Honkin' Mad

TEXRail abruptly calls off plans to run the trains Saturday, citing federal shutdown

Less than 12 hours before the TEXRail commuter train service was scheduled to open to the public, officials have decided to postpone the opening indefinitely, blaming the federal shutdown.

Officials from Trinity Metro, the local transit agency that built the 27-mile line from downtown Fort Worth to DFW Airport, had said repeatedly this week — and as recently as late Friday morning — that the line would at least partially open Saturday no matter what.

But just after 5 p.m. Friday, Trinity Metro president Paul Ballard said the decision had been made instead to postpone the opening until the entire 27-mile rail line could function.

“... (A)s of 5 p.m. We have been unable to get a decision from FRA on tomorrow’s operations and we are postponing startup until we get approval to operate the entire TEXRail line,” Ballard said in a text message.

At issue is a small stretch of new track under Spur 280, the highway that leads from U.S. 287 and Interstate 30 to downtown Fort Worth. A new railroad interchange has been built there, but Trinity Metro hasn’t yet received permission from the Federal Railroad Administration to use the tracks. And, because of the two-week-old shutdown, Trinity Metro hasn’t received the paperwork it expected to receive from the federal agency.

As recently as 11 a.m. Friday, Trinity Metro board chairman Scott Mahaffey had said TEXRail would at the very least operate from the North Side Station to DFW Airport, even if it couldn’t use the small piece of track that wasn’t yet federally certified to get passengers into downtown Fort Worth. If TEXRail had partially opened, only the two stations in downtown Fort Worth would not have been served, but the other seven stations in Fort Worth, North Richland Hills, Grapevine and DFW Airport would have been fully open.

But the federal railroad inspectors who were in Fort Worth Friday began asking questions about the entire TEXRail line, and had a concern about a rail signal in particular, Ballard said. As the day wore on, it became clear that the federal permission wasn’t going to be as speedy as Trinity Metro officials had hoped.

“We’re just really disappointed,” Ballard said in a phone interview Friday evening. He said opening TEXRail for partial service “was our backup plan. But once the FRA got here, they started looking at the whole railroad.”

It is unclear when Trinity Metro might be able to open the TEXRail line. Ballard has repeatedly said that even though the Federal Railroad Administration is running on a skeleton staff because of the shutdown, Fort Worth officials are working with FRA staff and are confident they can eventually get permission to use the new rail intersection under Spur 280 even if the federal shotdown continues for days or weeks.

But he also acknowledged that it has been more difficult than usual to communicate with the agency, because of the shutdown.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said she was “disappointed the start date for TEXRail passenger service is being delayed.”

“We will remain in close communication with Trinity Metro as they coordinate full clearance for service with the Federal Railroad Administration and announce a new start date,” the mayor said in an email statement.

Gordon Dickson joined the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997. He is passionate about hard news reporting, and his beats include transportation, growth, urban planning, aviation, real estate, jobs, business trends. He is originally from El Paso, and loves food, soccer and long drives.