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North Line on track to open early

Excellent.

Metro’s North Line light rail extension will open ahead of schedule in December, officials said Thursday, providing the first new light rail service in Houston in almost 10 years.

The announcement at the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s monthly board meeting followed a series of delays and setbacks for the agency’s light rail expansion project, authorized by voters in 2003. The Main Street “Red Line” opened Jan. 1, 2004.

Better-than-expected construction progress means the North Line is scheduled to open before Christmas, Metro officials said Thursday. The line runs from the University of Houston Downtown, the northern end of the Red Line, along Main and Fulton streets to Northline Commons north of Loop 610.

Officials said they are ecstatic the $756 million line is ahead of the construction schedule established in 2011.

“You under-promise and over-perform,” said Metro chairman Gilbert Garcia. “We’re very pleased to be bringing this in.”

[…]

To meet the December opening date, a lot of work remains, but it is not dependent on weather or other factors Metro can’t control, officials said.

“Very shortly, you’re going to see us powering up the system,” interim Metro president Tom Lambert said.

Rail and concrete for platforms are in place, and most of the remaining construction involves electrical work, landscaping and finishing the eight stations along the 5.3-mile extension.

At the Burnett station under construction north of Interstate 10, workers were laying communications wiring and placing the glass panels at the passenger platforms Thursday.

By June, work will shift to internal components such as electrical connections for the overheard power wires and communications among the train signals, Metro’s downtown headquarters and Houston TranStar, where the system is maintained.

Metro will test the line by running trains without passengers. The first test is scheduled for Tuesday, when Metro plans to drag a train car along the tracks with a special sled vehicle that’s essentially a tractor. The test will make sure a train car doesn’t strike any of the overheard wires, station canopies or other items, project manager Michael Krantz said.

Work continues, meanwhile, on the East and Southeast lines, both set for late-2014 openings, Lambert said.

It’s exciting to know that this will be ready to go in just a few months. We’ve been waiting an awfully long time. Metro will be doing some testing on the line beginning today as a “shuttlewagon” tows a light rail car along the North Line – imagine a tugboat pulling a barge behind it, except on train tracks. I trust someone will get a photo of this as it’s happening. Anyway, great news about the North Line. Hopefully we’ll hear some equally great news about the other lines someday soon. Swamplot has more.

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