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Building Passenger Rail in America
 

Red trainHigh-speed rail has captured headlines recently with the Obama administration earmarking $8 billion in stimulus funds toward high-speed rail in California, Florida and Illinois.

In fact, nine out of 10 Americans say high-speed rail would be a long-distance option, according to a survey by HTNB Corp., an engineering and architectural firm.

But if any transit agency wants to buy passenger rail cars, it would have to look overseas. Most passenger rail equipment is manufactured overseas.

Here at METRO, we are buying new trains from CAF in Spain because there is no American manufacturer of light-rail trains.

Now two American companies are forming a joint venture to build rail cars in the United States. US Railcar LLC of Ohio and American Railcar Industries Inc. of Missouri said they will build and sell "self-propelled and unpowered passenger rail cars in both single and bi-level configurations," according to the US Railcar's press release.  

Both companies had built freight rail exclusively. The new venture will be called US Railcar Co.

 

 

 

Catch a Ride to the Rodeo
 

 

Cowgirl on horse, waving to crowd at rodeoIt's rodeo time, and if you're planning on kicking up your boots at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, you can avoid traffic jams by riding METRO.

Drive to the West Loop Park & Ride located at 4675 S. Braeswood (at South Loop). Parking is free. Then hop on METRO bus 261 Extended West Loop Park & Ride, which will take you directly to the rodeo at Reliant Park.  

Tickets are $4 roundtrip. Children ages 2 and under ride free.

Extended service hours are:

Monday to Friday: 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Saturday & Sunday: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.

This extended service will run through Sunday, March 21.

You can also ride the Red Line on Main Street. Although tickets will be for sale on the platform at Fannin South Station, you can avoid the crowds by pre-buying your train tickets to the rodeo at our RideStore at 1900 Main.

We're pre-selling tickets until this Friday. A window dedicated exclusively to selling rail rodeo tickets will keep you from a long wait.

The RideStore is open Monday to Friday, 8 to 5 p.m.

 

METRO's K-9 Officer Wins Awards
 

Award winner Roxy, MPD K-9 officerShe had three minutes to track and locate explosive devices in a giant room cluttered with tables, desks, backpacks and chairs randomly arranged.

The four-legged officer wasn't nervous, but her handler was.

"They have no idea it's a competition," said Officer Nancy DeMartin, a 17-year veteran of METRO.

But the highly-trained Roxy, a five-year-old Belgian Malinois, focused on her job and placed second in the National Narcotic Detector Dog Association's fifth annual competition recently. Close-up of two awards won by Roxy & Off. DeMartin

Roxy and DeMartin are part of the MPD Canine Program. The eight dogs and their handlers help with narcotics and bomb detection, as well as criminal apprehension.  

In the competition, Roxy found two explosive devices. The dog that finds the most items without a false find wins. She was among 10 explosives dogs and 16 patrol dog teams competing from Texas and Louisiana.

Roxy and DeMartin also captured Third Place award for the Patrol Dog Competition in which teams are tested for obedience and for apprehending suspects in real-life  - and often complex - scenarios.

In the obedience section of the competition, Roxy had to sit motionless while DeMartin walked ahead for a minute. Then the dog had to run with the officer and then slow to a leisurely walk. Finally, Roxy had to lie down and stay until called.

"It's done in a big arena used for horses," said DeMartin of the competition held on the Brazoria County Fair grounds. "There's lots of noise, people in the stands, cats out there, other officers, families. Lots of dogs want to sniff."

The second half of the Patrol Dog Competition was a staged armed robbery, involving three suspects and four vehicles. MPD Officer DeMartin and her partner, Roxy

"Her only mistake was she grabbed the first guy. She wasn't supposed to do that because he had given up. She was already down there, but the minute I told her to come back, she released the person and came back," recalled DeMartin.

DeMartin said the competition tests an officer's control over her dog, tactical skills and ability to move with the dog. A team for a little more than two years, DeMartin calls her canine partner "easy-going."

