Ceremoniously riding in a train pulled by a 1953 vintage diesel engine, leaders from Fort Worth, Grapevine and North Richland Hills on Wednesday celebrated the beginning of a commuter rail project they say will change their communities.
“Where the rail goes, the communities flourish,” Grapevine Mayor William D. Tate said during a groundbreaking ceremony for the TEX Rail project outside his city’s historical Main Street Depot. “Where it passes them by, they wither and die.”
2018 The year TEX Rail service is scheduled to begin
Wednesday marked the official kickoff of the $1.034 billion project, which is more than a decade in the making. The commuter trains will begin running in late 2018 with routes as frequent as every 30 minutes during peak workday periods and about every hour during nonpeak periods.
The project isn’t fully funded, but Fort Worth Transportation Authority officials say they have enough money and permission from the federal government to get started on construction. The project includes nine train stations along a 27-mile route from downtown Fort Worth to North Richland Hills, Grapevine and DFW Airport’s Terminal B.
Scott Mahaffey, the transportation authority’s chairman, promised an audience of about 300 people in Grapevine that TEX Rail will offer the ultimate in modern comfort and convenience.
“It will be premier service. It will not be just transit,” Mahaffey told the crowd. “There will be USB ports. We will have quiet cars. That’s an area you can go in … and work and sleep and do other things.”
After the dignitaries’ remarks in Grapevine, several dozen attendees boarded the Grapevine Vintage Railroad train for a ride to North Richland Hills and downtown Fort Worth, where similar groundbreaking ceremonies were to be held. The ceremonial ride was held in the same corridor that will be used for TEX Rail, although many of the railroad tracks and ties will need to be replaced before the modern rail cars roll on them.
Where the rail goes, the communities flourish. Where it passes them by, they whither and die.
Grapevine Mayor William D. Tate
Rebuilding the corridor and installing nine passenger platforms is an admittedly ambitious plan but can be done, said Bob Baulsir, the transportation authority’s vice president of rail and procurement. At first, residents will see mostly prep work along the rail lines, but stations will be built in the coming months, too.
Also, a maintenance facility will be built in north Fort Worth, not far from a station in the city’s Mercantile area.
More than $400 million for TEX Rail has already been raised, mostly from local sources including sales taxes in Fort Worth and Grapevine.
North Richland Hills has committed to paying the equivalent of a 3/8 -cent sales tax for two TEX Rail stations beginning in 2022 and continuing through 2035. That works out to about $2 million to $3 million a year, one official said. However, that city won’t dedicate a sales tax to the rail project and instead will look for a special taxing arrangement with developers interested in building around the stations, said Clayton Comstock, the city’s planning manager.
Self-propelled rail cars made by Swiss-based Stadler, which is opening a factory in Salt Lake City, have already been ordered for TEX Rail and should arrive by January 2018, officials said.
About 8,000 riders per day are expected to use TEX Rail during its first year. The number could increase to 13,000 daily riders by 2035.
Wednesday’s ceremony in Grapevine was attended by more than 100 students from The Novus Academy, a private school in Grapevine.
Eighth-grader Chris McMahon, 13, said he looks forward to a future with more transportation options.
“Riding in cars can get boring but riding in trains is more enjoyable,” he said. “If it’s going to be from Fort Worth to here, I could probably take it to school.”
Fellow eighth-grader Lucas Brothers acknowledged that he doesn’t share the enthusiasm for trains with many of the railroad buffs who attended Wednesday’s ceremony, but he sees the attraction of public transportation.
“I don’t really like them very much, but it gets me where I want to go, so I guess it’s better than car driving,” Brothers said.
Then he quipped: “It’s better than Uber.”