Category Archives: Rail

Have You Hugged a Train Lately? National Train Day is May 12th.

Celebrate the fun and excitement of trains this Saturday! There are local events in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, San Antonio,  Jefferson, and Giddings–as well as other places across the country if you are not lucky enough to be in Texas.

National Train Day poster

Ever since my first trip at age 6, I’ve considered it the most civilized way to travel. Stretch your legs, get up and walk around any time, recline you seat without squeezing the person behind you… you can’t do these driving a car or taking a plane. Plus the U.S. Department of Energy says passenger trains are 20-50 percent more fuel efficient than planes or cars on a per-passenger mile basis. Relax and breathe easier on a train!

We can and should take pride in our trains. The United States has the most miles of track of any country in the world and Texas has the most miles of any state. Though the current levels of service don’t match up to Europe or Asia, we can change that.

Head over to the National Train Day website to find out more and to share your story about what trains mean to you. Share your stories here, too!

Bonus points if you ride your bike to the station!

-Kari Banta, Transportation Associate

Texas is the best (in AMTRAK ridership increases in the central U.S.)!

How would you like to travel from Fort Worth to Oklahoma City in just over four hours–all while getting some work done or putting your feet up for an early start to your vacation? Then hop aboard the Heartland Flyer!

You’ll be in very good company: this route has had the largest ridership increases in the entire central U.S.! Whether it’s avoiding the hassle of airports or the highway, rail’s popularity is increasing. Taking the train reduces roadway congestion and has a lower impact on air quality than driving or flying.

Straight from AMTRAK’s press release:

Leading the ridership increase in the Midwest during the first half of FY 2012 vs. the same period in FY 2011 is the Chicago-St. Louis corridor served by Lincoln Service trains and the Texas Eagle, with a combined ridership gain of 10 percent. The highest percentage hike in  the Central U.S. is a 10.6 percent increase in ridership on the Heartland Flyer (Oklahoma City – Fort Worth.) Both routes are the subject of new technology deployments, with demonstrations of  110 mph Lincoln Service trains planned for this fall and a new train control system installed on the Heartland Flyer.

Here’s the Heartland Flyer pulling the 40th anniversary AMTRAK car last year:

Kari Banta, Transportation Associate

DART’s Green Line gets kudos from USDOT

You know you’ve got a good thing when US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood comes to check it out in person–and then blog about it. Along with Federal Transit Administration Director Peter Rogoff, LaHood toured the economic development in Dallas that is coming as a result of the light rail line.

Dallas is expecting an estimated 48,000 long term jobs created by development along the light rail line. That’s beyond the jobs directly created by the rail from engineering, construction, maintenance, operations, etc. Since these jobs are right by the rail line, chances are the workers will choose to ride. Just the thought of that makes me breathe easier!

While we’re talking about jobs, investment in rail and federal requirements to use American made products means the potential for jobs in the manufacturing sector. Though DART doesn’t currently use American made trains, other cities do. New street car lines also contribute to demand. Secretary LaHood blogged about this, too.

Why is a Sierra Club blog talking about jobs? We’re part of the Blue Green Alliance.

Kari Banta, Transportation Associate

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