Riding the Austin Metro (Finally)
Updated: Sep 5, 2018
I’m not really good at waiting, whether it’s a few hours for dinner (I’m big on snacks) or a few years to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (okay, that one was worth the wait). I’ve lived in Austin for almost a decade, and I feel like I’ve been hearing about the Capital MetroRail nearly that entire time. And for the past two years, I’ve been waiting impatiently to finally climb aboard. The MetroRail was originally supposed to begin service in March 2007, but delays pushed that launch until March 22 of this year, so for those two years in between, I had my ears pricked for any news about the launch while watching the station near my house go unused and the empty red and gray rail cars parked indefinitely just off Metric Boulevard.
When the MetroRail finally opened for business last month, I checked out the service schedule, and my stomach sank. I must have been too excited about the prospect of never having to circle around the same downtown block again and again while scouting out an elusive parking spot to pay attention to the realities of the MetroRail service, which were that the trains would only run on weekdays and, even then, only for a few hours during the morning and evening commute. “Seriously?” I asked the CapMetro website. “Seriously,” it confirmed.
Because my office isn’t located along the line, I couldn’t figure out when I would finally be able to ride the rail. Then my mom decided to come for a visit, and I took a day off work, giving us the perfect opportunity to take advantage of my favorite form of public transportation.
When we pulled up at the station at 8:20 a.m. to catch the last southbound train of the morning, there were fewer than a handful of people on the platform. We bought our tickets at the machine ($6 each for an unlimited 24-hour pass) and the train quickly approached. We boarded, and the first thing that struck me was how clean the car was. Then I noticed how comfortable the seats looked. Only after I sat down did I realize that we’d be facing backward on our journey, which was a bit of a bummer since I am embarrassingly prone to motion sickness. I noticed that several other passengers were working on laptops using the free Wi-Fi, and a few had even stowed their bikes on the rack inside the door. The trip downtown took about a half hour. Honestly, it felt like we were moving really slowly, but the trip was smooth and the scenery through the big picture windows held my interest the entire time. During the first part of the journey along MoPac, my mom even commented that it felt like we were in a tunnel of trees, but then the view gave way to houses and schools and roads until we arrived downtown just outside the north entrance of the convention center on Fourth Street.
With the afternoon train a good eight hours away from departing, we spent our day downtown like tourists – breakfast at the delicious 1886 Cafe & Bakery, shopping at Sixth and Lamar, burgers at Hut’s, an early happy hour in the warehouse district and even taking the surprisingly educational and hilarious Austin Duck Tour. When we made our way back to the downtown platform to leave, it was much more crowded than it had been that morning. In fact, by the time the car left, there was someone seated in every single row. Somehow we still ended up facing backward on the return trip up north (how is that even possible?), but when I thought about how I would normally be stuck somewhere along I-35 around 5:15 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, I didn’t really care which direction I was facing. I was just grateful we were moving.