Metro Is Preparing Houston Drivers To Share The Streets With Light Rail

Workers put the finishing touches on a North Line extention rail stop at Fulton and Melbourne near the 610 North Loop.
In just a few months from now, Metro will start running trains to test Houston's three new light rail lines. And that means drivers will have to change some of their familiar habits.

At the Northline Transit Center, bus riders watch as a Metro crew tows a light rail train down the tracks along Fulton Street. It's part of the testing process as Metro gets ready to open the North Line extention. Trains are expected to start rolling on those tracks later this year. 

Oswaldo Gutierrez has just gotten off the bus from the Heights. He says he likes what he sees.

"I'm looking forward to it. It makes the neighborhood look nice.  They're fixing it up and it's a big change, and hopefully everything goes well."

But longtime northside resident Robert Weaton remembers what happened when the Main Street line first opened in 2004. In its first year of operation the line had over 60 car-train collisions. Weaton hopes drivers get the message this time around.

"They'll learn it after a while when they're getting tickets and things. Because that train, to me, has got the right-of-way. It's running you know, so you're the one who's got to stop for those signals and things."

rail sign
Signs to warn Houston drivers about light rail crossings

And Metro is working to make sure drivers and pedestrians get that message. Starting next year, Houston will have 15 new miles of operating light rail tracks.

"It's a change in mindset for Houston. It's an absolute change in mindset."

That's Metro Margaret O'Brien-Molina.

"This is bigger than just the East End, it's bigger than the North Line, it's bigger than the Southeast Line. This means all of Houston, because at some point or the other, we're all going to cross those tracks."

O'Brien-Molina says the big thing drivers need to remember is that the trains hardly make any noise, so if you're driving along a street like Fulton, Harrisburg, or Scott, a train could appear at any time.

That means drivers need to be especially careful when they make left turns. There are also new lights and signs, and crosswalks for pedestrians to get to rail stops. 

"We've already educated 14,000 children and asked them to bring that message home. We've prepared packets to show kids exactly how this works, what the lines are going to look like."

The next step in the rail construction process is to hook up electricity to the lines. Once that happens, Metro will start testing trains on the lines at normal speeds.  That testing is expected to start late this summer.

Bio photo of Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

Gail Delaughter joined KUHF in October 2008 as Saturday morning news anchor and host. A native of New Orleans and a graduate of Southeastern Louisiana University, Gail has extensive experience in Texas and Louisiana as a radio news reporter and morning show anchor and co-host...