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Transcript of Today's Web Chat with Bryan Pennington
Thursday, July 17, 2008 5:47 PM


Chat logoToday, Bryan Pennington, senior vice president of engineering and construction, hosted our sixth Web chat. The topic: METRO Solutions and the five light-rail lines we are building.

We had 34 people chatting, and we received far more questions than we could answer. Our apologies for not getting to all of your questions, including some pre-submitted ones, but we will do our best to answer some of those later on this blog and to host more chats on this subject. Obviously, changing the transit landscape in Houston with light rail generates a lot of interest, and we thank you for joining the conversation earlier today.

Here's the transcript.


(12:01:48 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: Mr. Pennington seems to be a very talented man with numerous flattering credentials. I met him once about two years ago by mistake but he seemed to be a pretty nice guy. It does give me hope that the light rail system will turn out to be an overwhelming success. Now, if we could only get someone with equal talents on the bus end of things, or better yet, allow the talented people you have to actually use their talents. Seems like everyone is focused on the more interesting "Project Pennington" instead of getting their hands dirty with the bus system.

A: Thank you for those kind words. However, I have to say that within METRO, we have many people, who if anything, are even more talented than myself dealing w/ the buses and METRO's other operations.


 (12:03:39 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: How will METRO get everything into Richmond east of Greenbrier? The ROW is so narrow!

A: When METRO started planning the University Corridor, we received a lot of input through Council members and the general community. From that, METRO is attempting to balance transit requirements against traffic, pedestrian and even more importantly, residences and businesses. We are designing the system to minimize the real estate requirements, but we may need some strips of land in the Richmond area to allow us to provide for all of the different stakeholders.



 (12:04:08 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: How will HFD Station 16 have access?


A: Under the present design, there will be no impact to the fire station, and access will be maintained at all times.




(12:06:21 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: My question is "METRO rushed to build the first tram line, and taxpayers were stuck with a shoddily built system, still leaking Stray Current, where taxpayers will never recover the millions of dollars spent trying to cure the initial problems; now, METRO again rushed to break ground on the Harrisburg line, why should taxpayers not expect another rushed, shoddily built tram system?"

A: I was not here when the Red Line was built, but as a transit professional, I have to say the workmanship on the first line is good. Like any new system, there have been teething problems, but those have largely been dealt with. The stray current is a non-issue. It is true that METRO is maintaining the momentum in the implementation of the transit extensions because there are a large number of people who want to see METRO move ahead as quickly as possible and provide much needed rapid transit in the Houston area as soon as possible.










(12:08:20 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: During his interview on this year's first episode of Metro Matters, I understood Frank Wilson to describe the Quickline bus service planned for Bellaire Blvd. as a forerunner to light rail there. Is this true? If so, I more than heartily applaud the idea.

A: As a general principle, METRO is building up transit corridors. Naturally, in doing this, we are looking at those routes where we already have good ridership. The intention is over time to continue to provide technology which meets the transit demand on a particular route. Using Bellaire as a particular example, if the ridership continues to grow to a level where full BRT or even LRT would be justified, then in time, it would be METRO's intention to do that.


 (12:09:01 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: Will you be attending the 2008 Transportation Summit?

A: The short answer is no. I would like to attend, but given where we are in the implementation of the METRO Solutions program, I think my time is better spent on my day job in the short term.





(12:09:41 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: How are you going to pick testing Labs for the East line?

A: For METRO's testing purposes, as always, there will be a procurement process available to all qualified companies.




(12:11:21 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q : For the base of the rail lines, please consider using concrete premixed with coloring (e.g., brick red color) to distinguish the rail line from adjoining car lanes - this will alert drivers to stay off the rail, and will add an aesthetic touch to the system.

A: To make the transit corridor stand out, I agree. It's a good idea. This can be done in a number of ways. In the past, color concrete has provided maintenance issues in other transit agencies. But at this time, we have not ruled out any particular solution. And we'll be looking at this through the detail design process.





