TxDOT Studies Possibility Of New Passenger Rail Service

TxDOT is launching a two-year study on whether passenger rail service would help cut down on traffic on some of the state's most congested freeways. The study will look at the possibility of a new passenger line between South Texas and Oklahoma City. State transportation officials will also consider how to pay for it.

The $14 million dollar study is funded in part through a grant from the Federal Railroad Administration/. What TxDOT wants to know is whether travelers along busy I-35 would be willing to leave their cars at home, if they had the opportunity to take the train.

As for passenger rail service in the area, there’s the Heartland Flyer between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City. Riders can also take the Texas Eagle from San Antonio to Dallas-Fort Worth. Now officials are considering an 800 mile rail line that would go directly to Oklahoma from the Rio Grande Valley. 

Peter LeCody is with the organization Texas Rail Advocates.

“Just by pouring more asphalt and concrete, don’t know if that’s the total answer that we need. We need to look at a multi-modal solution.”

And LeCody says getting any amount of traffic off the freeways would be a huge help.

“If it’s 5 percent, 10 percent, 20 percent of traffic that can be diverted, that not only increases the life span of our roadways from wear and tear and accidents, but also gives people a transportation choice as well.”

Figures show more people these days are riding the rails. Amtrak says it carried about 31 million passengers in fiscal year 2012. That’s a 3.5 increase from the year before. Officials say ridership on state-supported and short-distance routes was up by a little over two percent. 

But in setting up a totally new route, there’s a lot to consider.  For one, would passenger trains share the same tracks with freight trains? 

Henry Wulff is with the Texas Association of Railroad Passengers.  He says Amtrak is supposed to have priority, but that doesn’t always happen.

“Some freight trains also have priority if they have perishable goods or goods that have to be delivered in a certain time frame. Then the host railroad is more likely to run those trains ahead of the Amtrak passenger trains.”

And Wulff says another crucial issue is money.

“All forms of mass transportation — whether it’s highways, airports, or whatever — have large amounts of government funding and tax dollars in order to make them viable. And that would be the same with improving trains or bringing new train service.”

TxDOT says if it eventually moves ahead with plans to build the route, it could become the foundation for a rail system that connects all the major metropolitan areas in Texas, including Houston. 


Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

From early-morning interviews with commuters to walks through muddy construction sites, Gail covers all aspects of getting around Houston. That includes walking, driving, cycling, taking the bus, and occasionally flying. Before she became transportation reporter in 2011, Gail hosted weekend programs for Houston Public Media. She's also covered courts in...

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