DALLAS – What would happen to jobs, real-estate development and highway congestion if travelers could ride passenger trains that went 110 mph 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 Jan. 27 when Texas Rail Advocates holds its second annual conference on the South Central High Speed Rail Corridor at the Dallas Forth Worth 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 Executive Director Paul Mangelsdorf. “But today, five years later, nothing’s been done to upgrade these tracks.”
That mileage, which can qualify for federal funding, included the Union Pacific Railroad’s 730-mile main line connecting Little Rock, Ark., Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, Texas, San Antonio, Texas, and Laredo, Texas, plus the BNSF Railway’s 200 miles of track connecting Fort Worth and Oklahoma City, Okla., rail advocates say. The Y-shaped rail system became the 11th route to be designated a High Speed Rail Corridor by the Federal Railroad Administration.
“All of the other ten corridors have started development, using state funding, federal funding or a mixture of both,” Mangelsdorf said. “The Jan. 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.”
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, Mangelsdorf said.
“Single track is being supplemented with double track or with longer passing sidings in California, Washington state, Virginia, North Carolina and Illinois,” he added. “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,” Mangelsdorf said. “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, 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, Mangelsdorf contends.
“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.
A Texas DOT 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 is expected to address the future of regional and national passenger service.
BNSF Railway Vice President D.J. Mitchell will explain how state-sponsored capacity enhancements on the Cascade Corridor in Washington state are improving both passenger and freight-rail performance and helping to grow the region’s economy. David King, Deputy Administrator, North Carolina Department of Transportation, will explain how his state is benefiting from a similar program of rail improvements.
The future of public-private partnerships for growth and expansion of railroads will be addressed by Scott Moore, Vice President of Public/Private Partnerships Union Pacific Railroad.
Dallas City Councilman Bill Blaydes will discuss the plans for the DFW Inland Port project and the benefits of a direct extension of the South Central Corridor from Dallas to Houston. Emilio Sacristan, director general of the Association of Mexican Railroads, will discuss the importance of high-performance railroads connecting Mexico, the U.S. and Canada.
Closer coordination of rail and air passenger service will be addressed by Andrew Sharp, Director General, of the London-based International Air Rail Organisation.
“Texas railroads are suffering from too many trains and not enough track,” Mangelsdorf said. “Our railroads are mainly single track with some passing sidings, which severely limits capacity for improved freight service and for the development of fast, frequent passenger service.
“Our railroads were built more than a century ago to service a cow-and-cotton economy, not the kind of economy that blossomed in the Sun Belt during the last generation,” Mangelsdorf added. “A robust, high performance South Central Rail Corridor will allow the free flow of goods between the major producing and consuming areas of Mexico, Texas, the Midwest and Canada and will relieve our congested highways of large volumes of passengers that could be traveling comfortably by rail if the speed, capacity and reliability were there.”
On Jan. 26, attendees of a pre-conference dinner will hear from Kansas City Southern Railway Vice President Warren K. Erdman. He will explain that carrier’s role as the “NAFTA Railway,” focusing on significant upgrades planned for south Texas and commenting on the recent agreement between Kansas City Southern and Norfolk Southern to invest in upgrades along the “Meridian Speedway” connecting Dallas with Atlanta.