(12:11:43 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: Will the North line be part of the existing Red line, or will we have to change trains?

A: The North Line will be a continuation of the Red Line and there will be no need to change trains.




(12:12:41 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: Once METRO get more trains for the other lines, are we getting the same type of train model that we have now? The Siemens S70 railcars?

A: METRO is going through a procurement process for the future vehicles, so at this time, I am not able to tell you precisely which vehicles we will be obtaining. However, whichever vehicle we obtain will be very, very similar to the existing rolling stock.






 (12:13:42 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: When will the southeast corridor break ground?

A: You may already be aware that METRO has recently received the Record of Decision from the FTA for the Southeast Corridor. This is a key step towards commencing our construction. At present, we are planning commencement for September this year.


(12:13:48 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: Will the rail stations have emergency telephones?
A: Yes.



 (12:18:51 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: What kind of systems are you looking to provide on the system, & when is the selection going to be made on the light rail?  

A: The systems that our contractor will provide are presently being planned. However, they will be very similar to those on the existing Red Line, and of course, will be compatible with the Red Line. By light rail, I guess you mean the vehicles, and this selection will take place in the fall of this year.


 (12:19:49 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: Where do you plan to locate the maintenance shop on the north line?

A: As I replied to an earlier question, the Red Line and the North Line will become one for operational purposes. We will, therefore, be able to use the existing shop at the ROC (Rail Operation Center near Fannin @ W. Bellfort), at the south end of the Red Line.



(12:20:51 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: Considering the current national trends towards mass transit, has Metro seen any indications of increased support for the new lines?

A : I have been in Houston around 3.5 years now, and I have seen a gradual increase in support over that time, but I think the recent events and gas prices have made everybody realize that transit is a key part of transportation for now and for the future.


 (12:21:42 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: With the change in facility providers, what is the status of the LRV procurement?

A: The progress of the vehicle procurement has not been affected by the change in facility provider, and as previously answered, the selection will be made in the fall of this year.







(12:23:26 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: So what are the parameters being taken into consideration to provide safe light rail. Also, are we looking at Homeland Security funding?

A: Safety is formatted into all of our project planning. Of course, experience on the Red Line is extremely helpful as we finalize our planning for our future lines. METRO will look at any and all sources of funding to continue to expand the transit network and to provide a safe system.


 (12:25:24 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: Will any of the new lines be elevated above traffic or underground? Currently every line is planned at street level - correct?

A: Generally, all of the lines are at-grade. We have some local grade separations. For instance, you may have read in the newspapers that in conjunction with the Freight Rail District and the city, METRO is planning a bridge over the existing freight rail line, just to the west of Magnolia. We also have a short section of grade separation towards the north end of the North Corridor.



 (12:26:13 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q : Will stations on these other lines be just like the ones on the Red Line---meaning---you can only link two cars together because of block length? Also, will those stations have the same look as the ones on the Red Line?

A: The stations on the extensions will be almost exactly the same as the existing ones in terms of architecture and physical size and layout. Generally, we are planning for two-car trains.



 (12:27:43 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: Are there any possibilities that the East End line will open prior to 2012?

A: Yes, as the construction proceeds, we will be looking for opportunities to open the lines as soon as possible.




(12:28:35 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: I am currently working on a thesis studying water supply and transportation services (public works) in a rural town in Mexico (Tulum Pueblo). Is there a possibility to for me to go to your office and see how 'public works' are done in the 'developed world'?

A: If you access METRO's Web site, you will obtain the contact details for our community outreach staff. And I am sure they will be more than happy to assist you.




(12:29:35 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: How will someone transfer in downtown from the east line to the north line?

A: METRO is still reviewing the operational details in the downtown area. But at present, we are planning in the flexibility for East Line riders to connect into the heart of downtown, but also to connect directly into the North Line.



 (12:31:19 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: Is the main street line profitable?

