FORT WORTH — A long-awaited proposal to build a commuter rail line from downtown Fort Worth to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport has taken a major step forward.The Fort Worth Transportation Authority board unanimously authorized its president Monday to sign agreements to run the TEX Rail line on tracks owned by Dallas Area Rapid Transit. The tracks, which run from near the Stockyards through Northeast Tarrant County, will allow TEX Rail to connect with DART’s light-rail line at the airport, possibly by 2018.“I know the TEX Rail project has taken a lot more attention than we expected, but we’re to a point where some things have happened, and they’re all good things for the T, the city and this county,” T Chairman Scott Mahaffey said.Mahaffey and other T officials declined to discuss details of the agreements, saying they won’t be made public until other parties sign them. That could take several days, perhaps weeks.But the T’s action Monday illustrates that the agreements have been reached in principle, officials said. It’s a rare sign of progress in the T’s effort to bring a second commuter line to Tarrant County, to complement the Trinity Railway Express.“The agreements are not done, but they’re close,” said new T President Paul Ballard, who arrived in Fort Worth in April after serving many years as Nashville’s transit leader.Ballard said the T board’s action allows him to sign the contracts during the board’s expected summer absence. The board normally meets monthly, except in August.“They just wanted to make sure we could get these agreements done in a timely fashion,” Ballard said.Seventeen months ago, Fort Worth and Tarrant County officials fired and replaced all nine T board members, saying they were dragging their feet on the TEX Rail project. Mahaffey and eight other new board members were brought in and told to focus almost exclusively on getting TEX Rail built.Meanwhile, in Dallas, DART is ready to open its Orange Line service at DFW Airport’s Terminal A on Aug. 18.TEX Rail is tentatively scheduled to reach DFW’s Terminal B by 2018 — enabling passengers to transfer to the Orange Line — but that’s assuming that T officials receive the federal funding needed to complete half the estimated $810 million TEX Rail project.After Monday’s action, Ballard is authorized to sell property known as the “Madill and Lumber Yard,” which DART intends to reserve for a future transit service. Ballard may also lease Cotton Belt Railroad right of way owned by DART in Northeast Tarrant County.He may also sign an agreement with Fort Worth & Western Railroad, which owns trackage rights to the Cotton Belt line.The T board hasn’t authorized Ballard to sign an agreement with Union Pacific Railroad to run TEX Rail from the Stockyards to downtown Fort Worth.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson