Reliably Austin
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

CapMetro 'misspoke' and now says North Austin quiet zones won't be ready until April

A MetroRail train crossing is pictured near Kramer Station on Nov. 4, 2021, in North Austin. A sign says "STOP Look for trains." A car is passing by in the background. The train track gate is open.
Michael Minasi
KUT News
Trains will keep blowing their horns at four rail crossings in North Austin at least until April.

People in North Austin will have to endure the sound of trains blasting their horns dozens of times a day for another six to eight weeks. A Capital Metro executive tells KUT he was wrong when he said a new "quiet zone" covering four rail crossings in the area would take effect last weekend.

"I will go on the record right now and tell you that I misspoke. You can accept my apology for misspeaking," CapMetro's operations chief Andy Skabowski told KUT Monday morning.

The apology comes alongside another from the transit authority for Saturday's subpar train service after the much-hyped opening of McKalla Station — a $60 million train stop at Q2 Stadium where Major League Soccer team Austin FC plays.

"I wasn't trying to be dishonest. I just misspoke. ... Put it all on me," Skabowski said. He clarified that additional work and federal approvals mean the quiet zone won't be active until sometime in April.

An aerial view of McKalla Station showing two sets of train tracks. Each platform has two canopies on each side for people to catch shade or avoid rain. Some parts of the station that will be landscaped are now just dirt and gravel.
Nathan Bernier
KUT News
McKalla Station opened at Q2 Stadium on Saturday.

Quiet zones are areas where train engineers don't have to honk their horns at every street crossing. The Federal Railroad Administration allows them at crossings with safety upgrades. Almost all of CapMetro's 32-mile Red Line is covered by quiet zones.

But a cluster of four crossings in North Austin — Braker Lane, Kramer Lane, Rundberg Lane and Rutland Drive — have Red Line trains blowing their horns some 37 times a day at each crossing. The blasts, louder than a jackhammer at over 100 decibels, can be heard inside apartment buildings blocks away. At night, freight trains take their turn.

CapMetro also asked for the public's forgiveness over frustrating train service for Austin FC's home opener Saturday. The transit agency waived Red Line fares in celebration of the long-awaited McKalla Station, which was designed to handle large crowds flowing out of Austin's first major league sports stadium.

In an apology posted online, CapMetro CEO Dottie Watkins said the agency moved a record 4,000 fans to and from the match, double the typical ridership for such events.

One major mixup was caused by CapMetro underestimating how many soccer fans would take the train from the Downtown and Plaza Saltillo stations, leading to overcrowding and delays. Some people gave up waiting and took an Uber or Lyft. CapMetro is promising to have employees on the platform before the match next time, telling riders what's going on.

Problems continued after the game. Fans had no idea when the next trains would arrive, because the Red Line wasn't running on a normal schedule.

In one confusing configuration, fans exiting Q2 Stadium were funneled onto the southbound platform at McKalla Station, regardless of whether they needed to head north. Trains from both directions were using the same track and converging at McKalla. Next time, CapMetro says it will use both platforms.

Making matters worse, CapMetro is operating with a reduced fleet. A train that the transit agency says was hit by a dump truck last November is still being repaired. On Saturday, one of the nine remaining trains broke down temporarily.

"[We're] asking people to give us another shot. Please try us again," Skabowski said. "We learned from what happened on Saturday, and we're going to make things better."

The next Austin FC home match is Saturday, March 9 — which is also the second day of South by Southwest. CapMetro Rail will be free all day.

Correction: A train was put out of commission last November after being hit by a truck, CapMetro says, not from the incident in which a pedestrian died. Skabowski had discussed having additional workers on the platform before each game. Employees were already on the platform after games.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
Related Content