Capital Metro to upgrade rail warning system at six crossings

Capital Metro Rail Operations staff recently completed an assessment of the handful of private crossings along the 32-mile MetroRail Red Line.

Today at the Capital Metro Operations & Planning Committee meeting, VP of Rail Operations Melvin Clark outlined the assessment and our recommendations. The good news is that all of the private crossings meet Capital Metro’s standards.

The better news is that the assessment gives us an opportunity to review and update our standards for private crossings. Melvin reported to the board committee our plans to standardize the private crossings and install flashing light warning signals, as well as pursue closure of several private crossings as part of its ongoing commitment to safety.

We will install flashing warning lights at six private crossings—one per year over the next six years. It costs an estimated $200,000 per crossing to install the lights. Although the Federal Railroad Administration does not require warning lights as private crossings, we’ve programmed these upgrades to enhance safety along the commuter line.

We are also standardizing the crossing surface of each private crossing along the Red Line to asphalt or concrete panels. Three private crossings in the assessment had a gravel (they call it ballast in the railroad industry) crossing surface, which requires more ongoing maintenance depending on the volume of motor vehicle traffic. One of the three private crossings has already been resurfaced with concrete panels, and the remaining two crossings will be resurfaced over the next two months.

Ultimately, it is still up to the driving public to obey public safety and traffic laws. Capital Metro has an ongoing rail safety education program to raise awareness of rail safety issues. This fall, Capital Metro will launch a rail safety campaign to reach rural communities along Capital Metro’s freight railroad. Learn more about rail safety.

Introducing Our 1st MetroBike Shelter at Kramer Station!

You love your effortless, on-time ride with MetroRail, but we know you have another sweet ride of the two-wheel variety. Now we want to show your bike some love, too, with our new MetroBike Shelter at Kramer Station opening  August 6, 2012.

MetroBike Cards will be available for purchase online only beginning today. Sale of MetroBike Cards will initially be limited to the first 50 customers.  Register and purchase at: www.capmetro.org/metrobike/

At Kramer Station, cyclists getting on/off the train will be able to pick-up/leave their bike at the destination stop in a secure sheltered area to ride to/from the train.  The new service will provide a safe, convenient choice for some cyclists that will reduce crowding on the trains.

Security is enhanced by a fully-enclosed, double wire mesh shelter, allowing for full visibility of its contents, with member-only entry requiring a MetroBike card.  This is combined with the use of your personal lock that secures your bike onto a standard inverted-U rack located inside the shelter. Learn more and purchase.

MetroBike Shelter is at your service when:

  • You don’t feel like standing with your bike on the train.
  • You need more space (one person with a bike takes the space of four people standing).
  • You know it’s going to be too packed to board with your bike.
  • You don’t want to leave your bike out in the rain.
  • You just don’t feel like lugging your two-wheeled baby all the way home.

MetroBike Shelter features include:

  • Secured, limited card key access using a MetroBike Card.
  • Fully enclosed bike parking for up to 24 bikes.
  • 24-hour access, lighting, camera surveillance.
  • Sitting area for changing shoes, etc.
  • Repair rack for minor bike repairs.
  • Double wire, fully enclosed cage with a metal roof.

The MetroBike card is a coded plastic card, available ONLINE ONLY with registration at a discounted, limited-time-only introductory pricing of $30/year.

This is a new service. More MetroBike shelters are planned for 2013-14, and the MetroBike card will provide entry to all shelters as they open.

Portraits of Freedom: Juneteenth MetroArt

The city is buzzing with excitement as Austin readies itself for the annual Juneteenth celebration.

We are equally excited about the upcoming festivities. Walking and riding in the annual Juneteenth parade has been a tradition of Capital Metro.

To get the bus ready for the parade, we’re inviting Austinites to help us create Portraits of Freedom, a community MetroArt project consisting of hundreds of self-portraits made out of vinyl and installed on a 35-foot bus. Portraits will be created by the general public, 100 students at AISD schools, and Capital Metro operators and staff, in collaboration with the Carver Museum and Cultural Center and Theatre Action Project (TAP).


Juneteenth, also known as “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day,” is the oldest known African American celebration commemorating the end of slavery. Slaves were declared free on January 1, 1863, under the Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln, which declared that all slaves living in states still in rebellion were “then, thenceforward, and forever free.” However, African Americans in Texas were not aware of the proclamation, until June 19, 1865, when General Gordon Granger, the commander of U.S. Troops in Texas, arrived in Galveston and read General Order 3:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”

On January 1, 1980, a bill was passed making Juneteenth an official Texas state holiday.

