Houston Metro Rail right on ‘track’

A state-of-the-art light rail project being developed by METRO is scheduled to board its first passengers in early 2004. The 7.5 mile light rail line will run from downtown to south of Reliant Park following the Main and Fannin streets corridor. This corridor will link downtown, midtown, Third Ward, the Museum District, Hermann Park, the Texas Medical Center, Reliant Park, three major universities and the zoo. The light rail will eliminate about 1,200 daily bus trips in the corridor as well as boost Houston’s economy by $500 million. The light rail will be able to move 8,000 people an hour in each direction during major events such as the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, Texans football games and other major events. It will operate day and night, allowing for several hundred people to travel conveniently around the core of Houston. Students from SHSU that go to Houston often are some of the people who look forward to the new light rail. Junior Sandy Villagomez said she is excited about Houston’s new addition. “I think it’s a great idea because I won’t have to drive. I can just park and get on, and I won’t have to deal with the stress of traffic.”METRORail will not only lift the burden of parking and traffic, but will also be a convenient means of transportation for people who are under a tight budget. The price of using the METRORail will cost as much as a local bus fare. “I can totally understand how the price and service of the light rail would help students at University of Houston. I wish there was some way that we could have cheap public transportation at Sam,” said SHSU junior Jeff Mack. The METRORail trains themselves are futuristic and new, but the METRORail stations are just as intriguing. METRO’s website said the METRORail stations will be functional, practical boarding platforms, but they also will be unique, artistic additions to the neighborhoods they serve. METRO worked with the Cultural Arts Council of Houston/Harris County to select local artists to collaborate with architects and engineers to give the station its necessities such as ticket vending machines, leaning rails, seats, wind screens, canopies and individual station trademarks. METRO has also worked with community partners to secure funding for enhancements like special pavers, landscaping, sidewalk treatment, luminaries, banners, vicinity maps and other services. Passengers of the METRORail will be allowed to pre-pay their fare for the light rail before they board. Machines at or near the station will be available so passengers can buy pre-purchased passes. Random proof-of-purchase checks will take place to make sure no one violates ticket purchase rules or else fines will be charged. The METRORail website said, “this system of fare collection is commonly called self-service fare collection, Proof-of-Payment (POP) or a randomly enforced honor system. It will ensure rapid boardings and keep the trains running on schedule.” METRO will also offer passengers a “Smart Card” which enables them to use one card to pay fares on the light rail.Although the METRORail is a new technological advancement for the city of Houston, the light rail system is already encountering some disadvantages and problems.An article on construction.com said that to make space for the rail, many underground utilities must be relocated. John Sedlak, vice president of planning, engineering and construction for METRO, said this is probably the most difficult aspect of the job. “These are the most challenging locations to build an in-street light rail project,” Sedlak said. “Downtown is challenging particularly because of the extent of underground utilities to be relocated, upgraded and adjusted to accommodate the location of light rail.” The most recent difficulties that METRO has faced is citizens of Houston must vote on whether or not they want the expansion of rail lines. For expansion to occur the rail lines must be supported by federal funds. Last week the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s board of directors held a special meeting to consider amending the language on the ballots. This is all due to local Congressman, Rep. John Culberson, who released a letter from the Federal Transit Administration that said the information provided on the voters ballot would make Houston ineligible for rail funding. On Sept.19, an article in the Houston Chronicle quoted Culberson who said “Metro’s got to have an accurate ballot that tells us what we’re buying for $640 million and where they’re going to build it.” Culberson said that the ballot does not tell the public precisely how many miles are being built and where. The Metropolitan Transit Authority and Rep. John Culberson are continuing to work through this problem this week to decide if the ballot language should change and to discuss federal funding for expansion of the METRORail. By 2004, the METRORail will be in full operation and the 2004 Super Bowl will be headed to Reliant Stadium. Although the future of expansion of the METRORail is uncertain, this is an exciting time for Houstonians.

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