Welcome to Plaza Saltillo

Welcome to Plaza Saltillo!

Today Capital Metro welcomes the community to beautiful Plaza Saltillo Station to tour the Capital MetroRail train, pick up schedules and learn to use the new electronic ticket vending machines.

Plaza Saltillo is unique and beautiful. Inspired by the plazas of Mexican cities, and named for Austin’s sister city of Saltillo, Mexico, Plaza Saltillo was built in 1998 and boasts a beautiful courtyard and fountain, a space for outdoor vendors, and a bandstand. The city of Saltillo donated the ornate, traditional benches that are found throughout. Plaza Saltillo was a collaborative project between the city of Austin, Capital Metro, and an east Austin cultural group called Ole Mexico. Since 1998 it’s been the site of many celebrations, and today we can add one more to the list.

The presence of the bright red MetroRail steel framing for the platform–an identifying hallmark at every station–as well as the electronic ticket vending machines (not to mention the uber-sleek train itself), lends a modern edge to a plaza that is steeped in tradition and full of community memories. Soon it will serve as a gateway to downtown business, and as the first welcome to passengers who exit the train in east Austin.

Today you can be a part of it all, and be one of the first to see how fitting Plaza Saltillo is as host for Capital MetroRail. We’ll be there, as will the train, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Plaza Saltillo Station Open House
TODAY, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
412 Comal
Bus routes: 4, 320

Great Turnout in Leander

Wow! More than 1,000 people joined us today for the Capital MetroRail open house at the Leander Station. Visitors had the opportunity to tour the train, practice using the ticket vending machine and ask lots of great questions. With just a few weeks to go until the big grand opening event (Saturday, March 28– mark your calendar), it really was a amazing to see and hear how excited people are.

If you didn’t make it to today’s open house, we have more coming up this month. See Gerardo’s post for the complete schedule.

In addition to the MetroRail train, we also had an Express bus on display at today’s open house; and our friends at the Leander Fire Department showed off some of their trucks and equipment which were especially popular with the kids.

"This is only a test"

If you happened to be traveling on 183 through Leander last Thursday, you may have done a double take at the Leander Station. Several fire engines, police vehicles and ambulances were on the scene participating in a Capital MetroRail emergency preparedness drill.

The scenario: A car has collided with the MetroRail train at the Leander Station crossing. Eighty passengers onboard the train, as well as the driver of the car, have varying degrees of injury. Ready? And, go!

At 10:58 a.m., the train engineer called into dispatch to report the collision, and thus set in motion the drill. Within minutes the Leander Police Department was on the scene, followed by the fire department and EMS. The drill lasted almost four hours, and every angle of the response was analyzed and evaluated by safety experts.

What was the point? Obviously the main answer is to help us prepare for this kind of situation. “It’s new,” says Leander Deputy Fire Chief Bill Gardner. “It gives us a good opportunity to practice a unified approach.” If a crisis of this magnitude actually occurred, it would require the help of and response by multiple departments in surrounding communities.

Following the drill, the participants debriefed and got useful feedback from the evaluators. A few other drills are planned between now and the Red Line debut on March 30.

Here is some footage from the drill taken by Joe Wrubleski in Capital Metro’s training department. In the video, yours truly plays the part of newscaster. Note to self: don’t give up day job.

Come one, come all…

I hear the train a comin’, It’s rollin’ ’round the bend…….

Well not quite yet but we are preparing our community for MetroRail service starting March 30th by hosting five educational MetroRail Station open house events in February.

We are approaching very exciting times in our community with the ushering in of MetroRail service for our region. In anticipation, we are hosting community wide MetroRail Station open houses during February. At each open house event there will be a Capital MetroRail train for people to tour. We will help people understand the new ticket vending machines that will dispense rail and bus passes at each station. Capital Metro staff will be on hand to answer all of your questions about riding the train, including schedules, connector routes, riding the train with bicycles, and rail safety.

The open houses are free and open to everyone in our community. Stop by anytime during the event. Except for the Leander Open House, parking will be limited. Riding the bus or carpooling is encouraged.

Capital MetroRail Open Houses:

Leander Station – Saturday, Feb. 7
10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
800 N. US 183

Plaza Saltillo Station – Saturday, Feb. 14
10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
412 Comal Street
Bus routes: 4, 320

Crestview Station – Saturday, Feb. 21
10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
6920 North Lamar Blvd.
Bus routes: 1L/1M, 101, 300, 320, 350
Access St. Johns for limited parking at adjacent development

MLK, Jr. Station – Saturday, Feb. 21
10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
1719 Alexander Ave.
Bus routes: 18
Limited parking next to station

Downtown Station – Friday, Feb. 27
2 p.m. – 7 p.m.
401 E. 4th Street
Bus routes: All local and ‘Dillo routes

This is (not) an Emergency

“This is MetroRail #104. I just had a collision with a car at the Metro Drive crossing, and people are injured.” That’s more or less what one of our train engineers will say when he or she contacts rail dispatchers on Thursday morning around 10 o’clock. Fortunately, this is just a test. Capital Metro will stage a rail emergency drill at the crossing by the entrance to the Leander station.

