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Houston Metro icon.svg
LocaleHouston, Texas
Transit typeLight rail/Tram
Number of lines3 (2 planned)
Number of stations39[1]
Chief executiveTom Lambert
HeadquartersLee P. Brown METRO Administration Building
1900 Main St.[2]
Began operationJanuary 1, 2004
Operator(s)Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County
CharacterAt grade, with street running sections
Number of vehicles37 Siemens S70
39 CAF USA vehicles
Train lengthTwo cars[3]
Headway6–20 minutes[1]
System length22.7 mi (36.5 km)
(planned 24.4 mi (39.3 km))[4][failed verification]
No. of tracks2
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Minimum radius of curvature350 ft (107 m)
Electrification600/750 V DC overhead catenary

METRORail is the 22.7-mile (36.5 km)[4] light rail system in Houston, Texas (United States). As of 2015, the METRORail has an average weekday ridership of 56,600 and total annual ridership of 18.335 million.[5] After Dallas's DART Light Rail, METRORail ranks as the second most-traveled light rail system in the Southern United States and the 12th most-traveled light rail system in the United States.[5] METRORail is operated by the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO).


This line was built after an approximately 20-year battle,[6] starting in 1983 when Houston voters rejected a rail plan by referendum.[7] A voter referendum in 1988 approved a 20-mile (32 km) light rail plan;[8] however, Bob Lanier was elected mayor in 1992 and stopped the plan.[7] In 1991, U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay removed $65 million in federal funding for the rail line.[7] 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;[9] they obtained two temporary injunctions in January 2001, which were reversed by appeals court on March 9, 2001.[9]

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.[10] The opening of METRORail, which took place on January 1, 2004, came 64 years after the previous streetcar system had been shut down.[11] The cost was $324 million.[12] 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.[6] 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.[13]

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.[14][15][16] Klineberg considers these changes a "paradigm shift" or "sea change" on attitudes towards mass transit.[14][16][17]

Construction began on the 5.3-mile (8.5 km) and nine-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 early 2014 opening), increasing the line to its current total of 12.8 miles (20.6 km) and 24 stations.[18][19][20]

The 6.6-mile (10.6 km) Purple Line, with 10 stations, and the 3.3-mile (5.3 km) Green Line, with nine stations, began construction in July 2009.[21] Both lines, together costing $1.3 billion, share a track segment in downtown, then run east and diverge.[22] After numerous delays, all but two stations on the eastern end of the Green Line opened on May 23, 2015, while Cesar Chavez/67th Street and Magnolia Park [23] entered service on January 11, 2017 after the construction of an overpass.[24]


Northline Transit Center/HCC
Melbourne/North Lindale
Lindale Park
Moody Park
Fulton/North Central
Quitman/Near Northside
Burnett Transit Center
Theater District
Central Station
Main Street Square
Convention District
Downtown Transit Center
Coffee Plant/Second Ward
Altic/Howard Hughes
Museum District
Cesar Chavez/67th Street
Hermann Park/Rice University
Magnolia Park Transit Center
Memorial Hermann Hospital/
Houston Zoo
Leeland/Third Ward
Elgin/Third Ward
Texas Medical Center
Transit Center
TSU/UH Athletics District
Smith Lands
UH South/University Oaks
Stadium Park/Astrodome
MacGregor Park/
Martin Luther King Jr.
Fannin South
Palm Center Transit Center

Transit Center
transfer station

The light rail line operates all 7 days of the week. It begins operations at 3:30 a.m. weekdays and 4:30 a.m. weekends and ends service at 12:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday nights, 2:45 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights and, 12:30 a.m. Sunday nights. Scheduled train frequency varies from 6 minutes during the day to 20 minutes off-peak.

The scheduled time for an end-to-end trip through the entire 12.8-mile (20.6 km) Red Line[20] is on average 55 minutes.[1]

METRORail operations are controlled from Houston TranStar, a traffic and emergency management center for the city and surrounding region.[25] Trains have priority signalling at intersections except for six stations near the downtown medical centers.[25][26] At prioritized intersections, traffic lights for road traffic in all directions turn red when a train passes.[26]

Route and infrastructure[edit]

Houston MetroRail Cars at Northline Transit Center on Fulton near Crosstimbers (January 2015)

The Red Line is a 12.8-mile (20.6 km)[20] double-tracked, 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge line with 24 stations[1] approximately 12 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[27] and a small section of track between Melbourne/North Lindale and Northline Transit Center on Fulton Street.[28] Power supply is from 600/750 volts DC overhead wires, with nine substations (for the original 2004 portion).[25] The line follows Main Street for eight stations from UH–Downtown to Wheeler station, then follows Fannin Street for the remainder of the original route until Fannin South. 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.[29]

Significant businesses and institutions along the Red Line 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 NRG Stadium.

