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Groundwork laid for regional rail

The Trinity Railway Express between Fort Worth and Dallas is envisioned as the spine of a future 300-mile passenger rail system connecting the region.

With the opening today of two downtown Fort Worth stations, the Trinity Railway Express becomes the first completed commuter rail line in Texas. It is also the nation's first example of two major metropolitan centers connected by commuter rail to a major airport.

And, officials say, there is more to come.

"This is the ribbon that pulls the region together," said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the region's metropolitan planning organization. "It connects our three central business districts - the two downtowns and D/FW Airport, the gateway to the world."

After Fort Worth and Dallas clashed about Dallas Love Field and the Wright Amendment, the Trinity Railway Express has become a symbol of cooperation.

The rail line is operated by the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, also known as the T, and Dallas Area Rapid Transit. If congestion and air quality problems prompt the construction of more commuter lines, they would probably also be shared by the two agencies.

About 300 miles of passenger rail lines are planned for the Metroplex, and an additional 150 miles are on the drawing board.

"Frankly, it bursts the image of the region as an auto-dependent place where people don't have choices," said Ross Capon, president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. "What happens this week may lay the groundwork for more frequent service, as well as boost the case for the other possible commuter rail lines that are under consideration in the Dallas-Fort Worth area."

Commuter rail, at $16 million per mile, is less expensive than traditional light rail, at $43 million per mile. So future passenger rail plans tend to focus on commuter rail, which can run on the same tracks as freight trains.

A feasibility study is under way for commuter rail on the Union Pacific corridor that links Dallas and Fort Worth via Arlington and Grand Prairie.

As part of the study, a subcommittee of the Regional Transportation Council is considering elevating the Union Pacific rail line or the Burlington Northern Santa Fe line where the two cross in downtown Fort Worth. The project would use federal, state and freight railway money.

The Union Pacific line would be used for commuter rail, and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe line would carry special-event passenger trains between downtown Fort Worth and Texas Motor Speedway.

A north-south line from the Trinity Railway Express into Arlington is also being considered, possibly along Collins or Cooper streets. A short Trinity Railway Express line called the Dorothy Spur already runs about a mile south of the CentrePort-DFW Airport Station, but officials said they are not necessarily sold on using it because it is not in good condition.

Eventually, plans call for commuter rail on the Cotton Belt line, which runs from downtown Fort Worth northeast to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and beyond. The track is being used for the Tarantula train between Fort Worth and Grapevine.

Another study will look at ways to connect the Trinity Railway Express and other future commuter lines to terminals at D/FW Airport. Commuters could access the airport's planned automated people mover from a central transportation platform. Space for an airport station has been set aside in the median of International Parkway, north of the Central Utilities Plant.

Initial analyses are being conducted to determine whether ridership projections indicate a need for short light rail spurs from one or both of the downtown Fort Worth stations, most likely the Intermodal Transportation Center, 1001 Jones St.

Most corridors in Fort Worth would not have enough riders to warrant light rail, but some would have enough or would be close, studies indicate.

The Trinity Railway Express is likely to get wider and longer through a southwest extension along the Fort Worth & Western line from the new Texas & Pacific Station, 221 W. Lancaster Ave., in downtown Fort Worth.

"We've already negotiated trackage rights with Union Pacific to get from the T&P to the Fort Worth & Western," said John Bartosiewicz, general manager of the T.

The extension could include at least three stations: one in the Fort Worth medical district, one near Texas Christian University at Berry Street and one near Hulen Mall.

"Eventually, you could get on at Hulen Mall and go directly to the airport," said Morris, of the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

The line would also provide an additional transportation mode to the planned Southwest Parkway toll road.

In the meantime, T officials say they would like to double-track some existing Trinity Railway Express line and to add more sidings so trains could pass each other.

"We want to have the same level of service and headway on the west side that we have on the east side," Bartosiewicz said. "The goal is to have a rush-hour train every 20 minutes and hourly midday service. Our goal is to have all that done by the end of 2002.

"Right now, we've built enough capacity to start on Monday, but we need to build more sidings if we're going to go beyond that," he said.

Bryon Okada, (817) 685-3853 [email protected]


Copyright 2001 Star-Telegram, Inc.

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
Bryon Okada