"We're a pretty good team, pretty quick. Roxy is extremely laid-back," said DeMartin. "She is very methodical. She's not real high energy. She can be - she gets the job done."

The key to developing a winning formula with her furry friend?

"It takes hundreds of training hours," said DeMartin. "Just building a rapport with the dog - that could take a couple of years to be a good, solid canine team.

"You have to have that balance - discipline and you got to spend time. You have to be affectionate, play with them. The dogs need to have their mind exercised as well as taking walks. Tricks engage them and stimulate their mind."

 

 

 

 

 

Rodeo Causes Route Changes Tomorrow
 

Woman in cowboy hat waving flag in paradeIt's time to rodeo - and if you're planning on watching The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo  parade or running in the ConocoPhillips Rodeo Run tomorrow, be prepared for some street closures and detours.

The ConocoPhillips Rodeo Run includes a 10K and 5K fun run. Click here to see details of the route.

The parade starts at 9:30 a.m. on Texas at Smith and concludes at 12:30 p.m. on Walker at Bagby. Click here for detailed detours.

 

 

 

 

 

No Redo's in Real Life

 

 

Teen-ager texting while drivingA 16-year-old Arizona teen won a national contest for public service announcements promoting safety while driving.

Bethany Brown of Cave Creek, Ariz., beat entrants from Hawaii to Maine. Judges were from the sponsoring organizations - The National Road Safety Foundation Inc. (NRSF) and National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS).

Brown's 30-second spot depicts a teen-ager responding to a text message while driving. The distraction causes the driver to crash into an oncoming car.

Then the scene rewinds and starts over - but this time, the driver ignores the beeping alerts of the text message. The driver safely passes the oncoming car she had crashed into in the first scene. Teen texting while driving

A message crawls over the screen: "There are no redo's in real life."

For Brown's powerful PSA, the high school junior will receive a $1,000 scholarship, along with an expenses-paid trip to New York City. She'll get to produce her spot with award-winning film director Mark Sadan.

"Redo" will air on national television after its debut in May during National Youth Traffic Safety Month.

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has been championing no texting while driving and led a summit last fall to find solutions.

"When you get behind the wheel, your focus should be on the road, and safety should be your No. One priority," said LaHood in a statement. "This is especially important for teens, who are less experienced behind the wheel."

Read more about this first annual Drive to Life PSA competition on LaHood's blog, Fast Lane.

 

One Businesswoman's Secret to Success

 

Helen Callier, principal of Bradlink LCCHelen Callier attends almost every METRO board meeting. She reads the METRO Web site, its blog and any news articles on the agency.

She even eats at the deli in our administrative building at 1900 Main St. Ask any staffer, and most will assume she works here.

She doesn't.

She's a certified small business contractor who has learned to work with a huge government agency. Her No. 1 secret?

"I live and breathe my client, which means I live and breathe METRO," says Callier, the founder and principal of Bradlink, LLC, a firm that provides facilities design, engineering and technology support.

Callier has become so successful, teaming up with the big vendors - known as prime contractors - that METRO recently asked her to share her story with other wanna-be METRO contractors at a workshop on what happens after certification.

Callier, a high-energy, upbeat person who says "try" isn't in her vocabulary, said she started pursuing opportunities with METRO in 2004. "Some things we went after initially were not a good fit, or we didn't have the proposal packaged in a manner that showed our strength, or we were not on the right team with a prime," she recalled.

She began embracing the small contracts - those ranging from $5,000 to $7,000, while learning all she could about METRO to see if her firm could fill in any gaps.

"That allowed me to build my portfolio to show METRO what we could do. Baby steps," said Callier. "We started being successful with METRO with small contracts, and with those successes on our resume - even if it were $7,000 - we were a prime contractor with METRO but with a smaller dollar amount. That was ok."

Later, when her company wanted to team up with a bigger firm that was a prime contractor, she could prove she had valuable experience working with METRO. "That's what they needed, too," she said.

Erik Oistad, METRO's vice president and chief information officer, called Callier a true small-business success story.

