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TxDOT, AMTRAK kick off Dallas-to-Shreveport corridor study

By Terri Richardson trichardson@marshallnewsmessenger.com
March 1, 2012 at 10 p.m.

<p>East Texas Corridor Council Chairman Richard Anderson acknowledges partners Thursday in Marshall during the announcement of a feasibility study being conducted to develop connectivity for high speed passenger rail services between Dallas-Fort Worth and Northwest Louisiana.</p>

Start of work for a feasibility study into potential Amtrack services in the Interstate Highway 20 corridor from Shreveport-Bossier City, La., to Dallas and Fort Worth was celebrated by partners in the project Thursday morning in Marshall.

"Today is a red-letter day for this feasibility study, first of its kind in the state of Texas," said Chairman Richard Anderson for the East Texas Corridor Council, as he conducted a media event

Texas Department of Transportation and Amtrak representatives have agreed on the scope for the study, which will examine connectivity between the regions using conventional trains with a maximum speed of 79 mph, according to a press release.

Anderson praised the work of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who was successful in getting $750,000 for planning and engineering work for the I-20 corridor passenger rail enhancement.

A letter of appreciation and continued support for the initiative from the senator was read by one of her assistants, who attended.

"The study will take seven months to complete," said Anderson. "Over the next 20 years, traffic on I-20 is expected to increase by 20 percent and the commute from DFW to Shreveport could increase to five hours."

The TxDOT Rail Division is only two years old, and Director Bill Glavin called the study an important first step.

"Rail passenger movement has to be in the cards as the state continues to grow by 1,000 people moving to it each day," said Glavin. "We cannot just continue to pave new roadways."

Transportation issues and advances always come with a network, and Anderson acknowledged the East Texas Council of Governments and other COGs from Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee.

"We couldn't have done it without the other cogs, and I'm proud of the Louisiana contingent. They're always here and ready to work with us," said David Cleveland, executive director at ETCOG.

Anderson also acknowledged new connections with the North East Texas Building Authority, able to issue revenue bonds, for the future that comes after the feasibility study.

"We are here today because of this brilliant man and statesman Richard Anderson sinking his bulldog teeth into this and would not let go," said Griff Hubbard, executive director of the Texas Eagle Marketing And Performance Organization.

Elements to be considered in the study by Amtrak are to estimate the "order-of-magnitude capital requirements and operating costs needed to provide state-sponsored passenger rail service" for round trips twice daily with up to seven stops in between, according to the release.

It will also set projections for schedules, train operating costs, ridership, revenue and capital needs for rout infrastructure improvements to accommodate new passenger services, according to the release.

Its rail capacity modeling will be by Union Pacific Railroad, which owns much of the route, according to the release.

As TxDOT evaluates potential schedules to Centre Point/DFW Airport, it may consider the estimated ridership, revenue and community demographics to include Mesquite, Forney, Terrell and Wills Point.

"The study should produce a review of increasing the efficiency of passenger rail in our Ark-La-Tex region by complementing existing rail service and determining projected costs for this project. The results of this study will take us to the next level," said Anderson.

The East Texas corridor study is just one part of a statewide series of rail initiatives.

TxDOT received $265,000 in federal funds to study the I-20 corridor through the ETCC, which represents the communities and government agencies cooperating at the local level in both Texas and Louisiana, according to the release.

"TxDOT has a $15 million grant from the federal government to look at high speed passenger rail between the DFW area and Houston with minimum top speeds of up to 150 mph," said Glavin in an interview after the event. "This will allow for preliminary engineering, up to 30 percent, and environmental clearance for a preferred route."

Glavin added that an additional $5.6 million has been funded to study routes from Oklahoma City, Okla., to South Texas with as high speeds as possible and several levels of service.

Another study is being conducted between Austin and Houston, he said.

"The East Texas project is one that has a lot of interest from the ground up and high potential," said Glavin.

Amtrak's Texas Eagle currently serves the segment between Marshall and Fort Worth with stops in Longview, Mineola an Dallas as part of the national system between Chicago, Ill., San Antonio and Los Angeles, Calif., with daily stops for each direction of travel.

Shreveport and Bossier City, La., have not had passenger train service since 1969, before Amtrak was formed, and travelers presently use a Thruway Motorcoach Service from the Longview station to reach the city.

Local expenses for building or improving station facilities are not within the current scope of the study.

"If the study shows evidence that state-funded Amtrak service should be considered, both state legislatures would decide if they should support an expanded service," said Michael Franke, P.E., an Amtrak Assistant Vice President and leader of the Chicago-based study team.

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