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FRA finally gives Austin conditional OK to use Swiss-made DMUs

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  • 3/1 Austin Statesman
    Published Sunday, March 01, 2009, by the Austin American-Statesman March start for passenger rail likely as feds give OK By Ben Wear American-Statesman Staff
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 4 9:56 AM
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      Published Sunday, March 01, 2009, by the Austin American-Statesman

      March start for passenger rail likely as feds give OK

      By Ben Wear
      American-Statesman Staff

      Federal regulators are no longer standing in the way of Capital
      Metro opening its passenger rail line.

      March is the likely opening date now for the Leander-to-downtown
      Austin rail project <http://allsystemsgo.capmetro.org>, about a year
      later than original estimates. One of the feared reasons for delay
      -- a lack of federal permission -- was cleared up Monday.

      That means that Capital Metro board members, when they meet Wednesday
      to set a tentative opening date, will be looking only at construction
      timelines to determine when to cut the blue ribbon.

      The federal approval was an issue because of concerns that the
      Swiss-made <http://www.stadlerrail.com/index_en.htm>, light-rail-
      style cars might not be sturdy enough to run on tracks shared with
      freight trains.

      But Federal Railroad Administration and Capital Metro officials said
      Monday they have agreed that as soon as possible the transit agency
      will design and install a steel cage to surround fuel tanks on its
      six trains, tanks that the railroad administration said in February
      were insufficiently sturdy.

      Cap Metro will also prepare a number of other documents requested by
      the regulators, principally outlines for testing, inspection, safety
      and other operational issues. The 32-mile passenger line can open
      without those cages in place, Capital Metro Executive Vice President
      Andrea Lofye said, and will be installed on the train cars later.

      "The constraints on our schedule, at this point, are caused by the
      construction issues," Lofye said.

      The agency has begun building the last two stations only in the
      past few days, as well as two siding tracks that will be needed
      for northbound and southbound trains to pass each other.

      To open the line in December, which had been the target date for the
      past couple of years, the agency would have had to do so with just
      seven of the planned nine stations open; the Kramer Lane and Howard
      Lane/MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) stations would still be under
      construction.

      "The gist is that we have reached consensus with the FRA on how we
      will address each of the issues" raised by the federal agency in
      February, Lofye said.

      Capital Metro in 2006 first asked the railroad administration for a
      general waiver for the cars, believing that its project was similar
      in character to passenger lines in New Jersey and San Diego that
      ultimately fell under the auspices of the Federal Transit
      Administration instead.

      That federal agency's physical requirements, since it normally deals
      with light rail systems running on tracks where there is no freight
      traffic, are not as demanding as those of the railroad administration.
      The San Diego Sprinter <http://www.gonctd.com/sprinter_intro.htm>
      vehicles, for instance, according to Lofye, have fuel tanks identical
      to those on the Swiss-made Capital Metro vehicles.

      And in all three cases -- Austin, San Diego and the New Jersey River
      Line <http://www.riverline.com> -- the vehicles are self-propelled,
      diesel-powered train cars
      <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diesel_multiple_unit> similar in
      character to light rail vehicles. Freight cars use the same track
      on all three systems, albeit at different times of day.

      But the railroad administration in this case, perhaps influenced by
      Capital Metro's decision to refer to its Leander line as "commuter
      rail" rather than light rail, decided that it should retain authority
      over the project. There were questions in transit circles about how
      long the federal agency might take to grant Capital Metro authority
      to open the line, or if it might reject the vehicles outright. That
      will not be the case, provided Capital Metro follows through on the
      promises it is making now.

      "My understanding from the team who went down there and sat down with
      them for a week is that all of these issues are being hashed out
      satisfactorily," said Warren Flatau, a spokesman for the railroad
      administration.

      His agency, Flatau said, will give its official sanction later,
      "assuming they do everything they promised to do. And that's a big
      if."

      <bwear@...>; 512-445-3698


      [BATN: See also:

      SMART eyes rail-cars; officials to view San Diego, Portland DMUs
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/40559

      Railcar builders vie to win deal to build DMU's for SMART
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/40487

      SMART shopping for trains; on track for 2014 service start
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/40544

      Column: SMART should consider dual mode (diesel & electric) trains
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/40503

      Railcar builders vie to win deal to build DMU's for SMART
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/40487

      DMU makers to pitch thier railcars for SMART at Feb 11 meeting
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/40463

      Siemens moves mobility HQ to Sacramento; expands rail car plant
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/40293

      SMART looks to other railcar makers after only US DMU maker fails
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/40178

      TriMet DMU supplier Colorado Railcar goes out of business
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/40140

      Only US DMU manufacturer Colorado Railcar to liquidate
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/40139

      Colorado Railcar DMU deal cost Portland's TriMet millions
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/40138

      Sprinter DMU opening applauded: "kinda cool... not noisy... sleek"
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/37659

      New SMART report adds weekend service, lighter DMUs & freights
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/37658

      Letter: SMART unacceptable as a heavy rail DMU-based system
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/35162

      Transit officials find Sprinter DMUs "pretty fast" and "quiet"
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/34645

      Siemens unveils first European DMU rail car for US market
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/31927 ]
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