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Monday, August 8, 2016

16-08-09 PHOTOS: Austin City Limits

Known by many as the only civilized city in Texas, Austin is a cultural hub and home to the University of Texas. However, when it comes to rail transportation, Austin finds itself somewhat lacking compared to other megalopolises such as Huston and Dallas-Ft. Worth. To this end Auston looked to supplement its Amtrak station and network of bike routes with one of those newfangled, European style light commuter rail lines and on a recent trip to the city for a conference I got to try it out. You can locate all the photos about that and the heavy rail action here.

Austin's Capitol MetroRail is a 9 stop commuter line using 6 FRA "compliant" Stadler GTW railcars. Fare collection is a typical proof of payment affair with two fare zones and a $7 day pass. Service terminates at a downtown station across from the convention centre that's actually about 4 blocks from the true downtown and a few more from the Texas state capitol complex. Here car #103 lays over at the aptly named "Downtown" station.

Only two vehicles are needed for the 1+ hour mid-day service frequency. The trains pass at the Kramer station, which is also used as a crew relief point. As you can see there is a minimally acceptable railfan view. 

Mid-day service terminates at the Lakeline station, with peak period trains continuing to Leander. This is likely necessary to make the two vehicle load line work. The service is contracted to Herzog Transportation Services. 

The maintenance depot and yard is located mid-way along the line at Serta. This is where most of the fleet, including #106 here, hangs out during the day.

Normally I wouldn't have many serious complaints about a low cost commuter rail starter line, however the whole CapitolMetro is rendered useless by a 40mph top speed, even in the cross country portions away from downtown Austin (where the speed drops to between 10 and 25mph). The RoW is not particularly curvy and is also fully signaled, so I'm not sure what their excuse is beyond not wanting to upgrade the former freight line it runs on to anything above Class 2 standards. Compared to the NJT RiverLINE, which would like to increase its speeds to 70mph, CapitolMetro is simply a joke. To illustrate the point, here is 4 minutes of side-video taken between Howard and Kramer.

#103 back again at downtown. Platforms are of the low, level boarding type.

#103 departing downtown on another run to Lakeline.

Austin's only heavy rail action comes on the aptly named Union Pacific Austin Sub, which is a single track line snaking its way up from San Antonio. Here UP ES44AC #8226 and SD70MAC #5192 roll by the iconic Austin City Power Plant with a merchandise train in tow.