METRORail is the 12.8-mile (20.6 km) light rail line in Houston, Texas (USA). With an average weekday ridership of 43,900 and total annual ridership of over 11.3 million, METRORail ranks as the second most-travelled light rail system in the Southern United States and the 12th most-traveled light rail system in the United States, with the third highest ridership per track mile. METRORail is operated by the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO).
This line was built after an approximately 20-year battle, starting in 1983 when voters rejected a rail plan by referendum. A voter referendum in 1988 approved a 20-mile (32 km) light rail plan; however, Bob Lanier was elected mayor in 1992 and stopped the plan. In 1991, U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, removed $65 million in federal funding for the rail line. Then, Houston drew up a rail plan with entirely local funding. In 2001, several groups sued to stop construction, claiming that the METRO organization was a "private business" and subject to Houston City Charter provisions regulating business use of its streets; they obtained 2 temporary injunctions in January 2001, which were reversed by appeals court on March 9, 2001.
Ground was broken on the original 7.5-mile (12.1 km), 16-station portion of the line (from UH–Downtown to Fannin South) on March 13, 2001. The opening of METRORail, which took place on January 1, 2004, came 64 years after the previous streetcar system had been shut down. The cost was $324 million  Houston was the largest city in the United States without a rail system after the 1990 opening of the Blue Line in Los Angeles.
Tom DeLay strongly opposed construction of the METRORAIL line and twice blocked federal funding for the system in the United States House of Representatives. Thus the Metrorail was built without any federal funding until November 2011 when a $900 million grant was approved for expansions, under the executive order by President Barack Obama.
In spite of the opposition of some groups to the Metrorail, surveys conducted by Stephen Klineberg and Rice University have shown consistent increases in support of rail transport and decreases in support for bigger and better roads/highways in the Houston metropolitan area in recent years. Klineberg considers these changes a "paradigm shift" or "sea change" on attitudes towards mass transit.
Construction began on the 5.3-mile (8.5 km) and 9-station North/Red Line Extension from UH–Downtown to the Northline Transit Center Station in July 2009. This extension opened on December 21, 2013 (ahead of its projected opening in "early 2014"), increasing the line to its current total of 12.8 miles (20.6 km) and 24 stations.
In the first year of METRORail, ridership, though increasing from 12,102 in January to 32,941 in October, tapered off slightly in the last two months of the year, and "fell short of the 35,000 goal transit officials had set" in early 2004, according to the Houston Chronicle. The line reached 75 million boardings in December 2011, four years ahead of schedule, but throughout that year, ridership numbers remained flat or showed small decreases. By 2012, average weekday ridership was 36,250.
The North/Red Line Extension exceeded ridership projections by 62% in the first month of operation, averaging 4,200 weekday boardings in January 2014; this was 1,600 more boardings than projected for the extension through September 30, 2014 (the end of the METRORAil's fiscal year).
Notable records in ridership have occurred on the following dates:
- February 1, 2004: 64,005 passengers rode the METRORail to Super Bowl XXXVIII
- February 23, 2004: 54,193 passenger boardings were recorded, the highest weekday at the time
- February 27, 2007: 56,388 passengers were recorded the day of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo
- March 15, 2012: 70,611 passengers were recorded; many of whom attended the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and a performance by The Band Perry after the rodeo at the Reliant Park sports complex.
- March 19, 2014: 76,925 passengers were recorded due in part to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Route and infrastructure
The route is a 12.8-mile (20.6 km) double-tracked, 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge line with 24 stations approximately 1⁄2 mile (0.8 km) apart, running from Fannin South to the Northline Transit Center Station. Almost the entire route is at grade and on city streets. The original 2004 portion from Fannin South to UH-Downtown is entirely at ground-level and at-grade with street traffic. However, on the North/Red Line Extension (from UH-Downtown to Northline Transit Center two small portions are elevated - the Burnett Transit Center station  and a small section of track between Melbourne/North Lindale and Northline Transit Center on Fulton Street. Power supply is from 600/750 Volt DC overhead wires, with nine substations (for the original 2004 portion). The line follows Main Street for 8 stations from UH–Downtown to Wheeler Station, then follows Fannin Street for the remainder of the original route until Fannin South. However, northbound trains run on San Jacinto Street (rather than Fannin) for a small section of the route between the Wheeler and Museum District stations. The North/Red Extension runs along North Main Street until just after Quitman Near Northside, then turns onto Boundary Street until just before Fulton/North Central, and then runs along Fulton Street until Northline Transit Center.
The tracks are usually in the center of the street; however, the southbound tracks between the Wheeler and Museum District stations "hug the left curb" according to one source.
