Of all the problems that have plagued efforts to develop the TEX Rail commuter line during the past decade, a lack of permission from four railroads to use their tracks was the most pesky.
That hurdle was eliminated Thursday when representatives of the rail companies gathered in Fort Worth to sign eight agreements that collectively clear the way for the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, also known as the T, to begin operating TEX Rail from downtown to Grapevine and Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, possibly by late 2018.
“All the paperwork problems are done,” Scott Mahaffey, the T board’s chairman, said before a signing ceremony at the Intermodal Transportation Center.
Also Thursday, U.S. Rep. Kay Granger’s office revealed that the omnibus federal spending bill presented to Congress on Wednesday includes a $100 million allocation to start development of TEX Rail. That brings the total amount of federal money allocated for the project to $150 million, or less than a third of the $499 million the T has requested.
A full-funding grant agreement — a document that essentially guarantees the federal government will pay the rest of its share — could come early next year, said Bob Baulsir, T vice president for TEX Rail and procurement.
In all, the 27-mile rail line is expected to cost $960 million, with local funds such as sales taxes collected in Fort Worth, Grapevine and Richland Hills covering a little less than half the amount.
Among the railroads signing the deal were Dallas Area Rapid Transit — better known as DART — which partners with the T on many public transportation projects and owns about half the tracks needed for TEX Rail.
Also present were Omaha, Neb.-based Union Pacific Railroad, which owns the railroad tracks needed for TEX Rail from downtown Fort Worth to the Stockyards, and also has “trackage rights” (permission to use right-of-way on a regular basis) on DART’s tracks.
Amtrak, the national passenger rail service, has agreed to move its Texas Eagle route off a Union Pacific line that runs along Arlington’s Division Street, in a side deal that became part of TEX Rail negotiations. As of Thursday, Amtrak was using the Trinity Railway Express line to go between Dallas and Fort Worth.
Officials predicted that the move would dramatically improve on-time service. In the past, Amtrak has endured long delays trying to get through freight traffic in Dallas and Fort Worth, including at the infamous Tower 55 rail intersection.
To move Amtrak to the TRE line, the T had to agree to buy a $21 million insurance policy to indemnify Amtrak in the event of death or injuries on the tracks. Language spelling out the terms of that indemnity was included in the agreements signed Thursday, officials said.
Also, the Fort Worth & Western Railroad, which operates a short freight line daily on DART’s Cotton Belt tracks, signed its portion of the agreements.
“It has been a long negotiation, a successful negotiation,” said Kevin Erasmus, FWWR’s president and chief executive officer.
During a time when many members of Congress have opposed increased spending for public transportation, Fort Worth-area leaders have continued to push for TEX Rail funding.
“Receiving these initial funds will put the TEX Rail project on the fast track to gain federal support for completion by 2018,” Granger said. “Passengers should be able to ride in comfort from downtown Fort Worth to the airport within three years.”
The $1.15 trillion measure being considered by the House of Representatives provides funding for nearly all government agencies through the end of the fiscal year, which concludes Sept. 30, 2016.
TEX Rail was designated a “recommended transit project” in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s budget in February. The provision supports TEX Rail as a “new start” commuter rail project that will receive federal support for its completion, according to Granger’s office.
This report includes information from staff writer Maria Recio.