"Her success is a result of her technical training, organizational ability and desire to follow-through on commitments," said Oistad, recalling Callier's involvement from the beginning with METRO's Q Card program.

As a small businesswoman and president of her firm, Callier said it's up to her to learn the complex procurement process - a challenge for many small businesses.

"If we're submitting a bid and don't understand the procurement process, we could automatically be kicked out," she explained.

 Deborah Richard, METRO's vice president of business services, says Callier has taken the time to become familiar with the type of business METRO conducts.

"She has developed and expanded her firm's skills to coincide with METRO's business needs. She has aggressively marketed her firm's services to the prime contractors in those specific areas of work that METRO contracts out," said Richard. "Bradlink consistently satisfies performance standards."

To other small businesses wanting to participate in business opportunities here, Callier offers this advice:

 

  • Use METRO's products - ride the buses and trains, use the Park & Ride lot. "Know the product. That's important to provide solutions to METRO," points out Callier.
  • Follow up on leads. Nurture relationships. Let METRO know where you're being successful. If you're not selected as a vendor, get debriefed and find out why.
  • Take advantage of the small business development group's monthly workshops at METRO and any program advisors.

Click here to learn how to become certified to do business with METRO. Click here to learn about future workshops.  Click here to go to Rail Means Business, where you will learn about opportunities available with the light-rail lines.   

 

 

Energy Corridor Connector Doubles Ridership
 

Logo of Energy Corridor ConnectorOne month after we launched the 75 Energy Corridor Connector, ridership has doubled.

The Connector is a local bus service along Eldridge Parkway, between I-10 and Richmond Avenue, with connections to Addicks Park & Ride. It was launched in partnership with the Energy Corridor District.  

METRO recorded 426 boardings the first week of operation Jan 25. By week four, ridership had climbed to 862 boardings.

Rider Pardeep Kumar Lingamallu e-mailed this comment to the Energy Corridor District and gave his permission to post on this blog: "Let me congratulate (you) for introducing the route 75 Energy Corridor. It really is an excellent one to introduce in this route.

"I (have been) using this service from the day it was introduced. Prior to this route, I was commuting to my office, BP from the Amli Apartments at Eldridge @ Briar Forest by car pooling and now all my car pool members have started utilizing this excellent service.

"I have no doubt about this route getting popular in coming days.

"I request you to continue this service on weekends, at least on Saturday so that this offers transfer to Westheimer Road for those residents living on the Eldridge Parkway and Memorial Drive for shopping during weekends."

We hope more riders will join Lingamallu and board the Connector.

Buy Rail Rodeo Tickets Early

 

Cowboy on bucking horseThe world's largest livestock exhibition starts in eight days when the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo opens on March 2.

One of the best ways to get there is to ride the rail - and this year, you can buy your rail tickets to the rodeo early.

Almost 2 million people attended the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo last year, and many were buying rail tickets on the platform at the Fannin South station.

But this year, you can avoid the stampede and buy your rail tickets at the RideStore through this Friday. METRORail round-trip tickets will be available for $2.50 each. These are round-trip tickets that can be used for one day only - whatever date you will be attending the rodeo.

The RideStore is located in our administrative building at 1900 Main St. Hours are Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

A window dedicated exclusively to selling rail tickets to the rodeo will be open, ensuring a short line for those who buy early. Cows at rodeo

You may also buy rail rodeo tickets at CenterPoint Energy this Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. We'll be selling tickets in the lobby at 1111 Louisiana St.

"We're pre-selling rail rodeo tickets to offer rodeo-goers an alternative to standing in line the night of the event," said Nicole Adler, marketing rep for METRO's revenue department. "This way they'll have their rodeo tickets and their rail tickets ready to enjoy the evening. We invite everybody to come and take advantage of our pre-sale."

METRO will continue to sell round-trip rail tickets on the platform every night of the rodeo at the Fannin South station.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winning Warriors and Windowpanes
 

 

Terra Cotta Warrior riding a trainAn ancient Chinese warrior and a futuristic train station reflecting from the window panes of Minute Maid Park captured top honors from the American Advertising Federation Houston.

