From Academic Kids

Missing image
A METRORail train approaching Preston Station in Downtown Houston, Texas

METRORail is the light rail service in Houston, Texas that started on January 1, 2004. It is the second major light rail service in Texas after the Dallas Area Rapid Transit system. It began operating about 60 years after a previous streetcar system was closed down. That shutdown had made Houston the largest city without a rail system.

METRORail is operated by the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas, or METRO for short. The current track of rail runs through the Texas Medical Center and Downtown Houston.


Future plans

Additional rail will be laid, as it had been approved by a slight margin (52% yes to 48% no) in the November, 2003 election. Critics have alleged the existence of a conflict of interest in the planned expansion. Major contractors including Siemens AG, which constructs the train vehicles, contributed substantial amounts of money to the Political Action Committee promoting the expansion referendum. Supporters of an expanded rail system in Houston have leveled similar charges against opponents of the referendum, noting that suburban development interests largely bankrolled the PAC opposing the referedum.

The first wave of planned expansions are within the city of Houston and will reach the two major Houston airports, George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport. METRO is planning service to suburbs in Houston these areas as well as other parts of Houston. Alternatives Analysis and Draft Environmental Impact Analysis studies are currently underway on four extensions, but only one extension—an east-west line between the Galleria in Uptown Houston and the University of Houston campus, following the Richmond/Wheeler corridor and also going by the Greenway Plaza area and connecting with the existing Red Line at the Wheeler Station—is planned to be opened by 2012.

Also, METRO is planning a commuter rail system in conjunction with the light rail system, pending feasibility of the plan. In addition, METRO wants to link up with a planned commuter rail system in Fort Bend County which would use an existing Union Pacific railroad, as well as a line to Cypress in the U.S. Highway 290 corridor.

METRORail crash rate

The rail line has had an astonishingly high crash rate when compared to other light rail systems in the United States, averaging more than one incident per week. The first occurred on November 19, 2003 as the system was still under testing prior to opening. As of April 22, 2004, the collision rate was calculated as being 25 times the U.S. average, with 36 accidents up to that date. In mid-July, the line broke 50 crashes, although until that point, all but one incident was considered to be the fault of drivers and pedestrians rather than METRORail train operators. In September, METRORail set a new record for the most accidents in a year, passing San Francisco Municipal Railway's 2001 record of 61 crashes over 73.3 route miles—nearly 10 times the length of the Houston Red Line. The trend since at least April has been a slow decrease in the frequency of crashes, but it remains high.

There are several possible reasons for this, though one of the most prominent is the fact that the entire 7 ½ miles of track runs along city streets—the longest such stretch in the country. In many cities, a significant amount of track is on dedicated right-of-way. The city has been known as an accident hotspot, with the highest number of traffic fatalities per capita of large cities in the United States. Some of the people involved in the crashes have stated that poor signage and signal layouts have contributed to the problem. METRO has rearranged some signals and altered some sign arrangements to try to make things clearer.

Several nicknames have been given for the train because of the high number of accidents, including "Danger Train," "Wham-Bam-Tram," and "A Streetcar Named Disaster."

The inside cabin of a METRORail train
The inside cabin of a METRORail train

Other controversies

Since its inception METRORail has been the source of several political controversies in Houston. During the 2003 expansion referendum, critics of the system including Texans for True Mobility (TTM) questioned METRO's financial practices, likening the system's funding to Enron. METRO itself was criticized for spending public taxdollars for "educational advertisements" about the proposed system, which were said to promote the referendum. [1] (

Texans for Public Transportation, the main political action committee (PAC) supporting the bond, was accused of having a conflict of interest due to the relationship between its main contributors and METRO. The PAC received over $100,000 in contributions from contractor firms and equipment suppliers for METRORail who stood to gain financially from its expansion. [2] (

The Houston Chronicle was also accused of a heavy bias in its coverage designed to promote METRORail. The newspaper became embroiled in controversy following the accidental posting of an internal memorandum on its website that urged the "specific objective" of making "rail a permanent part of the transit mix" in Houston through news, editorial, and op-ed columns. The memo included a "ground zero for November" proposal of attacking the finances of groups and individuals opposed to light rail, and specifically Rep. Tom DeLay and former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier.[3] (

In October the Chronicle solicited financial disclosure statements from Texans for True Mobility, a non-profit 501(c)6 organization that was critical of METRORail. TTM declined the paper's request, citing among its reasons a concern that the Chronicle would use the information to attack their positions and supporters as per the memo. The paper responded by filing a criminal complaint with Harris County, Texas District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, alleging that TTM had violated state law requiring PAC disclosures. The Chronicle's complaint was subsequently dismissed without merit. [4] (


Red Line

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