Kai Zhao: Taking Traffic to Task, One Line at a Time

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Release Date: Aug. 12, 2014

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The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO) is the region’s largest public transit provider, offering safe, reliable and affordable transportation services about 370,000 times per day. Besides operating more than 1,200 buses, METRO is currently expanding its 13-mile Red Line with two new lines under construction. METRO’s services also include: Star Vanpool, METROLift, HOV lanes, HOT lanes, Bikes-on-Buses/Trains program, Park & Ride, and road improvement projects. Learn more about METRO services at ridemetro.org where you will also find information about our T.R.I.P. app and the new digital, interactive rider tool METRO 360 [take a seat].


Trains and Traffic: No Time for Crossed Signals

Cables communicate train movement to traffic

Heavy traffic is hard to handle, and even harder  to control. Houstonians will remember being trapped in cars running from Hurricane Rita in 2005, but the rush from Rita can't hold a candle to the gridlock that seized Beijing four years later. 

Motorists in China's capital, in a strange twist of fate, became mired in a 62-mile traffic jam. The twelve day motoring meltdown was caused by vehicles carrying roadwork supplies, intended, believe it or not, to relieve traffic congestion. 

METRO’s Kai Zhao, (below) emigrated from China years before that traffic nightmare, and sees humor in good intentions gone bad, but he doesn't have a lot of time to laugh as he works through a pile of papers at his makeshift desk on the corner of Smith and Capitol. 

METRO's Kai Zhao looks over signal tests on downtown rail expansion.

Bob Webb, systems quality control manager for contractor HRT, looks on as METRO Traffic Engineer Kai Zhao reviews the axle counter case (ACC) test at Capitol and Smith. The axle counter is a safety device and this test is the first of 14 needed to clear train (bar) and traffic signals at this intersection.  

Shawn Carter checks color-coded cables for resistance and continuity via a handheld radio.

"It's tedious work testing for continuity and resistance," observes Zhao as crewmember Shawn Carter reads wire colors into a handheld radio. "But it's the basis for everything we do. Get one cable wrong and you mess up the whole system."

Zhao spent 10 years as a consultant developing the METRO Regional Computer Traffic Signaling System before becoming METRO staff.  Today he is busy with his list of potential issues. The check goes on, and Zhao keeps his eyes focused and his ears attentive. He won't stop until all the boxes are checked and trains are cleared to roll on METRO's brand new tracks.  With more than 300 miles of wire and cable spanning three new lines, he's a busy man.