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D/FW Airport

The (mostly) high speed rail extension to Fort Worth

I hope they can make this happen.

A proposed high-speed rail route cutting through Dallas-Fort Worth would go slower than previously planned but would include a station south of DFW Airport, according to a newly unveiled plan.

The proposal, which is being studied by a state-appointed commission, would bring passengers from downtown Fort Worth to Arlington along the Interstate 30 corridor, then cut north roughly along the Texas 360 corridor to the CentrePort-Dallas/Fort Worth Airport area. From there, rail passengers could connect with other transportation to the airport to catch flights.

The line would then follow the Trinity Railway Express commuter line from CentrePort to downtown Dallas, according to a conceptual map made public Monday. TRE would keep operating on its tracks, and a second set of tracks — possibly elevated — would be built in the same right of way or adjacent property for the futuristic bullet trains.

The top speed would be around 125 mph — far below the 220 mph that the trains are capable of traveling — partly because of the serpentine shape of the route and the relatively short distance between stations.

But the new route would make high-speed rail accessible to more people in North Texas, a region of about 7 million people that’s expected to grow to 10.7 million by 2040.

“Certainly with the proximity to DFW Airport in this option, I think it’s important to note there is an opportunity there,” said Bill Meadows, chairman of the Commission for High-Speed Rail in the Dallas/Fort Worth Region.

[…]

Although the commission’s main purpose is to provide planning for the Metroplex, Meadows maintains that its work is actually the initial steps in setting up high-speed rail that will connect Houston, Dallas, Arlington, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and other cities.

There is even interest in extending the lines north to Oklahoma City and south to Monterrey, Mexico, although that would likely take years to materialize, if not decades.

See here and here for the background. As the Dallas Observer notes, there are some questions about how effective this extension may be, given that it can’t go as fast as the Dallas to Houston portion of the line and that driving isn’t exactly burdensome. Still, if Houston and Fort Worth are your endpoints, this would be a very nice option, and there are all those possible expansion plans as well.

DART reverses course, will keep building

Back in June, Dallas Area Rapid Transit presented a 20-year financial plan that said it could no longer afford to build several new light rail lines that it had intended to do. Now it’s got an updated projection that says it can build them after all.

Just six weeks after telling board members that it couldn’t be done, DART executives on Tuesday presented their bosses with a 20-year financial plan that keeps the Orange Line rail service on track to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

They also presented a $1.25 billion budget for 2011 that cuts 87 jobs next year but will delay, for a year at least, layoffs.

The 20-year plan would allow room for a second major rail project, an extension of the Blue Line to southern Oak Cliff by the end of this decade. That’s a possibility that promised to draw a fight, or at least a debate, from some board members who think the agency should save its money to build a long-promised second downtown Dallas rail line that is now on hold.

[…]

Chief Financial Officer David Leininger told board members that the budget and the proposed 20-year plan represented a much better picture than he had presented June 22, when he told DART board members that all major construction projects not already under way would have to be put on hold.

The DMN editorial board is a bit skeptical.

This newspaper hopes DART, which has an unfortunate history of badly missing financial projections, isn’t whistling past the graveyard again. On paper, the 2011 budget and 20-year financial plan back the completion of the Orange Line to Dallas Fort Worth International Airport and planning for the Oak Cliff extension of the Blue Line. This newspaper supports both projects as crucial economic catalysts.

But how DART has made its numbers add up raises an eyebrow. In late June, DART said it probably couldn’t find the dollars for some projects and threatened massive layoffs and service cuts. The layoff numbers were projected to be in the hundreds.

[…]

DART’s plans, however, depend heavily on steady improvement in the overall economy and other wildcards that are difficult to predict, including some that seem to defy recent history. Sales-tax receipts have been flat for several years. Passenger revenue has been down significantly since 2008. Yet, DART anticipates both will improve over the next few years as the economy picks up and new rail lines are completed. DART also is counting on an increase in federal grants and other aid to help finance some projects, a revenue source that is getting harder to tap.

Via Houston Tomorrow, there’s another issue of concern here, which is that DART is moving resources around in a way that may make more political sense than transit sense.

But one can imagine the political pressure in which DART decision-makers find themselves: The agency must fulfill the interests of its most suburban constituents, many of whom are frustrated that they have yet to receive their personalized light rail line. Meanwhile, because the airport connection appeals most strongly to the political leaders of the region because it is the only transit line most of them will ever use, it is essential for DART to pursue its construction if it wants to remain in the funding game.

Yet operations cutbacks do have their negative consequences. The decision to cut headways on light rail operations has justified DART’s decision to permanently postpone the D2 downtown light rail link, which would have relieved the existing center-city trunk route used by all lines. That project, it seems, is not necessary if all lines are running only every fifteen minutes; in addition, the creation of a new streetcar system already partially funded through the federal TIGER program will add capacity for downtown riders. So the agency has determined that it is preferable to divert spending on an extension of the Blue Line south to the University of North Texas instead.

That project, though, will only further enforce the already very suburban orientation of DART’s expansion program rather than improve the circulation of people within the densest parts of Dallas. In addition, it seems to imply that fifteen-minute frequencies are acceptable in the long-term; they certainly are not if Dallas ever intends to encourage significantly increased public use of its light rail system, which has cost more than $2.5 billion to build so far. Why not, some will likely argue, save up and spend on the new downtown alignment as soon as possible, which would allow an eventual ramp-up in services to meet growing demand?

We’ll see how it goes. If nothing else, I figure we can learn some lessons for Metro from their experience.

Another setback for DART

More bad news from Dallas.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit can’t afford to build light-rail service to D/FW International Airport by 2013 as it has long said it would, the agency’s chief financial officer said Tuesday.

The news comes as a sharp reversal, but CFO David Leininger said the only way the project can be built in the near future will be if new revenues can be found, either through a new tax or, more likely but still uncertain, a federal grant that would cover the approximately $275 million cost of the final leg of the Orange Line.

“We are not abandoning these projects by any means, but there simply isn’t room for them in your current plan,” he told board members.

[…]

Irving has counted on the line to anchor more than $4 billion in planned developments near rail stations. That includes a $385 million convention and entertainment complex in the Las Colinas Urban Center. The city is shouldering the lion’s share of those construction costs.

That’s on top of the previous announcements about projects being delayed or discontinued. Part of the problem, as I understand it, is that the pool of federal grant money that gave Metro funding for the North and Southeast lines is all used up. Metro got the last two available grants for that. Until there are more funds like that available from the federal government, projects like that and like the University line will at the very least experience some uncertainty. It’s high time Congress took action on this. Alternately, as the DMN editorializes, the Lege can provide funds for regional transportation projects. This is worth doing, and if DART can’t do it by itself, it should get help.