A: The Main Street Line when viewed on a ridership basis for the length of route is the most successful LRT line in the United States. It achieved the projected ridership for 2020 after around 18 months of operation. Having said that, public transit in the west is generally not classified as a profitable enterprise.



 (12:32:34 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: How will the university line connect to the Galleria?

A: There will be a direct connection between the Uptown Line and the University Line at Westpark. Although the design is not complete, our focus is on providing what we call a one-seat ride. In other words, we're looking to make a direct connection.






(12:34:46 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: Will any of the new lines share lanes with traffic, such as the turn lanes in the Med Center?

A: Based on experience from the Red Line, METRO generally is avoiding sharing lanes. However, there are some limited locations where there will be shared lanes. For instance, where it was necessary to avoid major property takings. Again, METRO is trying to find the optimum balance between the various stakeholders.



(12:36:07 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: What are the latest plans for the Montrose at Richmond station (both platforms west of Montrose or split to both sides), and is the next station planned at Mandell or Dunlavy?

A: There are stations at both Montrose and the Mandell/Dunlavy area. METRO is going through the final stages of planning as to the exact location and we hope to be in a position within the next few weeks to provide this information to the community.






(12:37:50 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: Will landscaping and trees be added to buffer sound as the train goes through residential neighborhoods?

A: As part of the feedback obtained over the last several years from Council members and the community, we understand that landscaping and trees are a fundamental component of our project. As we finish off the design process, we are ensuring that we maintain at least as many trees as exist on the corridors at present.




(12:38:54 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: Why are bikes limited to non-peak, non-rush hours on the trains - and is there any plan to change that?

A: I am probably not the right person to answer this question. Of course, there are capacity and safety issues to consider in conjunction with providing the bike community the convenience and connectivity.


 (12:39:43 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: Will you provide wireless access to rail riders?

A: Clearly, METRO would want to make wireless access to all our riders over time, and we are presently looking into the opportunities on the LRT, but no final decision has been made yet.



 (12:41:24 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: How come METRO has only gotten 18 of those METRORail trains and not more? This question is because if we had gotten more than 18, chances are there would be more two-car trains running---even if METRO thinks at certain times, only a one-car train would do.

A : As I mentioned in an earlier response, the ridership on the Red Line is far, far better than might have been expected when the line was being planned in the late 90s/early 2000. In the present vehicle procurement, we will be obtaining additional vehicles to meet the ever increasing ridership on Main Street.


 (12:42:31 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: Are there any plans to bring the university line onto the U of H campus?

A: Depending upon the final design, I expect the University of Houston central campus will have three stations.





 (12:45:42 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: What kind of work did you do while in Hong Kong?

A: I lived and worked in Hong Kong over a period of 11 years. I was involved in building all of the original four Metro/subway lines between 1977 and 1988. I worked for both contractors and ultimately for MTRC, the equivalent of METRO.



(12:48:09 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: What would you say is the reason for a lack of support in many places across the US and Houston for Light Rail along with other forms of public transportation?

A: The auto has for a long time been the main form of transportation in the U.S. and the availability of developable land has led to sprawl. However, I think we all recognize the future will be different, and cities will continue to become more dense. In that situation, transit becomes not only more competitive, but also a must. Again, transit is not the only transportation solution. It is part of the overall.


(12:50:47 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: Will any of the new rail lines be off the streets (say subway or above ground) or have its own right of way? That's what a real urban transportation system is supposed to have, not running on the streets with traffic. Look at what Charlotte, Los Angeles, Dallas and Atlanta have, and tell me if Houston will be on par.

A: Generally, the LRT will have its own at-grade ROW running in the street. For LRT within the Loop, this is the optimum solution for the Houston context. The ridership that we've obtained to date on the Red Line shows that Houston is at least on a par with the cities you mentioned. And I would argue that when further built out, the Houston system could be better than just about any in the country.




(12:51:10 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: Do you intend to include additional safety measures on the new lines to prevent vehicles driving into the trains?
A: Yes.


