Saturday, March 19, 2005

Rail freight to be rerouted from downtown DFW

Officials advance reroute plan

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2005

Elected leaders and railroad officials say they are a step closer to removing freight trains from downtown Fort Worth and other congested areas.

Gov. Rick Perry and officials from Fort Worth-based BNSF Railway will announce today that they have reached an agreement in principle to relocate rail lines out of large cities over the next several years, officials said.

Regional leaders say they support the plan, which includes rerouting rail lines west of Fort Worth and reconnecting to BNSF's intermodal hub near Alliance Airport.

Union Pacific Railroad, based in Omaha, Neb., has signed a similar agreement with Perry. That company's plans include moving much of its freight traffic, including a corridor through Arlington, to an area south of Dallas.

A goal of rail relocation is to improve traffic by reducing the number of points at which trains and automobiles intersect, officials said.

State officials say they also want to reduce the chances of a hazardous materials disaster caused by a derailment in a populated area.

"The state is starting to take an active role in moving these rail lines, which have been in place for over 100 years, out of our city centers," Perry spokesman Robert Black said Friday. "This is the first step in making that happen."

Another goal is to reduce auto-train fatalities. In the past 20 years, more than 5,500 people have been killed or injured in vehicle-train collisions in Texas .

No price tag or timetable for the projects has been established, but the railroads and Texas Department of Transportation have agreed to permanently assign staff members to study the issue.

"This is really an understanding that gives us guidelines on how we'll work a public-private partnership for possible relocation of tracks. We haven't agreed on projects," Union Pacific spokesman John Bromley said.

In Fort Worth, an area known as Tower 55 is among the most crowded railroad intersections in the United States. It's where BNSF and Union Pacific cross paths.

"Because trains will no longer have to slow down to pass through congested cities, shipments will reach their destination faster, saving Texas businesses valuable time and money that can be used to grow and create jobs," Perry said in a statement.

In the Metroplex, regional leaders hope to convert the freight lines into commuter lines, to provide an alternative to automobile travel, said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

In areas such as Division Street in Arlington or U.S. 377 in Fort Worth, Haltom City, Keller and Watauga, it's not uncommon for freight trains to block major streets during rush hour.

In December, the private firm Cintra-Zachry pledged to pay the state $1.2 billion in transportation funds in exchange for the right to build a $6 billion toll road from North Texas to San Antonio. Some of that payment could be used to relocate rails out of the Fort Worth area, officials said.

Staff Writer Dan Piller Contributed to This Report.


If you go

Gov. Rick Perry will discuss plans to remove railroad tracks from populated areas, including downtown Fort Worth, at a news conference scheduled for 1:45 p.m. today at BNSF Railway, 2650 Lou Menk Drive. Relieving rail congestion is part of the Trans -Texas Corridor plan.


Gordon Dickson, (817) 685-3816

Copyright 2005 Star-Telegram, Inc.