82nd Legislature: New Laws for Rail

There are three new regulations for rail: one for emergency rolling stock for freight, one for commuter rail districts, and one for high speed passenger rail safety.

HB 1750 allows the Executive Director of TxDOT to lease rolling stock and to contract with a rail operator to operate rolling stock if the executive director determines that either a natural or man-made emergency exists that threatens the health, life or property where the rail facility is located.

As noted at a report on the legislation at the Texas Transportation Commission, this is the direct result of the bumper crop season Texas farmers experienced in 2010. At the time, the lessee of the TxDOT-owned rail line was not able to provide adequate service, and TxDOT did not have explicit authority to procure an alternative operator on an emergency basis. Much of the crop was transported by truck.

HB 3030 defines commuter rail as “the transportation of passengers and baggage by rail between locations in a district.”

Only intermunicipal commuter rail districts formed before January 1, 2005 are affected by this law. This includes Houston Metro, Dallas DART, the Trinity Railway Express (TRE), CapMetro Rail, the Lone Star Rail DIstrict between Austin and San Antonio, the East Texas Corridor Council, and the Northeast Texas Rural Rail Transportation District (NETEX). It excludes the Hidalgo Commuter Rail District, the Denton County A Line, and others formed after January 1, 2005.

The law allows a transportation infrastructure zone of a district established before January 1, 2005, to consist of a contiguous or noncontiguous geographic area. The area must be in the territory of one or more local governments and must include a commuter rail facility or the site of a proposed commuter rail facility.

The tax increment fund also receives revenue from the sale of tax increment bonds and the sale of any property acquired as part of a plan adopted to use tax increment financing.Provisions for the tax increment bond financing of commuter rail districts is included as well. A local government member of a commuter rail district may issue tax increment bonds or notes, including refunding bonds, secured by revenue in the local government’s tax increment fund.

HB 3771 authorizes TxDOT to adopt safety standards for high-speed passenger rail, defined as service over 185 miles per hour, and to impose fees on the railroad companies to recover the costs of related administration.

-Kari Banta, Transportation Associate

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