The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) yesterday voted to award Capital Metro $50 million for the purchase of new rail cars for the agency’s MetroRail service, and the construction of a permanent and larger rail station in downtown Austin.
The funding includes $28 million for the purchase of four rail cars, which will double the capacity of the Red Line, allowing up to 2,400 additional passenger trips during morning and afternoon peak travel times. Capital Metro will also be able to increase frequency during peak periods from 34 to 15 minutes, and add an extra train after 7 p.m. to give commuters another alternative to driving during rush hour.
In addition to the rail cars, the agency will allocate $22 million to construct a permanent and enhanced MetroRail station downtown, transforming the facility into a multimodal terminal that connects with local bus service and a potential future urban rail system. The new station is expected to include up to three tracks and two platforms to accommodate future system expansion, and better serve crowds during special events. The new station configuration is estimated to cost between $30 million and $35 million, part of which will come from local partners.
MetroRail currently provides over 15,000 trips a week, with the majority of passengers passing through the downtown station. Ridership has increased 258 percent since service began in March 2010, with more than 2.3 million trips taken overall during that time. Currently, trains are at capacity weekdays during peak periods, and are heavily used during the many special events held in Austin each year, including SXSW and Formula 1.
In 2013, Capital Metro was awarded an $11.3 million federal TIGER grant through a highly competitive process that involved nearly 600 applicants. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx traveled to Austin from Washington D.C. to personally announce the grant award last September.
While the TIGER grant has allowed Capital Metro to proceed with projects to increase capacity on the 32-mile commuter line, including laying double track at strategic points, the funding did not cover additional rail cars needed to take advantage of the new capacity, or include money to replace the temporary Downtown Station with a more permanent terminal.
Austin is the 11th largest city in the country, however traffic congestion is worse in Austin than cities with greater populations, including New York City, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas and San Jose, Calif.