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Houston Metro Light Rail

Houston, Texas

The Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority’s (METRO) light rail system, operational since 2004, has transformed the city’s public transportation landscape and catalyzed transit-oriented development along its routes.

HOK was the urban designer and lead architect for the initial 7.5-mile Main Street Line, now known as the Red Line. It connects the University of Houston’s downtown campus, the city center, Museum District, Texas Medical Center and a park-and-ride facility south of NRG Park.

HOK master planned the Red Line’s initial 16 stations and created a prototype design that our team implemented at four stations. We also supervised the architects who adapted the prototype for the remaining 12 stations. The prototype includes a kit-of-parts with a steel base and a glazed glass canopy that protects travelers from the elements. Its timeless, simple design was efficient to construct and created a unified identity for the light rail system.

Through public meetings and presentations, HOK engaged both the client and community to ensure the design fit Houston’s needs while honoring the city’s rich history and bright future. The team also collaborated with artists to feature artwork at the stations, including metal sculptures, paintings embedded within the canopy’s glass and unique tiling. These pieces provide curated elements that complement the prototypical station design.

The landscape along the line and at the stations incorporate low maintenance, drought-tolerant plants as well as trees for extra shade. At the Museum District, the design incorporates and preserves existing mature oak trees directly adjacent to the station. The project team used innovative construction techniques with piers and grade beams to build the station’s base and roof system above the tree roots and beneath the trees’ canopies, allowing the trees to continue to thrive.

The rail line and associated stations were carefully integrated into existing streets, including some of Houston’s historic avenues. This helped reduce impact to existing infrastructure as well as overall investment.

Since its inception, Houston’s light rail system has grown to three lines, serving more than 40 stations on 23 miles of track. The Red Line has catalyzed development along its route, including commercial businesses, arts and cultural organizations, new residential towers and the Ion Innovation District.

Learn more about how lessons learned from METRO’s light rail can help Houston plan future expansions to its transit system.

7.5 miles
16 Stations
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