Significant businesses and institutions along this route include the University of Houston–Downtown, Houston's restaurant district near Preston Station, the Downtown Transit Center, Houston's museum district, Rice University, Memorial Hermann Hospital, the Texas Medical Center, and Reliant Astrodome.
A Park and Ride parking lot is available at one station: Fannin South. It has approximately 1,200 parking spaces. Parking fees included a daily rate of $3 and a monthly hangtag contract of $40. The Burnett Transit Center will have a Park and Ride facility next to the Casa de Amigos Health Center, scheduled to open in late 2014.
For the original 2004 portion of this line, the architectural firm Pierce Goodwin Alexander & Linville, of Houston, Texas, was in charge of the final architectural/engineering design and design support, with a $2.3 million contract. However, all stations south of Burnett Transit Center were designed by the Houston office of St. Louis-based architectural firm Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum. All the stations are of similar design—250-feet long and partially covered by glass roofs. Station length was constrained by the distance between crosswalks in downtown city blocks; station platforms are low-floor and 350mm high.
For the original 2004 line, the right-of-way and the stations were built by three contractors for approximately $115 million: Texas Sterling Construction Co. of Houston, Bencon Management of Houston, and Beers Construction Co. of Atlanta. The line construction was divided into five sections, with a resident engineer for each section, to speed up construction.
The line has a yard and a maintenance facility connected by loop track to the south of the Fannin South station.
METRORail currently operates a fleet of 46 light-rail vehicles, with an additional 30 on order. The original fleet of 18 Siemens S70 light-rail vehicles for the system's first line was delivered in 2003–2004, purchased for $118 million, and built in Florin, California. Each 96-foot (29 m) long, double-articulated vehicle has four low-platform doors per side, is 70% low-floor, and has a capacity of 72 seated and approximately 169 standing passengers, or a total capacity of around 241 per car. This approximately 250-person capacity has been reached on certain Super Bowl weekends. These S70 cars have a top speed of 66 mph (106 km/h). On this system, vehicles are operated as single cars or in two-car trains.
For future expansion of the METRORail system, Metro had originally turned to CAF USA, with a total order of 105 cars. This order was cancelled in February 2011 as it did not comply with the "Buy America" Act. CAF gave a refund, which METRO will apply to new cars.
In the spring of 2011, METRO purchased 19 Siemens S70 cars (the same model as its original 18) that were originally slated for Utah Transit Authority's UTA TRAX system for $83 million. The cars are being built in Florin, California, and differ slightly from the cars Utah received in detail, including having more air-conditioning units. They were slated to be delivered in October 2012 and enter service by that December. METRO said that these cars were ordered to accommodate ridership that was 4 years ahead of expectations and to get cars more quickly.
In September 2011, the METRO approved the purchase of 39 cars from CAF upon receipt of a new proposal from CAF that is compliant with Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and "Buy America" guidelines. The first six CAF cars were delivered in January 2015. They are expected to enter service around March or April 2015.
|Builder||Model||In service||Fleet numbers||Years of service||Notes||Image|
|H3||CAF USA||6||301–339||2015–present||Deliveries began in 2015|
The standard fare for this rail line is $1.25 for both cash and MetroQ Fare Card riders; $3 for a Day Pass. The discount fare of $0.60 available for MetroQ Fare Card riders who are seniors 65-69, disabled, Medicare cardholders, or full-time students (elementary, high school, and university); $1.50 for a Day Pass. All discount riders must show ID (except for elementary and high school students). Free transfers to METRO buses are available with the MetroQ Fare Card only, for 3 hours in the same direction only. The MetroQ Fare Card holders can earn "Rider Rewards" of 5 free trips for every 50 paid trips. Tickets and cards are purchased from machines at the stations. No charge applies to Houston Texans home game days, nor to seniors over 70 or to children under 5 who ride with an adult (limit 3).
Tickets and cards are checked by inspectors randomly aboard trains. Failure to pay the fare is a Class C Misdemeanor and is subject to a fine of up to $500. Consumption of alcoholic beverages is prohibited on the train platform and subject to the same fine as a Class C Misdemeanor.
The light rail line operates all 7 days of the week. It begins operations at 4:30 a.m. weekdays and 5:30 a.m. weekends, and ends service at midnight Monday thru Thursday nights, 2:20 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights and 11:40 p.m. Sunday nights. Scheduled train frequency varies from 6 minutes during the day on weekdays to 20 minutes after 9 P.M. on all days.
The scheduled time for an end-to-end trip through the entire 12.8-mile (20.6 km) route is on average 50 minutes.
METRORail operations are controlled from Houston TranStar, a traffic and emergency management center for the city and surrounding region. One source claims that the trains have priority signalling at intersections. However, another source claims that the trains do not have signal priority at intersections in the vicinity of the medical centers, but at several intersections north of the medical centers the traffic lights for road traffic in all directions turn red when a train crosses the intersections.
