CapMetro Rail train at Lakeline station.

(Larry D. Moore, CC BY 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)



CapMetro Rail is a hybrid rail (light rail with some features similar to commuter rail) system that serves the Greater Austin area in Texas and is owned by CapMetro, Austin's primary public transportation provider. The Red Line is CapMetro's first and currently only rail line, and connects Downtown Austin with Austin's northwestern suburbs. The line operates on 32 miles (51 km) of existing freight tracks, and serves 10 stations. After a series of delays, CapMetro Rail was inaugurated in March 2010. CapMetro added Friday evening and Saturday afternoon and evening regularly scheduled service on March 23, 2012. In 2023, the line had a ridership of 485,400, or about 1,500 per weekday as of the fourth quarter of 2023.

Several proposals to construct new tracks running through the densest areas of the city have been put forward over the years. Austin voters chose not to commit funds towards the construction of a light rail system in 2000 and 2014 but did do so in 2020.[6] Since then, CapMetro has been planning new rail lines as part of the Project Connect plan. Construction of the Orange and Blue light rail lines would bring rail service to the western half of Downtown, the University of Texas at Austin, and the city's airport. The Green Line would operate similarly to the Red Line, operating on existing freight tracks between Austin, Manor, and Elgin.



Early urban rail efforts

Advocates of modern urban rail began calling on the city of Austin to develop a passenger rail system at the height of the 1970s energy crisis. When voters approved CapMetro's creation in 1985, the agency was seen not only as the new operator of local bus services but as the developer of a future passenger rail as well. The next year, CapMetro partnered with the City of Austin to purchase the 162-mile (261 km) Giddings-to-Llano Austin and Northwestern Railroad (A&NW) from the Southern Pacific Transportation Company with the express purpose of someday operating passenger rail on it. The purchase price was $9.3 million, of which $6 million came from a grant from the Federal Transit Administration, $0.6 million came from the City of Austin and $2.7 million came from CapMetro. On May 20, 1998, CapMetro acquired the City of Austin's share in the railroad for $1 million.

During the 1990s, CapMetro faced persistent bad publicity that resulted from dysfunctional management and poor accountability. After years of inaction on passenger rail, the Texas Legislature in 1997 stepped in and ordered the public transport provider to hold a referendum on light rail. In response, CapMetro drew up an ambitious plan for a $1.9 billion, 52-mile (84 km) system to be funded by federal funds and local sales taxes. The 2000 proposal's 14-mile "starter segment" would have used the A&NW's right-of-way through Austin from a station at Howard Lane south to another at the Lamar / Airport intersection, then followed Lamar south to Guadalupe Street, and finally run along Guadalupe to serve the university and Downtown. Future phases would have extended passenger rail service along the entire A&NW right-of-way between Downtown and a Leander station, plus new tracks along South Congress Avenue and Riverside Drive.

The 2000 proposal was narrowly defeated by 2,000 votes, receiving support from 49.6% of voters; most of central Austin voted in favor whereas suburban and exurban areas within the service area voted against.


Red Line and Downtown station

CapMetro came back in 2004 with a significantly scaled-down version of its 2000 plan that it hoped voters in Travis County and Williamson County would find more palatable. Rather than a comprehensive network of electric light rail vehicles, CapMetro proposed a single diesel-fueled commuter rail line which would use the A&NW track between Downtown and Leander. The corridor was chosen for the first line after CapMetro's Board identified the following areas as probable areas for future growth: the Highland Mall area, the master-planned Mueller Community redevelopment project, as well as the central business district, extending from the University of Texas at Austin to Lady Bird Lake. MetroRail was presented to voters as part of the All Systems Go Long-Range Transit Plan, which also included expanded local and express bus service. The 2004 version was approved by 62% of voters in the service area.

The organization at the time said they could have the system built by 2008 for a cost of $60 million, and borrow $30 million for six train cars to be paid back over a period of years. About $30 million of that cost, they said, would come from the federal government. However, CapMetro never officially sought the federal money and revealed in 2010 it has spent $105 million on the system's construction, not $90 million as originally suggested. Additionally, the original 2008 launch date for CapMetro Rail was postponed two years due to multiple safety and construction issues. Service on CapMetro Rail finally began on March 22, 2010.

On June 26, 2014, TxDOT awarded CapMetro with a $50 million grant for the purchase of four new rail cars, which is anticipated to double capacity, and for general improvements to the Downtown MetroRail station.

By 2015, CapMetro had taken the first steps in the planning of a permanent downtown station. Although the estimates for cost of the proposed terminal were $30–35 million, $22 million of this sum came directly from a Texas Department of Transportation grant awarded to CapMetro in 2014. Proponents of the station asserted that it will not only alleviate the congestion problems associated with the current downtown MetroRail terminal, but also serve as a cultural hub wherein future residents and visitors can easily access many current and potential amenities, including but not limited, to additional transit systems, shopping, and recreational activities. The new permanent Downtown station opened on October 19, 2020.


2014 vote

CapMetro continued planning for a light rail network running between neighborhoods of Austin's urban core. After the failure of the system proposed in 2000, by 2014 CapMetro had settled on a new, more easterly proposed routing: 9.5 miles through South Austin along Riverside, through Downtown and UT along Trinity and San Jacinto, and north along Red River and Airport to ACC Highland. In November 2014, when asked to approve $600 million in bonds to be repaid by property taxes to fund the system, Austin-area voters again rejected light rail, with only 43% voting in favor.