It’ll be a great opportunity for Capital Metro and the first responders to practice coordinated emergency procedures in a “live” situation. We’ll try to make this as realistic as possible. Here’s the scenario: a car speeds through a railroad crossing and is struck by a train. The engineer notifies dispatch, then the dispatcher calls 9-1-1. There will be mock victims with a varying level of injuries and perhaps a few other surprises that we won’t mention ahead of time since you don’t get that kind of advanced warning in a real emergency.

Following the rescue efforts, there will be a debriefing to critique the operation. You can spend years preparing for emergencies—and believe me, we have— but you never know for sure what will happen if and when you ever have to put those plans into action.

Capital Metro meets regularly with the various police, fire and other emergency responders in the area to focus on rail safety and emergency preparedness. Thursday’s drill is just one part of the overall safety and emergency plan.

I wouldn’t want to post something about rail safety without also encouraging you to review these safety tips. I’m sure you’ve heard these things before. But despite the fact that it’s dangerous and illegal to walk on railroad tracks or drive around railroad gates, people still do it.

Capital MetroRail Schedule–First Pass

Hooray! Today I am pleased to share with you the tentative schedule for Capital MetroRail. Note the heavy emphasis on “tentative”—our planning team expects changes to the schedule based on the real-time “practice runs” that begin Feb. 12 along the entire 32-mile line.

This draft schedule allows for seven SB trips and three NB trips in the morning, and then seven NB trips and three SB trips in the afternoon–each weekday. The frequency will be every 30 minutes. See the timetables behind the cut.

Mind Your Manners on the Train

We’re not planning on any rules prohibiting you from putting on makeup while riding MetroRail. And it’s perfectly acceptable on the bus too. Hey, it’s certainly safer than doing that while you’re behind the wheel.

Apparently the rules are much stricter on Tokyo’s transit system. Check out what the good folks at TransitTalent included in their daily newsletter:

Mind Your Manners on the Tokyo Subway

To help deter embarrassing and annoying behavior on the subways in Tokyo, the transit system displays a poster each month that illustrates a particularly obnoxious breach of manners.

In addition to drunken salarymen sprawled unconscious on benches, the posters also warn against chattering cell phone users, music lovers with loud headphones, women applying make-up and inconsiderate folks with bulky belongings. View the posters.

Floridians check out Capital Metro!

Last Thursday, Capital Metro was honored with a visit by some guests from Lakeland, Florida. Sixteen of their community’s leaders, including their mayor and city manager, came to learn about many of the projects and places that have made the world-class city it is, including our favorite of all their stops–Capital Metro’s North Operations Facility. Like Central Texas, Central Florida, where Lakeland is located, has some pretty serious population issues to deal with. Lakeland is smack dab in between Orlanda and Tampa so there are about 9 million people living within 100 miles of Lakeland. Think about that. San Antonio is about 80 miles from Austin, and the population of San Antonio’s metro area is about 2 million people and the population of Austin’s metro area is about 1.6 million people. We have some 3.6 million people versus their 9 million. That is a LOT of people, which means a LOT of moving around, which means a BIG transportation question.

Suffice to say, when they visited Capital Metro, they asked a lot of questions. Their communities are also considering passenger rail. Orlando is working on a 61-mile commuter rail project and Tampa is planning for light rail. Right in the middle, Lakeland is wondering how to connect those two systems because today, Lakeland’s only mass transit is their 38-bus “Citrus Connection.” (By comparison, Capital Metro has about 400 buses.) (They should give out oranges on their buses. I learned from my coworker Adam, who used to live there, that their county, Polk, produces more citrus than the entire state of California.) So they were very interested in our ENTIRE system and how it all worked together. Their community is also a freight rail hub so our experience in owning and operating our own freight rail line, and figuring out what to do with that when passenger rail starts next spring, prompted a lot of questions. And of course, they asked about the cost of the Red Line. The director of the Lakeland Economic Development Council who organized the trip, Steve Scruggs, had done his homework in advance and reminded his team how inexpensive our system is compared to others across the country, including the systems that are being considered in Central Florida right now.

I gotta say that made me proud. And it made me proud to see how impressed they genuinely were with our entire network. I think we forget that we do have a pretty darn good system. Sure, we could use improvement but who can’t? With these kinds of trips, you realize that you do have something to be proud of and you realize that you do have stories and lessons to share. And surely they have lessons to share with us; we just didn’t have enough time to talk unfortunately. So I am prompted to do more Googling and talk to Steve more. And maybe one day I’ll visit Lakeland and see what they’ve done to move around 9 million people. And besides, I love Frank Lloyd Wright and I hear that they have the largest single collection of buildings designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright anywhere. Pretty impressive for a 38-bus town that’ll one day serve millions of riders who may one day converge upon their fair city by passenger rail.