Photo courtesy Capital Metro
The Capital Metro board of directors approved Feb. 27 to expand MetroRail service hours to include Friday nights and Saturday, leaving Austin City Council with the final decision.
The expanded service would allow trains to run every 60 minutes between 7 p.m. and midnight on Friday and every 35 minutes between 4 p.m. and midnight on Saturday. Service on Friday will run to the Leander station, but Saturday service will start and end at the Lakeline station.
“Part of the purpose of this is to test the market and find out what the demand is,” said Todd Hemingson, Capital Metro's vice president of strategic planning and development.
The new service starts March 23. Capital Metro already approved weekend service for four Fridays and two Saturdays in March for the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference. The transit authority also tested weekend service in March 2011 for SXSW and saw boarding numbers increase to about 5,000 people per day, staff reported. Capital Metro sees about 1,800 boardings per day for weekday service.
The expanded service passed with a 5–0 vote, with board chair Mike Martinez and board member Chris Riley recusing themselves because they sit on City Council. Council is scheduled to vote on the service at its March 1 meeting.
Expanding the hours will cost Capital Metro an additional $5 million to run the additional service through Jan. 15, 2014. The transit authority has an interlocal agreement with the City of Austin, which is paying for the service up front on a quarterly basis. Capital Metro will reimburse the city.
Two Foster Heights residents spoke prior to the board's vote on the expanded service, asking the board to consider installing a gate at the Rosewood Avenue crossing, making it a "quiet zone."
Resident James Rath said he recalls Capital Metro promising to make all rail crossings quiet zones with the installation of gates to reduce noise from freight trains. Rath said that was especially important if council approves the weekend extension because the freight trains would have to run later at night.
Board members John Langmore and Justine Blackmore-Hlista approved the expanded service contingent upon staff researching how to install the gate this fiscal year.
“I'm very concerned about the quiet zones because it sounds like the Capital Metro board and staff made a commitment for quiet zones. It sounds like we're intensifying the service without having made good on that commitment,” Blackmore-Hlista said.
Staff said the Rosewood crossing already has some infrastructure in place, and adding the gates would cost approximately $50,000. Without existing infrastructure, the gate would cost $150,000–$200,000.
Langmore said adding the gate will become more important with the expanded hours because more freight trains will have to run at night.
Correction: This article has been changed to clarify the position of two Foster Heights residents who spoke during the citizens comment portion of the meeting.