Project Connect approval and planning

The third light rail proposal drafted by CapMetro and submitted to voters was far more elaborate than the first two. Planners returned to a core concept of the 2000 proposal: a north-south line running west of UT and Downtown along Lamar and Guadalupe, then along South Congress Avenue south of Downtown. However, numerous other elements were also included in the November 2020 ballot proposition, bringing the total estimated cost of Project Connect to $7.1 billion, of which $5.8 billion would pay for the 20-mile light rail system. An east-west Blue Line running along Riverside to the airport was planned to connect with the Orange Line downtown, where both would run through a 1.6 mile tunnel expected to provide improved speed, reliability, and capacity compared to an on-street line. A Gold Line Bus Rapid Transit line reusing the 2014 east-of-downtown route, a Green Line along CapMetro-owned freight tracks to Manor and Elgin and new bus park-and-rides throughout the city rounded out the plan to sway voters beyond the reach of the planned light rail. Voters ultimately approved, by 58%, the increase in property taxes proposed to help fund the system.

After voter approval, the engineering and design of the light rail system continued. By 2022, the cost estimate to fully implement the original Project Connect plan had increased to $10.3 billion due to increased property acquisition prices, inflation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and scope changes to the original design. In particular, flood mitigation concerns, a Capitol View Corridor, and community engagement had combined to double the downtown tunnel's length to 4.2 miles.

The most recent version of the project, approved by the Austin City Council in June 2023, no longer includes a downtown tunnel after it was eliminated to reduce costs down to $4.5 billion and advance the project more quickly. Trains will initially run along 9.8 miles of dedicated street lanes, with the full system to be constructed once additional funds are available.


MetroRail train crossing Comal Street.

(Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)



The CapMetro Rail system currently consists of the Red Line, 32 miles (51 km) of track that connects Leander and the Austin Convention Center in Downtown Austin. The line also passes through Cedar Park, northwest Austin, north-central Austin, and east Austin. The annual cost to operate the Red Line is $14.3 million.

On January 18, 2011, CapMetro added 13 additional midday trains to the previously limited schedule, as well as increased runs during peak hours. Additionally, the organization will run trains on a regular schedule Friday and Saturday starting March 23, 2012. In addition to the normal Friday schedule, trains will run hourly from 7:00 pm to 12:00 am and every 35 minutes from 4:00 pm to 12:00 am on Saturday. Before beginning the regularly scheduled Friday and Saturday service CapMetro ran weekend service for special events, such as the SXSW festival.


Red Line

Currently, the CapMetro Rail system consists only of the Red Line, which is alternately designated as Route 550 on internal CapMetro documents. Its northern terminus is the Leander Station and Park & Ride and the southern terminus is the Downtown (Convention Center) Station. Each station features an accessible platform with varying canopy designs, ticket vending machines (TVM), bike racks, and informational displays. Its nine stations were constructed largely along existing freight rail tracks in cooperation with the City of Austin following a transit-oriented development (TOD) plan intended to encourage the use of public transportation by developing mixed-use residential and commercial areas around the stations. Frequencies are expected to improve to 15 minutes after double tracking is completed between Lakeline and Leander. The following Red Line stations are listed north to south:

  • Leander
  • Lakeline
  • Howard
  • Kramer
  • McKalla
  • Crestview
  • Highland
  • MLK Jr.
  • Plaza Saltillo
  • Downtown


Though trains are available past midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, the last train leaving downtown Monday through Thursday is at 7:20 pm.


Red Line approaching Plaza Saltillo station.

(CarmenEsparzaAmoux, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)


Rolling stock

In September 2005, Stadler Rail won a bid to build six Stadler GTW diesel-electric light regional railcars for the system. Each of the vehicle's capital costs is about $6 million, and they run on 2 x 375 kW (510 Hp) = 750 kW (1020 Hp) diesel-electric engines. They are 9 feet 8 inches (2.95 m) wide and 134 feet (41 m) long. In 2017, CapMetro received 4 new GTW trainsets from Stadler for the MetroRail Red Line. These new trains expanded the fleet from 6 to 10 units, and allowed CapMetro to increase the frequency of the Red Line. The new trains feature a slightly tweaked paint scheme (to better match the MetroBus paint scheme), LED destination displays instead of the flip-dot displays found on the older units, and an updated engine car design that features a rounded top rather than the angled top found on the older units. The units originally purchased in 2005 are numbered Nos. 101-106 and the newer units purchased in 2014 are numbered Nos. 201-204.

The vehicles have a capacity of 200 passengers, 108 seated and 92 standing. The trains have priority seating areas (fully ADA compliant) for wheelchair users. A "VIP section" with room for laptop use with WiFi access is also included. Bike racks, luggage racks, high back racks, and low floor entry for easy access are all features of what CapMetro calls the safest and most technologically advanced trains in North America. WiFi is provided by cellular-based 3G service. CapMetro is currently researching upgrading access to 4G speeds, but is dependent on the cell carrier offering a commercial grade product that will work in CapMetro's devices. For safety, the vehicles have ten cameras outside and six inside, as well as a sophisticated communications system.


Red Line approaching Lakeline station.

(Greg Houston, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)


More Information

Addition information about CapMetro Rail is available on Wikipedia.



Owner: Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Locale: Greater Austin, Texas, U.S.
Transit type: Hybrid rail
Line number: 550
Number of stations: 10
Daily ridership: 1,500 (weekdays, Q4 2023)
Annual ridership: 485,400 (2023)
Began operation: March 22, 2010
Operator: Herzog Transit Services
Number of vehicles: 10 Stadler GTW
Headway: 30–40 minutes (peak), 60 minutes (off-peak)
System length: 32 mi (51 km)
Track gauge: 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Top speed: 60 mph (97 km/h)


See Also:

Stadler GTW

Railroads A-Z