I like commuter trains. Well, trains in general I should say, but I like the convenience of well planned trains for getting around urban areas. Recently I discovered Seattle has a great train that runs to and from the airport that I had never used on previous trips. Tried it on the last trip up there and it was great. And a couple of bucks in comparison to the usual $40-50 cab fare into the city. I’ve used BART many a time to do the same kind of trip from the airport into the heart of San Francisco. But, I had never taken Austin’s relatively new commuter rail.
I hadn’t previously planned to go out of my way to ride the train. It’s not close to me and its schedule is such that it’s virtually useless to me on a routine basis. Kinda sad because it’s some fantastic infrastructure. So why bother? The logistics of a Friday car repair had me leaving one of my cars downtown at the office while I got a lift out to pick up the repaired car. So, I could trouble someone to give me a lift back downtown to get the other car or I could think of something else. I wanted to get in a bike ride anyway on Saturday so it occurred to me, why not ride over to the train and check it out. It goes right downtown. Cost for the one way trip: $2.75.
So I rode the 12 or so miles over to the Lakeline station in far northwest Austin. It was the easiest station to get to from my place. Cycling over to the Lakeline station in NW Austin is not hard and yet I would guess most people would have no interest. It’s not near much of anything other than Avery Ranch and the roads you have to take to get there are heavily traveled by cars going pretty fast. But at least there are back roads (not 183 or its frontage) that you can take to get there. But I did have to take hwy 620, which I hate to ride on. Way too much traffic. So it’s doable but really annoying.
The schedule on a Saturday is odd as far as I’m concerned. The earliest train on a Saturday from Lakeline starts at 4:48pm. If it went earlier, I bet they would get riders. The downtown is a growing and vibrant part of the city and moreso every day. People would go there during the day on a Saturday.
I wondered whether I would be the only one riding the train. Clearly not. The train is two cars long and the one I was in had at least 20 people in it by the time we headed south into the city. And we picked up more riders at ever stop. By the time we got downtown, the train was full and both bike racks were filled. You can see my bike hanging within the car in one of the photos here. There are only two racks in each car. The alternative is to stand with the bike while you ride. There’s limited space to do that but it certainly seems like it wouldn’t be hard.
There were 8 stops (including Lakeline where I got on and the downtown stop) along the way. Once we got going I was impressed that the train actually picked up some pretty good speed between some of the stations – particularly the ones further out. Total time to get downtown was somewhere in the neighborhood of 40-45 min. Along the way we went through parts of the city I almost never see, and it literally goes through a lot of people’s back yards in north and east Austin.
There’s not likely to be too many reasons I need to go out of my way to ride the Austin Metrorail – me and most of anyone that lives west of Mopac – and yet I think it’s a great start. Now if it just went to the airport, I bet I would use it.