A park & ride parking lot is available at one station: Fannin South.[30][31] It has approximately 1,200 parking spaces.[25] 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.[27]

For the original 2004 portion of the Red Line, the architectural firm Pierce Goodwin Alexander & Linville, of Houston, was in charge of the final architectural/engineering design and design support, with a $2.3 million contract.[25] However, all stations south of Burnett Transit Center were designed by the Houston office of St. Louis-based architectural firm Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum.[32] All stations are of similar design—250 feet (76 m) 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 350 millimetres (14 in) high.[25]

The right-of-way and the stations for the original 2004 line 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.[9] The line construction was divided into five sections, with a resident engineer for each section, to speed up construction.[25]

The 6.6-mile (10.6 km), 10-station Purple Line, and seven stations of the 3.3-mile (5.3 km), 9-station Green Line opened on May 23, 2015.[33] The final two stations of the Green Line opened on January 11, 2017.[34]

Tracks on all three lines are usually in the center of the street; however, the southbound tracks between the Wheeler and Museum District stations run along the left side,[35] and the downtown Houston tracks along Capitol and Rusk streets run along the south side of the streets. Furthermore, the tracks on Capitol and Rusk run in mixed traffic, sharing a lane with buses and other vehicles, like streetcars.

The light rail lines can handle three-minute headways during peak hours[36] and have a design capacity of 8,000 people/hour in each direction while using two-car trains with such a headway.[37]

A yard and a maintenance facility for the Red Line is connected by loop track to the south of the Fannin South station,[35] and a storage yard/inspection facility is located off of Harrisburg and Clifton.


The standard fare for this rail line is $1.25 for both cash and METRO Q 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).[38] Free rides to METRO buses are available with the MetroQ Fare Card only, for 3 hours in any direction.[39] Paper transfers from buses were accepted from July 2015 to March 2016 on a trial basis boarded for free: before noon good until 15:00, after it to end of service day. The MetroQ Fare Card holders can earn "Rider Rewards" of 5 free trips for every 50 paid trips.[38] Tickets and cards are purchased from machines at the stations. No charge applies to Texans/Dash/Dynamo home game days with game ticket, nor to seniors over 70 or to children under 5 who ride with an adult (limit 3).

Fare collection, like most light rail systems in the United States, is based on a proof-of-payment system: METRO's fare inspectors randomly check tickets and cards 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.[40]


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.[41] The line reached 75 million boardings in December 2011, four years ahead of schedule,[42] but throughout that year, ridership numbers remained flat or showed small decreases.[43] By 2012, average weekday ridership was 36,250.[44]

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).[45]

Notable records in ridership have occurred on the following dates:[46]

  • 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.[47]
  • March 19, 2014: 76,925 passengers were recorded due in part to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.[48]
  • February 4, 2017: 109,500 passenger boardings were recorded during Super Bowl LI
  • November 4, 2017: 125,000 passenger boardings were recorded the day of the Houston Astros World Series victory parade and rally held in Downtown.[49]

Rolling stock[edit]

METRO currently operates three generations of light rail vehicles. All of them are double-articulated, 70% low-floor vehicles with four low-platform doors per side to provide level boarding.

H1 series[edit]

The original fleet of 18 vehicles was built by Siemens Transportation Systems in Sacramento, California. 101 to 115 were delivered in 2002 and 116 to 118 in 2004, for the opening of the first stage of the Red Line,[50] at a cost of $118 million.[9] Designated by the manufacturer as S70 and based on earlier vehicles built for Portland's MAX Light Rail, each vehicle is 96 feet (29 m) long and has a top speed of 66 mph (106 km/h).[51] They have a capacity of 72 seated and approximately 169 standing passengers, or a total capacity of around 241 per car.[25][52] This approximately 250-person capacity has been reached on certain Super Bowl weekends.[53]

The H1 series cars are distinguishable by their streamlined cab ends and rectangular headlamps, with the electronic destination sign (which have been modified to indicate the line with a colored square) mounted directly in front of the cab rather than above it. They are normally used only on the Red Line and can be operated as single cars or in trains of two cars coupled together, though two-car trains have become the norm due to increasing ridership and the arrival of the H2 series.

