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Volume 6, Issue 3                                    University of Houston

MetroRail works for Houston

Now that the opening-weekend hoopla has died down, it will be interesting to see what happens with the Metropolitan Transit Authority's Main Street rail line.

The $324 million, 7.5-mile line linking UH-Downtown with Reliant Park took its first passengers Thursday and offered free rides through Sunday night. Tens of thousands of people showed up, and most of them seemed to love it. The weekend was exciting. Many people saw parts of the city they hadn't seen in quite a while, and downtown was alive with pedestrians and sidewalk cafes.

The real test for the line comes now that the newness is wearing off and the $1 fare has gone into effect. Now fewer passengers will be joyriding and more will be using the trains to commute, reach doctor's appointments, run errands or attend events at Reliant Park. The biggest question facing the new system is how it'll handle the crowds expected to board the trains during the Super Bowl weekend.

If things continue here like they have in some other cities, the rail system -- which will expand to the airports, the East End and the Galleria in the next few years -- will promote development. New business and housing along the lines will give more people reasons to ride. In Salt Lake City, which opened the first part of its light rail system in 1999, the rail has led to a downtown revitalization many people thought impossible.

In the meantime, Houstonians will have to get used to the trains. At least a half-dozen people have been involved in automobile-train accidents since testing began on the line in the fall, and all of those accidents were caused by -- yes, it's true -- driver stupidity. Watch for the trains. Don't turn left in front of them. Don't back into them. Dealing with trains is easier than dealing with buses: You know where the trains run.

In the long run, rail is going to be a good mode of mass transit for Houston. It's true the Main Street line doesn't affect many people now, but as development picks up and the line is extended, it will draw more and more riders. And once Houstonians realize rail is a smart alternative to travel by bus and private car -- as Houston gets used to a totally new concept -- the rail line will become more engrained in our everyday lives.

Until then, please try not to run into the trains. We don't want them looking like rolling scrap metal when the media descends on Houston for the Super Bowl.

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