This is only a drill!

Not the clearest picture, but this was the scene during the simulated emergency on Tuesday night. Capital Metro is required by the FRA to conduct an emergency drill at least every two years.

It sounds like the beginning of a formula cop drama on prime-time TV: the phones at the emergency call center start ringing like crazy. “We’ve crashed, we’ve crashed! There’s people hurt, we’re on the train! I don’t know where we are!”

Fortunately, when emergency dispatchers started receiving the calls Tuesday night, it was only a simulated emergency, a drill, to test Capital Metro’s and area first responders’ preparedness in the event of an actual emergency involving a MetroRail train.


Round Rock Fire Department was one of the six jurisdictions participating in the drill. Part of the test was the effectiveness of communication and coordination between different units.

Interim Manager of Security John Jones, a retired sergeant with the Austin Police Department, had meticulously planned the drill with first responders from about six jurisdictions, as well as two federal agencies, Homeland Security and the Federal Railroad Administration, over the past several months.

Twenty-one Capital Metro staff and some community volunteers (including MetroAmbassadors) served as mock passengers and victims, some with pre-determined injuries.

The gist of the drill for the responders was to locate the train (the mock accident occurred at night, in a remote section of track), establish the coordination of resources (who’s in charge?), and then mobilize the equipment needed to access the train and the passengers inside. Finally, of course, the responders would need to evacuate and treat the “victims”.

So what did we learn? Continue reading “This is only a drill!”

Spreading the word about rail safety

Now that midday service has begun, we continue to push our rail safety message in the community, especially among children.  Some of our outreach efforts include speaking to school children and parents about the dangers of railroad tracks.

Our Rail Safety Outreach Coordinator Alissa Schram has been busy today. This morning she gave a rail safety presentation to students at Pease Elementary and an hour later she was on Fox 7 talking about rail safety.  Check it out.


Fear, sadness, anger and frustration. Those are just a few of the emotions I feel when I see or hear about children playing on railroad tracks. Take a look at what we saw on the security cameras at Highland Station yesterday:

This little guy had a hard time climbing back onto the platform



It is NEVER acceptable to play on railroad tracks


I won’t elaborate on why this is dangerous and illegal. But if you’re a parent, please think of your own children. Staying safe around railroad tracks is an important lesson for the whole family.

Continue reading “STAY OFF THE TRACKS”

They’re Saaaafe!

Herzog Transit Services Inc, our commuter rail contractor since December, recently celebrated a milestone: 200 days accident-free.  Actually, the count is now 230+ days without a Federal Railway Administration reportable injury.

“It’s not a record easy to receive and we’re very proud of it,” Steven Welch, system safety and compliance manager for HTSI, said. Such a record is hard-won and easy to lose, all it takes is one unsafe strike and it’s gone.

When every day presents the challenge of hitting a home run in safety, employees must be focused. It all comes down to communication. “Before we start any task we have a job briefing and everyone understands what has to be done,” Welch said. “Our goal for safety is one day at a time.”

HTSI’s 60 employees have worked 100,000+ man-hours without an accident and are proud of their achievement. This also means that have had a perfect record of batting a thousand on safety.

Herzog has a very good industry average for safety, and it’s a great thing to hear that their performance here is no exception.

Crime doesn’t pay

Our highly-skilled MetroRail engineers are trained to be on the lookout for anything and everything. Here’s a photo of what one engineer spotted this morning near Wilshire Boulevard:

Of course, entering the railroad right-of-way is a big no-no whether you’re on foot or in your old pickup truck. More seriously, it’s extremely dangerous. As it turns out, trespassing wasn’t the only crime this truck driver committed, according to police. I’ll let Fox-7 tell you the rest of the story: Continue reading “Crime doesn’t pay”

Everyone’s a comedian

Clever column by Statesman editorial writer Ken Herman today:

Ready, set, rail: Austin, are you ready to ride
Ken Herman, Austin American-Statesman

Austin enters the rail era Monday. This comes at least a year late and several generations after much of the rest of the civilized world and France did so.

Capital MetroRail’s first southbound train leaves Leander at 5:25 a.m. With it rides questions about our long-overdue Red Line.

First is what we will call it. Will we say, “I’m going to catch ‘the train’ ”? Will we call it the Metro, the way folks in several cities refer to their local train service? Will it be “Capital MetroRail,” the somewhat formal moniker Cap Metro seems to prefer? Continue reading “Everyone’s a comedian”

All Eyes (and cameras) on Rail

I always feel like somebody’s watching me (apologies to Rockwell) on MetroRail station platforms.  And I’m glad someone’s watching to help keep things safe and secure.  Capital Metro has a comprehensive system of rail platform security cameras, 38 in all, spread out among the nine rail stations (not mention the 16 internal and external cameras on board each MetroRail vehicle which constantly record).

The platform cameras are monitored 24-hours a day by security staff and rail dispatchers to observe any unusual or unsafe activity; they can send an officer out immediately if needed.  For example, rail dispatchers recently spotted this truck encroaching in the railroad right-of-way near the MLK station:

5-yard penalty for encroachment (and the real penalties and dangers are more severe)

Continue reading “All Eyes (and cameras) on Rail”

Doug Meets the Press

Alissa Schram, Doug Allen and Elaine Timbes preach rail safety to the news media

About once a month we invite the news media to come in and sit down with the boss, Doug Allen, for a casual conversation about all things Capital Metro. The popular topic du jour this time was—big surprise—MetroRail with an emphasis on rail safety.

Here’s a look at a couple of the TV stories that ran Tuesday evening: Continue reading “Doug Meets the Press”

A full house at Webb

One of the education outreach efforts we’ve been conducting is in-school rail safety education for students, teachers, and parents at schools within a two-mile radius of the Red Line.  To date, we’ve reached out to more than 33,000 students in Central Texas.  Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting to approximately 600 students, staff and parents at Webb Middle School, which is close to the Crestview and Highland rail stations.  While this is definitely one of the largest groups I’ve presented to, it was wonderful to see the excitement students and teachers have for MetroRail.  From interacting with students, it was great to hear that many of them currently ride Capital Metro buses.

This is what 600 students looks like... I took this on my phone before the presentation started at Webb.

Having lived and grown up immediately adjacent to our Red Line in East Austin near 5th & Comal, I intimately understand that the only trains many of the kids have seen is the slower moving, loud freight trains that one can hear from as far away as a quarter mile, and many do not fully understand the dangers- as I didn’t growing up- of walking down the tracks or being in the rail right-of-way.  Continue reading “A full house at Webb”

Anatomy of a Railroad Crossing

When a train approaches a railroad crossing, it triggers a signal to activate the lights and gates. Simple enough, huh? Not so fast. There’s a lot more to a railroad crossing than what you see as you’re passing by. There are a number of different technologies in play along the MetroRail line. And for those crossings that happen to be near busy intersections with traffic lights, Capital Metro has added or upgraded an additional technology known as signal preemption.

The Austin American-Statesman took a closer look at crossing signal technology. Check out the Statesman’s graphic which illustrates how the system works. Here’s the story:

Continue reading “Anatomy of a Railroad Crossing”