H2 series[edit]

In the spring of 2011, METRO purchased a further 19 Siemens S70 vehicles (the same model as its original 18), citing the need to accommodate ridership that was 4 years ahead of expectations and to get cars more quickly.[42] These cars were originally slated for Utah Transit Authority's TRAX system, which METRO purchased for $83 million after UTA decided not to exercise options for them.[51][54] As with the previous generation, these new cars were built in Florin, California,[51] but they differ slightly from the cars Utah received in detail, including having more air-conditioning units.[42] They were delivered in October 2012 and entered service that December.[55]

The H2 series cars are shorter than the H1 series, at 81 feet (25 m) in length, and are distinguishable by their flatter cab ends and circular headlamps, with the electronic destination sign (which use colored dots to indicate the line) conventionally mounted above the cab. Like the H1 series, they are normally used only on the Red Line and can be operated as single cars or in two-car trains. The H1 and H2 series are electrically compatible and can operate together in the same train.

H3 series[edit]

For expansion of the METRORail system, METRO turned to CAF USA, with a total order of 105 cars placed in May 2010.[56] This order was cancelled in February 2011 as it did not comply with the Buy America Act. CAF gave a refund, which METRO applied to the purchase of the H2 series cars.[57]

In September 2011, METRO approved the purchase of 39 vehicles from CAF upon receipt of a new proposal compliant with Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and "Buy America" guidelines.[58][59] The first six of these cars were delivered in January 2015[60] and entered service shortly afterwards.[61]

The H3 series cars, built in Elmira, New York[62] and based on the CAF Urbos platform used in cities across Europe and Asia, are similar to the H1 series in dimensions, but are distinguishable by their boxier design and framed window panes. They are in operation on all three METRORail lines and can couple to form two-car trains; however, the H3 series is electrically incompatible with the older types and cannot operate with them in the same train.

Future vehicles[edit]

In February 2019, METRO ordered 14 additional Siemens S70 vehicles, with interior modifications designed to improve passenger flow compared to the agency's previous S70s.[63]


Series Builder Model In service Fleet numbers Years of service Lines used Image
H1 Siemens S70 18 101–118 2003–present      METRORail 4.jpg
H2 Siemens S70 19 201–219 2012–present      Houston Red Line arrives at Fannin South station in Houston Texas in January, 2014.png
H3 CAF USA Urbos LRV 39 301–339 2015–present                Houston CAF LRV on Harrisburg Blvd at Wayside Drive, Feb 2017.jpg

Future expansion[edit]

In 2003 voters approved a $1.23 billion expansion of the as-yet unopened system, including four new lines.[64] Critics of the system opposed METRO for spending public funds for "educational advertisements" about the proposed system, which critics claimed promote the referendum.[65] 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.[65]

The Red Line Extension began operation on December 21, 2013,[19] while the Purple and Green lines began service on May 23, 2015.[66] Central Station was also added to the current Red Line in order to provide transfers to/from both the Purple and Green lines.[67]

In August 2010, a budget shortfall of $49 million was announced by METRO, which has halted progress on the University 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.[68] METRO previously claimed that the completion of construction and opening of the Red Line Extension would be by 2013[69] and the Green Line by 2014.[70] However, METRO announced on September 9, 2010 that the opening dates for the Red Line Extension, Purple and Green lines had been pushed back to 2014[71] and by September 2014, the start date had slipped back to April 4, 2015.[66]

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.[72] However, city officials found no such attempt by METRO to mislead them,[73] but the Federal Transit Administration continued to withhold its approval for the money until further figures can be examined.[74] 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 Red Line Extension and Purple lines.[75]

Following METRO's 2010 annual audit, the agency has decided to cancel the Burnett Plaza project. This is part of a US$168 million asset liquidation. The price of the land US$21 million is valued separately.[76]

METRO offered the public a chance to name stations on its expansion lines.[77]

Due to lack of funds, it was announced in early 2013 that the Uptown 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.[78]

With the passing of the MetroNext Plan, the Redline will be expanded Northbound to the North Shepherd park & ride. Both the green and purple lines are being expanded eastbound to William P Hobby Airport, and westbound to the Houston Municipal Courthouse.

Line Name Distance Route Status
     Red Line 5.3 mi (8.5 km)[2] UH-Downtown station to Northline Transit Center Opened December 21, 2013
     Purple Line 6.6 mi (10.6 km)[2] Smith Street in Downtown Houston to Palm Center Opened May 23, 2015
     Green Line 3.3 mi (5.3 km)[2] Smith Street in Downtown Houston to Magnolia Park Transit Center Opened May 23, 2015
     University Line

(Bus Rapid Transit)

11.4 mi (18.3 km)[2][79] Hillcroft Transit Center to Tidwell Transit Center[79] Planning in progress
     Uptown Line (Bus Rapid Transit) 4.8 mi (7.7 km)[2] Bellaire/South Rice Station on Westpark to Northwest Transit Center Opened August 23, 2020

Incidents and crashes[edit]

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.[80] 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."[81] 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.[82]

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.[83] 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.[81] 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.[80]

See also[edit]


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