July 18, 2022 - TRA Newswire - 

Texas Rail Advocates, in letters to elected and appointed state officials this week, pinpointed three specific passenger rail opportunities that could be eligible for federal grants and assistance under a recently announced Federal Railroad Administration Corridor program.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is asking for "expressions of interest" from state DOT's and other agencies interested in developing passenger rail programs under the Corridor Identification and Development Program. The FRA wants to identify eligible corridors "to be implemented faster and with greater coordination than ever before."

Texas Rail Advocates (TRA) outlined three specific projects and wants to see the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) show an "expression of interest", which is not a commitment to proceed or requires up-front funding, according to the FRA documents.

"This will shape IF and HOW Texas can participate in future federal passenger rail grant programs, nothing else", according to TRA President Peter LeCody. "It simply says to the FRA that these are routes and programs that should be considered and put on your list. Failure to participate would mean a black eye for future conventional (non high-speed) intercity and regional passenger rail development in Texas and that's just not acceptable."

Expression of Interest in a second daily frequency for the Heartland Flyer - This daily service, established between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City in 1999 also serves Gainesville in Texas along with several Oklahoma cities. A second daily round trip would allow for same day round-trips between Fort Worth, Oklahoma City and intermediate stops and would dramatically increase ridership and revenue. At present there is only a morning departure from Oklahoma City and an evening departure from Fort Worth.

On June 16 Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker issued a letter of support to include the Heartland Flyer in the Corridor ID program. Kansas and Oklahoma DOT's are currently working on an expansion plan to connect the Heartland Flyer northward from Oklahoma City to Kansas stops, connecting with Amtrak's national east-west network. In the past the cities of Krum and Denton County have expressed interest in a station stop. 

Expression of Interest in advancing the next phase of the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study (TOPRS) that was completed by TxDOT in June 2017 with a $7 million federal grant. The Combined Service-Level Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision evaluation showed that passenger rail paralleling the I-35 corridor would be viable. There are three portions in the TOPRS service level report. Oklahoma City to DFW, DFW to San Antonio and San Antonio to Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley.

In 2019, a bipartisan group of 20 Texas State Representatives along the Austin to San Antonio portion of the corridor signed a letter with the initial focus to develop the Greater Austin-San Antonio corridor, which the lawmakers said is in need of rail options besides just widening and building more highways.

Expression of Interest in extension of Amtrak service from Fort Worth/Dallas to East Texas, Shreveport and eastward. Canadian Pacific Railway, which is in process of acquiring Kansas City Southern's lines, has expressed interest in conversations with Amtrak about an east-west service that would connect the DFW area and East Texas to Atlanta and Washington DC with direct passenger rail service. The existing Crescent service, which runs from Washington to New Orleans through Meridian, Mississippi, would add a leg from Meridian through northern Louisiana to East Texas and Dallas/Fort Worth. The North Central Texas Council of Governments has signed Memorandums of Understanding with regional and local government entities in North and East Texas that want to see this train service developed. The State of Louisiana recently appropriated $10 million for development of the rail service in their state. Mississippi now has it under consideration. Texas would be the missing link.

Development of these three projects would lead to more mobility and connectivity choices for Texans, create new jobs, increase economic benefits for the cities served, and help to support tourism. All three "expressions of interest" will benefit many smaller Texas cities and town that lack adequate surface or air transportation choices. These include Gainesville, Marshall, Mineola, Longview, Waco, Temple, Taylor, San Marcos, New Braunfels and others. 


Photo credit: Amtrak