How much faster could the Texas economy grow if the state’s busiest North-South railroad route were upgraded to a high-performance main line? That’s the issue railroad executives, state government officials and managers from some of Texas’s biggest corporations will address on January 27 when Texas Rail Advocates holds its second annual conference on the South Central High Speed Rail Corridor at the DFW International Airport Hyatt Regency Hotel.
What would happen to jobs, real-estate development and highway congestion if travelers could ride passenger trains that went 110 miles per hour and shippers could route their freight on intermodal containers trains that did 90 mph?
That’s the issue railroad executives, state government officials and managers from some of Texas’s biggest corporations will address January 27 when Texas Rail Advocates holds its second annual conference on the South Central High Speed Rail Corridor at the DFW International Airport Hyatt Regency Hotel. ‘In the autumn of 2000 the federal government designated nearly 1,000 miles of main line in Texas and two neighboring states as eligible for upgrade to a ‘high-performance’ railroad,’ said TRA President Paul Mangelsdorf. That mileage, which can qualify for federal funding, included the Union Pacific Railroad’s 730-mile main line connecting Little Rock, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and Laredo, plus the BNSF Railway’s 200 miles of track connecting Fort Worth and Oklahoma City. The Y-shaped rail system became the 11th route to be designated a High Speed Rail Corridor by the Federal Railroad Administration.
‘But today, five years later, nothing’s been done to upgrade these tracks,’ Mangelsdorf said. ‘All of the other ten corridors have started development, using state funding, federal funding or a mixture of both. The January 27 meeting will address the question of how we can get the three state legislatures’and their congressional delegations’to vote the funding for a feasibility study that will quantify the economic growth that a track upgrade will generate for the states on the South Central Corridor.’
Mangelsdorf said states along the other 10 corridors already have funded studies, and some have moved on to investing in additional track capacity, signaling and safety features.
‘Single track is being supplemented with double track or with longer passing sidings in California, Washington state, Virginia, North Carolina and Illinois,’ he said. ‘Dangererous highway grade crossings are being replaced with overpasses. In Illinois and Michigan, the old-fashioned block signals are being replaced with Positive Train Control (PTC) signaling that uses satellites to track the position of each train. The PTC system automatically overrides the engineer’s control and stops the train if it violates a speed restriction. It’s so safe the Federal Railroad Administration allows passenger trains equipped with PTC to travel 110 miles per hour or more. The old system allows a top speed of only 79 miles per hour.’
If the South Central Corridor were equipped with similar capacity and safety enhancements, Mangelsdorf said, it would be able to carry far more trains than it does now, enabling passengers and freight to avoid crowded highways and airports and travel in total safety and with total reliability regardless of weather.’ Obviously, that kind of mobility would be a long-term shot-in-the-arm to the economy of the region’perhaps as important to economic development as the Interstate highways were in the 1950s and 1960s and as the development of DFW Airport was a generation ago,’ Mangelsdorf said. ‘The problem is, we won’t know what kind of payoff to expect until we have a study, and we won’t have a study until our state and federal legislators earmark some money for one. It will take about $1 million.
Mangelsdorf said A TxDOT representative will address the recently passed Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund, which could be a source for part of the funding. Amtrak Board Chairman David Laney will address the future of regional and