Stepping carefully around the muddy freight railroad tracks near downtown, dozens of federal, state and local officials gathered Friday to celebrate the completion of a $104 million project known as Tower 55.
The project, partly funded with $65 million from Fort Worth-based BNSF Railway and Omaha, Neb.-based Union Pacific Railroad, included the addition of a third north-south rail line running down the eastern edge of downtown.
Also, several pedestrian and car crossings near downtown were revamped, including crossings near Nash Elementary School. Just a few years ago, children on their way to class had to climb between rail cars blocking their neighborhood streets.
Tower 55 is the traditional name for where freight tracks heading north-south and east-west intersect. The intersection is in the shadow of the Interstate 35W/I-30 Mixmaster.
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Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo attended the ceremony, which included a ribbon-cutting in front of a pair of BNSF and Union Pacific locomotives parked nose to nose.
The project was partly funded by a $34 million federal grant, and Szabo said it shows that trains aren’t just part of the country’s past.
“It’s also a visual reminder of the growing importance of rail in our country,” Szabo said. “Americans are recognizing the importance of passenger rail and freight rail.”
Szabo also noted that getting trains through North Texas quicker will leave fewer idling engines at railroad crossings.
The project is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 95,000 tons per year, said Lance Fritz, Union Pacific president and chief operating officer.
U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, was widely credited with pressing federal officials to help fund Tower 55. She said Fort Worth leaders have historically stepped up to ensure that transportation projects are built — including in the city’s earliest days, when residents rolled up their sleeves and helped build the Texas & Pacific tracks to bring jobs to the area.
Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, even thanked the Fort Worth Transportation Authority for its little-known role in the project.
The T loaned $2.5 million to Tower 55 so the project could beat a deadline to qualify for a federal grant, Morris said. Without the loan, Tower 55 wouldn’t have been “shovel-ready” and likely would have been passed over for the grant, he said.
Morris also described Dallas-Fort Worth as the largest metro area in the U.S. without direct access to a seaport. He said the region’s rail yards and corridors are “our docks and piers.”
The work on Tower 55, which was mostly completed in August, comes as the nation’s railroads are enjoying a bit of a resurgence.
BNSF plans to spend $240 million on maintenance and capacity projects in Texas and to expand its headquarters along Western Center Boulevard in far north Fort Worth.
About 90 trains a day pass through the Tower 55 intersection, officials from the railroads have said.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796