AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin residents are getting their first glimpse at preliminary light rail train designs under Project Connect. These come ahead of updated, 30% design and cost estimates officials are expected to release this summer, which will give a more accurate — albeit still preliminary — insight into the overall costs and design features of the vehicles.

The blue and orange lines are the two light rail-centric systems under the multi-billion dollar Project Connect. In total, the two light rail lines account for 28.2 miles of service within the Project Connect system. Their designs vary from the red line, a 32-mile regional rail service that will connect to light rail lines within the program.

Light rail vehicles

Early-stage designs depict five passenger doors on each side of the rail car, along with cargo space allocated for strollers, luggage, bicycles and other larger-scale items. The vehicles are designed as 100% low floor cars, which means there are no steps involved getting from the platform onto the train. Officials said this design would help enhance accessibility features for passengers entering and exiting the car.

Other accessibility features include:

  • Americans with Disabilities Act compliance
  • Wheelchair accommodations
  • Seating, grab handle arrangements
  • Illuminated push buttons and service status indicators
  • Bike storage
  • Emergency intercom system within the train

How do light rail vehicles vary from the red line’s regional trains?

Compared to the red line’s more traditional, locomotive-style design, project leaders said light rail trains are smaller with tighter curves that are specific to below and at-grade traffic patterns through Austin’s urban centers and systems. Maximum speeds are anticipated at 55 miles per hour for light rail cars.

The light rail trains are expected to go through “mixed crossings,” such as traveling alongside other vehicular traffic like buses and cars. The structure and design of the red line’s cars, meanwhile, are more catered toward traditional commuter train uses.

What below-ground safety features are there within light rail tunnels?

Key elements include both lighting and ventilation within the tunnels, along with emergency walkways and exits from the cars. Security cameras will be installed throughout the tunnel systems, along with first responder and public safety radio connections in case of an emergency.

Officials said train operators will also be inside the trains and are trained to respond in case equipment malfunctions, such as an unplanned stop along the line. Project Connect leaders are also looking into technology that would allow maintenance staff to see into the light rail cars in real time to be able to detect, diagnose and respond to possible malfunctions.

What are the next steps for the design process?

Project Connect officials are projected to release 30% design and cost estimates this summer. These cost estimates come after leaders noted preliminary costs for the light rail system are expected to nearly double, due to a combination of increasingly expensive real estate, labor and supply chain cost inflations and program scope changes like lengthened tunnels.

Officials will deliver the project in phases to minimize impacts on costs, and said they do not anticipate a tax increase to fund the elevated program costs.