Capital Metro announced yesterday that it has won a federal grant to the tune of $11.3 million. That money will go toward infrastructure upgrades that should improve the speed of its MetroRail trains.
The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation will go toward railway and signal timing, as well as additional siding and double tracking on some parts of the commuter rail. That should all add up to a 15 percent boost in ridership capacity and MetroRail trains that run five to 10 minutes faster.
The grant money will also go toward freight rail enhancements, including new bridges and rail rehabilitations and realignments, which are estimated to double freight capacity.
All in all, Capital Metro expects to spend a total of about $26 million on the transportation upgrade project, with the federal grant going toward that sum.
MetroRail ridership has steadily increased since the line opened in 2010; the train has seen an average of 65,000 boardings per month so far in 2013, and average daily boardings overall have increased 225 percent since the rail started running. Capital Metro began limited weekend service two years ago, and temporarily increases service for special events like SXSW. In 2013 the MetroRail saw 50,000 trips during the 10-day SXSW festival, a 40 percent increase over the number of trips taken during the festival in 2012.
Austin’s rapid growth and roadway congestion have been gaining attention, as regional and city leaders worry that worsening traffic will stifle economic development and growth. Capital Metro’s rail upgrades are one of several area transportation projects slated in the next few years, all aimed at reducing congestion.
“The number one thing I hear from Austinites is that we need to expand the transportation options in our rapidly growing city, and this grant helps to do just that,” said Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell.