Volume 6, Issue 3 University of Houston
Passengers give thumbs up to Metro's rail line
System will be extended north, east by 2012
By Lisa Street
Houston's Metropolitan Transit Authority rolled in the new year with Railfest, an urbane celebration following the ribbon-cutting ceremony of its new light rail line Thursday.
Houstonians enjoyed live music at several of the light rail stations New Year's Day and received free rides on Metro's state-of-the-art rail system through Sunday night.
The electrically powered line runs 7.5 miles from the Fannin South Park and Ride to UH-Downtown and covers Reliant Park, the Texas Medical Center, Hermann Park, the Museum District and the businesses and residences of Midtown and downtown.
Houstonians had a chance to ride the MetroRail this weekend during Railfest, an event celebrating the project's opening. The 7.5-mile line runs from Fannin South Park and Ride to UH-Downtown.
Along the way are sculptures, individually designed boarding platforms and Main Street Square, Houston's first downtown pedestrian mall.
"The MetroRail is a step in the right direction to a more urban, livable Houston," UH junior biochemistry major Ian Rees said. "I live right on the light rail and I work in the Medical Center, so it's really convenient for me. I've been waiting for it to open with great anticipation since they started building it."
Metro has supported movements toward a light rail system since its creation in 1979, but the project stalled until Mayor Lee P. Brown took office in 1998.
"I think the new system is great, but it's 25 years too late," MetroRail passenger Daniel Gilbert said. "We could have had something a long time ago, but a bond referendum was voted down by the citizens in 1983 so we lost federal money. But now we have a chance to really be what we say we are -- the fourth largest city in the country."
Voters defeated a proposal for 18 miles of heavy rail in a 1983 referendum. Heavy rail -- most often used in subway and commuter lines -- can carry a larger number of passengers per train and is powered by an electrified "third rail." Light rail usually travels alongside automobile traffic and is powered by overhead lines.
Touch-screen ticket vending machines are located at the 16 stations along the Metro line. A one-way trip costs $1 and can be used for up to three hours by riders traveling in one direction. Day passes, which cost $2, are valid for 24 hours, may be used to travel in either direction and may also be used as a transfer pass to local bus routes.
Police officers aboard MetroRail trains perform random ticket inspections to ensure passengers have paid.
Jay Clancy, who received his master's degree in training and development from UH in 1995, said he thinks the ticket purchasing system is not well thought-out and should have been modeled after the one in New York's subway system, where access to trains is fare-controlled.
"I don't like the idea of "pay and get on with no checking,'" Clancy said. "Spot checks are not reasonable -- some people may be riding for free."
Several riders experienced difficulty purchasing tickets from the ticket machine at the McGowen station Monday. Metro Internal Auditor Eugene Bukner, who was working as a station volunteer, said passengers who have problems with the machines and are rushed for time should go ahead and board the train and explain their situation if an officer asks them to present a ticket.
"It's a temporary bug in the system, but Metro repairs the problems as soon as they are reported," Bukner said. "It's not going to be a situation where no one believes the patrons or doesn't understand their problem."
Light rail passengers need not worry about missing a stop, because a voice recording announces the next station. Also, each train houses four security cameras that monitor all onboard activity for passenger safety.
The next step for the MetroRail system is an extension from UH-Downtown to Northline Mall, which is expected to eventually reach Bush Intercontinental Airport. The Northline segment is expected to be complete by 2012.
Other lines targeted for completion by 2012 will run from Bagby Street downtown to Dowling Street, then on to Griggs Road and the South Loop, and from the Wheeler station in Midtown to the Hillcroft Transit Center. The Bagby-Griggs line will eventually continue past Hobby Airport to Sunnyside.
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