About Us

Make a Donation
Fully-Local • Non-Partisan • Public-Service Journalism

Capital Metro’s interim CEO apologizes for MetroRail delays

Tuesday, October 20, 2009 by Kimberly Reeves

Capital Metro Interim CEO Doug Allen, in an address to the CAMPO Transit Working Group Monday, said the transit agency made crucial mistakes in the process of developing the 32-mile MetroRail line that is now projected to be about a year behind its original start date.

“Capital Metro made mistakes,” Allen said. “We acknowledge those mistakes. We all want to learn what lessons are there. We’ve begun that process to make changes.”

Allen’s explanation of the Red Line commuter rail line’s delays amounted to an apology and an admission that poor decisions were made by the agency in regards to developing the project over the last four years.

Allen took over last week for long-time CEO Fred Gilliam, who ushered the project from its beginning to its current holding pattern. At the same time Allen was talking to the CAMPO Transit Working Group, the Capital Metro board was honoring the retiring Gilliam for his years of service.

The anticipated start date for the rail was last March. Cars won’t roll until next spring, if that. The Transit Working Group was seeking answers as to what went wrong.

During his presentation, however, Allen made a point of saying that the cost of the MetroRail project – an estimated $105 million – was well spent, and that the agency clearly could have spent three times that much in order to create a rail line with the proper double tracking, additional rail cars and expanded service for the area.

At the time of the vote for rail back in 2004, Capital Metro’s first priority was to be on budget and to be on time, Allen said. That would have dictated a start date of 2008.

Unfortunately, Allen said, the budget and timeline were created too early, without properly consulting experts and before the agency had a handle on the true problems it would face on the line. For instance, the agency brought in experts on light rail, rather than commuter rail, which led to unnecessary additional delays. And complications with the complex signal system caused even greater problems.

Capital Metro planned for a $60 million start-up line, with additional lease costs for rail cars, up to $34 million. Management insisted on a budget of $90 million, which would tap Capital Metro’s reserve funds.

Despite the effort, the actual cost ended up being $10 million more, and resistance to additional changes led to unnecessary constrictions and delays that would mean more cost on issues such as maintenance.

 “We deeply regret those issues that have happened,” Allen said. “Once the system opens, it will be a good system, one that people can take a lot of pride in. A lot of people are very interested in the application of this technology we are using.”

Cap Metro had applied for $81 million in federal TIGER TIFIA loans, connected to the stimulus package. The funding, if approved, would allow the transit agency to begin the process of additional double tracking of the rail line between Howard Lane and Downtown Austin to expand the capacity for the Red Line.

Join Your Friends and Neighbors

We're a nonprofit news organization, and we put our service to you above all else. That will never change. But public-service journalism requires community support from readers like you. Will you join your friends and neighbors to support our work and mission?

Back to Top