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Texas takes first step toward high-speed rail funds

(The following story by Gordon Dickson appeared on the Fort Worth Star-Telegram website on August 17, 2010.)

FORT WORTH, Texas — Texas is trying to get on track and catch up with states that are competing fiercely for federal dollars to build high-speed rail lines.

The first step is the Texas Rail Plan, a document being drawn up by officials who are touring the state and gathering input about all sorts of rail projects. A meeting tonight in southwest Fort Worth will brief North Texans on the issue.

As the plan highlights, the rail-related issues are many. In Fort Worth, local and state officials are pushing hard to secure $40 million in federal funding to help fix the Tower 55 rail intersection near downtown. A 9,000-foot rail line would be added, and crossings often used by schoolchildren would be upgraded.

Leaders in many cities also favor expanding Amtrak rail service and building a commuter rail line from southwest Fort Worth to Grapevine and Wylie, northeast of Dallas, on the old Cotton Belt line.

Nationally, the biggest buzz is over high-speed rail. Last year, President Barack Obama announced that $8 billion would be made available for bullet-style trains, and $2.5 billion was added later.

But Texas, which didn't even have a state rail director until December, has received very little of that funding. Instead, much of it is headed to projects in California, Florida and Illinois.

Now, Texas is feeling the pressure to get up to speed on the issue.

Texas has applied for a portion of $50 million made available by the federal government for high-speed rail planning, said Bill Glavin, rail director at the Texas Department of Transportation.

Glavin acknowledged that the window of opportunity to draw up the rail plan leaves little room for error. If there are any planning mistakes, Texas could be left off the national high-speed-rail grid.

"We missed out on the initial funding," Glavin said. "If we're successful in the grant applications we made, we'll be able to accelerate that."

Texas leaders generally believe that high-speed rail ought to connect downtowns and create more "livable, sustainable urban activity centers," according to a draft of the rail plan. It also calls for the new rail lines to be built on separate right of way wherever possible, so not to inhibit existing freight service.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

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