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New MetroRail trains roll into Austin

Friday, March 24, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

With the arrival of tens of millions of dollars’ worth of new equipment, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority is approximately half a year away from beefing up its tenth most popular route.

On Thursday, workers at the agency’s North Operations and Maintenance Facility off Burnet Road unloaded six new pieces of Swiss-manufactured components that will combine to form two fresh MetroRail trains.

The additions to the fleet have been long in the making and are still at least five months away from being inserted into the daily lineup of commuter train service that stretches 32 miles from Leander to downtown Austin.

Capital Metro used a portion of a $50 million grant the Texas Department of Transportation awarded it in 2014 to purchase the new cars and engines from Swiss-based Stadler Rail. The agency paid $28 million for the new vehicles and spent the difference on enhancing the rail line itself along with expanding the Downtown Station in order to allow for more capacity and frequency.

After seven years of operation, Capital Metro says the Red Line – also known as the No. 550 – has reached its ceiling for potential riders. The new trains will relieve the standing-room-only pressure that passengers currently experience during peak hours.

According to the agency data obtained through a public information request, the Red Line carried an average of 2,752 riders per day in the fall of 2016. That places it as the tenth-most popular route in Capital Metro’s oeuvre. The No. 7 ranks first with 7,862 passengers, though the No. 1 and No. 801, which largely share the same path, combined to serve 12,033 riders per day.

Per Capital Metro’s recently adopted long range service plan known as Connections 2025, the Red Line will eventually run seven days a week with peak time frequencies of 15 minutes. The agency projects that annual MetroRail ridership will increase to 1,444,645 in 10 years, or 3,958 per day. That falls short of a projection made in an agency-sponsored document from 2007 that estimated 17,000 riders per day by 2025.

Once the new trains are assembled, the agency will spend the next five to six months testing them. Eventually two more complete train sets will arrive. Once the railroad and station improvements are completed and the testing is finalized, the agency will introduce the new vehicles into service.

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