Last Saturday, METRO picked up a silver ADDY in the category of interactive media. It won for the online viral video, Terra Cotta Tourist: The Escape.

The video, about a minute long, featured a warrior who escaped from the Chinese terra cotta warrior exhibit last year at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and enjoyed a break riding a METRO train, visiting local sights. Click here to view it.

The video was shot entirely in-house and competed against Houston ad agencies - large and small - as well, as in-house agencies and design houses.

"This year's judges were particularly hard and judged the entries against the New York, LA and Chicago markets," said Rob Fritsche, who wrote and produced the video. "It gives us validation that while we work for a government agency, we're able to put the same quality of marketing out there as the big companies."

METRO also won a citation for its unusual window clings used to create a futuristic train station at Minute Maid Park's Union Station during the grand opening gala of our North and Southeast lines. Interior of Union Station with window clings of future rail station

Last summer, METRO celebrated the groundbreaking of those two rail lines with a special ceremony at Union Station. The 108 window panes and 18 door panels were covered with low-tech adhesive on which were printed scenes from a future rail station.

"We coated all the windows and doors on the front-facing walls at Union Station so it was like you were looking out at the new rail platform," said Brian Rogers, METRO's graphic designer who managed the project.

Rogers had to measure the gaps between the windows and doors and sketch a schematic of the interior to indicate how to lay out the material. The gaps ranged from one-half inch to several feet.

"We were there the night they were installing it," recalled Rogers. "I was nervous the whole time. I did not think we would be able to pull it off, but we did. It was beautiful. It was a team effort. Every time we win one of these awards it solidifies us as a department."

METRO Matters TV Show on New Bus Shelters
 

 

Montage of Vince Obregon and shelters being installedIf you're a regular bus rider on any of our 14 core routes, you may have noticed bus shelters popping up at stops where there was only a pole and sign.

We are installing 100 bus shelters this fiscal year as part of a new bus shelter program.

Click the link below to hear Vince Obregon, associate vice president of capital program implementation/infrastructure & service development, tell why we're doing this and what you can do if you want a bus shelter at your favorite stop.

http://www.ridemetro.org/News/Broadcast/METROMatters.aspx

If you'd like to watch the show on your big television screen, here are show times on Comcast's Channel 17:

 

 

Mon   2/22/10     6:15 p.m.

Sat    2/27/10     1:30 p.m.

Mon   3/1/10       9:30 p.m.

Wed  3/3/10       6:15 p.m.

Sat    3/6/10       4:45 p.m.

Mon  3/8/10       8:00 p.m.

Wed  3/10/10     8:30 p.m.

Fri     3/12/10     6:45 p.m.

Sat   3/13/10      7:00 p.m.

Tue   3/16/10     6:45 p.m.

Thu   3/18/10     6:00 p.m.

Sat    3/20/10      4:45 p.m.

 

Bunny Line Gets New Station
 

New Quickline bus station on Stella LinkIf you live in the city of Southside Place or West U, now you've got a chance to try METRO's 402 Quickline Bellaire route.

We just erected a bus station on Bellaire Boulevard at Stella Link. The station has the same modern style as the other eight along the nine-mile express route. It's outfitted with the same amenities, including landscaping, public art, digital next-time bus arrival info and improved lighting.

The Signature Bus service runs from Ranchester to the Texas Medical Center Transit Center, with limited stops.

The specially-marked blue hybrid buses cost the same to ride as other local buses - $1.25. The Quickline service was launched last June.

Read more about the Quickline service here.

METRO Board Meetings Air on HTV
 

 

Houston TV logoMETRO board meetings are now airing on the city of Houston's cable access channel, HTV - Channel 16 on Comcast - every week.

If you miss our monthly board meetings, typically held on the third Thursday every month, you can catch it on HTV every Sunday at noon and at midnight.

HTV's programming - and the METRO board meeting  - can also be found on TV Max 16, Phonoscope 2, Suddenlink 14 and AT&T U-verse 99.

