for freight service along the Giddings to Llano rail line owned by Capital Metro. The Giddings to Llano line is a total of 163 miles long and includes the 32 mile MetroRail Red Line.

Allan Roach and Linda S. Watson shake hands after signing the five-year agreement.

The Capital Metro board approved the agreement on Dec. 21, and Freight Rail Manager Charlie DeWeese, CEO Linda S. Watson and Watco Companies Senior Vice President of Business Development Allan Roach spent the remainder of the afternoon finalizing the details so they could ink the deal. Both parties had a considerable incentive to finalize the agreement before the end of 2010 so that AWRR can file for federal 45G tax credits as part of the new tax deal worked out between Congress and President Obama. By agreement, Capital Metro could receive an estimated $600,000 of the total tax credits AWRR qualifies to receive. Happy Holidays, indeed. Continue reading “Capital Metro and Watco Companies sign great new deal for freight rail”

Bridge magic

Get ready to see an amazing transformation before your eyes. Here’s what the Gilleland Creek railroad bridge in Manor looked like in February 2010:

Here’s what it looks like today (actually in late August):

Amazing, huh? Don’t let the Lincoln Log look in the “before” photo fool you.  We did everything necessary to maintain it in safe condition for our freight rail operations.  But it had definitely reached the end of its useful life span.  How old was it?  Let me put it to you this way:  I’ll be shocked if anyone reading this blog was alive when this 400-foot long bridge was first constructed (but comments from centenarians are always welcome).

Continue reading “Bridge magic”

The fate of freight

The freight rail operation is one of the lesser-known components of Capital Metro.  We blogged about the basics last month.  But what’s also important to know is not just that we carry freight on our rail line but that we have to carry it.

Back in the day when Capital Metro acquired the railroad, we inherited a federal common carrier obligation.  Basically this means we’re required to provide service to any freight customers along our line as long as the operation complies with all federal regulations (including FRA safety rules).

Our Board Rail Committee’s been discussing this since there’s a developer planning to build an ethanol distribution facility out near Decker Lane and connect to it via our freight line. Continue reading “The fate of freight”

The other pretty red trains

While MetroRail seems to get all the attention, Capital Metro’s freight rail operation is in line for some national recognition. The partnership between our freight line, known as the Austin Western Railroad, and freight customer Capitol Aggregates is a nominee for Argus Rail Business’ 13th annual Win-Win Award. More on the award in a moment.

First, here’s how our freight system works. When the MetroRail trains are tucked safely away at our rail maintenance facility, our freight contractor operates along the 162-mile line between Giddings and Llano. Continue reading “The other pretty red trains”