CapMetro unveils downtown MetroRail designs, as Austin rail conversation heats up again

During a Wednesday open house, CapMetro showed off their nearly-done designs for the new downtown MetroRail station coming in 2021.

"We're really excited that the new station will have 5 trains, 3 tracks, new custom architectural features and a new public plaza," Marcus Guerrero with Cap Metro said.

Cap Metro's Sam Sargent says, thanks to a TXDOT grant, four more vehicles were added to the fleet recently. So they beefed up the schedule with 3 additional trips in the morning and afternoon and CapMetro is working on improving how often the trains run.

Sargent says right now they're at 34-minute frequencies during peak times.

"As part of a Federal grant we're adding 3 additional places for our trains to pass. These passing points are going to be at Lakeline, Howard and Crestview Station and that's going to allow us by the end of the year we hope to get those frequencies down to about 20 minutes," Sargent said.

Sargent says longer term, the plan is to put double tracking on the whole 32-mile stretch of the Red Line. And when the downtown station is built, frequencies are expected to be in the 12 to 15 minute range. "The Red Line is sometimes controversial but it's an investment we've already made so we should continue to invest in making it more efficient," said J.D. Gins.

Gins is Council Member Greg Casar's appointee on the Urban Transportation Commission

Gins supported the 2014 Project Connect plan for more Austin rail that voters ultimately didn't approve.

"I think a lot of people would argue that that was the wrong plan. When you have most of your vocal transit advocates against the plan you're putting forward you're probably climbing up the wrong hill," Gins said.

Gins says rail advocates are still working hard to get something on a ballot. Possibly in 2020.

"With Cap Metro showing potentially that Lamar and South Congress could be the backbone of a new system, I think you're going to see a lot more support," Gins said.

He's referring to images that surfaced on social media last week of a potential 12-mile, more than $2 billion rail line in the center of Austin.

The idea piqued the interest of those hoping for ways to beat Austin traffic.

Gins says rail advocates should be honest about it taking billions of dollars to build a rail system that could benefit the whole region. "If the first phase is working, then you bring the next piece forward so it's not going to be a one-time $3 billion but it is a costly thing. But when we look at it compared to say tearing down I-35 and re-shaping I-35 completely, that's not even guaranteeing to actually change the output of traffic through I-35," Gins said.

CapMetro says they have track that goes to Manor, it's just being used for freight now so they're looking at that as well as corridors within the city of Austin.

They say construction on the new Red Line passing points is happening at Lakeline and Howard right now. Crestview will start in a month. And the work is expected to take the rest of the year.

CapMetro says the new and improved 20-minute frequencies will be ready to go either in January or next June.