Riding that crowded train

Metro ponders its options for dealing with potential delays in the delivery of new railcars.

Metro officials said Wednesday that the best solution to an expected shortage of railcars might be to limit trains on the main light rail line to one car rather than two, freeing up cars from the current fleet to serve new lines scheduled to open in September.

Currently, Metro tethers two cars together most of the time on the decade-old Main Street line to ensure sufficient capacity.

Officials acknowledged that the decision would frustrate riders, likely leading some to abandon using the line.

“If you try to use our current fleet to run East and Southeast,” said board member Christof Spieler, referring to the new lines set to open this year, “that means leaving passengers behind.”

Officials are waiting for 39 new railcars from the manufacturer, CAF U.S.A., but they still don’t know exactly when the cars will arrive. At least two are likely to be in service by September, Metro officials said.

The company is months behind a schedule that calls for it deliver the final car by September, and it has yet to deliver a viable vehicle. The first car to arrive in Houston came in December – five months late – and still hasn’t passed a key leak test. The train also exceeds weight specifications, meaning it will cost more to operate.

Metro’s board met Wednesday to examine options for operating the new East and Southeast lines and the existing Red Line with the agency’s 37-train fleet. Both new lines are on pace to open in September, said David Couch, vice president of rail construction for Metro.

To have trains arrive every 12 minutes on the two new lines, and assuming no CAF cars arrive by opening day, Metro will have to pull 10 trains from the current route.

See here for the background. Assuming that the two that Metro thinks are likely to show up on time do so, then eight cars will need to be diverted. If “at least two” turns out to mean “more than two”, so much the better. On the other hand, any unexpected maintenance will be that much more disruptive. I don’t see how Metro has much choice for how to deal with this in the short term, so it’s really just a question of how short the short term is. A month, maybe two months, to get enough cars in so that the Main Street line doesn’t need to be cannibalized any more, that’s probably not a big deal. Longer than that, especially if the deadlines are fuzzy and promises get broken along the way, that’s a problem. Other than be prepared to sue for damages if it comes to that, I don’t know what else Metro can do about it right now.

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2 Responses to Riding that crowded train

  1. Bayard Rustin says:

    Isn’t this a problem that could have been anticipated? Who at METRO was in charge of this? Has he or she been reprimanded or terminated? The hangover from the Frank Wilson years seem to never end. Tom Lambert does not inspire confidence.

  2. The Dude says:

    I mean the option that seems relatively straight forward that no one is talking about: simply delay the opening of the other lines in order not to impact current service levels. Uh, duh!

    Lets think about it for a second too: your mainline is probably going to have higher revenue per trainload anyways because it has a decade of ridership built up, so by moving trains off the main route you might see an see an increase in revenue per trainload on the main line as more people catch less trains but the incremental increase probably won’t offset the loss in ridership that you see some less frequency (therefore leading to a net decrease in revenue from the mainline). Meanwhile, you’ll have less riders on your new routes but the same cost to operate the trains, meaning you’ll have the same operating cost per train but less revenue than you did before the new lines came online.

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