 (12:52:21 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: Will the Uptown Line run in the middle of 610? This is from Memorial to Post Oak Blvd.

A: We are working closely with TxDot to resolve this issue. From my perspective, the middle of 610 would be the optimum solution, but we need to see how the discussions with TxDot pan out.











(12:55:15 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: Are there any long range plans to connect the light rail in to a heavy rail line (like the Marta system in Atlanta, GA)?

A: The overall METRO Solutions plan envisages a multi-modal transit system covering a wide area of the city and suburbs. In the downtown/inner Loop area, a connector system using LRT is the logical technology choice. As this is being built out, it is logically then to look at bringing commuter rail in from the suburbs to connect to the LRT system to give riders more choice and make it easier for them to leave their car at home. One of the major connecting points that METRO is presently planning is at the Intermodal Terminal, located near the old Hardy rail yards, just to the north of the downtown area.


 (12:57:17 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: What will happen to the trees and landscaping in the center median of the Uptown Line on Post Oak Blvd.?  Will they be completely removed to make room for the rail lines and stations?

A: As the final design takes place, we will be working with Uptown to protect for landscaping areas in a median running along the center line of Post Oak. At the same time, we will be protecting for turn lanes to allow customers to access the commercial and retail businesses on either side of Post Oak.


 (12:58:47 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: At Braeswood and Greenbriar, the Red line crosses Greenbriar just before the intersection, sometimes leaving cars blocking the rail waiting on the light. Will you be able to avoid this on the new lines? It seems one possible solution would be to make the cars wait before the tracks when the light is red (move the light to before the tracks).

A: As a general rule, we are trying to avoid using gates on the new corridors, which I believe is what you're referencing.


(12:59:32 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: Bus ridership is surely at an all-time high right now. Does Metro have any plans to expand bus service? Any hopes for 24hr coverage on some routes?
A: I am not the right guy to answer this question, but METRO is working diligently to respond to the present increase in ridership.



(1:00:03 PM) Bryan Pennington:

Q: Are there future plans to get these rails dedicated lines to run to both IAH and HOBBY airports?

A: Yes, this is included in the long-term METRO Solutions plan.


 (1:04:28 PM) Bryan Pennington:

We're out of time now. I'd love to stay longer and chat, but I hope the answers I've given are helpful, and I look forward to doing this again, if there are still a lot of questions unanswered.




DominicMazoch said:

We need bike racks on any new LRT lines and cars.  should not be a problem on the Red with more cars!  Maybe refit cars 101-118 and get rid of the snafu pole!

# July 17, 2008 6:36 PM

Peter Wang said:

On second thought, we can keep the pole if we can get some snazzy-looking pole dancers

# July 18, 2008 7:48 AM

ChloeMireille said:

Shame on you, Peter....

....for thinking of the exact same thing I was!

# July 18, 2008 9:04 AM

Cedric Collins said:


SMART THINKING!  Unfortuately, I'll have to 2nd that for those who oppose such an idea.  *lol*  Maybe that'll make my day---if it doesn't go my way prior to me seeing the show, of course.

On the flipside, at least my quetions (ALL of them---I think) had some sort of response from Mr. Pennington.  YAY!

# July 18, 2008 9:40 AM

Cedric Collins said:

Me again.  I thought I said that I may not of had time to participate in the chat---well---I told a fib!  That was the first time that happened and I'll look forward in doing that again.

YAY!  *lol*

# July 18, 2008 10:20 AM

Cedric Collins said:

...........participating in the chat, of course and not about the fibbing thing!  ;-)

# July 18, 2008 10:20 AM

DominicMazoch said:


My questions were answered also!  Now if METRO could answer my wish list.......

# July 18, 2008 5:39 PM

Cedric Collins said:


       You must mean---if METRO could answer ALL of our wish lists........*lol*

# July 22, 2008 8:15 AM
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