Nine years ago Metro purchased 18 rail cars to start up its new light rail system. But Metro Chairman Gilbert Garcia says they're now seeing big peak hour ridership on the seven-and-a-half-mile route. Speaking at an unveiling at Metro's southwest Houston maintenance facility, Garcia says there are big crowds especially in the Medical Center.
"One of the things that limits the capacity and the ridership on that line is we don't have enough cars."
But Metro hopes that will change, now that it's taken delivery of the first of 19 new light rail cars. Metro CEO George Greanias says the cars were obtained from manufacturer Siemens after the Utah Transit Authority ordered more units than it needed. The price tag for the cars, along with spare parts and training, amounts to $83 million dollars.
"There are a lot of features on this car that mark another step forward in passenger safety and comfort."
Greanias says one of the things riders will notice is that seats at the ends of the cars now face the door, instead of the front of train, giving passengers a greater feeling of security. And if you have to stand, there are more places to hold on.
"We have solved one of the age-old problems of anyone who's ridden a transit vehicle and that is that pole that you use to stand and grip so you don't fall, who gets top of the pole and who gets bottom of the pole and how do you work all that out. This one has a three-part pole, so everyone has their own individual componant, and that's a nice step."
There are also ammenities for bike riders. Right now if you bring your bike on the train you have to sit in one of the side- facing seats and hold on to it. The new cars have a couple of bike racks.
"Bikes on buses and bikes on trains are an increasingly popular and important part of our overall transit service and we're glad to see the improvements we've made there."
The new rail car has to go through a certain amount of test miles before it can be used to carry passengers. Metro expects it to go into use early next year.