November 7, 2017 – TRA Newswire –

 

Three-segment, 850-mile corridor would provide passenger rail service

  • Northern Section – Edmond, OK to Dallas and Fort Worth, TX: Additional Amtrak-type service is the Preferred Alternative.
  • Central Section – Dallas and Fort Worth to San Antonio, TX: Three high-speed rail routes are the Preferred Alternatives.
  • Southern Section – San Antonio to South Texas (Corpus Christi, Brownsville, Laredo, and the Rio Grande Valley), With the Option to Extend to Monterrey, Mexico: One high‑speed and two higher-speed routes are the Preferred Alternatives.
  • TxDOT has no funding to carry this project forward

AUSTIN – A federally funded study of passenger rail service between Oklahoma City and South Texas has cleared the first hurdle but it doesn’t mean that fast trains on the I-35 corridor will be running in the near future. The service-level study, a high level conceptual look at alignments,  now advances to the next phase allowing for continued exploration of the proposed route. The $7 million Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study covers an 850-mile corridor broken into three segments going from Oklahoma City to Dallas-Fort Worth; Dallas-Fort Worth to San Antonio; and San Antonio to South Texas.

“The advancement of this study is a positive step forward,” said Texas Transportation Commissioner Jeff Austin III. “The study provides a foundation upon which the private sector, local stakeholders and our federal partners can consider opportunities to work together to potentially advance this project. As the population of Texas continues to grow, we will to continue to work with various partners to explore all opportunities to keep Texans moving. Options such as passenger rail service may be one way to keep up with growing demand.”

“While the release of the Tier I Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is welcome news, funding of the next step, a project-level soup to nuts determination before building the line is very problematic”, according to Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody.

“The Texas Department of Transportation has no funds to move this sorely needed rail corridor project forward”, according to LeCody. “The state legislature has deemed not to invest a single penny in moving people by passenger rail. With more and more people moving to Texas and traveling in the I-35 corridor the future needs of transportation by rail must be addressed in the next session. Studies prove that a majority of the public wants passenger rail service but we continue to only pour more concrete and asphalt to satisfy our transportation thirst. If it wasn’t for some small federal grants we wouldn’t even have this first step.”

Following phases of public input and environmental considerations, the service development study determined passenger rail service up to 220 mph between Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio is feasible. It also determined passenger rail service from San Antonio through Laredo to Monterrey, Mexico could be feasible. The study also revealed the possibility of having passenger rail service up to 125 mph from San Antonio to the Rio Grande Valley and improved Amtrak-type service between Dallas-Fort Worth and Oklahoma City.

“Now is the time for everyone in or close to the I-35 corridor to join with Texas Rail Advocates in ramping up the conversation for fast, dependable passenger rail service”, according to TRA Executive Director Chris Lippincott. “The federal government only gives you a five year grace period to move the service-level study to project-level and prepare to build out the line. This may be the only opportunity in a generation to bring traffic relief to the I-35 corridor by adding passenger trains to the mix. Join with us on our ‘Empower 35’ team and let our lawmakers know this is an important transportation issue”.

The next step would be a project-level environmental study to determine actual routes and environmental impacts of the service before construction and start of service. At that point a private developer could step forward to determine future project possibilities or the state legislature could step forward to participate in a funding scenario as many other states have done.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) in cooperation with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation,  along with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA),  prepared the service-level environmental impact statement (EIS) to evaluate intercity passenger rail service alternatives. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is also a Cooperating Agency in the preparation of this EIS.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was issued on July 15, 2016, with the public
comment period occurring between July 15 and August 29, 2016.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, the preliminary alignments in the service-level plan represent potential corridors where rail improvements could be implemented but do not specify the precise location of the track alignment. The preliminary alignments are based on conceptual engineering that considers and avoids obvious physical or environmental constraints. These alignments have not been refined to optimize performance, reduce cost, or avoid specific properties or individual environmental resources.

Program stakeholders, members of the public, local governments, elected officials, nongovernmental
organizations, and federal, state, and local agencies have been involved in preparation of the DEIS and Final EIS for the Program through public meetings, scoping meetings, advisory committee and stakeholder meetings, and individual briefings.

Federal Register posting: EIS No. 20170215, Final, FRA, TX, Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study, Service-Level FEIS/ROD, Review, Period Ends: 12/03/2017