Rail Operations Center Expansion Gives Houston’s Light Rail a Lift

With a population of more than two million, Houston is among the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country. The city is currently undertaking an aggressive $2.1 billion expansion to its light rail system that will more than triple capacity, giving travelers more modal options while easing congestion and supporting air quality improvement goals. KCI, through our acquisition of ESPA CORP, played a critical role in the project through improvements at METRO’s Rail Operation Center (ROC) that serves as a hub for vehicle storage and maintenance.

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Each light rail vehicle weights approximately 100,000 pounds, costs $4 million, and is processed through the Rail Operations Center every night.

Houston’s existing 7.5-mile Red Line averages 37,000 passengers daily, placing the current light rail system second in ridership per mile in the U.S. Expansion plans call for several new rail corridors, adding more than 15 additional track miles and 24 stations.

“The North Corridor is scheduled to come online and go into revenue service in December of this year,” said Larry D. Horst, PMP, program manager of construction services at the Metropolitan Transit Authority. “Two other lines open next year, so more and more light rail vehicles will go through the Rail Operations Center each night.”

ESPA oversaw a $17 million expansion of the facility including five new tracks and a 22,664-square-foot building addition to bolster service and storage capabilities.

“We have more than a decade of experience working with METRO at their administrative building and transit centers as well as park and ride lots and along transit lines,” said ESPA President Karun Sreerama, PE, PhD. “The ROC was an aggressive design-build project that required all our capabilities and experience for the site and building improvements.”

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The new addition at the Rail Operation Center includes a specialized lift that allows crews to remove train wheel assemblies for maintenance.

Working for team leader HRT, plans for the addition, equipment, tracks, access road improvements, parking, utilities, and stormwater management were completed in less than six months.

The new building expansion houses a specialized in-floor lift that can raise the 50-ton cars, while supporting and lowering vehicle wheel assemblies for repairs. Specialized cranes and a sand-blast booth facilitate maintenance and repairs that had to be outsourced previously. A new cleaning platform outside allows crews to vacuum up to four vehicles at once, expediting overnight turnaround times for the entire fleet.

ESPA is currently designing more track storage that will allow the ROC to process and store up to 60 light-rail cars in the near future, further supporting METRO’s anticipated expansion and ridership plans.