Revenue service began Jan. 5 on the first light rail public transit system in Houston’s history. Built after a 20-year transportation debate, the trains began paid service after a grand opening and four days of free rides.
Opening ceremonies began on New Year’s Day when a silver train broke through a banner and rode through a cloud of confetti and the cheers of government and community leaders. Houston, one of America’s most polluted cities, was the last major metropolitan area in the United States without a public transit rail line.
A series of elections, funding questions and political controversies kept the city without rail and contributed to a severe smog problem. Still, the need for a light rail line has been debated since 1973.
“We’ve made believers out of those who thought it would never get done,” said Shirley DeLibero, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (Metro), prompting an ovation from city officials and Houston citizens.
When the first train made its run through the city, thousands gathered along the route to wave and take pictures. During the first few days of free service, trains were reportedly packed to capacity all around the city.
Not all news was immediately uplifting, however. On the first paid service day, traffic was light, and there were a few reports of a stalled train, according to the Houston Chronicle. But by late morning, several lines became very crowded.
Metro spent $324 million in the past three years constructing a 7.5-mile line that is the focal point in a planned 80-mile-long system. More trains will be phased in over the next few months.