Portraits of Freedom honors both the spirit of Juneteenth and the eastside community today. 1865 was a time when one’s identity was oft attempted to be defined by others. Portraiture, by definition, is an artistic representation of a person in a particular moment in time. By creating a portrait in your own image and by your own hand, it is a declaration of having the freedom to define who you are, as you see yourself in that moment in time. Collectively, our portraits define the multifaceted face of our community and city.

The community is invited to join in the MetroArt-making fun this Saturday, June 16, 2012, 12pm to 4pm, as a part of the Carver Museum’s Juneteenth Family Fun Day. Activities, including music, food, games and fun, are FREE and open to the public. For more information on the Family Fun Day, please visit http://www.austintexas.gov/event/juneteenth-carver or call the Carver at 512-974-4926. Look for the Capital Metro bus in the north parking lot, near Kealing Middle School.

Be sure to come see the Portraits of Freedom bus riding in the annual Greater East Austin Youth Association’s Juneteenth parade and celebration on Tuesday, June 19th, 10am to 12pm, For more information on the parade, including the parade route, please visit http://www.juneteenthcentraltexas.com/

We are looking forward to celebrating a happy and safe Juneteenth. With active MetroRail service running throughout the week, please visit www.stayoffthetracks.com to view rail safety reminders for you and your family.

Expanded MetroRail service prompts new look at parades and rail safety

The annual Austin Juneteenth parade, sponsored by the Greater East Austin Youth Association, is right around the corner, Tuesday, June 19. Capital Metro is proud to continue its long-standing participation with the Juneteenth celebration.


This year, for the first time, MetroRail trains will be in full operation during the time of the parade. The parade route has traditionally ended at the Rosewood Park rail crossing, which will see MetroRail trains passing by an average of every 18 minutes on the morning of the parade.  Because the safety of the community is the number one priority for the event organizers and Capital Metro, the parade route will be slightly detoured away from the Rosewood rail crossing.

 Beginning this week, Capital MetroRail trains are traveling just a wee bit faster along the line (15% reduction in travel time from end to end), allowing us to add another morning and evening round trip. With the recent addition of Friday night and Saturday MetroRail service, too, it becomes clear that the community should “always expect a train.”

The Juneteenth parade procession will travel its traditional route heading east on MLK, south on Chicon, and east on Rosewood, and now turn north onto Chestnut, east onto Pleasant Valley and end at New York Drive.

Likewise, the annual Republic of Texas Bike Rally begins this Friday, and up to 20K motorcycles will make their way from the Travis County Expo Center to downtown on Friday evening. The procession route included crossing the Rosewood rail crossing, and we advocated to modify that route as well.

Our city is growing and changing fairly rapidly, and although the decision to modify these long-standing traditional parade routes was not made lightly, it was a necessary decision.

Capital Metro is helping to get the word out about the Juneteenth parade route change. Check out the new route map.

Now would be a great time to review some basic rail safety tips with your family. Here are a few good ones:

  • Cross tracks ONLY at designated pedestrian or roadway crossings
  • Always stop, look both ways and listen for trains before crossing the tracks.
  • Flashing red lights signal that a train is approaching from either direction.
  • Never walk around or behind lowered gates at a crossing.
  • Do not cross the tracks until the lights have stopped flashing
  • Teach your children the importance of crossing the tracks safely – “Stop, look and listen”.
  • Hold on to your child when a train approaches and when walking across railroad tracks.
  • Walking or biking along railroad tracks is very dangerous and considered trespassing.

We hope to see you at the Juneteenth celebration. Look for the “Portraits of Freedom” bus decorated by neighborhood youth in the parade. Have a safe and happy Juneteenth!

Ride MetroRail to Pecan Street Festival May 5

Pecan Street Festival
Why is the festival called Pecan Street Festival?

Did you know 6th Street didn’t always have the same name?

6th Street used to be named Pecan Street! Whoa!

I sure didn’t until know that until I checked out their page. But, now that I have your attention let’s blow your mind some more…

MetroRail STARTING @ 10AM SATURDAY, May 5!

So, as you plan your trip out to this year’s Pecan Street Festival, check out our website for a special MetroRail schedule made just for you, to make your life just a little bit easier!

The festival will take over 6th Street for two days (May 5 & 6)  of food, music and art. Check out the multiple bus stops around the 6th Street area and consider riding the rail there as it conveniently stops along 4th and Trinity.

– Bus stops:

 

So many routes that can take you downtown!

