Austin Rolls Out the Red Carpet for the Red Line

By: Eric Bramlett

The new Capital MetroRail, known as the The Red Line, now has two completed rail cars in its hot little hands and test runs have begun on the route between Leander and downtown Austin. The long awaited light rail project will ---

By fall 2008, six new Swiss-built rail cars will be moving Austinites up and down the Red Line in state-of-the-art comfort. The zero emission, diesel-electric cars will carry up to 200 passengers each with wheelchair access, bicycle racks, high-backed seats with pull-down trays and overhead luggage storage. The slick-looking red and silver trains exceed both European and US safety standards, run more quietly than buses and can stop on a dime. The cars also come equipped with free Wifi access for commuters who can't stop checking their email. "Wifi to go" has been available on Austin express buses since 2006.

The route will feature nine stops and take just under an hour to travel from end to end. When the service launches, trains will run every half hour during weekday rush hours. The nine proposed stops along the line are the Downtown Convention Center, Plaza Saltillo, MLK Jr, Highland Mall, Crestview, Burnet, North MoPac, Lakeline and Leander.

Select stations will include park and ride facilities (Leander, Lakeline and MoPac) while others will cater to bike riders and pedestrians. All stations will be connected by improved bus service. The current plan also includes new Capital MetroRapid buses that will get commuters to their destinations 15-20% faster than regular buses. The buses will talk to traffic signals in order to have priority at intersections and stops will include signs that display the exact time the next bus will arrive.

Station designs were approved last month with some stations featuring glass canopies with artwork in the glass. The long term plan for the stations extends to the neighborhoods that host them. Following best practices for transit oriented development (TOD), the city is planning to increase housing density around all the proposed stations and produce people friendly walkable neighborhoods in these areas.

The estimated cost of the MetroRail project is 90 million which is relatively cheap for something that will bring so much growth and prosperity to the city. Piggybacking on the labor of our forefathers, the Red Line will employ 32 miles of existing freight tracks that have been in use for over 100 years.

SPEEDING INTO THE FUTURE

The population of Austin is expected to double over the next 20 years and city planners are getting ready. Capital MetroRail's Red line is just one piece of a bigger long-term vision for keeping the city on the move. Though any new extensions to the light rail system will have to be approved by a referendum, plans are well underway and include a blueprint for inter-regional commuter rail service between San Antonio, Austin, Georgetown, Round Rock and San Marcos using existing MoPac freight tracks.

Rails and Trails is another promising project that hopes to extending the city's world class urban trail system by building hike and bike trails along several rail corridors.

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