For a full year before the Metrorail system's opening, a program to prepare drivers to share Houston streets with the Metrorail trains was conducted, consisting of driver safety classes, community forums, and public service announcements. By August the system averaged six crashes per month, 20 times worse than the national average for light rail systems. The high rate of incidents gave rise to local derogatory nicknames among detractors such as the "Wham Bam tram" and "Danger Train." METRO has consistently blamed driver error as the cause of the high collision rate and the transit agency's police department regularly tickets motorists who cross paths with the train. An independent panel of transportation experts at Texas A&M University issued a report in 2004 finding no fundamental flaws with the Metrorail system, although this report did recommend minor adjustments to signal timing and signage.
The 100th accident, as defined by METRO, occurred on August 10, 2005. In the judgement of METRO police only two of these were the fault of the train operator. Most crashes resulted from drivers turning into the trains or running red lights. Following the Texas A&M report METRO implemented four-way red lights at some crossings and other safety measures which led to a 75% reduction in incidents per train mile even as service ramped up. Critics have also noted the fact that the system is at-grade, while supporters contend that lack of federal funding due to political opposition made construction of a grade separated rail line unfeasible. Sociology and urban studies professor Stephen Klineberg argues that the high rate of crashes in Houston is attributable to the high rate of automobile driving and low rate of walking in Houston.
In 2003 voters approved a $1.23 billion expansion of the as-yet unopened system, including four new lines. Critics of the system opposed METRO for spending public funds for "educational advertisements" about the proposed system, which critics claimed promote the referendum. Critics further claimed that the main political action committee (PAC) supporting the bond had a conflict of interest because it received over US$100,000 in contributions from contractors and equipment suppliers for METRORail who stood to gain financially from its expansion.
The new North line began operation on 21 December 2013, while the Southeast and East End lines are tentatively scheduled to begin service April 4, 2015. Central Station will also be added to the current Red Line in order to provide transfers to/from both the Southeast/Purple and the East End/Green lines.
In August 2010, a budget shortfall of $49 million was announced by METRO, which has halted progress on the University/Blue Line. The line has already received a final Federal Record of Decision but there are no official words regarding when construction would start or how the line would be funded. METRO previously claimed that the completion of construction and opening of the Red Line Extension would be by 2013 and the East End/Green Line by 2014. However, METRO announced on September 9, 2010 that the opening dates for the North, Southeast, and East End lines had been pushed back to 2014, and by September 2014 the start date had slipped back to April 4, 2015.
In November 2009 METRO applied for $900 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration to fund future construction. Allegations were made that METRO lied about the income from their sales tax revenue to allow them to gain $900 million in federal funds for all five planned rail expansions. However, city officials found no such attempt by METRO to mislead them, but the Federal Transit Administration continued to withhold its approval for the money until further figures can be examined. On December 8, 2011, the FTA finally announced the award. The award of $900 million was broken into two $450 million grants from the New Starts transit program, to fund construction of the North and Southeast lines.
Following METRO's 2010 annual audit, the agency has decided to cancel the Burnett Plaza project. This is part of a US$168,000,000 asset liquidation. The price of the land US$21,000,000 is valued separately.
METRO offered the public a chance to name stations on its expansion lines.
Due to lack of funds, it was announced in early 2013 that the Uptown/Gold Line will be constructed initially as a bus rapid transit line. The design will feature the ability to easily convert the line to light rail in the future. This will allow the line to be functional as early as 2017.
|North / Red Line Extension||5.3 mi (8.5 km)||UH–Downtown Station to the Northline Transit Center||Opened December 21, 2013|
|Southeast / Purple Line||6.6 mi (10.6 km)||Smith Street in Downtown Houston to Palm Center at MLK & Griggs Street||Under construction|
|East End / Green Line||3.3 mi (5.3 km)||Smith Street in Downtown Houston to the Magnolia Transit Center||Under construction|
|University / Blue Line||11.4 mi (18.3 km)||Hillcroft Transit Center to the Eastwood Transit Center||Planned|
|Uptown / Gold Line||4.8 mi (7.7 km)||Bellaire/South Rice Station on Westpark to the Northwest Transit Center||Planned|
- List of METRORail stations
- Light rail in the United States
- List of United States light rail systems by ridership
- Light rail in North America
- List of tram and light rail transit systems
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- [dead link]
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METRO has received a $14 million dollar refund from CAF, the Spanish rail car vendor.
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Metro will take delivery of 19 new rail cars for its Main Street line in late 2012 from an unlikely source — Utah.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to METRORail.|
- GO METRORail
- METRORail - Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County
- Houston Metro Rail Development - interactive Facebook page (unofficial)