– North/South: 1L/1M, 3, 5, 7, 10, 17, 30, 101, 127, 142

– East/West: 4, 21, 122

 

– MetroRail: On Saturdays, MetroRail runs from Lakeline to Downtown (with six stops in between)

– Starts running at 10 AM on Saturday, May 5

– $2.75 per one-way ticket (buy a round-trip ticket to save time–$5.50)

– After you get off at Downtown Station, you only need to walk two blocks north to find all the Pecan Street Festival action on 6th Street

Pecan Street Festival website says it best:

Local musicians provide entertainment on three stages. The festival is the largest art festival in Central Texas, attracting over 300,000 people per event and generating $43 million in economic impact.  Like Austin itself, Pecan Street Festival attendees are diverse. Festival admission is free, so people from all walks of life flock to the streets. Some come to buy art. Some come for food, others for the music, but they all come to take part in a tradition that is 100% Austin and has been known for the last 33 years as a great way to spend a weekend.

While you’re out on the Rail, Bus or at the Festival, Tweet at us at @CapMetroNews!

Proposed June 2012 Service Changes

Capital Metro changes service three times a year, in conjunction with UT and AISD academic calendars. The following is a summary of proposed changes for June 2012:

Summer reductions – UT Shuttle service is reduced during the summer to reflect ridership and enrollment. Ebus service and select trips targeting high-ridership middle schools are suspended until August.

MetroRail schedule adjustment – 1 morning round-trip and 1 afternoon round-trip would be added (including a much-desired 5:55pm Downtown departure). A midday trip would be shortened from Lakeline to Howard to accommodate freight rail. Travel times would also be reduced by 15 percent.

Route realignment to improve customer access – CR Cameron Rd shuttle would be realigned to the Mueller redevelopment (Dell Pediatric Research Institute and Moasic Apartments). Route 18 MLK, Jr./Enfield would be realigned out of MLK Station. A stop would be added at MLK at Alexander Ave.

Schedule adjustments due to high ridership – Saturday frequency on Route 1L/1M North Lamar/South Congress would be improved from 16-20 to 13-18 minutes. This improvement will benefit many weekend customers. It’s important to note that service improvements to Route 1L/1M North Lamar/South Congress on Saturdays would be made possible by the following service reductions:

Schedule adjustments due to low ridership – Early morning frequency on Route 5 Woodrow/South Fifth would be reduced from 40 to 50 minutes. Select trips on Route 935 Tech Ridge would be consolidated to improve efficiency. We have seen a strong correlation between gas prices and commuter ridership and will continue to monitor both closely. Select trips on Route 135 Dell Limited would be eliminated as a result of Route 935 changes. Route 499 Day Labor would be eliminated.

A critical component of the service change process is public involvement. Customer feedback helps Capital Metro fine-tune the service change package and ultimately improve service.

Click here for more information on all of the service change proposals, including details on how to provide feedback.

Season for Caring story highlights Austin man’s love of trains

I enjoy reading the Austin American-Statesman during December each year, when they profile the selected recipients for their Season for Caring.  On Monday, the paper highlighted feisty James Ferguson, who enjoys trains and once took an Amtrak trip to Chicago and back just to say he’d done it. I’m not sure whether he’s ridden MetroRail or how he likes it, but something tells me it’s right up his alley. You can get involved with the Season for Caring by visiting the Statesman’s website.

JAMES FERGUSON: Taking life’s journey alone
Austin American-Statesman
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Written by Kirk Bohls

James Ferguson (left), 66, loves trains so much that he once took one to Chicago just say he'd been there. Ferguson says his favorite job was selling roses on a street corner because he had no boss. Photo courtesy: Ralph Barrera AMERICAN STATESMAN

James Ferguson has always liked trains.

 He’s not sure why or when his fondness for that mode of travel first sprung. But the 66-year-old Texan has always had an affinity for train travel.

 Inspired by talk show host Jerry Springer, who said everyone ought to travel to Chicago once in a lifetime, Ferguson hopped aboard an Amtrak train when he was younger and headed toward Chicago.

It wasn’t all he was counting on. The sleeping car that he thought he had booked wasn’t to be found, and he spent much of the trip sleeping in coach. Once he arrived in Chicago, he booked a room in a budget hotel and returned home the next day.

 “Jerry Springer said a trip to Chicago never hurt anyone,” Ferguson said. “I was only there one night. I saw all the tall buildings. And I can say I have been to Chicago. I don’t know why, but I just like trains. I love to watch freight trains, and I love to hear a train whistle.”

 The life journey that the Lampasas native has taken also has been fraught with trouble and obstacles. He never knew his father and stayed only briefly with an alcoholic mother before he was shuttled between foster parents and Austin State School, where he spent a dozen years and made a lot of friends.

Read the full article from the Austin American-Statesman.

 

Rail Safety Day

In observance of International Level Crossing Awareness Day (ILCAD), Capital Metro is once again reminding you to be safe around railroad tracks. Motorists and pedestrians should ALWAYS expect a train along any railroad tracks and obey all warning signals and signs.

