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Amtrak, Union Pacific 
to share expense of high-speed rail study

(The following story by Terri Richardson appeared on the Longview News-Journal website on August 29, 2010.)

LONGVIEW, Texas — Amtrak and the Union Pacific Railroad will work together on a study that could boost high-speed passenger rail service in East Texas and surrounding states, officials said Friday.

The study aims to provide information about infrastructure and feasibility of upgrading or adding tracks to carry high-speed service in Texas, Lousiana and Arkansas.

The news came at a reception Friday honoring Joy Spencer Smith for her promotion to superintendent of the Amtrak Central Division in Chicago. Smith has championed passenger service across the Southwest for more than 15 years, and has been a strong advocate for rail stations in East Texas.

Referring to a letter from Amtrak Vice President Richard Phelps, Harrison County Judge Richard Anderson said the agreement between Amtrak and Union Pacific to share the cost of a capacity modeling study should be completed within weeks.

"Amtrak is fully prepared to then finalize an agreement with TxDOT and progress with this feasibility study," Anderson said.

Federal financing for the work was secured by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and will be administered by the East Texas Corridor Council. Other supporters of the study are the Texas Eagle Marketing and Performance Organization and the East Texas Council of Governments.

Under the agreement, Union Pacific would study the infrastructure in place across the region. Amtrak then would use that information in its projections of capital expenditures required to begin the service.

"This is the kickoff for the agreement, and we look forward to setting timelines and keeping groups motivated," said Tim Vaughn of the corridor council. "Now that we've got it to the top of the hill, it will be easy to keep moving on the way down."

Smith, Friday's honoree, was central division passenger services superintendent in May 2008 when she met with business advocates in Longview to tell them the city should renovate its 70-year-old Texas & Pacific/Missouri-Pacific Passenger Station on Pacific Avenue. Since then, Longview has acquired the depot from Union Pacific and recently received a $2.17 million state grant to restore the depot and convert it to a multimodal center linking bus, rail, air and other modes of transportation.

On Friday, her role in the restoration of the historic Marshall Depot, which was reopened as a stop on Amtrak's Texas Eagle route, was remembered.

She said someone else played a bigger role in the restoration of service.

"If God can make that sun come up every morning, he can save the Texas Eagle," she said.

Monday, August 30, 2010

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