If Sunday doesn't work for you, you can also catch it on HCCTV - Channel 19 on Comcast - every Saturday at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

 

 

Broadway's New Hit: Pedestrians
 

 

People lounging in pedestrian-only space on Broadway last MayNew York just became a more walkable city.

Yesterday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said cars will permanently be banned from Broadway.

An experiment last year to close off two areas of Broadway resulted in a pedestrian plaza, complete with lounge chairs for those who wanted to sit and take in the sights and sounds of the city. The photo posted here shows pedestrians enjoying the newly created plaza last May.

Normally jammed with traffic, including taxis whose drivers would constantly honk, the area instead became an oasis for tourists and locals. Aerial view of Times Square, NYC

Not only was the pedestrian-only space popular, it also resulted in reduced accidents - and increased speed of traffic as congestion improved.

"After an exhaustive review that showed positive results in all aspects, and overwhelming improvement in many areas, we've decided to make this groundbreaking pilot project permanent," said Bloomberg.

Because there were less cars in the area, congestion around Times Square, pictured here, also decreased. 

Read more here.  

Would creating pedestrian-only spaces in Houston work? Tell us what you think.

METRO's K-9 Vigo Recovers Quickly
 

 

Vigo and Dr. Brian Beale, the vet who performed the surgeryVigo, METRO's canine officer who underwent knee surgery Tuesday, is recovering well.

Despite some swelling and bruising, the six-year-old Belgium Malinois is resting comfortably at home with his handler, MPD Officer John Wiggins. Wiggins and Vigo are an award-winning pair.

"Vigo has surprised his doctor by already putting full pressure on a freshly-operated joint and walking on his own," reported Wiggins in an e-mail.

Vigo suffers from a partly torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and degenerative joint disease. He will get surgery in another knee later.

Wiggins said Dr. Brian Beale, (pictured above) the vet who performed the surgery, has recommended the dog start walking, but be kept on a leash to prevent any running or jumping.

A silver metal plate and screws were inserted during surgery. Close-up of Vigo's knee where he had surgery

A specially-trained dog, Vigo specializes in detecting bombs. On his way into surgery, the hard-working canine was searching the lockers in the operating area, said Wiggins.

"Vigo is a typical Malinois. He never stops working, despite the situation," said Wiggins, adding that the dog made many new girlfriends at the Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialist Hospital.

For the next 10 to 14 days, the dog won't be allowed to do any vigorous activity. Vigo is resting in the kitchen at Wiggins' home and wears a special lampshade-shaped collar to prevent him from nibbling at his incision.

"We will try to keep you updated on his recovery, and thank you for even caring," said Wiggins.

 

High-speed Rail in the U.S? Look to China
 

Exterior of high-speed Guangzhou-Wuhan trainIn his State of the Union address, President Obama proposed that $8 billion be set aside to develop high-speed rail in the United States.

That amount seems paltry compared to $88 billion China invested last year in its railways, which now boasts the most miles worldwide of high-speed rail - 1,758 miles.

The December opening of the Guangzhou-Wuhan Express, which speeds along at 217 miles an hour, is the most recent example of China's high-speed rail that is also helping to stoke China's economy.

So what can the U.S. learn from China's high-speed rail?

The United States can "learn from Chinese rail's speed, comfort and other aspects," said Wang Yongping, a spokesman at China's Ministry of Railways, according to USA Today.

Not only are high-speed trains greener than driving and flying, they are also "fast, safe, comfortable, convenient and punctual," touts the ministry.

Indeed, a former 10-and-a-half train trip between Guangzhou and Wuhan has now been cut to three hours for the express.

Restrooms on trains are bigger than the tiny closet-like spaces on planes. Uniformed train attendants push cards loaded with peanuts, snacks and beer, while a dining car offers fast food. Interior of high-speed Guangzhou-Wuhan train

Building high-speed tracks cost $20.1 million per mile - money Chinese rail experts say is well-spent.

But American experts point to the roadblocks to high-speed rail here. The U.S. Department of Transportation in an April 2009 strategic plan on high-speed rail lists as obstacles private railroad ownership, state fiscal budgets and a lack of expertise and resources.

