July 11, 2022 - TRA Newswire -
The Texas Department of Transportation Rail Division Director Jeff Davis had some good news for the 40-plus statewide short line railroads at the Southwestern Rail Conference in Dallas in April. "We recognize the important of them and what they do to serve the rural communities and their interchanges with the Class 1 railroads as the first and last mile."
Davis said "we are dedicating efforts for the funding we have internally to assist the short lines where we can and in the future we will continue to evaluate, where appropriate and we have funding for, we will continue to fund shore line projects."
Help can come none too soon from the state for many Texas short lines that struggled serving their local customers through the last two years during the pandemic.
Slowly but surely business is picking up on a rural rail district in Northeast Texas that covers five counties. The NETEX rail district, based in Sulphur Springs, brought on a new operator of the 65 mile long line in mid-2020, Freedom Rail Group. Since then Managing Director Mike Salek and his staff have been steadily upgrading the track and infrastructure with a goal to bring the railroad up to Class 2 standards. The line was in major disrepair when Freedom took over the operation from the previous 20-year operator, Blacklands Railroad.
At the NETEX Board meeting July 7, Salek announced that TxDOT is going to assist with providing new crossbucks at grade-crossings along the line. The Rail Division is also requesting that each short line suggest five crossings that are in need of replanking and five crossings that require wayside component upgrades such as gates, bells and lights that would improve crossing safety. That is one area that TxDOT may supply funding assistance, if funds are available.
Business is picking up with local businesses and industries and Salek reported that year-to-date caroloads are up by 147 and new ties were installed in Neylandville and Commerce. A transload facility is expected to be ready for operation soon and should dramatically increase carloads in the future.
Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody was invited to speak to the NETEX Board and urged the representatives of the five counties to let elected and appointed state transportation officials know that unless Texas carves out some funding to compete for federal rail grants through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) passed by Congress, some $36 billion will go to other states and Texas will lose out on its share. "It only takes a 20 to 30 percent state match to go after competitive federal rail grants for infrastructure improvements", according to LeCody. "I hope you will join us with letters of support to the Texas Transportation Commission, TxDOT and especially your state Senator and Representative that we need a kickstart appropriation for the Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund. Voters approved the constitutional amendment to create the fund in 2005 but no money has ever been allocated for it. The programs in BIL can go a long way toward economic development in rural communities by strengthening their rail lines."
In a 2020 interview Freedom Rail's Salek was quoted as saying "We want to help bring companies here. We’re about accountability to the operation and making sure customers needs are met".
According to the NETEX website the district, formed in 1995, is a Rural Rail District controlling 65.6 miles of operational railroad and a total railroad corridor of 88.8 miles in Northeast Texas between the Titus-Franklin County line and Wylie, outside of Dallas. This line was originally the "C-branch" mainline of the St. Louis Southwestern Railway. It serves Titus, Franklin, Hopkins, Delta, Hunt and Collin Counties. Netex ownership ends at Winfield but they operate to a point a mile or so from Mt. Pleasant to set out for Union Pacific pickup/delivery.
Photo credit: Texas Rail Advocates