ILCAD is being recognized in 40 countries worldwide today with the purpose of increasing the spotlight on railroad crossing safety. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, railroad crossing collisions and pedestrian trespassing on tracks together account for over 95 percent of all railroad fatalities.

Fortunately, there have been no fatalities along the MetroRail corridor. However, we have caught adults and children sitting or walking along the tracks and vehicles not obeying warning signals at crossings, which in one case led to a collision. Watch the video below for a collection of some of these incidents.

Over the past few years, Capital Metro has created a comprehensive rail safety program that has become a national model for other transit agencies. Capital Metro with assistance from the community-based volunteer coalition GROW (Grassroots Rail Outreach Working group) and the national rail safety non-profit organization Operation Lifesaver,  have worked to educate the community on rail safety reaching approximately 75,000 local residents.

If you would like to learn more about rail safety, check out these links:
capmetro.org/MetroRail/Safety.asp
stayoffthetracks.com
oli.org

If you are interested in a presentation for your school, neighborhood, or organization, please contact Alissa Schram at alissa.schram@capmetro.org or (512) 369-7759.

“Last Mile” Bike Share

Each bike includes a helmet, bike lock, and a waterproof cover.

Capital Metro has been talking with some businesses located near the Red Line about employer-sponsored vanpools from a MetroRail station to the employer’s facility. Several employees with a similar work schedule could ride in on the train, and then share a van for the last leg of the trip to work. Capital Metro set up one of these special vanpools from Plaza Saltillo for our own employees who work at one of the two Capital Metro facilities  on Pleasant Valley.

Today Capital Metro unveiled a new option for our employees to navigate the “last mile” between the train station and work: a bike-share program between our facilities and Plaza Saltillo. Employees who need to head north or go downtown for meetings can check out a bicycle, ride down to Plaza Saltillo and lock it up there to board the train. The bicycles offer more flexibility than the set schedule for the vanpool program, and it also provides another way to encourage physical activity.

The bike share program is a pilot program to see what kind of interest there is, and also to learn what challenges might need to be addressed to make the program successful long-term. A bike share program might be a good model for other businesses who want to encourage alternate commuting, reduce their parking costs, and increase the activity levels of their employees. Continue reading ““Last Mile” Bike Share”

Announcing: MetroRail Friday evening and special event service dates

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect that actual frequencies for most of the Saturday trains will be about 35 minutes.

So far, just about everyone who’s tried the MetroRail Red Line has really liked it. The ride is comfortable, reliable, and congestion-free. There’s interesting scenery and free wi-fi too.  As of last week, we’ve begun running midday service  and to a degree expanded the “market” we serve  beyond those  peak period commuters.  But we want to do more.

And we will. While funding limitations constrained the FY ’11 budget, our board of directors did have the foresight to include some trial service, namely four Fridays of extended evening service and three “special event” weekend service days. We’ve been evaluating how and when to best deliver this service, factoring in things like coordination with our freight rail operations, ensuring compliance with Federal Rail Administration requirements, ridership potential, and timing (we want to be able to evaluate the results and factor them into our FY 2012 budget development process which begins late Spring). And very importantly we wanted to give the community a chance to provide input, which we did over a few weeks via an online poll. As with other service adjustments, staff takes all the various factors into account and then makes a recommendation to the board.

We’re excited to announce our recommendation here at Capital Metroblog, and it’s as follows:

Friday Evening Extended Hours– every Friday in March (March 4, 11, 18 and 25) we’ll extend MetroRail service into the evening hours, with service running every 70 minutes from the Leander Station to the Downtown Station, and the last trip scheduled to depart the Downtown Station at 11:30 p.m. While we know that this is not as late as some might like, it will offer a broad range of the community the opportunity to try MetroRail to visit downtown or one of the other station areas outside of the typical commute period.

Special Event Service– All day service is slated to operate on the following days: March 12 and March 19 (take the train to SXSW!); and May 7 (take the train to the Pecan Street Festival!). March 19 and May 7 were both popular choices in the poll; March 12 was added to the planning discussion after the poll ended so that we could offer Friday evening and all day Saturday service for both weekends of SXSW. To provide more frequent service  and more people-carrying capacity on what we hope will be very busy weekends, we’re proposing to operate between Lakeline Station and the Downtown Station only. The reason for this approach is that it allows us to provide a train every 35 minutes for most of the day. If we were to operate all the way to Leander, due to track and train constraints, service levels could not run as often and capacity would be reduced.

Continue reading “Announcing: MetroRail Friday evening and special event service dates”