The engineering firm KLOTZ Associates is being hired by the Gulf Coast Rail District to study the feasibility of upgrading Union Pacific's line that runs alongside Hempstead Highway near Northwest Mall for commuter rail. Former Houston Councilmember Mark Ellis is chairman of the Gulf Coast Rail District:
"There's an analysis, and they will interview all the stakeholders in the region, work with U-P who's asset is we're proposing to use, find out what the cost of that asset would be, and so forth. So there's a rather large scope involved for what the team would do."
The idea of using existing rail lines to meet Houston's transportation needs has been discussed over the years. Ellis says commuter trains could be operational between Metro's Northwest Transit Center and Hempstead...maybe farther.
"The Houston-Galveston Area Council did an analysis of which corridors would work for commuter rail. We have now used their information and we're taking the next step forward to look at commuter rail in that corridor."
Freight rail lines need to be upgraded to meet passenger train standards set by the Federal Railroad Administration. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett is an expert when it comes to transportation. He says done right,Î¾ using existing
rail lines for commuter rail is cost effective.
"It's a lot simpler and a whole lot less expensive than starting over. The key is always, freight railroads are owned privately, so you have to have a freight railroad that's willing to give up the space on their track, and in this case, Union Pacific's willing to do that so, we need to take advantage of it and move and, I'm glad the Rail District is going forward."
Judge Emmett says commuter trains can be operational in three to five years.
"Ultimately, you've got to get a funding source which could be the Federal Railroad Administration, because the Obama Administration and congress has talked about spending 8-billion dollars on high-speed rail. This commuter rail line could be the pre-cursor of ultimately a high speed rail project coming in and so, that's how we hope to get funding."
Both Emmett and Ellis say the feasibility study allows them to apply for federal assistance.
"We will also have to talk to the local government entities as well, because there will have to be some matching. So, there's a lot of negotiations that go on but, we can't come to the table without the necessary information that we would receive from this analysis."
PH, KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.