Officials working on the proposed TEX Rail commuter train project have gone from being a laughingstock to ordering rolling stock.
After enduring years of doubts about their ability to pull off construction of the 27-mile commuter rail line from downtown Fort Worth to Grapevine and DFW Airport, TEX Rail officials on Tuesday officially inked a contract to order rail cars.
The $106.7 million order with Switzerland-based Stadler Bussnang AG is enough to pay for eight rail cars and enough parts to cover 10 years of maintenance. The rail line is tentatively scheduled to open by the end of 2018, and is on course to receive enough federal grant funding to cover roughly half its nearly $1 billion total cost.
The Federal Transit Administration last week gave approval for the T to advance TEX Rail into the engineering phase preceding construction. The move authorized the T to place its order for rail cars.
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“We’ve gone from being a project on life support to a project that’s full of life,” said Scott Mahaffey, board chairman of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, also known as the T, which is responsible for TEX Rail.
Mahaffey and several other T officials took part in a signing ceremony Tuesday at the Intermodal Transportation Center in downtown Fort Worth. Joining him at the ceremony was Peter Spuhler, Stadler owner and chief executive.
Spuhler said Stadler was considering opening a manufacturing plant in Lewisville, adjacent to the Denton County Transportation Authority’s maintenance yard, to build the TEX Rail cars. The Denton agency also uses Stadler rail cars, but a different model.
Manufacturing the rail cars in North Texas would help Stadler Rail comply with federal Buy America laws. Those laws require that the cost of components produced in the U.S. make up more than 60 percent of the cost of all components and that final assembly of rolling stock take place in the United States.
In addition to selling rail cars to Fort Worth and Denton, Stadler has a contract with a commuter line in Austin.
“We’ve got three members from Texas, and I think this is a very strong investment in Fort Worth,” Spuhler said after the signing ceremony.
He said a handful of other possible locations for a manufacturing site, including one in Utah, were still under consideration. A final decision on where to build the Stadler cars should be made during the summer.
Wherever the manufacturing plant is built, it likely will create 80 to 100 jobs, another Stadler official said.
The specific type of rail car planned for use on TEX Rail is a Stadler FLIRT, an acronym for Fast Light Innovative Regional Train. It is known for providing an extraordinarily quiet ride, panoramic windows and level boarding so people with disabilities don’t have to navigate steps.
Denton’s A-train operates with a similar model.
TEX Rail is scheduled to serve 10 stations, including two stops in downtown Fort Worth, stations in Haltom City, North Richland Hills, Grapevine and a terminus at DFW Airport’s Terminal B.
The projected average daily ridership is more than10,000 in its initial year of service.
The T is on track to get a full-funding grant agreement from the federal government by early 2016, possibly sooner, said Bob Baulsir, the T’s vice president of TEX Rail and procurement.
Also, the T plans to install new railroad tracks and concrete ties along most of the 27-mile TEX Rail track, and that work is scheduled to begin next year, Baulsir said.
The T has $25 million on hand to place the order for the cars and has access to state and federal grant funds as well as millions of dollars in its fund balance to cover costs if full federal funding is delayed. The T can also issue debt if necessary, Baulsir said.
The rail cars are a type known as diesel multiple units. They are self-propelled, with the engines embedded in the passenger cars, so a locomotive isn’t needed.
The operator rides in a control room at the front of the lead passenger car.
The TEX Rail cars will be the first Stadler FLIRT models to operate on diesel fuel, Spuhler said. Stadler FLIRTs in places such as Estonia are electrified, he said.
The diesel multiple units are designated as the official regional rail car for the Dallas-Fort Worth area, said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
The rail cars will likely be used on many other rail lines, including a proposed extension of the TEX Rail line along the Cotton Belt corridor into Addison, Carrollton, Dallas, Plano and other cities.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796