One critic says every taxpayer will subsidize high-speed rail in the U.S., but few will use it.

Others, however, say that being behind the curve in high-speed rail does have its advantages. The U.S. can pick the best capabilities and technologies.

What do you think about the future of high-speed rail in the U.S.?

 

 

METRO K-9 Undergoes Knee Surgery
 

 

 

Vigo post-surgery, 2/9/10An award-winning, crime-fighting dog is undergoing knee surgery this afternoon - a move that will give him many more years on the street as a four-legged officer.

Vigo, a Belgian Malinois, suffers from a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and degenerative joint disease in both knees.

Dr. Brian Beale, with Gulf Coast Veterinarian Specialists (GCVS) is performing the surgery this afternoon on one knee - and will perform the second knee surgery in about two weeks.

Without the surgery, Vigo would suffer from painful arthritis and be forced to retire early from the METRO police force.

"Vigo is a very strong dog," said Dr. Beale, pictured on the right. "This surgery will give him a chance at continuing his career for many years to come. TPLO is the most common surgery at our hospital."Dr. Brian Beale

TPLO stands for tibial plateau leveling osteotomy - a state-of-the-art technique that uses minimally-invasive arthroscopic surgery. The success rate is very high.

Vigo's handler, METRO Officer John Wiggins, calls his four-legged partner an awesome dog. The two, pictured above, have been partners since 2004.

"He's a competitor," said Wiggins, of his partner with whom he's won 10 awards. "I want him to feel better. I feel confident that when he comes out, he'll be better than he is now, and we'll have more years together."

Vigo will take about six months off the job to recover. Vigo and Wiggins garnered three medals in July 2009 at the Texas Police Games.

In addition to his vet duties, Dr. Beale hosts a weekly radio show, Your Pet's Health on KTRH 740AM.
 

Where's the Nearest Bus Stop? Check iPhone App
 

 

Screen shot of iPhone app of Ride HoustonA former Houstonian has developed an iPhone application that will instantly tell you the nearest METRO bus and rail stops to your current location.

Called Ride Houston, the app is designed to make it easier to find the right bus or train. Brian Leonard, a software developer who works for a start-up in the Boston area, says he got the idea for this app after moving to Boston and using public transit there.

"When I lived in Humble, I saw the Park & Ride and never used it, but now I think I would if I lived back in Humble," said Leonard in a telephone interview. "I saw the need and want to encourage people to use METRO."

Leonard developed the Boston app, dubbed "To a T" (The T is Bostonians' nickname for the subway) and has sold about 1,000 apps since its release last June.

After living in Manhattan and now Boston, Leonard says he prefers sitting on a bus or train, rather than driving.

"With a little more information, it's possible to take a bus. One of the worst things about transit is, ‘If I go out there, how long am I going to wait?' It's the unknown that's the killer," said Leonard. "If you have a known situation, 10 minutes feels like five. So bringing that information mobile is great."

Here's how Ride Houston works.

The software finds your present location through GPS technology. Then press a button, and red push pins pop up on a map, indicating every bus stop near your location.

A blue dot represents where you are currently located.

Pick a bus stop closest to you. It links seamlessly to Google Maps. Hit "direction" and then type in where you want to go. You'll get detailed walking and riding directions to your destination, including departure and arrival times.

Rik Deere, director of IT Application Support at METRO, said he stumbled across Ride Houston when he wondered if anyone had developed an app and did a Google search.

"It has a very nicely organized Apple interface to pull up all the schedules rather than going through a browser," said Deere. "It has all the information about METRO that I need right there in my iPhone. Very cool, very handy."

Leonard says Ride Dallas just went up last Tuesday, and he's working on Ride Austin.

About 100 people have already downloaded Ride Houston, which will also work with the iPad, said Leonard. You can download Ride Houston for $2.99 through the iTunes App Store. To see screenshots of the app, click here.

 

 

 

Board Meetings to Air on HCCTV
 

Audience at board meetingCurious about which vendors received a contract from METRO?

