Fort Worth officials hear pitch from Swiss train car company

Posted Tuesday, Mar. 26, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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LEWISVILLE -- Executives with a Swiss company that makes sleek, modern passenger rail cars are in the area this week making their pitch to the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, which is in the early stages of picking a builder for its proposed TEX Rail commuter line.

The decision by Fort Worth officials last month to replace the T board and focus on building the TEX Rail project has sent signals to Stadler and other manufacturers that the western side of North Texas is serious about expanding passenger rail.

"We're very, very optimistic the T has sent all the messages to the industry that they're ready to move forward with the project quickly," said Stephen Bonina, president of Stadler US, the North American arm of the Swiss company.

The proposed TEX Rail line would run from southwest Fort Worth to Grapevine and the north end of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.

Stadler US, which has an office in Westfield, N.J., would seem to be in a good position to win favor with the T for the project -- although agency officials say they expect multiple companies to compete for their business during a procurement process this year.

Stadler cars are already used on the A-train, which runs from Denton to Carrollton, and also provide the rolling stock for a commuter line in Austin.

Stadler cars are already kept shipshape in the Denton County Transportation Authority's maintenance yard in Lewisville, and theoretically that facility could also be used for TEX Rail -- making it unnecessary to build a separate facility in the Fort Worth area.

National outreach

Phase One is to convince North Texas leaders that the Stadler car offers customers the most comfortable and convenient ride possible, said Marius Schmidt, a Switzerland-based director of North American sales. Winning the TEX Rail contract could open the door for rail car sales throughout the U.S., he said.

The vehicles look like light-rail cars, with low floors, panoramic windows and plenty of room for bicycles. In June, they received a waiver from the Federal Railroad Administration to run on freight lines after company officials demonstrated the vehicles' crashworthiness.

"The low-floor type of vehicle could develop into a whole new segment in the states," Schmidt said Tuesday during a tour of the Denton County facility. "Currently the market is not huge, but there are a lot of ideas.

"The big issue is always funding. We think with the low floors we can provide all kinds of services. It can be done without investing billions. We have to convince them you have the rail lines in your back yard, with maybe one freight train all day. Think of passenger rail. There's an alternative solution."

At the T, officials were careful to say that besides meeting with Stadler officials, they plan to hear pitches from many other rail car makers over the next several weeks.

Their procurement process cannot favor one manufacturer over another.

"We're in the information-gathering phase," T spokeswoman Joan Hunter said. "We've already had several [companies] provide us with information."

Biker-friendly

The T plans to draft technical specifications for its TEX Rail cars this spring and issue requests for proposals in the spring or summer. The agency would then hope to receive replies from car manufacturers by the fall and award a contract shortly thereafter, she said.

At the Denton County Transportation Authority, ridership is up 40 percent since last year, when the agency began using Stadler cars on the A-train line, spokeswoman Dee Leggett said.

About 10 to 15 percent of riders are cyclists, who use the A-train as well as Dallas Area Rapid Transit trains and buses to extend the reach of their bicycles, she said.

The Stadler cars, also known as diesel multiple units, are self-propelled and can be driven on either end. Each set includes two end cars positioned back to back, with a power module between them. The power module includes a diesel-powered generator.

The cars are much quieter than the bilevel diesel vehicles used by the Trinity Railway Express.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

Twitter: @gdickson

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