News Column

Texas Transit Sees Changes, Good and Bad

Sep 6 2013 6:24AM

Austin's passenger and freight rails will run five to 10 minutes faster with upgrades from a federal transportation grant, but the city's request for a grant to replace aging transit buses was denied.

Capital Metro applied for a $20 million grant and received $11.3 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The revised cost of the transportation upgrade project will be around $26 million. The grant will provide $11.3 million and Capital Metro, with the help of freight businesses that operate in the area, will provide the rest.

The grant money will be used solely on upgrades to infrastructure that will allow the rails to double their freight capacity and help it deal with increasing ridership.

Average daily boardings on the MetroRail have more than tripled since the line opened in 2010. The improvements will increase ridership capacity by 15 percent as well as increasing operating speeds.

"What people really want is their time back," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx at a press conference on Tuesday. "They're working hard trying make it home for dinner or a soccer game with their kids. That five to 10 minutes that they will save because of the upgrades, that matters to people."

The funding will also provide safety improvements to existing rails.

Passengers should start seeing the effects of the improvements about two years after construction begins, said Melvin Clark, vice president of rail operations for Capital Metro.

Almost 42 percent of Capital Metro's original $53.3 million plan was designated for buying 45 new Compressed Natural Gas buses for $22.5 million. The Capital Metro board has set a goal of having a fleet made up of half CNG buses and half diesel buses, which has become more urgent as many of the fleet's buses are old.

"It is disappointing that we're not going to be able to move forward with a CNG fleet," said Capital Metro board chair and city councilman Mike Martinez.

Martinez added that the conversion to CNG is still a big focus in Capital Metro's long-term financial plan and that the transit authority is searching for ways to fund it.


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