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Group wants high-speed rail service for East Texas

(The following article by Jo Lee Ferguson was posted on the Longview News-Journal website on February 10.)

LONGVIEW, Texas -- Securing higher-speed rail service through East Texas is the focus of a group that will hold its inaugural meeting Friday in Longview.

The East Texas Corridor Council will meet at 10 a.m. Friday in the Longview Public Library. Griff Hubbard, the Longview Amtrak station manager, said that between 125 to 150 people are expected to attend. Hubbard has been working with the group's steering committee, which has been meeting regularly since September.

"(Higher-speed rail) is extremely important," Hubbard said. "Higher-speed rail is going to be a necessity for our children and our grandchildren."

Higher-speed rail is defined as passenger train traffic that travels 90 to 110 miles per hour. According to the East Texas Corridor Council, the Texas Eagle is authorized to operate at 79 mph, but it averages 37 miles per hour because of freight traffic volumes.

Infrastructure improvements, including more advanced signaling and barriers that would prevent cars from crossing railroad tracks as a train approaches, are needed.

"The current equipment is designed for higher-speed rail," Hubbard said of available train cars. "It is restricted by infrastructure."

At Friday's meeting, the group will name permanent board members, announce its mission and goals and set its direction for the future.

The group formed in response to the U.S. Department of Transportation's designation of 11 higher-speed rail corridors around the country in 2000, including the South-Central Corridor from Little Rock, Ark., to San Antonio through Texarkana, Marshall, Longview and Mineola the route of Amtrak's Texas Eagle train.

Hubbard said focus groups such as the East Texas Corridor Council have been forming around the nation to help make the federal designations a reality.

Also, the Texas Department of Transportation has announced a freight rail traffic pattern volume study later this year to determine whether it would be possible to increase freight traffic and add high-speed rail along the designated route.

"It is compatible," Hubbard said, citing areas where freight and higher-speed rail traffic coexist.

That groundwork must be laid now, though, he said, pointing to other areas of the country that already have higher-speed rail.

"There's not a reason in the world we can't do it," he said.

The East Texas Corridor Council is led by former Texas Bank and Trust President Howard Hackney; State Rep. Bryan Hughes, a Republican from Mineola; and Dr. Michael Martin of Texarkana. Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, is an adviser to the group.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

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