Or perhaps you want to hear METRO President & CEO Frank J. Wilson's monthly report to the board, summarizing accomplishments.

Now you can watch METRO board meetings on Saturdays, 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on HCCTV, Channel 19 on Comcast cable.

The January 2010 board meeting will run tomorrow - and then be repeated on Saturdays until the February board meeting is ready to air.  

Board meeting - directors in semi-circle

Starting next week, you can also catch METRO Matters and Enfoque METRO, our Spanish-language talk show, on HCCTV every Tuesday and Thursday, 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

 

 

 

METRO to Receive Millions in Obama Budget
 

 

METRO train with skylineWhen President Obama unveiled on Monday his new budget plan , Houston METRO came out a winner.  

Two light-rail lines we're building - the North Corridor and the Southeast Corridor - were chosen to receive matching federal dollars - $75 million for each rail line.

To be two of only four transit projects  nationwide recommended for funding, pending Full Funding Grant Agreements, was quite a coup for METRO. A Full Funding Grant Agreement signals the federal government's commitment to fund a project. President Obama at podium

"The fact that two of the four recommended projects are from Houston speaks volumes about the value and benefits that these projects will bring to our community," said Kim Slaughter, METRO's associate vice president of planning, infrastructure & service development.

"Every person who has ever participated in a meeting or provided comments on these projects should be very proud of the fruits of their labor," Slaughter continued.

This is the second time METRO has been been included in the administration's budget. In the 2010 budget, $150 million were allocated for the North and Southeast Corridor.

Now in 2011, another $150 million have been allocated for these two light-rail lines.

The North Corridor is a 5.3-mile, eight-station double-track, light-rail line that will extend from the existing UH-Downtown station in the Central Business District to the Northline Commons. This project involves purchasing 22 light-rail trains. It would act as an extension to our current Red Line. METRO's Red Line

The Southeast Corridor will be a 6.5-mile light-rail line from the Central Business District to the Palm Center in the vicinity of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd/Griggs Road. This project includes buying 29 light-rail vehicles and building 10 stations, plus a storage and inspection facility.

So how soon would METRO actually get the federal dollars?

The two Full Funding Grant Agreements must be finalized by the Federal Transit Administration's staff. Then it goes to the Office of Secretary of Transportation and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget for review and approval.

Once both these approvals are received, the FTA sends a 60-day notice to Congress, announcing its intention to fund these two projects. After that 60-day period, METRO and the FTA will sign funding contracts - the Full Funding Grant Agreements - to release the federal dollars.

"Once the federal funds are available, this will secure the FTA's commitment to be long-term partners in the North and Southeast light-rail projects," explained Slaughter.

"METRO looks forward to continuing to work with the community to deliver great projects. We are dedicated to provide more choices to move more people to more places," said Slaughter.

 

 

Slime Mold Grows Good Transit Network
 

 

Network formed by slime mold compared to real-life Tokyo train networkCan the lowly amoeba teach transit planners how to combat congestion and design roads?

Apparently so, according to a new report in the journal Science. Researchers at the Hokkaido University in Japan studied the slime mold species Physarum polycephalum and discovered that as it grows, it connects itself to scattered food crumbs in a design that is remarkably similar to the Tokyo rail system.

Slime mold is similar to fungus and is a singled-celled animal that grows in a network of connected veins, spreading out like a web, reports msnbc.com.

Slime mold grows in the most efficient way it can to expand its access to nutrients, said the researchers.

The team placed oat flakes on a wet surface, making the flakes represent cities surrounding Tokyo. They added bright lights, which slime mold avoids, representing mountains or other geographical features trains would have to detour.

The slime mold formed a network around the nutrients in a pattern very similar to the train system linking cities around Tokyo -  and was actually more efficient. The scientists then fed the slime mold data into a computer model and hope to use the information to develop more efficient transportation networks.

In the photo above, the network on the left was designed by slime mold; the one on the right is the Tokyo rail network.

Biologically inspired networks may be the future for transit planners.

Read the scientific abstract here.